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AboutMuslim Literatures

The Diviner’s Handbook

An American-Muslim-Filipino Text Adventure

The Diviner’s Handbook — Figures and colors of days of the week

Richard W. Bulliet


For my generation, playing ever more sophisticated text adventures on our computers challenged our imaginations and habituated us to being presented with a new situation or suspicious object and asked: “Do you want to do X? Or Y?” Texts evolved into images, but choosing a course of action remained constant. My favorite game was Myst, which debuted for Mac users in 1993. As Wikipedia describes the game’s appeal: “The player is provided with very little backstory at the beginning of the game, and no obvious goals or objectives are laid out. This means that players must simply begin to explore. There are no obvious enemies, no physical violence, no time limit to complete the game, and no threat of dying at any point. The game unfolds at its own pace and is solved through a combination of patience, observation, and logical thinking.” But since Myst was an authored game — thank you Ryan and Rand Miller — there actually were goals and objectives, and winning was indeed possible . . . though also strangely disappointing, since it meant there was no more Myst to play.

Real life has too much backstory and too many choices to be thought of as a text adventure. Occasionally, however, you run across a genuine text adventure. Most of the choices you make lead to dead ends; but choosing a path just to see where it leads provides both entertainment and enlightenment. My adventure began when I laid eyes on seven undecipherable lines of Arabic script written on the inside of a violin. It was 1968 and I was a first-year faculty member at Harvard. At a seminar dinner, for which I was avery junior factotum, Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak, the head of the Middle East division of Widener Library, passed around a piece of paper bearing seven lines in Arabic script. He said he had copied the lines from an inscription written on the inside of the back plate of a violin. It had only become visible when a craftsman the owner had hired to restore the instrument unglued the top. Alerted to the existence of the hidden message, the violin’s owner had brought the disassembled instrument to the library’s Hebrew division for decipherment, and the head of that division had passed it across the hall to Labib. Labib himself did not meet the owner.

The style of writing was quite distinctive — “childish” was the word Labib used— but what captured my interest was the fact that no one at Labib’s end of the dining table could read a single word, except for the name Muhammad in line 5. Among those who took a look were the famous polyglot professors Annemarie Schimmeland Richard N. Frye. My guess was that between them they could probably identify several dozen languages written with Arabic characters.

My interest piqued, I went the next day to Labib’s office to look at the violin. So far as I could tell, it was a properly shaped instrument though, the wood was thick and unvarnished and the craftsmanship somewhat crude. It had only one anomaly that I could see. The nut, which is the fret at the top of the violin’s neck that guides the strings to the tuning pegs, had five instead of four grooves. The extra groove was only a millimeter away from the one for the lowest pitched string, the G-string. My surmise was that the instrument was either designed for that string being doubled, or had been crafted by someone who had copied an unfamiliar instrument and made a spacing error that had to be corrected. As for the inscription, it was in pencil and the lines alternated short, long, short, long, short, long, short, though they did not seem to rhyme.


Figure 1 — My copy of the violin inscription

Like my vastly more learned senior colleagues, I could only read the name Muhammad. But I made a firm resolve to identify, and hopefully read, the language of the inscription. Years went by. Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak passed away. One by one, the scholars specializing in African, Semitic, Turkic, Caucasian, and Indian languages to whom I sent my careful copy of the inscription wrote back to say they were mystified. A military code expert did the same.

I did make some progress, however. Several letter shapes of the Arabic alphabet did not appear, indicating that the language hadmany fewer consonants than Arabic. And a letter shaped like an Arabic ‘ain appeared in lines 2, 4, and 6 topped with a cup-and-dot diacritical mark. My wife, a Sanskritist, told me that the same diacritical mark was used in Sanskrit to indicate a nasal sound,as it does in the sacred syllable om [ॐ]. I surmised that the language probably came from a part of Southeast Asia influenced by Indian culture. Malay, for example, has a limited number of consonants, but also the sound ng, which is foreign to Arabic.

Though Malay informants to whom I had shown the inscription had ruled Malay out, on a museum visit in Kuala Lumpur I happened upon a locally crafted version of a European violin that reminded me of the one I had examined in Labib’s office. Andduring a similarly serendipitous stroll through an exhibit of Quran manuscripts — I don’t remember where — a Quran from the southern Philippines caught my eye. The way the Arabic letters were shaped reminded me of the script used in the violin.

Alone among the many people with whom I shared my violin mystery, Mrs. Richard Murphy, the wife of the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, offered a more concrete clue to a possible connection with the Philippines, her husband’s previousambassadorial posting. Following my discussion of the violin with her in Jidda in 1982, she wrote me the following on May 9 1983:

“I have been to the Philippine Embassy, where I met with three of the Muslim employees. They read the inscription but none of them could really translate it. They said, however, they were certain it was from their part of the country and was an anting anting or charm against evil. They said they thought it was Tausug, Maguindanaw or Maranaw.”

Why I did not see reason for celebration in this reply, I do not know. I think I was fixated on getting an actual translation, and I had never even heard of any of the languages. I only rediscovered the letter in my files in 2021, almost 40 years too late.

Meanwhile, having reached the tentative conclusion that the inscription might be in some Muslim language spoken in the southern Philippines, I decided to use what is now called crowd sourcing. I further decided to interpret the seven lines as a hidden talisman designed to make the instrument play with magical sweetness.

These suppositions, combined with monthlong service on a New York City narcotics grand jury, inspired me to make the violin a MacGuffin, that is to say, the central mystery of The Sufi Fiddle, an adventure novel I published with Harper & Row in 1991. In it, a violin magically inscribed by the Shaykh of the worldwide Pahlawaniya Sufi brotherhood falls into the hands of an unscrupulous villain who uses the network of brethren to traffic in cocaine. I named the brotherhood the Pahlawaniya after the island of Palawan, just west of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

In the novel’s epilogue, I recounted the real violin mystery, hoping, vainly as it turned out, that some reader — there weren’t very many — would recognize the inscription and help me in my quest. I got no useful response and set the matter aside.

Some ten years later, my sister Nina was nearing retirement from the agricultural investment department of the John Hancock Insurance Company in Boston. A secretary in her office asked whether it was not the case that her brother could read Arabic. Sheallowed as how he could. So the secretary told her that in liquidating the items in a curio shop owned by a recently deceased uncle, she had come across something written in Arabic, and she wanted to know if it had any value.

Soon thereafter I was visiting Boston and my sister showed me two crudely fashioned, unvarnished wooden boards that had been pierced for string lacings that turned them into a kind of binding for a bundle of six tattered booklets and a dozen loose scraps and pages. Only one booklet was complete within a dark blue paper cover. The texts were written in ink by numerous hands and were all in Arabic script.


Figure 2 — Texts bundled between binding boards

Like the violin back plate, one of the binding boards bore a few unreadable lines of Arabic script. While a quick perusal revealed that some of the bundled texts were in Arabic, sometimes with Malay interlinear glosses, the Blue Booklet and one additionalpartial text were in a language I could not identify. Yet the way the characters were shaped strongly resembled the writing style of the violin inscription.


Figure 3 — Board binding of text bundle

Excited by the possible connection with the violin, I bought the texts for $100. To my later regret, however, I did not insist on meeting the secretary and asking how her uncle had come by the bundle. Looking more closely at my newly acquired manuscript, I found nothing noteworthy in the Arabic texts, though the interlinear Malay glosses for certain words, e.g., Malay orang for Arabic rajul, both meaning “man,” reassured me that I was dealing with something from Southeast Asia.

As for the unreadable Blue Booklet, an embossed stamp on several of its pages showed an anchor in a circle surrounded by “Tolosa San Sebastian,” possibly made by La Papelera Española headquartered in San Sebastian, Spain.

“Aha!” I thought. “Spanish paper in Southeast Asia can only mean the Philippines.”

In 1493, Pope Alexander VII issued a bull dividing the non-European world between Portugal and Spain. Treaty of Tordesillas, signed a year later, granted Portugal the legal right to explore and exploit maritime Asia, and Spain a similar right to the lands of the Western Hemisphere, except for an elbow protruding east of the demarcation line that became the starting point for the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Because of arguments and technical deficiencies in the determination of longitude, however, exactly where the theoretically world-girdling demarcation line would divide the Pacific Ocean remained in doubt. In 1529, the Treaty of Saragossa confirmed a division that excluded Spain from virtually all of island Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the growth of trans-Pacific trading by Spaniards based in Mexico resulted in Spain ousting the Muslim rulers of Maynilad on the island of Luzon and establishing there the colony of Manila in 1571. Conflict with Muslims continued for the next three centuries, with the southern island of Mindanao still resisting Spanish rule well into the nineteenth century. But the Portuguese did not contest the violation of the earlier treaties.

My speculation about the Philippines became more refined a couple of years later when I attended a conference in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. At a friend’s suggestion, I took the Blue Booklet with me. After the conference, I visited the Leiden University library to seek expert advice about the booklet’s language, the university being the foremost European center for research on Islam in Indonesia. The chief bibliographer for Southeast Asian manuscripts looked closely at the text and told me that the language “is not Bugis, but it is like Bugis.” I was so ignorant that I began to bristle at his apparent implication that my manuscript was “bogus.” Before embarrassing myself, however, I caught on that Bugis was the name of a language in wide use on the southeast Indonesian island of Sulawesi. For more expertise, the bibliographer sent me on to a specialist on Austronesian linguistics. A few weeks later I received a letter from him telling me that he thought the language was Maranao, a tongue spoken by a million and a half people living around Lake Lanao in the western part of Mindanao. The linguist could not actually read Maranao, but he felt sure of his identification based on certain key words.

Hallelujah! My southern Philippines guess was right! (Remember, I had forgotten all about Mrs. Murphy’s letter.) But recognizing Maranao as the language of the Blue Booklet did not prove that it was also the language of the violin.

I mulled over the idea of teaching myself Maranao. But Maranao is now written with Latin characters instead of Arabic, and going from the former to the latter seemed daunting, even though the Blue Booklet’s scribe was scrupulous in indicating the short vowels that are so often not indicated in Arabic writing. Besides, I was then over sixty years old and doubted that I could learn a totally new language as effortlessly as I had done in my youth.

When I went to the Columbia library, however, I quickly uncovered a book devoted to U.S. military operations against Muslim “Moros” in the Lake Lanao region of Mindanao. The Maranao-speakers, literally “the people of the lake,” inhabit all sides of Lake Lanao. My eyes widened. Whoever knew that this was a region of intense and highly publicized fighting in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War?

Mark Twain, for one. I found a searing commentary he wrote in 1906 about the First Battle of Bud Dajo, the Moro Rebellion’sequivalent of Vietnam’s My Lai massacre:

This incident burst upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of ourforces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington. The substance of it was as follows:

A tribe of Moros, dark-skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace. Our commander, Gen. Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance. It was found that the Moros numbered six hundred, counting women and children; that their crater bowl was in the summit of a peak or mountain twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and very difficult of access for Christian troops and artillery. Then General Wood ordered a surprise, and went along himself to see the order carried out. Our troops climbed the heights by devious and difficult trails, and even took some artillery with them. The kind of artillery is not specified, but in one place it was hoisted up a sharp acclivity by tackle, a distance of some three hundred feet. Arrived at the rim of the crater, the battle began. Our soldiers numbered five hundred and forty. They were assisted by auxiliaries consisting of a detachment of native constabulary in our pay — their numbers not given — and by a naval detachment, whose numbers are not stated. But apparently the contending parties were about equal as to number — six hundred men on our side, on the edge of the bowl; six hundred men, women and children in the bottom of the bowl. Depth of the bowl, 50 feet.

