Prof. John Harvey D. Gamas, from the International Studies Department, presents the Mindanao Muslim History book during its launch last 31 May 2017 at the Finster Auditorium. Photo by Aivy Rose Villarba.

The marginalization of Moro identity and the disregard for their historic agency fostered prejudices and biases that have alienated the Mindanao Muslims from the rest of the country. This alienation is perpetuated by the nationalist historical narrative of the north that continues to be the dominant discourse in what we anachronistically call “Philippine history.” Privileging one version of the struggle against Spanish colonization glosses over parallel struggles across the archipelago. This book, therefore, seeks to address this lacuna in Philippine history by integrating Muslim historical experience in the discourse. It aims to achieve this objective by presenting primary documentary sources. These sources have been carefully chosen to highlight Muslim religio-political independence and the historical injustices committed against them.

Many published works have already sought to highlight and integrate Muslim experience in Philippine history. The most well-known of these works is Majul’s Muslims in the Philippines. But unlike Majul’s book which includes his analysis of events, this book simply offers documentary sources to the reading public.

These documentary sources are the essential building blocks upon which historians reconstruct or interpret the past, hence the label “primary texts.” In the strict sense, primary texts are contemporaneous or eyewitness accounts of past events written in the original language. To purists, a translated work ceases to be primary principally because of the danger that the translation would not be faithful to the original. However, using the original languages here would not serve its purpose of making known the contents of the documents to the ordinary reader. For this reason, we are presenting the English translations of the documents which come from various languages, ranging from Arabic to Chinese, Malay to Tausug, and especially Spanish. To the best of our knowledge, these are reputable English translations, and we welcome scholars who can help us with better translations in future editions.

To preserve the integrity of the texts we opted to retain the grammar, spelling (including misspellings), and the footnotes of the original text. However, in our explanatory notes, we have standardized the spelling of names and places.

The primary sources presented here come in various forms or literary genres. Most of them are correspondences between European colonial officials, travel reports, and treaties from the 1500s to the late 1800s. There are also Chinese court records from the Yuan and Ming dynasties. Some of the primary sources were originally part of oral tradition but were later written or codified. This includes legendary narratives, Muslim royal genealogies, and Moro law codes.

These primary sources come from different published materials. A lot of these materials are already out of print. Some are buried in voluminous collections like Blair and Robertson’s The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. Though utilized by serious researchers, this multivolume translated compilation of Spanish primary documents looks daunting to ordinary readers. This book, therefore, seeks to give a reader-friendly presentation of the primary texts. Most primary materials are presented in full. Some are excerpts as the original full document contains information that is beyond the scope or objective of this book. Each documentary source is introduced with a short overview so as to facilitate a better understanding of its content and context.

Guests applaud the compilers and editors of the Mindanao Muslim History: Documentary Sources from the Advent of Islam to the 1800s book. Photo by Aivy Rose Villarba.

Since most documents are coming from a Western viewpoint they explicitly and implicitly contain a triumphalist crusading mindset. Other Western sources like those of the English travelers, though less condescending, still showed some orientalist contempt for the people they regarded as culturally inferior. Hence, we have to be circumspect and keep a critical eye in reading these sources.

The compilers have no illusions whatsoever of presenting an exhaustive collection of primary sources of Mindanao Muslim history. It is impossible to capture the wealth of documentary sources in one book. The present work, therefore, is delimited thematically and chronologically. The overarching themes, which also function as the criteria in the choice of primary sources, are Muslim religio-political uniqueness and independence, and the historical injustices inflicted on Moros by the Spanish colonizers and their collaborators.

The book is divided into three chapters. Chapter 1 shows the unique culture and history of the Muslims in Mindanao that evolved from local traditions and enriched by Islam. Chapter 2 details the Spanish colonizing activities and the resistance of the Moros. Chapter 3 shows the gains of the Spaniards over the centuries and the decreasing power of the Sultanates. What the documents show are the injustices committed against the Muslims in the form of military attacks, economic disenfranchisement, and socio-cultural insensitivity.

We have included excerpts from four documents that do not fall under any of the chapter headings but which we think are important in shedding light on Mindanao. These are placed in the appendices.

Watch the recorded live video of Our Stories, Our Struggles, Our Hopes: Launching of the Mindanao-Sulu Timelines and Mindanao Muslim History Book last 31 May 2017 at the Finster Auditorium, Ateneo de Davao University.

Certain points must also be clarified with regard to the theme. First, the term Mindanao does not only refer to the big island of Mindanao, but encompasses all the other islands and island groupings, big and small— including Sulu—that are traditionally included in Mindanao as a region. Second, the word “Muslims” or “Moros” (used interchangeably in this book) does not denote a monolithic ethno-linguistic identity. At present, the word refers collectively to the thirteen main Muslim ethnic groups in the Philippines. Third, the emphasis on historical injustices must not to be taken as a project to create a new hegemonic discourse. It does not seek to uncritically solidify the narratives of victimhood and nationalist primordialism nor does it argue that the Moro struggle was a mere part of the wider Philippine national movement. Such narratives have been critized for simplifying the complex reality of Mindanao history.

What this book mainly accentuates, as its primary objective, is the fact that the Muslim ethnic groups suffered and struggled in the midst of injustices committed against them. By highlighting this often neglected and painful part of history, we get a balanced view and understanding of the Mindanao problem. It is our desire that through primary texts we may be able to realize the complexity of this archipelago’s history or histories. Beyond the nationalist historical narrative of the north are diverse historical experiences which must be taken into account. Framing them simply as a part of the Filipino nationalist struggle would diminish the essential differences in identities and contexts. Moro nationalism was born out of a unique historical context where northern Filipinos were also villains and not necessarily co-partners. Integrating the historical experience of Muslim peoples in Mindanao is essentially a call to acknowledge the injustices their ancestors suffered and to which the present generation continues to go through. The legacies of the colonial “othering” of the Moros which justified violence and alienation, have become the wellsprings that inspire the Moros to fight for self-rule. Therefore, apart from material solutions, the Mindanao problem should also be addressed by acknowledging and rectifying prejudices and biases rooted in historical injustices. As B.R. Rodil reminds the editors, it is hoped that “In the end we should create a new generation of relationship, based on mutual acceptance, and a beautiful history, our own creation.”

We hope that all of you have an insightful reading of Muslim Mindanao History.

You may get your copy of the Mindanao Muslim History book from the University Publications Office for only Php350.00. Visit them at 8th Floor Community Center of the First Companions, Ateneo de Davao University, Roxas Avenue, Davao City. You may contact them via landline at (082) 221-24-11 local 8213 or via email at

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