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THAT popular opera “The Sultan of Sulu” has made the island of Sulu one of the most-talked-of places on the map of our new possessions, but in the Philippines it is rarely called Sulu, being better known by its Moro name of Jolo, this being pronounced with the accent on the last syllable, so that it sounds not unlike that vulgar salutation of our Western World, “Hello!”
As first seen from our quarter-deck the village of Sulu was a thing of beauty, with its vivid tints of green and gold and amethyst, its red-sailed boats on the sunlit bay, and over all the strongly blue sky. Nor was this enchantment due entirely to distance, for on going ashore in the late afternoon, we found the town even more attractive than we had thought it from the sea.
On drawing up to the pier in the ship’s launch, all were surprised to find it built solidly of brick and stone, a rare departure in these waters, while at one side rose a round watch-tower, the architectural evidence of Spain’s ultimate victory, after numerous and heart-breaking failures, in establishing a fort at Sulu. Above this watch-tower, which might have been taken bodily from the stage-setting for a melodrama, floated Old Glory against the sunset sky; Moro fishing-boats, the breeze in their crimson sails, dotted the flushed bay; and to the north and east small, detached islands, tinged with a translucent purple like the skin of a grape, faded into the horizon.
Within the town’s mediæval loopholed walls everything adds to this picturesque effect, for the streets are laid out in broad boulevards, with here and there a park or plaza, riotous with bloom; the houses are large and well built, there being no nipa shacks within the four walls, and the only church of the place is refreshingly simple in design.
During our first morning ashore we visited the market, and found it a most interesting sight. The Moros, in their parti-coloured raiment, were squatted on the ground in a great circle, buying or selling fruits and vegetables, while under a covered shed at one end of the plaza stood those dealing in fish and crustaceans of all kinds.
These marketmen were eminently good to look upon from an artistic standpoint, and as they lounged around in groups or singly, one longed to imprison them on canvas in all the gorgeousness of their tropical colouring. One fishmonger, whom I especially remember, sported a ravishing costume, consisting of bright green trousers, skin-tight of course, a purple coat, and a high peaked hat of silver, gilt, and crimson. He might better have been in comic opera than in the humble occupation of selling crabs and lobsters.
THE PIER AT SULU
The Moro women were particularly interested in the Burnside feminine contingent, but not to the extent of dogging our footsteps as did the natives elsewhere, several American women in town having helped satiate their curiosity. But they stared at us, nevertheless, with a deep and absorbing interest, the quartermaster’s wife, as usual, being the cynosure of all eyes, because of her exceptional height and slenderness, not to mention that astounding walking‑skirt, which had apparently grown upon her, there being no visible means by which it could be put on and off.
It was that morning most of us saw for the first time the durian, of malodorous fame, whose taste is said to be as delicious as its smell is overpowering. The fruit was for sale in the market at a few pennies apiece, and had banishment from Sulu not been threatened as a punishment, I should certainly have tasted one, that I might more accurately describe it.
NATIVES OF SULU
“If you’re bound to eat one of those nasty durians,” said a friend living in the town, “please take it on the ship and have the captain anchor out farther at sea. If you attempt to open one here, you’ll have the Sanitation Committee after you hotfoot!”
So I desisted, but looked at the durians so wistfully that the Moros put them down in price to a penny apiece, evidently thinking that monetary considerations prohibited the purchase.
In appearance the durian is green and prickly, about the size of a small melon, and even through the tough outside rind one can notice a faint nauseating odour. It is said that when one is opened in the market it takes but a few moments to clear the vicinity of Americans, while if a man be courageous enough to brave the strong smell and take a bite of the fruit, his presence will be unwelcome in polite society for some time thereafter; yet the durian is delightful to the palate, and would doubtless be oftener eaten did not one become so steeped in its anything but Sabean odour.
MORO HOUSES, TULI
That first morning in Sulu, after a jolly breakfast with some of our army friends, a post officer took me into the Moro village of Tuli, just south of the walled town. There we visited many native house, climbing up steps made of circular logs, which were hard to navigate in shoes, and in every instance the natives greeted us with the utmost cordiality.