Gen. Wood’s order was, “Kill or capture the six hundred.”

The battle began — it is officially called by that name — our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats-though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any.

The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms. The completenessof the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.

General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been. “Kill or capture those savages.” Apparently our little army considered that the “or” left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there — the taste of Christian butchers.

The official report quite properly extolled and magnified the “heroism” and “gallantry” of our troops; lamented the loss of the fifteen who perished, and elaborated the wounds of thirty-two of our menwho suffered injury, and even minutely and faithfully described the nature of the wounds, in the interest of future historians of the United States. It mentioned that a private had one of his elbows scraped by a missile, and the private’s name was mentioned. Another private had the end of his nose scraped by a missile. His name was also mentioned — by cable, at one dollar and fifty cents a word.

Next day’s news confirmed the previous day’s report and named our fifteen killed and thirty-two wounded again, and once more described the wounds and gilded them with the right adjectives.

Let us now consider two or three details of our military history. In one of the great battles of the Civil War ten percent of the forces engaged on the two sides were killed and wounded. At Waterloo, where four hundred thousand men were present on the two sides, fifty thousand fell, killed and wounded, in five hours, leaving three hundred and fifty thousand sound and all right for further adventures. Eight years ago, when the pathetic comedy called the Cuban War was played, we summoned two hundred and fifty thousand men. We fought a number of showy battles, and when the war was over we had lost two hundred and sixty-eight men out of our two hundred and fiftythousand, in killed and wounded in the field, and just fourteen times as many by the gallantry of the army doctors in the hospitals and camps. We did not exterminate the Spaniards — far from it. In each engagement we left an average of two percent of the enemy killed or crippled on the field.

Contrast these things with the great statistics which have arrived from that Moro crater! There, with six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright, and we had thirty-two wounded — counting that nose and that elbow. The enemy numbered six hundred — including women and children — and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.

Now then, how has it been received? The splendid news appeared with splendid display-heads in every newspaper in this city of four million and thirteen thousand inhabitants, on Friday morning. But there was not a single reference to it in the editorial columns of any one of those newspapers. The news appeared again in all the evening papers of Friday, and again thosepapers were editorially silent upon our vast achievement. Next day’s additional statistics and particulars appeared in all the morning papers, and still without a line of editorial rejoicing or a mention of the matter in any way. These additions appeared in the evening papers of that same day (Saturday) and again without a word of comment. In the columns devoted to correspondence, in the morning and evening papers of Friday and Saturday, nobody said a word about the “battle.” Ordinarily those columns are teeming with the passions of the citizen; he lets no incident go by, whether it be large or small, without pouring out his praise or blame, his joy or his indignation about the matter in the correspondence column. But, as I have said, during those two days he was as silent as the editors themselves. So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion — that was the President of the United States. All day Friday he was as studiously silent as the rest. But on Saturday he recognized that his duty required him to say something, and he took his pen and performed that duty. If I know President Roosevelt — and I am sure I do — this utterance cost him more pain and shame than any other that ever issued from his pen or his mouth. I am far from blaming him. If I had been in his place my official duty would have compelled me to say what he said. It was a convention, an old tradition, and he had to be loyal to it. There was no help for it. This is what he said:

Washington, March 10.

Wood, Manila:- I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.

(Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.

His whole utterance is merely a convention. Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms — and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight yearsin the Philippines — that is to say, they had dishonored it.

The next day, Sunday, — which was yesterday — the cable brought us additional news — still more splendid news — still more honor for the flag. The first display-head shouts this information at us in the stentorian capitals: “WOMEN SLAIN MORO SLAUGHTER.”

“Slaughter” is a good word. Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion

The next display line says:

“With Children They Mixed in Mob in Crater, and All Died Together.”

They were mere naked savages, and yet there is a sort of pathos about it when that word children falls under your eye, for it always brings before us our perfectest symbol of innocence and helplessness; and by help of its deathless eloquence color, creed and nationality vanish away and we see only that they are children — merely children. And if they are frightened and crying and in trouble, our pity goes out to them by natural impulse. We see a picture. We see the small forms. Wesee the terrified faces. We see the tears.

We see the small hands clinging in supplication to the mother; but we do not see those children that we are speaking about. We see in their places the little creatures whom we know and love.

The next heading blazes with American and Christian glory like to the sun in the zenith:

“Death List is Now 900.”

The massacre took place on the small island of Jolo, which served until the advent of steamships as the seat of the Sulu Sultanate, a maritime power in the Sulu Sea east of Mindanao. Tausug, the language of Jolo and nearby islands, is only distantly related toMaranao, but American campaigns to impose their authority on the Maranaos living around Lake Lanao on the big island of Mindanao had already been going on for a decade. Some American commanders had acted with racist bile — Mark Twain’s “naked savages” parodies that mindset — most notably in burying a pig with fallen Muslim enemies, supposedly to prevent their entry into heaven. Others, most notably Colonel John J. Pershing of later World War I fame, were models for today’s advocates of settling wars bywinning the hearts and minds of the enemy.


Figure 4 — Philippine map showing location of Lake Lanao on Mindanao

Having my eyes opened to an exotic locale where America’s pride in its military prowess had once garnered headlines, I leapt at the notion that the violin and the text bundle might have reached Boston as souvenirs of that long-forgotten war. Massachusettsregiments had played a role in the Spanish-American War so it seemed not unreasonable to surmise that someone from the Boston area had been stationed on Mindanao, probably in the administrative center of Zamboanga, and participated in suppressing whatAmericans called the Moro Rebellion between 1899 and 1913.

This speculation was not without problems, however. The artifacts in question could not easily be classed as battlefield trophies. A Maranao dagger (kris) or a brightly painted shield would surely have been a more dramatic choice as a memento, particularly since the writing inside the violin would not have been visible to the hypothetical American souvenir hunter.

But who else might have brought either of the items to Boston at some time prior to 1968? An actual Maranao immigrant or visitor, perhaps? Highly unlikely inasmuch as the first Maranao organization in the United States, Maranaos in America for Peace, Integration and Advancement (MAPIA), was founded in Burbank, California only in 2007. Not only did Filipino immigrants to the United States prior to World War II settle mostly in Hawaii and California, but they seem to have included, at most, only a handful of Muslims, who account for only five percent of the Philippines population. And why would an immigrant have packed a decrepit violin and a bunch of sacred writings in his suitcase?

So how about an anthropologist or other scholar returning from a research trip? Again, highly unlikely since the initial submission of the violin to the library’s Hebrew division indicates that its provenance had already vanished from of its owner(s) memory by 1968, when American academic interest in Mindanao was virtually non-existent. Publication of Philippine Studies, the main English-language scholarly journal, began in Manila only in 1953, and an on-line search of its contents yields no results for “history” or “anthropology” combined with “Mindanao,” “Maranao,” or “Moro” before 1968.

A third conceivable alternative might be a missionary returning from years of residence in the region. Such a person would quite possibly be more interested in a musical instrument and some local religious writings than a military officer. But Mindanao barely figured on the Protestant missionary map that the denominations agreed upon after the American victory over Spain. The western part of the island was assigned in 1902 to The Christian and Missionary Alliance, whose guiding spirit, the Canadian Albert C. Simpson, saw the spread of his faith in intensely racialist terms. The handful of C&MA missionaries centered their activities in Zamboanga, a city well west of the Maranao area. Eventually, a Seventh Day Adventist mission became active on the island as well. But by the mid-1920s they numbered the baptisms they performed in the dozens for the whole island. In other words, American missionaries seem barely to have touched the Lake Lanao region.

As a final possibility, what about an American businessman, schoolteacher, or civil administrator bringing home some bits of exotica? Americans did indeed fill these roles after the armistice. In 1913, when the American army secured its control of the Lake Lanao region, twenty-nine percent of the country’s civil service was American. But that number had shrunk to six percent by 1923. As for the hundreds of teachers who came to the country after the war, they primarily taught English in an imported K-12 educational system that used Tagalog, a northern language, as the only indigenous language of instruction. They were all gone by 1927 without, so far as I can tell, ever penetrating the Maranao-speaking region. As for business, sugar was the main Philippine export to the U.S., and Lake Lanao was not a major sugar-producing district.

With Maranao immigrants to Massachusetts, area studies scholars, and returning missionaries, teachers, and businessmen ruled out, and pretty certain that a search for American veterans of the Moro Rebellion would take more time than I was willing to spend, I tried posting a page of the Blue Booklet on facebook. A couple of respondents identified the language as Maranao, but no one could put me in touch with a person who could actually read the text. Then I posted a much earlier version of this essay on academia.edu. Out of 692 hits from around the world, one proved exceptionally helpful.


Figure 5 — Pages 9 and 10 of Blue booklet

Midori Kawashima, Professor Emeritus at Sophia University in Tokyo, has made a study of Maranao manuscripts in Arabic script. He says this of pages 9 and 10 of the Blue Booklet:

The Maranao text is familiar to me because I have come across a similar text in a mimeographed booklet in Maranao published in the 1950s. It is a kind of divination called pito a saatan (seven moments or periods of time in a day) in Maranao, an equivalent of bintang tujuh (seven stars or planets) of Malay. It tells whether the moment or period of time within a day is lucky or unlucky for certain activities such as meeting a ruler, delivery of a child, marriage etc. It starts with Syams (Sun), and continues to Zuhrah (Venus), Utarid (Mercury), Kamar (the moon), Zuhal (Saturn), Musyatari (Jupiter), and Marikh (Mars). This is one of the common methods to determine lucky and unlucky times that have been used by people in the Malay world or Maritime Southeast Asia, including Mindanao and Sulu in the Southern Philippines.


Figure 6 — Pages 7 and 8 of Blue Booklet

Pages 8 of the booklet similarly contains lore related to determining lucky or unlucky times:

Lines 4 to 9 in the left-hand page is another kind of divination called rejang in Malay, in which a certain animal is assigned to each day of month. In Malay texts, it usually starts with kuda (horse), followed by kijang (barking deer), while in this Maranao text, it starts with koda (horse), followed by seladeng (deer). I have found another text on rejang in a Maranao booklet, in which koda is also followed by seladeng.

At last! The purpose of the booklet becomes clear. It is a divination handbook, presumably used by a specialist in this activity.

Perhaps because I have made animal history one of my career specialties, my eye was caught by the second word from the top on another page of the booklet. I sounded it out as karabaw. Could this be the Maranao name for the carabao, the native, swamp adapted, domestic water buffalo used for plowing throughout the Philippines? And if so, were the words listed in a column below it also animal names? Maybe they correlated with days of the month as Prof. Kawashima suggested.


Figure 7 — Chart with names of zodiacal animals

After a long struggle with an on-line Maranao-English dictionary, I determined that the chart did name animals. Reading from the top, they were:

English
Maranao
Rat = riya
Carabao = karabaw
Tiger = harimaw
Mouse deer = pilandok
Snake = nipay
Snake = naga
Lion = sing
Horse = koda’
Monkey = amo’
Chicken = manok
Dog = aso’
Pig = baeboy

The remainder of the page features an array of triangles. Most are empty, but four of them contain the names of the first four caliphs: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Usman (spelled with a sin replacing the tha’ and no alif), and ‘Ali (spelled with an alif replacing the ‘ain). The same names repeat going down the right-hand side.

