WANDERLUST | Historical tales from the unconquered kingdom

OUR trip to Sulu was like a journey to back to time – a period in history when sultanates reign supreme. We learned about the stories of faith, sacrifice and valor of the brave Tausug people as well as the rule of Sulu’s royal families for many centuries when Philippines, as a nation, was still nonexistent.

REPLICA of the Astanah Darul Jambangan in Mt. Bayug Eco-Cultural Park in Talipao.

REPLICA of the Astanah Darul Jambangan in Mt. Bayug Eco-Cultural Park in Talipao.

We gathered most of these historical accounts of Sulu’s rich and colorful history at the Jolo branch of the National Museum. The museum is a two-story building, formerly the Provincial Museum and Library of Sulu, located within the Provincial Capitol complex. The local museum was first inaugurated in 1982 before it was turned over to the National Museum in 1994. It was reopened to the public on September 19, 1997.

Sulu’s past can be traced through the tarsilas, the written historical documents that track genealogical lineage and succession of hierarchy of ruling Muslim families. According to the tarsilas, Sulu’s history began when Abubakar of Palembang, Indonesia, also known as known as Sharif ul-Hashim (Sayhid Abubakar), became the first sultan of Sulu and founded the sultanate in 1450. Some historical manuscripts refer to him as the person responsible for the introduction of Islam in Mindanao. However, his arrival in Mindanao was already preceded by Karim ul-Makhdum, who first introduced Islam in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi in 1380, and Rajah Baguinda, a Bajau prince from Sabah who arrived in Buansa, Sulu in 1390.  History suggests though that it was the royal sultanate of Sulu under Abubakar that was primarily instrumental in the propagation of Islam from the islands to mainland Mindanao, and that it was Abubakar who first laid down the political structures of Islam in the region.

Another interesting footnote in Sulu’s history was their early relationship with China. In 1417, Sultan Paduka Batara, along with a 340 member delegation, including his two wives and three sons, sailed to Hangzhou, China for a tribute mission. Batara brought with him gifts consisting of pearls, tortoise shell, precious stones, and gold memento for Emperor Yongle, who ruled during the Ming Dynasty. The emperor was delighted with the presents from Batara that he reciprocated it with the finest hospitality the group had ever experienced – tokens of silk fabrics as well as accommodation and entertainment worthy of royalty.

As they were about to sail back home, Batara fell ill and died. The emperor grieved over his new friend’s demise and ordered an animal to be sacrificed and sweet wine to ensure Batara’s soul to enter heaven. He also gave Batara a funeral fit for a Chinese king, gave him an honorable name “Gong Ding” and buried him in Dezchuo, Shantung Province. In the epitaph, he described the sultan as “brilliant and sagacious, gentle and honest, especially outstanding and naturally talented”.

Batara’s companions returned to Sulu while his wives and their sons together with 18 of their companions stayed behind to take care of his grave. Three years later, the first wife and her son along with the second wife returned to Jolo. Batara’s son from his second wife stayed for good, married locals and were subsequently naturalized as Chinese. In 1977, Batara’s mausoleum was officially included among the historical and cultural sites protected by the Shandong Provincial Government. A decade later, it was listed as a national historical site.

It was only after 600 years – in 2005 – when the 17th and 18th generation descendants of Sultan Batara – An Fengdong and An Jing – travelled for the first time to the Philippines and set foot in Jolo to visit the homeland of their great grandfather.

Photos and thrones of the various sultans who ruled Sulu

PHOTOS and thrones of the various sultans who ruled Sulu

Aside from the national museum, we also visited another place of historical importance in Jolo, the Astanah Darul Jambangan in Maimbong. The palace, now reduced to ruins, is located in a 1,000 hectare property which was once the official residence of the Sultan of Sulu and North Borneo in 1878 until it was wiped out by a typhoon in 1932. The relics of the palace, if properly restored by the local government, could become Sulu’s answer to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Sadly, it is now concealed by grass and creepers. A replica of the palace was built at Mt. Bayug Eco-Cultural Park in Talipao for tourists to visit.

In Bud Datu, Indanan, we also paid respect to the final resting place of Rajah Baguinda. The shrine gives tribute to his contribution to Sulu’s history and the propagation of Islam in Mindanao.

There is so much to learn about Mindanao’s history in Sulu. If we only have the personal desire to learn the real stories of our great forebears and unlearn the misinformation written by those who came and tried to vanquish us but failed, only then we, the present inhabitants of Mindanao, could help bring forth peace, harmony and tolerance in our beleaguered motherland.

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