In one of the tumble-down shacks near the sea we found the Sultana, Inchy Jamela, mother of the present Sultan, who had preceded her son to Sulu on a little visit. She was a most repulsive old hag, blear-eyed and skinny with blackened teeth, from which the thin lips curled away in a chronic snarl, but she rose on her elbow from the couch where she was reclining, and shook hands in good American fashion. Then she threw us each a pillow, indicating that we, too, should lie down and take it easy, but we preferred our perpendicularity, and sat upright on the edge of her couch, this being the only article of furniture in the room.,
As the old lady could not speak Spanish, she leered at us pleasantly from where she lay, occasionally muttering something in her native tongue, that might have been a tribute to our charms of mind or person, but which sounded more like an incantation. I felt she was a veritable witch, and at any moment expected to find myself changed into some animal or other under the baleful light of her eyes. If she had said, “Rumpelstilzchen, rumpelstilzchen,” or any other cabalistic thing the witches in our fairy tales used to say, I should not have been surprised; and I tried to smile as pleasantly as I knew how, for fear she would think me bad tempered, and so change my every word into frogs and toads, instead of diamonds and rubies.
After a particularly scintillating burst of silence the Sultana offered me some buyo, or betel-nut, to chew, and on my refusing it, placidly put a large hunk into her own mouth, and chewed it until the red juice stained her lips as if she were suffering from a hemorrhage.
The dais on which she lounged was as large as a small room, and was raised about three feet from the ground, it being covered with pillows and hand-woven mats of straw and bamboo. Around this thronelike couch were grouped her slaves and attendants, all armed with barongs and krises stuck into their wide sash belts, and attired in many-coloured garments that gave one the impression, both from fit and odour, of being on terms of long and close acquaintance with their wearers. The inevitable naked, brown babies staggered around the room, their little stomachs, in many instances, being swelled frightfully from a diet of too much rice and fish.
When the Sultana wanted privacy a drapery of red and white stuff, hung from the ceiling, could be let down, but otherwise she was constantly in the presence of her slaves and retainers, having the alternative of being smothered to death in privacy or bored to death in plenty of fresh air. We were told the Sultana was a power in the State and a diplomatist of no mean order, but it was hard to believe this in the royal presence, unwashed and unlovely as it was. Still, I remember seeing in a Philadelphia paper that some American living in Sulu had described the Sultana as being “an agreeable, refined, and charming Oriental diplomat.” Her personality was quoted as most attractive, “uniting a rare combination of Oriental elegance and modern grace.” She would be, it was said, in bearing and appearance, a credit to an American drawing-room. Heaven forbid! Unless the writer possibly meant that after due training she would grace the drawing-room in cap and apron, wielding a duster in lieu of her inherited rod of empire.
On the day of our visit, Her Majesty was attired in garments of decided dinginess, soiled and faded, with here and there an ill-made patch, or perhaps a fresh hole, like a gaping wound, in the cloth. But it is said that on the grand occasions when she honours the post with her presence, she is attired in a splendour before which the lilies of the field wilt with envy. Rainbow effects predominate, and much gilt and silver embroidery, the ravishing impression being further enhanced by a pair of white cotton mitts drawn over her bird-claw hands. On these occasions of state the Sultana rides into town on the back of a slave, with another slave holding a parasol over her august head, and accompanied by several outriders, or rather outwalkers, attired in few clothes of many colours.
The Sultan, too, rides pickaback when he comes to town, and as it is considered a great privilege for a Moslem to have kissed the Sultan’s hand or foot, he is often gracious enough to sit astride a slave’s shoulders in some public place, the palms of his hands and the soles of his bare feet obligingly outstretched, so that the thronging people can come by fours and do homage to his state as expeditiously as possible.
One of the officers stationed in Sulu told us of a hunting trip which he and several other men had taken with the Sultan and a high-ranking datto, a royal hunt through royal preserves. To the intense amusement of the Americans, the Moros insisted on taking their respective harems with them on the chase, and at night all slept in one large room, the three factions being separated only by curtains around raised platforms.
For some time the harems and their respective lords called back and forth to each other quite audibly, until the officers, worn out with their day’s shooting, fell asleep. About midnight the Americans were awakened by such frightful shrieks and bloodcurdling yells that each instinctively felt for his revolver or rifle, fearing an attack from the fanatical Moslems. It transpired, however, that it was only a slave girl singing the Sultan to sleep! The officer described this musical effort as a most hideous uproar, saying that a note would be held almost to the bursting point, the breath being regained by an agonized, strangled sob, or else a bar would be yelled explosively between hissing, indrawn breaths, the effect not conforming to the laws of harmony as understood by Europeans.
On other hunting trips, when the Americans had been accompanied by Moro guides, great difficulty was found in procuring food suited to Mohammedan restrictions, the Moros even refusing bread because there might be lard in it, or because they had seen the soldier cooks grease the pans with that abomination; sardines were also prohibited for fear they had been soaked in animal fat; and bacon was of course accursed.