The correlation, however, is not with the days of the month. Rather, it is with the Chinese zodiacal signs, most often encountered as the names of years in the Chinese calendar.

English
Maranao
Chinese Year of the…
Rat = riya Rat
Carabao = karabaw Ox
Tiger = harimaw Tiger
Mouse deer = pilandok Mouse deer
Snake = nipay Dragon
Snake = naga Snake
Lion = sing Horse
Horse = koda’ Goat
Monkey = amo’ Monkey
Chicken = manok Rooster
Dog = aso’ Dog
Pig = baeboy Pig

The correlation with the Chinese calendar is unquestionable, but the connection between the column of animal names and the array of triangles beside it is not at all apparent. Indeed, I would never have expected to see the word for “pig” enjoying such close proximity with the names of the first four caliphs of Islam.

Comparison of the animal lists reveals several anomalies. The tiny mouse deer, or chevrotain, substitutes for the rabbit, which was not introduced to the Philippines until World War II. “Lion” takes the place of the Chinese “horse,” neither animal being native to the Philippines. But the next name, which includes the word koda’, or “horse”, is accompanied by some undecipherable words that may somehow relate it to the Chinese “goat.” Yet the common word for “goat” in Maranao, Tagalog, Malay, and Indonesian is kambing.

The second word for “snake,” naga, is commonly used for “dragon” in Malay. Perhaps the undecipherable words that accompanyit explain why it comes after instead of before nipay. A long-standing interest in Nagas in the Indian tradition led me to pursue the matter further. Among of the hundreds of imaginary beasts in Filipino folklore, the Bakunawa, etymologically a “bent snake,” causes eclipses by swallowing the moon. It is sometimes assimilated with the Indo-Malay Naga, but it also connects in Maranao with a moon-swallowing lion called Arimaonga.

In the divinatory calendar used by shamans known as babaylans, it makes a difference which direction the massive, unlucky, mouth of the Bakunawa is pointing, as shown on this chart:


Figure 8 — Rotation of Bakunawa throughout the year. Clockwise from top: North, East,South, West.

A version of this chart appears in the Blue Booklet, the serpent forms being readily identifiable as Nagas in comparative Malayand Indonesian images. The names of the months of the Muslim calendar surround the serpents, starting with Muharram at the upper right.


Figure 9 — Nagas (Bakunawas) rotating throughout the year

Here, then, is another divining tool to go with the astronomical and animal systems described by Dr. Kawashima and the one shown on the page making use of the Chinese calendar.

Other ways of distinguishing lucky and unlucky times and dates involve dividing the day into five or seven periods. According to Dr. Kawashima, the technique shown in the following chart (Figure 10) is called rimaran in Maranao and ketika lima, meaning “five times,” in Malay. According to W. W. Skeat’s classic Malay Magic published in 1900:

Perhaps the oldest and best known of the systems of lucky and unlucky times is the one called Katika Lima, or the Five Times. Under it, the day is divided into five parts, and the five days form a cycle: to each of these divisions is assigned a name, the names being Maswara (Maheshwara), Kala, S’ri, Brahma, and Bisnu (Vishnu), which recur in the order shown in the following table or diagram:—

 

Morning Forenoon Noon Afternoon Evening
Day 1 Maswara Kala S’ri Brahma Bisnu
Day 2 Bisnu Maswara Kala S’ri Brahma
Day 3 Brahma Bisnu Maswara Kala S’ri
Day 4 S’ri Brahma Bisnu Maswara Kala
Day 5 Kala S’ri Brahma Bisnu Maswara

The names are the names of Hindu deities, Maswara being Shiva, and constituting with Brahma and Vishnu the so-called Hindu Trinity, while Kala is either another title of Shiva, or stands for Kali, his wife, and S’ri is a general title of all Hindu gods. . . .

The same mystic notions of color and the like are attached to these divisions by the Malays as obtain in the case of the Javanese days of the week: thus Maswara’s color is yellow-white (puteh kuning): if you go out you will meet a man of yellow-white complexion, or wearing yellow-white clothes; it is a lucky time for asking a boon from a Raja, or for doing any kind of work; good news then received is true, bad news is false, and so on.

Kala’s color is a reddish black (hitam merah); if you go out you will meet a bad man or have a quarrel; it is an unlucky time altogether: the good news one hears turns out untrue, and the bad true; illness occurring at this time is due to a ghost (hantu orang), and the remedy is ablack fowl; in cock-fighting a black cock will beat a white one at this time, but when setting him to fight you must not face towards the west, etc.

Similarly S’ri’s color is white, Brahma’s is red, Vishnu’s is green, and each division has its respective advantages and disadvantages.

Another version of this system, known as the Five Moments (sa’at), is based on a somewhat similar diagram but had orthodox Muhammadan names for its divisions, viz. Ahmad, Jibra’il (Gabriel), Ibrahim (Abraham), Yusuf (Joseph), and ‘Azra’il (Azrael)….


Figure 10 — Figures and colors of days of the week

The two words beneath each stick figure in the Blue Booklet designate the colors (warna) black, white, red, yellow, blue, in Malay, not in Maranao. They are shown as colored dots. The days of the week are given in Arabic on the right-hand side with Sunday at the top. What the variations among the stick figures mean is undisclosed, but within each day cycle, the yellow figure is usually the most “developed,” with four out ofseven having penises. By comparison, the red figures are the least “developed.” If the five divisions are times of day, as Skeat suggests, and Morning begins on the right side next to the day names, then it would appear that Morning is the most auspicious, having four penises. The other day divisions have only one.

Obviously, any division of a day into five segments brings to mind the Muslim prayer times. Those prayers are not spelled on this chart, however, and the five-day Hindu god cycles used by Malay diviners suggest a different, possibly pre-Islamic origin. Nevertheless, the chart on the facing page (Figure 11) strengthens the case for a prayer connection.


Figure 11 — Prayer period (?), heavenly body, and color correlations

As in Figure 10, the right-hand column consists of the days of the week. Now, however, there is the name of a heavenly body underneath each day: from the top, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. Each square in the next six columns contains a heavenly body name, and below it the name, apparently, of a day part. Since there are six columns instead of five, they cannot all be Muslim prayers.However, zuhur could denote the noon prayer, and asr the evening prayer. Across the bottom of the chart are the same five Malay color names as those shown with the stick figures in Figure 10, plus an added word meaning “green.” Reading up from the bottom along the left side are the words “good” (mapiya), “good,” “less” (korang), “less good” (korang mapiya), “good,” “less good,” and “angel” (mala’ika).

Although there are no labels linking the days to auspicious religious individuals, a chart on a different page does make such associations.


Figure 12 — Identification of the prophets associated with days of the week

As usual, the days of the week are ranged vertically as the first column of the right-hand page. Each day is followed by six ornaments. Lucky signs? Unlucky signs? There is no way of telling. The lines that separate the seven paragraphs of the left-hand page seem to suggest a continuation of the days. I don’t know what the paragraphs say, but each of them starts with the word nabi, meaning “prophet,” and a name: Noah (Nuh), Moses (Musa), Idris, Jesus (Isa), Abraham (Ibrahim), Muhammad, and David (Daud). No Hindu gods, but only the name Ibrahim overlapping the Muslim Malay series described by Skeat. A chart elsewhere in the booklet assigns the same prophets to the same days.

All of the comparisons with Malay divinatory practices raised a question as whether the Blue Booklet was essentially a translation of materials from Malay sources or whether it related specifically to the Maranao people. After all, except for a few pages, the other five booklets in the text bundle were written in Arabic or Malay. A search for distinctively Maranao cultural features seemed daunting,however. Not because there was little to explore, but because there was so much. Besides, what sort of transfer from myth, folklore, dance, or music to divinatory ritual could one even hope to find?

Fortunately, in 2019 Christian Jeo N. Talaguit wrote an essay for the History Department of De La Salle University in Manila entitled “Folk-Islam in Maranao society.” After a summary of the scholarly debates about the legitimacy of terms like “Folk-Islam” that draw attention to local “small traditions” coexisting in complicated and contested ways with an Islamic “great tradition,” the author explores some of the main aspects of Maranao mythology and surviving traces of pre-Islamic shamanism in Muslim religious practice. The central myth he draws upon comes from Damiana Eugenio’s authoritative Philippine Folk Literature: The Myths (1986). It is an origin story that takes the region of Lake Lanao to be the geographical center of the world:

How the Angels Built Lake Lanao

Long ago there was no lake in Lanao. On the place where it is now situated, there flourished a mighty sultanate called Mantapoli. During the reign of Sultan Abdara Radawi, the great-grandfather of Radia Indarapatra (mythological hero of the Lanao Muslims), this realm expanded by military conquests and by dynastic marriages so that in time its fame spread far and wide.

The population of Mantapoli was numerous and fast increasing. At that time the world was divided into two regions: Sebangan (East) and Sedpan (West). The mighty sultanate of Mantapoli belonged to Sebangan. Because this sultanate rapidly increased in power and population as well, the equilibrium between Sebangan and Sedpan was broken.

This disequilibrium soon came to the attention of Archangel Diabarail (Gabriel to the Christians and Muslims). Like a flash of sunlight, Diabarail flew to the Eighth heaven andtold Allah, “My Lord, why have you permitted the unbalance of the earth? Because of the power of Mantapoli, Sebangan is now larger than Sedpan.”

“Why, Diabarail,” replied the Sohara (Voice of Allah), “what is wrong with that?”

“My Lord, Mantapoli has a vast population countless as the particles of dust. If we will allow this sultanate to remain in Sebangan, I fear that the world would turn upside down, since Sebangan is heavier than Sedpan.” “Your words show great wisdom, Diabarail,” commented the Sohara. “What must we do, my Lord, to avert the impending catastrophe?”

To this query, the Sohara replied, “Go right away to the Seven-Regions-Beneath-the-Earth and to the Seven-Regions-in-the-Sky and gather all the angels. I will cause a barahana (solar eclipse) and in the darkness let the angels remove Mantapoli and transfer it to the center of the earth.”

Upon receiving the mandate of Allah, Archangel Diabarail, traveling faster than lightning, rallied the millions of angels from the Seven-Regions-Beneath-the-Earth and the Seven-Regions-in-the-Sky. With this formidable army, he presented himself to Allah, saying, “My Lord, we are ready to obey Your command.”

The Sohara spoke, “Go to Sebangan, and lift the land of Mantapoli.” Diabarail, leading his army of angels, flew to the east. In the twinkle of an eye, the sun vanished and a terrible darkness asblack as the blackest velvet shrouded the universe. The angels sped faster than arrows. They swooped on Mantapoli, lifting it with great care and carried it (including its people, houses, crops and animals) through the air as if it were a carpet. They brought it down at the center of the earth, in accordance with the command of Allah. The very spot vacated by the sultanate of Mantapoli became a huge basin of deep, blue water — the present Lanao Lake.

The waters coming from the deep bowels of the earth rose higher and higher. Archangel Diabarail, seeing the rising tides, immediately returned to the Eighth Heaven and reported to Allah, “My Lord, the earth is now balanced. But the place where we removed Mantapoli is becoming an ocean. The waters are rising fast, and unless an outlet for them can be found, I fear that they might inundate Sebangan and drown all Your people.”

In response, the Sohara said, “You are right, Diabarail. Go out, then, and summon the Four Windsof the World: Angin Taupan, Angin Besar, Angin Darat, and Angin Sarsar. Tell them to blow and make an outlet for the overflowing waters.”

