Story of Sultan Alimuddin

An interesting event in the Spanish-Sulu history is the visit of [134]the Sultan Mahamad Alimudin to the Gov.-General in 1750, and his subsequent vicissitudes of fortune. The first royal despatch addressed by the King of Spain to the Sultan of Sulu was dated in Buen Retiro, July 12, 1744, and everything, for the time being, seemed to augur a period of peace. In 1749, however, the Sultan was violently deposed by an ambitious brother, Prince Bantilan, and the Sultan forthwith went to Manila to seek the aid of his suzerainʼs delegate, the Gov.-General of the Philippines, who chanced to be the Bishop of Nueva Segovia. In Manila the Priest-Governor cajoled his guest with presents, and accompanied him on horseback and on foot, with the design of persuading him to renounce his religion in favour of Christianity. The Sultan finally yielded, and avowed his intention to receive baptism. Among the friars an animated discussion ensued as to the propriety of this act, special opposition being raised by the Jesuits; but in the end the Sultan, with a number of his suite, outwardly embraced the Christian faith. The Sultan at his baptism received the name of Ferdinand I. of Sulu; at the same time he was invested with the insignia and grade of a Spanish Lieut.-General. Great ceremonies and magnificent feasts followed this unprecedented incident. He was visited and congratulated by all the éliteof the capital. By proclamation, the festivities included four daysʼ illumination, three daysʼ procession of the giants,4 three days of bull-fighting, four nights of fireworks, and three nights of comedy, to terminate with High Mass, a Te Deum, and special sermon for the occasion.

In the meantime, the Sultan had requested the Governor to have the Crown Prince, Princesses, and retainers escorted to Manila to learn Spanish manners and customs, and on their arrival the Sultan and his male and female suite numbered 60 persons. The Bishop-Governor defrayed the cost of their maintenance out of his private purse until after the baptism, and thenceforth the Government supported them in Manila for two years. At length it was resolved, according to appearances, to restore the Sultan Ferdinand I. to his throne. With that idea, he and his retinue quitted Manila in the Spanish frigate San Fernando, which was convoyed by another frigate and a galley, until the San Fernando fell in with bad weather off Mindoro Island, and had to make the Port of Calapan. Thence he proceeded to Yloilo, where he changed vessel and set sail for Zamboanga, but contrary winds carried him to Dapítan (N.W. coast of Mindanao Is.), where he landed and put off again in a small Visayan craft for Zamboanga, arriving there on July 12, 1751. Thirteen days afterwards the San Fernando, which had been repaired, reached Zamboanga also.

Before Ferdinand I. left Manila he had (at the instance of the Spanish Gov.-General, José de Obando, 1750–54) addressed a letter to [135]Sultan Muhamad Amirubdin, of Mindanao. The original was written by Ferdinand I. in Arabic; a version in Spanish was dictated by him, and both were signed by him. These documents reached the Governor of Zamboanga by the San Fernando, but he had the original in Arabic retranslated, and found that it did not at all agree with the Sultanʼs Spanish rendering. The translation of the Arabic runs thus:—

“I shall be glad to know that the Sultan Muhamad Amirubdin and all his chiefs, male and female, are well. I do not write a lengthy letter, as I intended, because I simply wish to give you to understand, in case the Sultan or his chiefs and others should feel aggrieved at my writing this letter in this manner, that I do so under pressure, being under foreign dominion, and I am compelled to obey whatever they tell me to do, and I have to say what they tell me to say. Thus the Governor has ordered me to write to you in our style and language; therefore, do not understand that I am writing you on my own behalf, but because I am ordered to do so, and I have nothing more to add. Written in the year 1164 on the ninth day of the Rabilajer Moon, Ferdinand I., King of Sulu, who seals with his own seal.”

This letter was pronounced treasonable. Impressed with, or feigning, this idea, the Spaniards saw real or imaginary indications of a design on the part of the Sultan to throw off the foreign yoke at the first opportunity. All his acts were thus interpreted, although no positive proof was manifest, and the Governor communicated his suspicions to Manila. There is no explanation why the Spaniards detained the Sultan at Zamboanga, unless with the intention of trumping up accusations against him. The Sultan arrived there on July 12, and nothing was known of the discrepancy between the letters until after July 25. To suppose that the Sultan could ever return to reign peacefully as a Christian over Mahometan subjects was utterly absurd to any rational mind.

On August 3 the Sultan, his sons, vassals, and chiefs were all cast into prison, without opposition, and a letter was despatched, dated August 6, 1751, to the Governor in Manila, stating the cause. The Sultan was the first individual arrested, and he made no difficulty about going to the fort. Even the Prince Asin, the Sultanʼs brother, who had voluntarily come from Sulu in apparent good faith with friendly overtures to the Spaniards, was included among the prisoners. The reason assigned was, that he had failed to surrender christian captives as provided.