The officers were in despair until one old Moro came across some cans of baked beans among the rations. Beans! Assuredly a clean vegetable, and as such to be partaken of freely. So there they sat, good Moslems all, regaling themselves out of cans marked plainly on their gaudy labels, “Pork and Beans.” Moreover, they averred that the American article had an exceptionally fine flavour, not in the least like the Philippine variety!
So strong is the Moros’ aversion to even touching pork, that while they will guide Americans where boar may be found, they themselves will take no part in the sport nor help carry the game home, and even when offered American prices a pound for the meat, that representing fabulous wealth to a Moro, he will not defile himself by so much as selling it.
Mr. Dean C. Worcester, in his delightful book, “The Philippine Islands,” gives a most interesting legend in explanation of the Moros’ aversion to pork. He says he made numerous attempts in Mindanao, Basilan, and Sulu to find out the origin of this curious distaste, but without avail, until one day the minister of justice, under “his Excellency Paduca Majasari Malauna Amiril Mauinin Sultan Harun Narrasid,” committed a bibulous indiscretion, and when the vivifying spirits were well amalgamated with his own he contributed the following narrative:
“Jesus Christ, called by the Moros Isa, was a man like ourselves, but great, and good, and very powerful. He was not a son of God. The Moros hate and kill the Christians because they teach that men could punish and kill a son of God.
“Mohamoud had a grandson and a granddaughter, of whom he was very fond. As he was king of the world, Christ came to his house to visit him. Mohamoud, jealous of him, told him to prove his power by ‘divining’ what he had in a certain room, where, in fact, were his grandchildren. Christ replied that he had no wish to prove his power, and would not ‘divine’ (divinar) . Mohamoud then vowed that if he did not answer correctly, he should pay for it with his life. Christ responded, ‘You have two animals in there, different from anything else in the world.’ Mohamoud replied, ‘No, you are wrong, and I will now kill you.’ Christ said, ‘Look first, and see for yourself.’ Mohamoud opened the door, and out rushed two hogs, into which Christ had changed his grandchildren.
“Moros are forbidden to tell this story to infidels, because it shows that Christ outwitted the great prophet. When my informant sobered up and realized what he had done, he hung around day after day, beseeching me not to let any one know what he had done, from which fact I inferred that he thought he had told me the truth, and not a fable invented for the occasion.”
That first morning in Sulu, after having paid our respects to the Sultana, we called upon the next greatest personage in town, a Hadji but lately returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca. He was a most intelligent man, with regular features, fine eyes, and a flowing beard, impressively patriarchal. He was a priest as well as a Hadji, and, we were told, had a mighty following among the faithful. Both he and his wife were most hospitable in their manner and courteous in their speech, she beaming toothlessly upon us throughout the call, and as we left they pressed upon me a handful of rather rare shells as a memento of the visit.
The small boy of the family, a youngster of seven or eight, stared at us continually from the moment of our entrance into the house until our exit, seeming especially taken with the young officer; so much so, in fact, that on our leaving, he followed us to the door, and there climbed upon a high seat, from which point of vantage he seized the young man’s hand, kissed it very reverently, and then laid it against his forehead. This was all done so solemnly and with such a calm dignity that even the youngster’s entire lack of raiment could not detract from its impressiveness or the significance of the action. It was evident that he imagined the big, blond lieutenant was a Serif, a direct descendant of Mohammed, or perhaps even a Habi, which means a Serif who has been to Mecca, or a Hadji and Serif in one, than whom none but the Sultan is so great, so good, so omnipotent. I dared not laugh at the child’s earnestness, though I had some trouble in controlling my risibles, the aforesaid young officer not having a reputation for excessive holiness.
THE MORO SCHOOL FOR BOYS, SULU
Long before reaching the Moro school for boys, which we next visited, we could hear the voices of the pupils in a treble uproar, for they all and individually studied aloud, rocking back and forth in their seats, so that at first the sound was an unintelligible jumble, which finally resolved itself into bits of the multiplication table, detached letters of the alphabet, and pages from geography or history.
As we entered the door, the scholars looked up expectantly from their work, glad of an interruption, and at a sign from one of the Mohammedan teachers, they sprang to their feet with the uniformity of a machine, fairly yelling their “Good morning” at us. Fine little lads they were, all being of Moro, Chinese, or Filipino stock, with here and there a fascinating combination of the three nationalities in one.