Obeying the Master’s command, the faithful messenger summoned the Four Winds. “By theWill of Allah,” he told them, “blow your best, and make an outlet for the rising waters of the new lake.”

The four winds of the world blew, and a turbulence swept the whole eastern half of the earth. The surging waters rolled swiftly towards the shores of Tilok Bay to the southeastern direction. But the towering ranges impeded their onrush. The Four Winds blew, hurling the waves againstthe rocky slopes but in vain; no outlet could be cut through the mountain barrier.

Changing direction, this time eastward, the Four Winds blew harder driving the raging waters towards the shores of Sugud Bay (situated east of Dansalan, now Marawi City). Once again, the attempt to create an outlet failed because the bay was too far from the sea.

For the third time, the Four Winds changed direction and blew their hardest. The waves, plunging with ferocity, rolled towards Marawi. Day and night, the Winds blew as the waters lashed against the shoreline of Marawi. This time the attempt succeeded. An outlet now called Agus River was made, and through the outlet, that water of Lake Lanao poured out to the sea, thereby saving Sebangan from a deluge.

There is so much here to unpack, starting with the great sultan of Mantapoli and hero of the Maranao people. Though his great-grandfather’s name, Abdara, may conceal a Muslim Abdullah or Abd al-Rahman, Indarapatra “Son of Indra” is purely Sanskritic and Hindu, reflecting influences on Maranao culture that long preceded the spread of Islam in the sixteenth century. Yet the name of God is Allah; and God’s voice, Sohara, as distinct from both God and Diabarail/Gabriel, may reflect the medieval Mu‘tazili argument, influenced by Neoplatonism, that the Qur’an is not co-eternal with God, since that would imply dualism and diminish God’s unity, but is simply God’s first utterance.

Though no angels other than Diabarail are named, the four winds (angina = wind) are. Rather than the wind names indicating points on the compass, however, a Maranao dictionary defines sarsar as “go in a hurry,” without a specific connection with a wind, and cites both anginbesar and angindarat as meaning “strong wind.” As for angintaopan, the dictionary defines this is as “storm,” and it obviously incorporates the notion of “typhoon,” a word of Chinese origin but more likely here a borrowing from Arabic and Persian tufan. Nevertheless, records of storm tracks across the Pacific Ocean indicate that despite the great exposure to typhoons of the Philippine islands as a whole, they are almost unheard of in western Mindanao where Lake Lanao is situated.

Returning to Radia Indarapatra, he is the progenitor of some of the paramount figures in the stories that make up the Maranao epic known as Darangen, a 72,000-line collection of 16 story cycles in iambic tetrameteror catalectic trochaic tetrameter. “A just, wise, and kind ruler, Indarapatra of the Mantapuli Empire is known as the greatest of all kings. He is known to own an enchanted spear (sibat), which comes back to him as he wishes. He has taught his subjects how to farm, hunt for food, domesticate animals, fish, weave, and use plants as medicines.” [myranao.blogspot.com/2013/11/darangan-maranao-epics.html]

He functions, in other words, as the Maranao equivalent of the Yellow Emperor in China or the Pishdadian emperor Jamshid in Iranian mythology.

According to Maranao legend, Prince Radia Indarapatra was persuaded to descend from the kingdom of Mantapuli to the earth. He travelled to many kingdoms, fighting many giants including Omaka-an, eventually reaching as far as Mindanao. In Lanao, he met the water nymph Potri Rainalaut, who lives underwater. From this union, Aia Diwata Mokom saKinialonod a Ig was born, the Diwata of the Rising Water and the apo [grandfather?] of the Maranao.

Many years later, the descendants of Radia Indarapatra intermarried with the characters of the Darangen epic. As years went by, Sarip [Sahib?] Kabungsuwan, a Muslim missionary, reached Lanao, wanting to preach Islam in Bembaran, the setting of the epic. Thepeople of Bembaran were reluctant to embrace Islam, which eventually caused the kingdom to become enchanted. Three datus [chiefs], however, Butuanen Kalinan, Batara sa Kilaten and Dima-ampao Kalinan were able to escape, later establishing the “four sultanates of Lanao.” Today, all ruling families of Lanao trace their ancestry to these founding apo, with Radia Indarapatra at their apex.

As for the angels who carry out God’s command to uproot Mantapoli and move it to the center of the earth, they fit well into the teeming population of unseen beings that inhabit animistic Filipino folklore. Labeling them with an Arabic word for “angel,” however, effectively accommodates them within Islam. Mentions of angels in other discussions of Maranao mythology also have them accompanying the Sun and the Moon in their courses and superintending the seven levels of heaven, each of which has a different color. Figure 13 shows the only stick figure to appear in the text bundle outside the Blue Booklet. The writing accompanying this figure contains the word mala’ikat six times. In Arabic this word means “angels,” but in Maranao it can be used for a single angel. The top left angel may be the barahana (“eclipse”) mentioned in the myth.


Figure 13 — Stick figure with angel names

Whether this rich tapestry of myth can be connected with the diviner’s handbook depends onthe interpretation of Figure 14, the most enigmatic image in Blue Booklet.


Figure 14 — Mantapoli divination?

At the top we find a circle with the Maranao word for Sun above it, and at the bottom a crescent with the word for Moon. Angling in toward the sun circle from the right is the word Sebangan, thename of the eastern portion of the primordial Maranao world. Similarly angling in on the crescent moon crescent from the left is the word for the western half, Sedpan. Neither word is Malay, which indicates the involvement of a distinctly Maranao cultural context. The twelve pie slices into which the great circle is divided bear the names of the months of the Muslim lunar calendar, reading clockwise from Muharram just to the right of the sun. Some of the months were obviously mislocated and had tobe washed out and resituated.

While circular divinatory charts show up in Malay magic, none I have seen remotely resemblesthis one, particularly with the two tiers of stick figures. If those figures can be interpreted as angels, the two tiers may represent the angels above and the angels below who moved Mantapoli at God’s command. In that case, the black-headed angel in the month of Shawwal probably stands for Diabarail/Gabriel.

The absence of any stick figure in one outer and one inner pie slice gives the chart a resemblance to a combination lock, as if the passage of time over the course of the year causes alignments of angels that are either propitious or unpropitious. In support of this suggestion, the very next page after this one shows the nagas/bakunawas pointing in different directions throughout the year (Figure 9). Just as Prof. Kawashima’s divination texts using celestial features and animal namessucceed one another, and the charts dividing the day into significant parts do the same, so a thirdgrouping of methods for divining by months of the year would support the idea that the practitioner who composed and used the Blue Booklet liked having similar tools grouped together for easy reference.

Having reached the conclusion that the Blue Booklet is, in its entirety, a genuinely Maranao handbook presenting a wide assortment of divining practices, I still didn’t know exactly how it was used. But I was okay with that. After all, learning to predict the future was not the object of my quest. I will happily leave that to the professionals.

What continued to intrigue me, however, was the eclectic character of a world of ritual activity that the booklet introduced me to. It touched upon all of Southeast Asia, but also borrowed images and practices from India, China, and the Islamic Middle East. Though I knew something about the relics of pre-Islamic magical practices still traceable in other Muslim cultures, the Blue Booklet did not bring to mind any obvious Turkish/Persian/Arabic model. It contained no magic squares or horoscopes, and its numerology did not go beyond the assignment of numeric values, based on the abjad sequence of the Arabic alphabet, to the names of days, months, and a few holy words.

Skeat’s voluminous Malay Magic never mentions the Chinese calendrical animals, and has only this to say about constructing a horoscope:

The Bidan [Wise Woman] generally performs some species of divination … in order to ascertain the nature of the child’s horoscope. This object may be achieved in several ways; e.g. by astrological calculations; by casting up … the numerical values of the letters of both parents’ names, in accordance with the abjad, or secret cipher alphabet; by observance of a wax taper fixed upon the brim of a jar of water; and by observance of a cup of “betel-leaf water”.1

Skeat does talk about magic squares, however, as does Farouk Yahya in his recent book Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill, 2015). Clearly, some geographical/cultural boundary separates Malay and Malay-influenced Islam from the heritage of cultures farther to the west and to the north.

Given the expansive maritime activity that spread Islam through the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago well before the arrival of the Spaniards, it comes as no surprise that Maranao culture should be influenced by Malay Islam. After all, in navigational terms, the Philippines were simply the next set of islands beyond Indonesia and New Guinea. But where Indian religious culture left a visible stamp on some parts of island Southeast Asia, viz. the Hindu religious observances of Bali and the massive Buddhist temple of Borobudur on Java, its impact on the Philippines was much attenuated.

Malay-speakers could be found in the seaports of a few small sultanates, but well over a hundred local languages were spoken on different Philippine islands. Most were not written, but as already demonstrated, they contained large stores of oral myth and folklore nevertheless. The human repositories of this cultural wealth were commonly called babaylan or balian. The Maranao form, walian, is probably influenced by Arabic wali, meaning “benefactor” or “saint.” Today, writers describing their roles in the Philippines commonly refer to them as shamans while sometimes calling their counterparts in the Malay world magicians.

Specialists on Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia have studied Muslim engagement with this shamanistic or magical substrate extensively. In addition to the works by Skeat and Yahya mentioned earlier, an interestedreader can consult R. O. Winstedt, Shaman, Saiva and Sufi: A Study of the Evolution of Malay Magic (London: Constable and Co., 1925, John R. Bowen, Muslims Through Discourse (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Teren Sevea, Miracles andMaterial Life: Rice, Ore, Traps and Guns in Islamic Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Though equivalent studies for Muslim societies in the Philippines are not available, interactionsbetween shamans and Spanish Catholic colonialism have frequently been discussed. Clerics and governing authorities were appalled by indigenous societies conferring high respect on female shamans, who were as important as headmen. The few male shamans (asog) either dressed as women or acquired the social identity ofwomen by wearing women’s clothes, or adopting a female voice, mannerisms, and hairstyle. They served as mediums in séances and as healers, diviners, and sorcerers. The role could be hereditary, or older shamans could pass on their lore and rituals to apprentices they deemed qualified. Critical illness, a near-death experience, seizures, or strange dreams might be taken as indicators of readiness for initiation. The initiation itself involved anything from an alcohol or drug induced trance to being buried alive or immersed overnight in water.

Carolyn Brewer has recently studied the horror, frustration, and disbelief that the female Filipino shamans aroused among the Spaniards. She quotes the Jesuit missionary Pedro Chirino: “This pagan priest, while offering his infamous sacrifices, was possessed by the Devil who caused him to make most ugly grimaces; and he braided his hair, which for his particular calling he wore long, like a woman.”

Ay caramba! How could such societies exist? Brewer writes: “I questioned, in relation to the Philippine situation, the model that claims that it is identification with an ambiguous ‘third sex/gender space’ that provides shamans with spiritual potency. On the contrary, I conclude that in the Animist pre-colonial Philippine archipelago it was the male shaman’s identification with the feminine, either as temporary transvestism or as amore permanent lifestyle choice, that reinforced the normative situation of female as shaman, and femininity asthe vehicle to the spirit world.”2 How Muslim missionaries had handled the gender issue is lost to history, but coming from the Malay world, which also had female magicians and monarchs, they probably encountered it long before reaching Mindanao. Today, all Maranao shamans are male.