The prisoners, besides the Sultan, were the following, viz.:—

  • Four sons of the Sultan.
  • Prince Asin (brother).
  • Prince Mustafá (son-in-law).
  • Princess Panguian Banquiling (sister).
  • Four Princesses (daughters).
  • Datto Yamudin (a noble).
  • 160 ordinary male and female retainers.
  • Five brothers-in-law.
  • One Mahometan Cherif.
  • Seven Mahometan priests.
  • Concubines with 32 female servants.


The political or other crime (if any) attributed to these last is not stated, nor why they were imprisoned. The few weapons brought, according to custom, by the followers of the Sultan who had come from Sulu to receive their liege-lord and escort him back to his country, were also seized.

A decree of Gov.-General José de Obando set forth the following accusations against the prisoners, viz.:—

(1) That Prince Asin had not surrendered captives. (2) That whilst the Sultan was in Manila, new captives were made by the party who expelled him from the throne. (3) That the number of arms brought to Zamboanga by Sulu chiefs was excessive. (4) That the letter to Sultan Muhamad Amirubdin insinuated help wanted against the Spaniards. (5) That several Mahometan, but no christian books were found in the Sultanʼs baggage. (6) That during the journey to Zamboanga he had refused to pray in christian form. (7) That he had only attended Mass twice. (8) That he had celebrated Mahometan rites, sacrificing a goat; and had given evidence in a hundred ways of being a Mahometan. (9) That his conversation generally denoted a want of attachment to the Spaniards, and a contempt for their treatment of him in Manila,5 and, (10) that he still cohabited with his concubines, contrary to christian usage.

The greatest stress was laid on the recovery of the captive Christians, and the Gov.-General admitted that although the mission of the fleet was to restore the Sultan to the throne (which, by the way, does not appear to have been attempted), the principal object was the rescue of christian slaves. He therefore proposed that the liberty of the imprisoned nobles and chiefs should be bartered at the rate of 500 christian slaves for each one of the chiefs and nobles, and the balance of the captives for Prince Asin and the clergy. One may surmise, from this condition, that the number of Christians in captivity was very considerable.

A subsequent decree, dated in Manila December 21, 1751, ordered the extermination of the Mahometans with fire and sword; the fitting out of Visayan corsairs, with authority to extinguish the foe, burn all that was combustible, destroy the crops, desolate their cultivated land, make captives, and recover christian slaves. One-fifth of the spoil (the Real quinto) was to belong to the King, and the natives were to be exempt from the payment of tribute whilst so engaged.

Before giving effect to such a terrible, but impracticable resolution, it was thought expedient to publish a pamphlet styled a “Historical Manifest,” in which the Gov.-General professed to justify his acts for public satisfaction. However, public opinion in Manila was averse to the intended warfare, so to make it more popular, the Governor [137]abolished the payment of one-fifth of the booty to the King. An appeal was made to the citizens of Manila for arms and provisions to carry on the campaign; they therefore lent or gave the following, viz.:—Twenty-six guns, 13 bayonets, 3 sporting guns, 15 carbines, 5 blunderbusses, 7 braces of pistols, 23 swords, 15 lances, 900 cannon balls, and 150 pesos from Spaniards, and a few lances and 188 pesos from natives.

Meanwhile, Prince Asin died of grief at his position.

Under the leadership of the Maestre de Campo of Zamboanga, hostilities commenced. With several ships he proceeded to Sulu, carrying a large armament and 1,900 men. When the squadron anchored off Sulu, a white and a red flag were hoisted from the principal fort, for the Spaniards to elect either peace or war. Several Sulus approached the fleet with white flags, to inquire for the Sultan. Evasive answers were given, followed by a sudden cannonade.

No good resulted to the Spaniards from the attack, for the Sulus defended themselves admirably. Tawi Tawi Island was next assaulted. A captain landed there with troops, but their retreat was cut off and they were all slain. The Commander of the expedition was so discouraged that he returned to Zamboanga and resigned. Pedro Gastambide then took command, but after having attacked Basílan Island fruitlessly, he retired to Zamboanga. The whole campaign was an entire fiasco. It was a great mistake to have declared a war of extermination without having the means to carry it out. The result was that the irate Sulus organized a guerilla warfare, by sea and by land, against all Christians, to which the Spaniards but feebly responded. The “tables were turned.” In fact, they were in great straits, and, wearied at the little success of their arms, endless councils and discussions were held in the capital.