Of course the children were put through their paces for us, and, as each recited in turn, he would preface his remarks by a profound bow and a little speech, the words of these formal introductions being exactly alike, as if ground out by a phonograph, and beginning “Ladies and Gentlemen,” till I wondered if perhaps the children saw us double. They were not in the least abashed, these little savages, and in their quaint English recited selections from Eugene Field and James Whitcomb Riley, some of these efforts being in dialect, which must have been a trifle puzzling to one not acquainted with the vagaries of the language.
Finally an arithmetical problem on the board caught my eye, and was surreptitiously transferred to my note-book for future reference. It ran something like this: “A poor old lady owns one thousand cents. She loses 189 of the cents. How many left has she?” The master, observing my interest in the financial difficulties of the aged and destitute lady, had the little slates brought up that I might see there were still 811 pennies to her credit. I inquired of some of the boys how much 811 pennies put into dollars and cents would amount to, but all were so visibly embarrassed that I, remembering my own mathematically tortured childhood, desisted before the schoolmaster could hear. On leaving, the boys again jumped up as one, and shouted their unanimous “Good-bye,” and long after we were out of sight, we could hear their high young voices studying aloud, each for himself, and apparently undisturbed by the scholastic outburst of his neighbour.
Half a mile outside the walled garrison of Sulu, to the west, is a strong outpost built of stone, and still farther out yet another. These outposts are always occupied by American soldiers, not originally because of any expected trouble with the Moros, but because if our men did not occupy them the Moros would, thus giving them an almost invincible stronghold against us in case of some sudden fanatical uprising. Among the Moros, as in Granada, “Love laughs with a grip on the knife,” and preparedness is as essential as good government.
Near these outposts may be seen some very fine kitchen gardens, kept by the frugal Celestial, the Chinaman of Sulu being much more energetic commercially than the Moro. It is from the “Chino” the American housewife buys her fresh fruits and vegetables, while the Moros bring in fish and the Filipinos chicken and game, thus ensuring a well-stocked larder independent of the supply-ships from Manila. In fact, so delightful a place is Sulu, that if fever were not prevalent there at some seasons of the year, it would be a veritable Paradise; but even the sanitary measures taken by the great Spanish General Arolas have not quite stamped out that scourge to white men, which long made Sulu the most undesirable military station in the islands.
Everybody in the Philippines knows the story of General Arolas, and of how, at the close of a brief republican administration in Spain, he was practically banished to Sulu, there to die by fever or be killed by the Moros. But Arolas, instead of settling down into an inactive life awaiting what seemed the inevitable, occupied himself in building up the town, fortifying it strongly, and at the same time making it more beautiful by laying it out in broad streets and avenues, interspersed at regular intervals with flowering squares and plazas. By draining these streets well, building water-works, and establishing a fine new market, he changed its reputation as a fever hole and made Sulu one of the most desirable stations in the south. By his relentless attitude he gained the respect and fear of the Moros, and only once during his administration did a fanatical Juramentado gain access to the town.
But Arolas was probably less popular with the Mohammedans than was the American officer in command at the time of our visit. Indeed, he had been legally adopted by the royal family, the fierce old Sultana calling him “Brother,” and the Sultan referring to him as “Papa,” while a greater proof of their affection may be found in this extract of a letter written to General MacArthur on the Moros being told that they were soon to lose their first American governor.
“... I hereby bring to your notice that I have heard that our father,
Major Sweet, Governor of Jolo, will be taken away from us. This is the reason
of my writing to you, because you are the parent of the Moro people, and it is
known to us that you will always do your best for us, as you have done
hitherto. Therefore, I beg to you anyhow for the present not to remove Major
Sweet from here, as he has been very good to us, and he is very well known to
everybody. He is like a parent to us Moro people. It will be just like a child
who is left by his parents; he will fret and be longing for the one he loves;
the Moro people are the same way. Even if somebody else would come, it would
not be the same, as he would be unknown; he will be another man for that
reason. To tell the truth, our father, Major Sweet, has opened our eyes; he has
been the man to show us the right way to come up to the white man’s ideas, and
there are many cases where he has shown us his good-will. Therefore, I, the
Sultan of the Jolo Archipelago, am seeking that whatever is good for my people.
It is my sincerest wish that my country should go ahead.
“Since Major Sweet, our father, has been in command of Jolo Archipelago, no disturbance of any description has occurred; the reason is, that he has taken great interest in our country and its people. He was the man who saw our poverty, our incapability of paying customs duties, as more than one calamity has befallen our islands; therefore, we thank him and we trust him, although not knowing what he will do in the future, if it will change or not. Therefore, I and my people ask you to consider the removal of Major Sweet, we ask you to leave him here; we would like him to teach us the customs of the white people.”