Male shamans frequently led non-Muslim revolts or otherwise resisted the imposition of Catholic control in the Spanish colonial areas. One revolt early in the seventeenth century ended with 82 asog being burned at the stake. In the nineteenth century, dios-dios shamans borrowed Christian imagery to claim supernatural powers. Attempts at suppressing their followers sometimes triggered revolts. “Pope Isios,” one of the last dios-dios holy men, redirected his resistance from Spain to the United States in 1899. He was captured and sentenced to death (later commuted) in 1907. In his photograph with shackled legs, he is standing next to a disciple who is wearing a woman’s dress.


Figure 15 — “Pope Isio” in American custody

A violin with a hidden inscription set me off on this text adventure, so no matter how satisfying it was to unravel some of the complexities of the Blue Booklet, I feel compelled to return to the mystery of the violin. If only the inscription were in Maranao! But Prof. Kawashima assured me that it is not.

A chance Internet mention that some of the shamans marginalized by the spread of Christianity and Islam worked as musicians led me to investigate Maranao music. Though stringed instruments are all but non-existent amidst a wide array of drums, gongs, and xylophones. I found reference to two, one with a single string and gourd-like sounding box played with a bow, and the other a kutiyapi. Also termed a boat-lute, the kutiyapi is a long, plucked instrument with two strings, one a drone, the other passing over beeswax frets. It is played along with a drum (tambor) and brass gongs (kulintang) to accompany ceremonial recitations of Darangen, a very long Maranao epic poem described earlier. Such performances, which can last as long as a week, feature strongly in Maranao cultural life. I could well imagine a Muslim shaman engaging in such a performance. But it’s the wrong sort of instrument. Plus, the inscription in the instrument I am focused on is not in Maranao.


Figure 16 — Man playing a kutiyapi

Prof. Kawashima suggested that the violin’s provenance is more likely somewhere in the Sulu archipelago, because they use there a native stringed instrument called a biyula. Historically the center of the Sulu Sultanate, a powerful maritime state — piratical, in the Spanish view — in the days before steamships, the Sulu archipelago includes the island of Jolo, where the American army carried out the massacre that sparked Mark Twain’s heartfelt outrage.

As described by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa in Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Expressions (Filipinas Foundation, 1983), a biyula is a locally-made musical instrument with four strings stretched over a hollow body and played with a bow. “It is traditionally played after the Indian manner: resting on the chest. Its neck, back, and belly are of a less convex construction than a violin . . . Quite often a local musician fashions a biyula for his own use.” Though I lacked the expertise to do a knowledgeable examination of the instrument I saw in 1968, it looked very much like the biyula shown in Figure 17. It was rather crudely made and unvarnished. I also seem to recall that it was lying flat on a table when I saw it, so it probably had a less convex back than a true violin.


Figure 17 — Biyula design from Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Expressions

Had I not learned from examining the Blue Booklet that there is a close relationship between the lore of Maranao shamans and that of Malay magicians, I might have stopped my search there, because the biyula seems not to be used elsewhere in the Philippines. When I turned to the Malay world, however, I quickly discovered that a violin called a biola (with variant spellings), and the rabab pasisia, its often home-crafted twin, are commonly used of accompany singing in Malaysia and Indonesia. The words biola and biyula obviously betray an originally Portuguese word viola, and point to the era of Portuguese control of the Spice Islands before the Dutch seized them in the early seventeenth century. According to Megan Collins, a specialiston the use of the instrument in Sumatra, the difference between the biola and the rabab pasisia is that theformer is held under the chin, and the latter held to the ground vertically with the neck sticking up.3

In the course of her discussion of biola design, Collins also mentioned use of the instrument among theTausug-speaking people of the Sulu archipelago, just as Prof. Kawashima had suggested. And she cited a 1972 doctoral dissertation entitled “Tradition and Repertoire in the Cultivated Music of the Tausug of Sulu, Philipines, PhD thesis, UCLA, 1972, by R. D. Trimillos, a recently retired ethnomusicologist at the University of Hawaii. While waiting to see whether Professor Trimillos will respond to my emailed query about the inscription, and possibly end my quest for its translation, I proceeded to explore the role of the biyula in Tausug musical culture.

Though the Tausug people are Muslims, like the Maranaos, their language belongs to a group of tongues spoken in northeastern Mindanao and on islands further north. Having established the Sulu Sultanate centered on the island of Jolo, they were heavily involved in maritime relations with the Malay Muslim societies on islands to the west of the Philippines. Consequently, their culture is quite different from that of theMaranaos, who live away from the sea and take their identity from living around Lake Lanao. Indian religious and story-telling traditions from the era before the arrival of Islam can be found in both cultures, but each has its own set of myths and folklore from even earlier times.

Among the Tausug, the biyula is popularly used to accompany extemporized verbal jousts called sindil and long solos, called liangkit, that may be about love, war, nature, etc. However, it does not play arole the Pangalay, the famous Indian influenced dance tradition of the Tausug.

Reaching a point of near clarity on the nature of the two MacGuffins at the center of my quest, the Maranao text bundle and the Tausug violin, I realized that as a man over eighty years of age who had been immersed in this text adventure, off and on, for almost 55 years, it was now time for me to scramble back out of the fascinating rabbit hole of Muslim Filipino culture. Never had I suspected such complexity, such romance, such beauty in a part of the world that only gets mentioned in world history textbooks when Spanish or American armies try to impose their will on it.

The question I had to ask myself was whether I was any closer now to figuring out how the MacGuffins got to Boston. The violin and the text bundle both came from remote parts of the Philippines, but not from the same part. How, then, did they come together? The text bundle must have belonged to a Maranao shaman. The booklets are so thumbed and worn as to be on the verge of falling apart, and the different handwritings I have found in them number well over a score. It is amply apparent, therefore, that they must have constituted their original owner’s primary treasury of essential lore — maybe, even, his only “book.” Moreover, studies on shamans and magicians in Southeast Asian Islam agree that such repositories were closely guarded and passed on only to favored apprentices.

Would such a man also play the violin accompaniment for Tausug singers extemporizing a verse contest? And would he possess a home-crafted instrument safeguarded by a hidden inscription? Was he a Tausug? Or a Maranao? Though there were times when the two groups cooperated in resisting Spanish incursions, there were also times when they fought one another.

Assuming, as I have from the beginning, that these two strange artifacts from one of the least studied corners of the globe must have made their way to Boston as the possessions of a single person, the possibility arises that they were never in the hands of one individual until that unknown Bostonian acquired them. But even so, the violin was rudely crafted and homely, not to mention bulky to pack. In other words, not somethingthat would have appealed to a visitor wandering through a flea market full of colorful textiles and wood carvings. As for the text bundle, it was surely too full of precious secrets ever to have been put up for sale, not to mention being in languages that no casual buyer could possibly have deciphered.

Nevertheless, when I first mused on the likelihood of the two items being souvenirs of the American military campaign against what the United States termed the Moro Rebellion, I assumed they had beenacquired under benign circumstances. After all, exotic cultural artifacts would have been readily available to soldiers stationed in Zamboanga, the sizable administrative city located in the Tausug-speaking part of northwestern Mindanao (see Figure 4).


Figure 18 — American officers at Zamboanga, Department of Mindanao, 1899-1902 (University of Wisconsin-Madison Library)

But maybe this is too rosy a scenario. Generally speaking, I have a hard time imagining a shaman and a violinist bringing their professional accoutrements onto a battlefield, but one military engagement was special: the First Battle of Bud Dajo in 1906, also known to outraged souls like Mark Twain as the Moro Crater Massacre. After all of the Moros were killed, men, women, and children, certain American soldiers must have combed the battlefield for survivors, if only to put them out of their misery. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine one of them happening upon the holy book of a dead shaman and the biyula of a dead musician. Sad but touching debris. But what kind of soldier would feel moved to pick up these drab but evocative possessions and take them away with him?

Having lived as an adult civilian through the era of wars in Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, I cannot help but see both excess and restraint as aspects of the U.S. military. American actions in Mindanao during the Spanish-American War illustrate this duality. The officers who commanded the troops that quashed the Moro rebellion included some with previous experience in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. Colonel Frank Baldwin, for example, had won a first Medal of Honor during the Civil War and a second one fighting the Southern Cheyenne under Chief Grey Beard. According to historian Robert A. Fulton, “Few doubted Frank Baldwin’s courage or pugnacity, but while a fighting man’sfighting man, at age 60 he was known to be somewhat to the right of the Sherman-Sheridan doctrine of ‘the only good Indian is a dead one.’” [www.historynet.com/hearts-minds-mindanao.htm]

An opportunity to display both his pugnacity and his racist contempt arose when two Moro religious zealots — the term the Spaniards was juramentados — ambushed and killed two American soldiers. Baldwin organized, and then launched, without authorization, a retaliatory strike into Lake Lanao districts that had not been involved in the incident. The human cost of the campaign was 400 Maranaos killed and 10 Americans, but the political cost was high.

Embarrassed by Baldwin’s insubordination and his calamitous incitement of the Maranaos, his superiors nevertheless felt they had to recognize the successful retaliation and the planting of the American flag in the heart of Maranao territory. Baldwin established Camp Vicars close to the shore of Lake Lanao and named it for a lieutenant who had been decapitated during the campaign. His superiors promoted him to Brigadier General but transferred him to the already pacified island of Panay, where massacre opportunitieswere scarce. Succeeding Baldwin in command at Camp Vicars in 1901 was his intelligence officer, Captain John J. Pershing, who described his predecessor as “a fine soldier with a long experience in handling Indians, but he was inclined to be impetuous.”

Pershing, who later gained fame commanding the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I, had graduated from West Point in 1886 and opted for active duty in conflicts with the Apaches and the Sioux. After a subsequent stint as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he simultaneously earned a law degree, he was given command of a troop of African-American soldiers in the 10th Cavalry Regiment, one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” units created after the Civil War to fight Native Americans. This appointment doubtless reminded Pershing of his first job out of high school in Missouri teaching African-American children. On returning to West Point in 1895 as part of the tactical instruction staff, he was tarred with the disparaging nickname “Nigger Jack” because of his cavalry command. This was later softened to “Black Jack,” which stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The Spanish-American war brought First Lieutenant Pershing first to Cuba and then to the Philippines, where his service in several positions earned him a promotion to Captain. It also made him aware of the intense racism exhibited by some of his fellow officers. In his autobiography he writes: “The bodies of some jurament[ad]os [the equivalent of today’s jihadi suicide bombers] were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig. It was not pleasant [for the Army] to have to take such measures, but the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven sometimes deterred the would-be assassins.” [Jim Lacey, Pershing (Great Generals), PalgraveMacmillan, 2008, p. 66] No evidence has been found that Pershing himself engaged in such desecrations, but in deploring them as a military necessity he seems nevertheless to accept them.

Assigned as an intelligence officer in Mindanao, Pershing, along with an interpreter and three native scouts, embarked on a journey deep into unfriendly Maranao country. He parleyed with various datus (“chiefs”), and established cordial relations with Manabilang, the most influential datu on the north shore of the lake. Ten weeks later, as Colonel Baldwin was planning his reprisal for the ambush, Pershing took a second trip. Manabilang and several hundred angry Maranaos, including some from the south side of the lake who were deeply hostile, listened to him explain, through an interpreter, that the U.S. army just wanted to find the two killers, explore Lake Lanao, and build roads. America, he told them, had no designs on Islam and no intention of imposing a Christian regime. This did not forestall the bloodshed that lay ahead, but it did establish the pattern of seeking constructive accommodation that would characterize Pershing’s tenure as commander at Lake Lanao.