Meanwhile, almost every coast of the Archipelago was energetically ravaged. Hitherto the Spaniards had only had the Sulus to contend with, but the licence given by the Gov.-General to reprisal excited the cupidity of unscrupulous officials, and, without apparent right or reason, the Maestre de Campo of Zamboanga caused a Chinese junk from Amoy, carrying goods to a friendly Sultan of Mindanao, to be seized. After tedious delay, vexation, and privation, the master and his crew were released and a part of the cargo restored, but the Maestre de Campo insisted upon retaining what he chose for his own use. This treachery to an amicable chief exasperated and undeceived the Mindanao Sultan to such a degree that he forthwith took his revenge by co-operating with the Sulus in making war on the Spaniards. Fresh fleets of armed canoes replenished the Sulu armadillas, ravaged the coasts, hunted down the Spanish priests, and made captives.

On the north coast of Mindanao several battles took place. There is a legend that over 600 Mahometans advanced to the village of Lubungan, but were repulsed by the villagers, who declared their [138]patron, Saint James, appeared on horseback to help them. Fray Roque de Santa Mónica was chased from place to place, hiding in caves and rocks. Being again met by four Mahometans, he threatened them with a blunderbuss, and was left unmolested. Eventually he was found by friendly natives, and taken by them to a wood, where he lived on roots. Thence he journeyed to Linao, became raving mad, and was sent to Manila, where he died quite frantic, in the convent of his Order.

The Sultan and his fellow-prisoners had been conveyed to Manila and lodged in the Fortress of Santiago. In 1753 he petitioned the Gov.-General to allow his daughter, the Princess Faatima, and two slaves to go to Sulu about his private affairs. A permit was granted on condition of her returning, or, in exchange for her liberty and that of her two slaves, to remit 50 captives, and, failing to do either, the Sultan and his suite were to be deprived of their dignities and treated as common slaves, to work in the galleys, and to be undistinguished among the ordinary prisoners. On these conditions, the Princess left, and forwarded 50 slaves, and one more—a Spaniard, José de Montesinos—as a present.

The Princess Faatima, nevertheless, did return to Manila, bringing with her an Ambassador from Prince Bantilan, her uncle and Governor of Sulu, who, in the meantime, had assumed the title of Sultan Mahamad Miududin. The Ambassador was Prince Mahamad Ismael Datto Marayalayla. After an audience with the Governor, he went to the fort to consult with the captive Sultan, and they proposed a treaty with the Governor, of which the chief terms were as follows, viz.:—

An offensive and defensive alliance.

All captives within the Sultanate of Sulu to be surrendered within one year.

All articles looted from the churches to be restored within one year.

On the fulfilment of these conditions, the Sultan and his people were to be set at liberty.

The treaty was dated in Manila March 3, 1754. The terms were quite impossible of accomplishment, for the Sultan, being still in prison, had no power to enforce commands on his subjects.

The war was continued at great sacrifice to the State and with little benefit to the Spaniards, whilst their operations were greatly retarded by discord between the officials of the expedition, the authorities on shore, and the priests. At the same time, dilatory proceedings were being taken against theMaestre de Campo of Zamboanga, who was charged with having appropriated to himself othersʼ share of the war booty. Siargao Island (off the N.E. point of Mindanao Is.) had been completely overrun by the Mahometans; the villages and cultivated land were laid waste, and the Spanish priest was killed.

When the Governor Pedro de Arandia arrived in 1754, the Sultan took advantage of the occasion to put his case before him. He had, indeed, experienced some of the strangest mutations of fortune, and [139]Arandia had compassion on him. By Arandiaʼs persuasion, the Archbishop visited and spiritually examined him, and then the Sultan confessed and took the Communion. In the College of Santa Potenciana there was a Mahometan woman who had been a concubine of the Sultan, but who now professed Christianity, and had taken the name of Rita Calderon. The Sultanʼs wife having died, he asked for this ex-concubine in marriage, and the favour was conceded to him. The nuptials were celebrated in the Governorʼs Palace on April 27, 1755, and the espoused couple returned to their prison with an allowance of 50 pesos per month for their maintenance.

In 1755 all the Sultanʼs relations and suite who had been incarcerated in Manila, except his son Ismael and a few chiefs, were sent back to Sulu. The Sultan and his chiefs were then allowed to live freely within the city of Manila, after having sworn before the Governor, on bended knees, to pay homage to him, and to remain peaceful during the Kingʼs pleasure. Indeed, Governor Arandia was so favourably disposed towards the Sultan Mahamad Alimudin (Ferdinand I.) that personally he was willing to restore him to his throne, but his wish only brought him in collision with the clergy, and he desisted.

The British, after the military occupation of Manila in 1763, took up the cause of the Sultan, and reinstated him in Sulu. Then he avenged himself on the Spaniards by fomenting incursions against them in Mindanao, which the Gov.-General, José Raon, was unable to oppose for want of resources. The Mahometans, however, soon proved their untrustworthiness to friend and foe alike. Their friendship lasted on the one side so long as danger could thereby be averted from the other, and a certain Datto Teng-teng attacked the British garrison one night at Balambangan and slaughtered all but six of the troops (vide pp. 92, 98).

Philippine Islands by John Foreman

Chapter 10