This, signed by the Sultan himself, is surely documentary evidence of successful American administration with the Mohammedans, who were counted by the Spaniards as quite ungovernable.
Socially, we found Sulu delightful, and in our few days there had many pleasant dinners both on and off the ship, a little dance at the club-house, and a tennis tea. The women all wore pretty frocks, their houses were charming, and their servants as well trained as if they were living anywhere but on a dot of an island in the Sulu Sea. All of which goes to show what American women can do in all circumstances, especially army women. It was often hard to realize, while in Sulu, that just outside the house which encompassed our little civilization, barbarism lurked, but through the open windows one could see the Moros in their picturesque colours, the more soberly dressed Filipinos, and the thrifty Chinamen, with their long queues twisted up under their flat straw hats, while bits of conversation in all three tongues drifted in and mingled with our talk, as foreign to the American ear as was the tropical foliage to the American eye.
Of course we bought all sorts of curios before sailing, embroidered turbans, sarongs, jabuls, handsome krises, chow-covers of beautifully coloured straw, and hats of every variety, while one day, as an experiment in shopping, I bargained for a Moro slave, a handsome, black-eyed boy, but as he could not be purchased for less than ten dollars gold, I informed his owner that he was too expensive. This transaction was carried on with great seriousness by the elderly Mohammedan, while the youngster himself showed great interest in the proceedings, and looked a little disappointed when he found he was not to belong to the Americana after all.
Slave-raiding has of course been forbidden since American occupation, but the authorities have not yet been able to entirely do away with slave-trading, polygamy, nor other like peccadilloes, religious toleration being the password to the ultimate civilization of our new citizens.
CHINESE, MORO, AND VISAYAN CHILDREN, SULU
Meanwhile the Signal Corps had entrenched the cable, and connected it by a short land line with the telegraph office, which was established in short order, everything being in perfect condition for the return trip to Zamboanga by the afternoon of the 28th. At daybreak on the following morning, we sailed for Zamboanga, only to find orders awaiting us there to proceed at once on a wrecking expedition to Bongao, on Bongao Island of the Tawi Tawi group, a small launch, the Maud, being foundered there on a coral reef. Thus were we hoist by our own petard, for over the cable just laid came the order postponing our return to Manila; but as it meant yet another chapter in a delightful experience, few of us were averse to that.
So, between nine and ten o’clock that night, we sailed for Tawi Tawi, passing east of Basilan and Sulu. The ship, relieved of nearly all its cable, rolled a great deal, both on our way up from Sulu and that first night out from Zamboanga, but on the two succeeding days the weather was calm, the air cool, and the “ Sultan’s Sea “ a gigantic mirror reflecting every cloud in the sky on its glassy surface. All on board were idle then, and every steamer chair on the quarterdeck was occupied.
On the first day out we saw no land at all, but the second day many coral groups appeared to the east and south of Bongao. Among others were Manuk Manuk, surely a name to conjure with! Then there was also Balambing, which on our ship chart was marked PIRATES! Think of sailing piratical seas in this prosaic twentieth century! We watched eagerly along the coast of Ba-lambing, to which we passed very close, for possible crafts bearing black flags, and were rather disappointed at not seeing even one bearded highwayman of the sea, a gleaming knife between his teeth, his red shirt open at the throat, for, if I remember rightly, it was so that pirates were always drawn in the yellow-covered interdicted literature of childhood.
These southern waters were bluer than any we had seen on the trip, excepting over coral reefs, where the blue changed suddenly to a glittering iridescent green, sparkling and treacherous. This coral is eminently American in its habit of expansion, and has spread itself well over the southwest portion of the Celebes Sea.
Finally Tawi Tawi itself appeared on the horizon, and we recalled that deep in its heart, surrounded by vast forests and jungles, the faintly discernible ruins of Dungon exist, the ruins themselves covered by tremendous growths of trees. This was the ancient capital of the Moros, and there lie the remains of the first Arab Sultan, that fierce old missionary who brought the Koran in one hand and a kris in the other to spread the light of Islam. That his converts were many and their faith was strong and sure is attested by the universality of Mohammedanism in these southern islands, and the exclusive use of the Arabic characters in the writing of the people.
On the afternoon of March 3d, we anchored off Bongao. On our port side, and well forward, lay the wrecked Maud nearly filled with water. Altogether she was in a deplorable condition, but in a few days was raised by the combined efforts of our first officer, his crew, and the soldiers of the fort. Meanwhile, we were all idlers on the Burnside, and in consequence enjoyed our visit there to the utmost.