It is tempting to see Pershing’s live-and-let-live attitude as the product of his diverse earlier encounters with non-White, non-Christian groups. The Moros he was fighting, after all, differed dramatically from the Spaniards and their mostly Cuban and Filipino soldiery. One officer described them as follows:

The individual Moro is, on the average, from 5 to 5 feet 7 inches tall, solidly built, erect of carriage, with red-brown complexion, straight black hair, front teeth ground concave and polished black from chewing buyo, or betel nuts.…The Moro dress is colorful and picturesque: bright colored turbans, embroidered jackets leaving the broad and often scarred chest bare, tight-fitting trousers and yards of colored sash around the waist in which is carried the brass buyo box and the razor-sharp kris, or barong.…Don’t try to bluff him or push him around, or that kris will cut you down in a flash. I have seen it done. [Colonel Horace Potts Hobbs, Kris and Krag: Adventures Among the Moros of the Southern Philippine Islands.]

As for the warrior juramentados:

Candidates, known as mag-sabil, “who endure the pangs of death,” were selected from Muslim youth inspired to martyrdom by the teaching of Imams. Parents were consulted before the young men were permitted by the sultan to undergo training and preparation for Parang-sabil (the path to Paradise). After an oath taken, hand on the Qur’an, the chosen took a ritual bath, all body hair was shaved, and the eyebrows trimmed to resemble “a moon two days old.” A strong band was wrapped firmly around the waist, and cords wrapped tightly around the genitals, ankles, knees, upper thighs, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, restricting blood flow and preventing the mag-sabil from losing too much blood from injury before reaching their target. Clad in white robe and turban, the chosen youth would polish and sharpen his weapons before action.…At the moment of attack, the mag-sabil would approach a large group of enemies, shout “La ilaha il-la’l-lahu” (“There is no god but Allah”), draw kris or barong and then rush into the group swinging his sword, killing and maiming as many victims as possible in the time he had left. The mag-sabil’s body would be washed and again wrapped in white for burial. In the unlikely event the mag-sabil survived his attack, it was believed his body would ascend to Paradise after 40 years had passed. [Vic Hurley, Swish of the Kris: The Story of the Moros,1936, ch. 14.]


Figure 19 — Iligan circa 1903, American capital in Lake Lanao region (https://janb920.wordpress.com/about/)

So much for the positive side of American soldiers sent on imperialist missions. On the negative side, detailed accounts of the shameful massacre at Bud Dajo are still being published. The most recent, perhaps, is by Renato Oliveros on academia.com. “The Massacre of the 600 Moros (March 5-7, 1906). What really happened at Bud Dajo 1,” summarizes the author’s Temple University 2005 doctoral dissertation “Moro-American Conflict [1899-1913]” and draws on both American and Tausug sources. What it adds to previous accounts is explicit mention of Imams being present in the crater to inspire resistance and take the oaths of juramentados. (They probably also fashioned amulets to protect fighters against bullets.) “Panglima [Commander] Hassan had inculcated in the Moros that the only way to preserve God’s sovereignty was to resist American sovereignty through sabilillah, to fight in the name of Allah.” Confirming that resistors had been gathering in the crater for ten months, along with their wives and children, he cites Jack C. Lane, a biographer of General Leonard Wood, as saying: “With sufficient water in the extinct volcano, they planted rice and potatoes and ventured out during the day to obtain other supplies.”

Oliveros also cites Rowland Thomas, a veteran of Bud Dajo quoted in the Manila Times on May 5, 1906: “[I]t was merely a piece of public work such as the army has had to do many times in our own West.”“The West” here, according to Oliveros, “refers to American encounters with the Indians (Native Americans). [Peter G.] Gowing argued that U.S. policy regarding the Moros had a similar purpose and commonality with its policy toward America’s native people. The ‘Moro policy and administrative methods of the White Americans were influenced as well by their experience in governing the Indian peoples of North America. Many of the military and civil officials who were placed in authority over the Moros were veterans of the ‘Indian Wars’ in the American West.”

To zero in on the possibility of a Bostonian military man being present at the battle and acquiring mementos, I am following two hints. The first is from Dr. Annabel Teh Gallop, the Head of the Southeast Asia section of The British Library. In assembling an inventory of the shockingly small number (under 40, including one of the booklets in my text bundle) of surviving Filipino Qur’an manuscripts, she observes that severalmanuscripts were the possessions of American field surgeons. The second goes back to Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak handing around the violin inscription on day one of my text adventure in 1968. He stressed that he didn’t know the owner because the instrument had been first brought to the Hebrew Division of Widener Library for identification.

My take away from these two hints is that the man who brought the texts to Boston was a Jewish doctor serving in the U.S. Army during wartime. Why Jewish? Because whichever of his descendants took the violin for restoration could not distinguish Hebrew from Arabic handwriting. To be sure, Hebrew cursive script looks quite different from the familiar printed Hebrew characters, but it is clearly not the same as Arabic. My presumption is that a grandson or granddaughter assumed that the old family violin was an ancestral relic of life in the shtetl. Think Chagall’s painting of the fiddler on the roof.

So let me give my imaginary veteran of Bud Dajo a name: Mordechai Frankl, the son of “enlightened” Jewish immigrants from Germany, born right after the end of the Civil War. I will also postulate a degree from Harvard Medical School, whose graduating classes in the 1880s, before admissions policies took an anti-Semitic turn after 1906, were 20% to 40% Jewish. By contrast, only a half dozen Jews graduated from WestPoint during Mordechai’s college-age years.

Why did Mordechai volunteer to serve? Patriotism, perhaps, after the Hearst newspapers hyped the “Remember the Maine” revenge war in Cuba. But the Spanish-American War also saw army doctors doing pioneering work on tropical diseases. I can imagine Dr. Frankl as a member of General Walter Reed’s team working to stamp out yellow fever. Let us say, then, that he moved on from Cuba to the Philippines and joined the contingent of doctors under General Leonard Wood’s command. Yellow fever never reached the Philippines, but dengue fever, also carried by mosquitos, did. So there was much to do.

These simple hypotheses could easily put Mordechai on the scene when General Wood ordered the all-our assault on the fighters and families gathered in the Bud Dajo crater. And if he was there, it is more than likely that he joined other field surgeons making a trek across the bloody battlefield, possibly hoping to find someone alive. Instead, they found a field of corpses and the bullet-ripped huts the Moros had built for themselves. In one hut, Mordecai found the holy book of a dead Imam/shaman. Having been taught growing up in an educated household to revere such books, he couldn’t bear to leave it to disintegrate. And then he found the violin. How could he just leave behind this forlorn token of joys forever lost?

When Mordecai returned to the United States, he discovered an anti-war fervor that made him want to forget he had ever heard of Bud Dajo. The Anti-Imperialist League failed to shape the country’s colonialist enthusiasm, but it was full-throated in Boston. Along with Mark Twain, it numbered Carl Schurz, a leading German-American intellectual, among its spokesmen.

So Mordechai left the story of Bud Dajo out of the war experiences he shared with his family. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to dispose of the crude violin and the shabby bundle of texts. He died in 1936, leaving two children and four grandchildren. One of the latter, assuming the violin was an old family piece from Germany, took it to be restored. Eventually, a great-grandchild donated the bundle of texts to an old man with a curio store.

And thus my text adventure began.

Images from the Maranao Text

Footnotes

1 Walter William Skeat, Malay Magic: Being an introduction to the folklore and popular religion of the Malay Peninsula, London: Macmillan, 1900, p. 333.

2 Carolyn Brewer, “Baylan, Asog, Transvestism, and Sodomy: Gender, Sexuality and the Sacred in EarlyColonial Philippines,” Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, Issue 2, May 1999. See also her book Shamanism, Catholicism, and Gender Relations in ColonialPhilippines, 1521–1685. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World. Burlington, VT, and Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2004.

3 Megan Collins, “Bongai in Tanjung Ipoh, Negeri Sembilan,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the RoyalAsiatic Society, Vol. 75, no. 1 (282), 2002, pp. 91-114.

 

RICHARD W. BULLIET is Emeritus Professor of History, Columbia University. He specializes in Middle Eastern history, the social and institutional history of Islamic countries, and the history of technology.

The Diviner’s Handbook

An American-Muslim-Filipino Text Adventure


Richard W. Bulliet


For my generation, playing ever more sophisticated text adventures on our computers challenged our imaginations and habituated us to being presented with a new situation or suspicious object and asked: “Do you want to do X? Or Y?” Texts evolved into images, but choosing a course of action remained constant. My favorite game was Myst, which debuted for Mac users in 1993. As Wikipedia describes the game’s appeal: “The player is provided with very little backstory at the beginning of the game, and no obvious goals or objectives are laid out. This means that players must simply begin to explore. There are no obvious enemies, no physical violence, no time limit to complete the game, and no threat of dying at any point. The game unfolds at its own pace and is solved through a combination of patience, observation, and logical thinking.” But since Myst was an authored game — thank you Ryan and Rand Miller — there actually were goals and objectives, and winning was indeed possible . . . though also strangely disappointing, since it meant there was no more Myst to play.

Real life has too much backstory and too many choices to be thought of as a text adventure. Occasionally, however, you run across a genuine text adventure. Most of the choices you make lead to dead ends; but choosing a path just to see where it leads provides both entertainment and enlightenment. My adventure began when I laid eyes on seven undecipherable lines of Arabic script written on the inside of a violin. It was 1968 and I was a first-year faculty member at Harvard. At a seminar dinner, for which I was avery junior factotum, Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak, the head of the Middle East division of Widener Library, passed around a piece of paper bearing seven lines in Arabic script. He said he had copied the lines from an inscription written on the inside of the back plate of a violin. It had only become visible when a craftsman the owner had hired to restore the instrument unglued the top. Alerted to the existence of the hidden message, the violin’s owner had brought the disassembled instrument to the library’s Hebrew division for decipherment, and the head of that division had passed it across the hall to Labib. Labib himself did not meet the owner.

The style of writing was quite distinctive — “childish” was the word Labib used— but what captured my interest was the fact that no one at Labib’s end of the dining table could read a single word, except for the name Muhammad in line 5. Among those who took a look were the famous polyglot professors Annemarie Schimmeland Richard N. Frye. My guess was that between them they could probably identify several dozen languages written with Arabic characters.

My interest piqued, I went the next day to Labib’s office to look at the violin. So far as I could tell, it was a properly shaped instrument though, the wood was thick and unvarnished and the craftsmanship somewhat crude. It had only one anomaly that I could see. The nut, which is the fret at the top of the violin’s neck that guides the strings to the tuning pegs, had five instead of four grooves. The extra groove was only a millimeter away from the one for the lowest pitched string, the G-string. My surmise was that the instrument was either designed for that string being doubled, or had been crafted by someone who had copied an unfamiliar instrument and made a spacing error that had to be corrected. As for the inscription, it was in pencil and the lines alternated short, long, short, long, short, long, short, though they did not seem to rhyme.


Figure 1 — My copy of the violin inscription

Like my vastly more learned senior colleagues, I could only read the name Muhammad. But I made a firm resolve to identify, and hopefully read, the language of the inscription. Years went by. Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak passed away. One by one, the scholars specializing in African, Semitic, Turkic, Caucasian, and Indian languages to whom I sent my careful copy of the inscription wrote back to say they were mystified. A military code expert did the same.

