Philippines – The Sulu Archipelago

WE are in the capital of one of the dattos of southern Mindanao. How different it is from our cities at home! All about us along the coast and back of it are hundreds of yellow and gray thatched huts, each fifteen or twenty feet square, built high upon poles under the tallest of cocoanut trees. The floor of each hut is about six feet from the ground, reached by a wide ladder with round bamboo rungs. Some of the huts are quite large, and some have little verandas in front of them.

Let us look into one. It has but one room; the floor is of bamboo poles covered with mats. There are no chairs or beds, and the people sit and sleep on these mats, men, women, and children lying down side by side.

The Moros are as strange as their houses. There are scores of barefooted, brown-faced men all about us, scores of brown-skinned, half-naked boys, and naked babies almost under our feet. The men wear turbans of bright colors, loose jackets, and skin-tight trousers in stripes of red, yellow, and blue. Some have straw hats over their turbans, ending at the crown in a tin cone, which shines like silver under the rays of the sun. Every man and boy wears a great kris or sword at his belt ; some have spears and lances, and others carry guns and are apparently ready to shoot. There are also brown-skinned women in long gowns, and little girls clad the same way ; so that all together the crowd is the oddest we have yet seen.

It seems stranger the longer we look. How fierce these people are, and how different in appearance from the Tagalos and Visayans ! Their faces are darker, their cheek bones are high, and they remind us of our American Indians. Notice their blood-red lips and black teeth. They all chew the betel and seem; to think black teeth prettier than white ones.

Look at the woman laughing over there at the right. Did you ever see such teeth in your life ? They are jet black and curve out at the front. They have been filed down with a stone, and she considers the curve a great beauty. All these women have their teeth filed in that way. The filing was done when they were grown up and ready for marriage. The operation is so painful that the girls often faint away under it, but it is the fashion, and all Moro girls want their teeth filed. After filing, the teeth are blackened, and the black is renewed every few weeks.

We ask our guide something about the Moro customs as we walk on through the village. He tells us that marriage is a matter of bargain and sale, and that a fine-looking girl can usually be bought for ten dollars, or for a carabao, and perhaps a few presents.

Strolling down the chief street of the village, we come to a house much larger than the others. This is the residence of the datto or chief, who receives us kindly, offering us cigarettes to smoke and betel to chew; but we refuse, thanking him for his courtesy. He tells us he is glad the Americans have taken possession of the country, and that he is proud of being an American citizen.

A few days later we leave Zamboanga for a trip around the south coast of Mindanao, stopping here and there at various ports until at last we reach Davao (da’va-o), a Christian town, at the head of Davao Bay, in the south-eastern end of the island. The mountains have been in sight all the way, and now as we sail up Davao Bay we see Mount Apo, out of whose sides clouds of vapor are rolling. At night the clouds are rosy with fire.

We spend some time at Davao, and from there make trips into the forests. The trees are so bound together with vines that we have to follow the streams or cut our way through. There are monkeys of many kinds, some of great size and others not much bigger than your two fists. There are almost as many parrots as in Australia and New Guinea, and we often see flocks of white parrots with tufts on their heads, parrots of bright red with green wings, and other birds noted for their whistling and singing.

Mindanao has doves which have golden brown bodies and green wings, great white snipes, and strange birds as big as turkeys and of the same shape. It has white herons and wild pigeons three times as big as our pigeons at home. In the woods there are also wild hogs and deer of various kinds. The bird and animal life is wonderful, and we regret that we have not time to collect specimens to take home to our friends.

Leaving Davao, we sail back along the southern coast of Mindanao and then go westward to the Sulu Archipelago, which lies between Mindanao and Borneo. The archipelago consists of 188 islands, but they are so small that you could crowd them all into the state of Rhode Island and have space to spare. The larger islands are volcanic and high, and the smaller mere coral beds, a few feet above the level of the sea. The largest island is Tawi Tawi, which has a mountain range running through it, but the most populous and most important is Sulu. It is there that the sultan lives, and there American officials and soldiers are stationed to keep him and his people in order.

Outside of Sulu there is but little arable land, the chief exports being the pearl shells gathered from the seas of this region. Pearl fishing is carried on here much as in Australia. The shells are shipped to Europe and to the United States, and according to custom the most of the pearls are given to the sultan.

We land at the port of Sulu (so`o-loo’), where our soldiers are stationed. It is a delightful town of about a thou-sand inhabitants, mostly Christian Filipinos, Chinese, and Americans, and is on the edge of the sea. Sulu is surrounded by walls, and its streets are shaded by great trees, the limbs of which come together, making arbors which shield us from the tropical sun as we stroll through them. The houses are comfortable; most of them were erected by the Spaniards, who also stationed soldiers here to keep the natives in order.

The Moros live in villages along the coast or in the interior. Their houses are often built upon poles out from the shore, so that we walk over bridges to reach them, and so that the children can fish from the bridges or the front doors. The women never sweep, for the dirt falls down into the sea through the cracks in the floor.

The Sulu Moros dress much the same as the Moros of Mindanao. They are quite as fierce, and the men and boys all carry weapons. They have similar customs, and we are told that slavery was long common among them.

We take a horseback ride across the island to the town of Maibun (mi-boon) on the south coast, where the sultan has his capital. Maibun is just like the other Moro villages we have seen, only larger. It lies on the sea, and the most of it consists of thatched houses built upon piles. The sultan’s guard meets us on the edge of his village and escorts us to his Majesty’s royal palace, a great barn of a house with nothing gorgeous about it. The sultan is not prepossessing, and he impresses us all the less favorably because he chews the betel and smokes during our audience. Our guide tells us that he is powerful because the Moros look up to him as a representative of their religion, and therefore think he has the right to rule over them.