I did make some progress, however. Several letter shapes of the Arabic alphabet did not appear, indicating that the language hadmany fewer consonants than Arabic. And a letter shaped like an Arabic ‘ain appeared in lines 2, 4, and 6 topped with a cup-and-dot diacritical mark. My wife, a Sanskritist, told me that the same diacritical mark was used in Sanskrit to indicate a nasal sound,as it does in the sacred syllable om [ॐ]. I surmised that the language probably came from a part of Southeast Asia influenced by Indian culture. Malay, for example, has a limited number of consonants, but also the sound ng, which is foreign to Arabic.

Though Malay informants to whom I had shown the inscription had ruled Malay out, on a museum visit in Kuala Lumpur I happened upon a locally crafted version of a European violin that reminded me of the one I had examined in Labib’s office. Andduring a similarly serendipitous stroll through an exhibit of Quran manuscripts — I don’t remember where — a Quran from the southern Philippines caught my eye. The way the Arabic letters were shaped reminded me of the script used in the violin.

Alone among the many people with whom I shared my violin mystery, Mrs. Richard Murphy, the wife of the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, offered a more concrete clue to a possible connection with the Philippines, her husband’s previousambassadorial posting. Following my discussion of the violin with her in Jidda in 1982, she wrote me the following on May 9 1983:

“I have been to the Philippine Embassy, where I met with three of the Muslim employees. They read the inscription but none of them could really translate it. They said, however, they were certain it was from their part of the country and was an anting anting or charm against evil. They said they thought it was Tausug, Maguindanaw or Maranaw.”

Why I did not see reason for celebration in this reply, I do not know. I think I was fixated on getting an actual translation, and I had never even heard of any of the languages. I only rediscovered the letter in my files in 2021, almost 40 years too late.

Meanwhile, having reached the tentative conclusion that the inscription might be in some Muslim language spoken in the southern Philippines, I decided to use what is now called crowd sourcing. I further decided to interpret the seven lines as a hidden talisman designed to make the instrument play with magical sweetness.

These suppositions, combined with monthlong service on a New York City narcotics grand jury, inspired me to make the violin a MacGuffin, that is to say, the central mystery of The Sufi Fiddle, an adventure novel I published with Harper & Row in 1991. In it, a violin magically inscribed by the Shaykh of the worldwide Pahlawaniya Sufi brotherhood falls into the hands of an unscrupulous villain who uses the network of brethren to traffic in cocaine. I named the brotherhood the Pahlawaniya after the island of Palawan, just west of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

In the novel’s epilogue, I recounted the real violin mystery, hoping, vainly as it turned out, that some reader — there weren’t very many — would recognize the inscription and help me in my quest. I got no useful response and set the matter aside.

Some ten years later, my sister Nina was nearing retirement from the agricultural investment department of the John Hancock Insurance Company in Boston. A secretary in her office asked whether it was not the case that her brother could read Arabic. Sheallowed as how he could. So the secretary told her that in liquidating the items in a curio shop owned by a recently deceased uncle, she had come across something written in Arabic, and she wanted to know if it had any value.

Soon thereafter I was visiting Boston and my sister showed me two crudely fashioned, unvarnished wooden boards that had been pierced for string lacings that turned them into a kind of binding for a bundle of six tattered booklets and a dozen loose scraps and pages. Only one booklet was complete within a dark blue paper cover. The texts were written in ink by numerous hands and were all in Arabic script.


Figure 2 — Texts bundled between binding boards

Like the violin back plate, one of the binding boards bore a few unreadable lines of Arabic script. While a quick perusal revealed that some of the bundled texts were in Arabic, sometimes with Malay interlinear glosses, the Blue Booklet and one additionalpartial text were in a language I could not identify. Yet the way the characters were shaped strongly resembled the writing style of the violin inscription.


Figure 3 — Board binding of text bundle

Excited by the possible connection with the violin, I bought the texts for $100. To my later regret, however, I did not insist on meeting the secretary and asking how her uncle had come by the bundle. Looking more closely at my newly acquired manuscript, I found nothing noteworthy in the Arabic texts, though the interlinear Malay glosses for certain words, e.g., Malay orang for Arabic rajul, both meaning “man,” reassured me that I was dealing with something from Southeast Asia.

As for the unreadable Blue Booklet, an embossed stamp on several of its pages showed an anchor in a circle surrounded by “Tolosa San Sebastian,” possibly made by La Papelera Española headquartered in San Sebastian, Spain.

“Aha!” I thought. “Spanish paper in Southeast Asia can only mean the Philippines.”

In 1493, Pope Alexander VII issued a bull dividing the non-European world between Portugal and Spain. Treaty of Tordesillas, signed a year later, granted Portugal the legal right to explore and exploit maritime Asia, and Spain a similar right to the lands of the Western Hemisphere, except for an elbow protruding east of the demarcation line that became the starting point for the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Because of arguments and technical deficiencies in the determination of longitude, however, exactly where the theoretically world-girdling demarcation line would divide the Pacific Ocean remained in doubt. In 1529, the Treaty of Saragossa confirmed a division that excluded Spain from virtually all of island Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the growth of trans-Pacific trading by Spaniards based in Mexico resulted in Spain ousting the Muslim rulers of Maynilad on the island of Luzon and establishing there the colony of Manila in 1571. Conflict with Muslims continued for the next three centuries, with the southern island of Mindanao still resisting Spanish rule well into the nineteenth century. But the Portuguese did not contest the violation of the earlier treaties.

My speculation about the Philippines became more refined a couple of years later when I attended a conference in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. At a friend’s suggestion, I took the Blue Booklet with me. After the conference, I visited the Leiden University library to seek expert advice about the booklet’s language, the university being the foremost European center for research on Islam in Indonesia. The chief bibliographer for Southeast Asian manuscripts looked closely at the text and told me that the language “is not Bugis, but it is like Bugis.” I was so ignorant that I began to bristle at his apparent implication that my manuscript was “bogus.” Before embarrassing myself, however, I caught on that Bugis was the name of a language in wide use on the southeast Indonesian island of Sulawesi. For more expertise, the bibliographer sent me on to a specialist on Austronesian linguistics. A few weeks later I received a letter from him telling me that he thought the language was Maranao, a tongue spoken by a million and a half people living around Lake Lanao in the western part of Mindanao. The linguist could not actually read Maranao, but he felt sure of his identification based on certain key words.

Hallelujah! My southern Philippines guess was right! (Remember, I had forgotten all about Mrs. Murphy’s letter.) But recognizing Maranao as the language of the Blue Booklet did not prove that it was also the language of the violin.

I mulled over the idea of teaching myself Maranao. But Maranao is now written with Latin characters instead of Arabic, and going from the former to the latter seemed daunting, even though the Blue Booklet’s scribe was scrupulous in indicating the short vowels that are so often not indicated in Arabic writing. Besides, I was then over sixty years old and doubted that I could learn a totally new language as effortlessly as I had done in my youth.

When I went to the Columbia library, however, I quickly uncovered a book devoted to U.S. military operations against Muslim “Moros” in the Lake Lanao region of Mindanao. The Maranao-speakers, literally “the people of the lake,” inhabit all sides of Lake Lanao. My eyes widened. Whoever knew that this was a region of intense and highly publicized fighting in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War?

Mark Twain, for one. I found a searing commentary he wrote in 1906 about the First Battle of Bud Dajo, the Moro Rebellion’sequivalent of Vietnam’s My Lai massacre:

This incident burst upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of ourforces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington. The substance of it was as follows:

A tribe of Moros, dark-skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace. Our commander, Gen. Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance. It was found that the Moros numbered six hundred, counting women and children; that their crater bowl was in the summit of a peak or mountain twenty-two hundred feet above sea level, and very difficult of access for Christian troops and artillery. Then General Wood ordered a surprise, and went along himself to see the order carried out. Our troops climbed the heights by devious and difficult trails, and even took some artillery with them. The kind of artillery is not specified, but in one place it was hoisted up a sharp acclivity by tackle, a distance of some three hundred feet. Arrived at the rim of the crater, the battle began. Our soldiers numbered five hundred and forty. They were assisted by auxiliaries consisting of a detachment of native constabulary in our pay — their numbers not given — and by a naval detachment, whose numbers are not stated. But apparently the contending parties were about equal as to number — six hundred men on our side, on the edge of the bowl; six hundred men, women and children in the bottom of the bowl. Depth of the bowl, 50 feet.

Gen. Wood’s order was, “Kill or capture the six hundred.”

The battle began — it is officially called by that name — our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats-though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any.

The official report stated that the battle was fought with prodigious energy on both sides during a day and a half, and that it ended with a complete victory for the American arms. The completenessof the victory is established by this fact: that of the six hundred Moros not one was left alive. The brilliancy of the victory is established by this other fact, to wit: that of our six hundred heroes only fifteen lost their lives.

General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been. “Kill or capture those savages.” Apparently our little army considered that the “or” left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there — the taste of Christian butchers.

The official report quite properly extolled and magnified the “heroism” and “gallantry” of our troops; lamented the loss of the fifteen who perished, and elaborated the wounds of thirty-two of our menwho suffered injury, and even minutely and faithfully described the nature of the wounds, in the interest of future historians of the United States. It mentioned that a private had one of his elbows scraped by a missile, and the private’s name was mentioned. Another private had the end of his nose scraped by a missile. His name was also mentioned — by cable, at one dollar and fifty cents a word.

Next day’s news confirmed the previous day’s report and named our fifteen killed and thirty-two wounded again, and once more described the wounds and gilded them with the right adjectives.

Let us now consider two or three details of our military history. In one of the great battles of the Civil War ten percent of the forces engaged on the two sides were killed and wounded. At Waterloo, where four hundred thousand men were present on the two sides, fifty thousand fell, killed and wounded, in five hours, leaving three hundred and fifty thousand sound and all right for further adventures. Eight years ago, when the pathetic comedy called the Cuban War was played, we summoned two hundred and fifty thousand men. We fought a number of showy battles, and when the war was over we had lost two hundred and sixty-eight men out of our two hundred and fiftythousand, in killed and wounded in the field, and just fourteen times as many by the gallantry of the army doctors in the hospitals and camps. We did not exterminate the Spaniards — far from it. In each engagement we left an average of two percent of the enemy killed or crippled on the field.

Contrast these things with the great statistics which have arrived from that Moro crater! There, with six hundred engaged on each side, we lost fifteen men killed outright, and we had thirty-two wounded — counting that nose and that elbow. The enemy numbered six hundred — including women and children — and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.

Now then, how has it been received? The splendid news appeared with splendid display-heads in every newspaper in this city of four million and thirteen thousand inhabitants, on Friday morning. But there was not a single reference to it in the editorial columns of any one of those newspapers. The news appeared again in all the evening papers of Friday, and again thosepapers were editorially silent upon our vast achievement. Next day’s additional statistics and particulars appeared in all the morning papers, and still without a line of editorial rejoicing or a mention of the matter in any way. These additions appeared in the evening papers of that same day (Saturday) and again without a word of comment. In the columns devoted to correspondence, in the morning and evening papers of Friday and Saturday, nobody said a word about the “battle.” Ordinarily those columns are teeming with the passions of the citizen; he lets no incident go by, whether it be large or small, without pouring out his praise or blame, his joy or his indignation about the matter in the correspondence column. But, as I have said, during those two days he was as silent as the editors themselves. So far as I can find out, there was only one person among our eighty millions who allowed himself the privilege of a public remark on this great occasion — that was the President of the United States. All day Friday he was as studiously silent as the rest. But on Saturday he recognized that his duty required him to say something, and he took his pen and performed that duty. If I know President Roosevelt — and I am sure I do — this utterance cost him more pain and shame than any other that ever issued from his pen or his mouth. I am far from blaming him. If I had been in his place my official duty would have compelled me to say what he said. It was a convention, an old tradition, and he had to be loyal to it. There was no help for it. This is what he said:

Washington, March 10.

Wood, Manila:- I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.

(Signed) Theodore Roosevelt.

His whole utterance is merely a convention. Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms — and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight yearsin the Philippines — that is to say, they had dishonored it.

The next day, Sunday, — which was yesterday — the cable brought us additional news — still more splendid news — still more honor for the flag. The first display-head shouts this information at us in the stentorian capitals: “WOMEN SLAIN MORO SLAUGHTER.”

“Slaughter” is a good word. Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion

The next display line says:

“With Children They Mixed in Mob in Crater, and All Died Together.”

They were mere naked savages, and yet there is a sort of pathos about it when that word children falls under your eye, for it always brings before us our perfectest symbol of innocence and helplessness; and by help of its deathless eloquence color, creed and nationality vanish away and we see only that they are children — merely children. And if they are frightened and crying and in trouble, our pity goes out to them by natural impulse. We see a picture. We see the small forms. Wesee the terrified faces. We see the tears.

We see the small hands clinging in supplication to the mother; but we do not see those children that we are speaking about. We see in their places the little creatures whom we know and love.

The next heading blazes with American and Christian glory like to the sun in the zenith:

“Death List is Now 900.”

The massacre took place on the small island of Jolo, which served until the advent of steamships as the seat of the Sulu Sultanate, a maritime power in the Sulu Sea east of Mindanao. Tausug, the language of Jolo and nearby islands, is only distantly related toMaranao, but American campaigns to impose their authority on the Maranaos living around Lake Lanao on the big island of Mindanao had already been going on for a decade. Some American commanders had acted with racist bile — Mark Twain’s “naked savages” parodies that mindset — most notably in burying a pig with fallen Muslim enemies, supposedly to prevent their entry into heaven. Others, most notably Colonel John J. Pershing of later World War I fame, were models for today’s advocates of settling wars bywinning the hearts and minds of the enemy.


Figure 4 — Philippine map showing location of Lake Lanao on Mindanao

Having my eyes opened to an exotic locale where America’s pride in its military prowess had once garnered headlines, I leapt at the notion that the violin and the text bundle might have reached Boston as souvenirs of that long-forgotten war. Massachusettsregiments had played a role in the Spanish-American War so it seemed not unreasonable to surmise that someone from the Boston area had been stationed on Mindanao, probably in the administrative center of Zamboanga, and participated in suppressing whatAmericans called the Moro Rebellion between 1899 and 1913.

This speculation was not without problems, however. The artifacts in question could not easily be classed as battlefield trophies. A Maranao dagger (kris) or a brightly painted shield would surely have been a more dramatic choice as a memento, particularly since the writing inside the violin would not have been visible to the hypothetical American souvenir hunter.

But who else might have brought either of the items to Boston at some time prior to 1968? An actual Maranao immigrant or visitor, perhaps? Highly unlikely inasmuch as the first Maranao organization in the United States, Maranaos in America for Peace, Integration and Advancement (MAPIA), was founded in Burbank, California only in 2007. Not only did Filipino immigrants to the United States prior to World War II settle mostly in Hawaii and California, but they seem to have included, at most, only a handful of Muslims, who account for only five percent of the Philippines population. And why would an immigrant have packed a decrepit violin and a bunch of sacred writings in his suitcase?

So how about an anthropologist or other scholar returning from a research trip? Again, highly unlikely since the initial submission of the violin to the library’s Hebrew division indicates that its provenance had already vanished from of its owner(s) memory by 1968, when American academic interest in Mindanao was virtually non-existent. Publication of Philippine Studies, the main English-language scholarly journal, began in Manila only in 1953, and an on-line search of its contents yields no results for “history” or “anthropology” combined with “Mindanao,” “Maranao,” or “Moro” before 1968.

A third conceivable alternative might be a missionary returning from years of residence in the region. Such a person would quite possibly be more interested in a musical instrument and some local religious writings than a military officer. But Mindanao barely figured on the Protestant missionary map that the denominations agreed upon after the American victory over Spain. The western part of the island was assigned in 1902 to The Christian and Missionary Alliance, whose guiding spirit, the Canadian Albert C. Simpson, saw the spread of his faith in intensely racialist terms. The handful of C&MA missionaries centered their activities in Zamboanga, a city well west of the Maranao area. Eventually, a Seventh Day Adventist mission became active on the island as well. But by the mid-1920s they numbered the baptisms they performed in the dozens for the whole island. In other words, American missionaries seem barely to have touched the Lake Lanao region.

As a final possibility, what about an American businessman, schoolteacher, or civil administrator bringing home some bits of exotica? Americans did indeed fill these roles after the armistice. In 1913, when the American army secured its control of the Lake Lanao region, twenty-nine percent of the country’s civil service was American. But that number had shrunk to six percent by 1923. As for the hundreds of teachers who came to the country after the war, they primarily taught English in an imported K-12 educational system that used Tagalog, a northern language, as the only indigenous language of instruction. They were all gone by 1927 without, so far as I can tell, ever penetrating the Maranao-speaking region. As for business, sugar was the main Philippine export to the U.S., and Lake Lanao was not a major sugar-producing district.

With Maranao immigrants to Massachusetts, area studies scholars, and returning missionaries, teachers, and businessmen ruled out, and pretty certain that a search for American veterans of the Moro Rebellion would take more time than I was willing to spend, I tried posting a page of the Blue Booklet on facebook. A couple of respondents identified the language as Maranao, but no one could put me in touch with a person who could actually read the text. Then I posted a much earlier version of this essay on academia.edu. Out of 692 hits from around the world, one proved exceptionally helpful.


Figure 5 — Pages 9 and 10 of Blue booklet

Midori Kawashima, Professor Emeritus at Sophia University in Tokyo, has made a study of Maranao manuscripts in Arabic script. He says this of pages 9 and 10 of the Blue Booklet:

The Maranao text is familiar to me because I have come across a similar text in a mimeographed booklet in Maranao published in the 1950s. It is a kind of divination called pito a saatan (seven moments or periods of time in a day) in Maranao, an equivalent of bintang tujuh (seven stars or planets) of Malay. It tells whether the moment or period of time within a day is lucky or unlucky for certain activities such as meeting a ruler, delivery of a child, marriage etc. It starts with Syams (Sun), and continues to Zuhrah (Venus), Utarid (Mercury), Kamar (the moon), Zuhal (Saturn), Musyatari (Jupiter), and Marikh (Mars). This is one of the common methods to determine lucky and unlucky times that have been used by people in the Malay world or Maritime Southeast Asia, including Mindanao and Sulu in the Southern Philippines.


Figure 6 — Pages 7 and 8 of Blue Booklet

Pages 8 of the booklet similarly contains lore related to determining lucky or unlucky times:

Lines 4 to 9 in the left-hand page is another kind of divination called rejang in Malay, in which a certain animal is assigned to each day of month. In Malay texts, it usually starts with kuda (horse), followed by kijang (barking deer), while in this Maranao text, it starts with koda (horse), followed by seladeng (deer). I have found another text on rejang in a Maranao booklet, in which koda is also followed by seladeng.

At last! The purpose of the booklet becomes clear. It is a divination handbook, presumably used by a specialist in this activity.

Perhaps because I have made animal history one of my career specialties, my eye was caught by the second word from the top on another page of the booklet. I sounded it out as karabaw. Could this be the Maranao name for the carabao, the native, swamp adapted, domestic water buffalo used for plowing throughout the Philippines? And if so, were the words listed in a column below it also animal names? Maybe they correlated with days of the month as Prof. Kawashima suggested.


Figure 7 — Chart with names of zodiacal animals

After a long struggle with an on-line Maranao-English dictionary, I determined that the chart did name animals. Reading from the top, they were:

English
Maranao
Rat = riya
Carabao = karabaw
Tiger = harimaw
Mouse deer = pilandok
Snake = nipay
Snake = naga
Lion = sing
Horse = koda’
Monkey = amo’
Chicken = manok
Dog = aso’
Pig = baeboy

The remainder of the page features an array of triangles. Most are empty, but four of them contain the names of the first four caliphs: Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Usman (spelled with a sin replacing the tha’ and no alif), and ‘Ali (spelled with an alif replacing the ‘ain). The same names repeat going down the right-hand side.

The correlation, however, is not with the days of the month. Rather, it is with the Chinese zodiacal signs, most often encountered as the names of years in the Chinese calendar.

English
Maranao
Chinese Year of the…
Rat = riya Rat
Carabao = karabaw Ox
Tiger = harimaw Tiger
Mouse deer = pilandok Mouse deer
Snake = nipay Dragon
Snake = naga Snake
Lion = sing Horse
Horse = koda’ Goat
Monkey = amo’ Monkey
Chicken = manok Rooster
Dog = aso’ Dog
Pig = baeboy Pig

The correlation with the Chinese calendar is unquestionable, but the connection between the column of animal names and the array of triangles beside it is not at all apparent. Indeed, I would never have expected to see the word for “pig” enjoying such close proximity with the names of the first four caliphs of Islam.

Comparison of the animal lists reveals several anomalies. The tiny mouse deer, or chevrotain, substitutes for the rabbit, which was not introduced to the Philippines until World War II. “Lion” takes the place of the Chinese “horse,” neither animal being native to the Philippines. But the next name, which includes the word koda’, or “horse”, is accompanied by some undecipherable words that may somehow relate it to the Chinese “goat.” Yet the common word for “goat” in Maranao, Tagalog, Malay, and Indonesian is kambing.

The second word for “snake,” naga, is commonly used for “dragon” in Malay. Perhaps the undecipherable words that accompanyit explain why it comes after instead of before nipay. A long-standing interest in Nagas in the Indian tradition led me to pursue the matter further. Among of the hundreds of imaginary beasts in Filipino folklore, the Bakunawa, etymologically a “bent snake,” causes eclipses by swallowing the moon. It is sometimes assimilated with the Indo-Malay Naga, but it also connects in Maranao with a moon-swallowing lion called Arimaonga.

In the divinatory calendar used by shamans known as babaylans, it makes a difference which direction the massive, unlucky, mouth of the Bakunawa is pointing, as shown on this chart:


Figure 8 — Rotation of Bakunawa throughout the year. Clockwise from top: North, East,South, West.

A version of this chart appears in the Blue Booklet, the serpent forms being readily identifiable as Nagas in comparative Malayand Indonesian images. The names of the months of the Muslim calendar surround the serpents, starting with Muharram at the upper right.


Figure 9 — Nagas (Bakunawas) rotating throughout the year

Here, then, is another divining tool to go with the astronomical and animal systems described by Dr. Kawashima and the one shown on the page making use of the Chinese calendar.

Other ways of distinguishing lucky and unlucky times and dates involve dividing the day into five or seven periods. According to Dr. Kawashima, the technique shown in the following chart (Figure 10) is called rimaran in Maranao and ketika lima, meaning “five times,” in Malay. According to W. W. Skeat’s classic Malay Magic published in 1900:

Perhaps the oldest and best known of the systems of lucky and unlucky times is the one called Katika Lima, or the Five Times. Under it, the day is divided into five parts, and the five days form a cycle: to each of these divisions is assigned a name, the names being Maswara (Maheshwara), Kala, S’ri, Brahma, and Bisnu (Vishnu), which recur in the order shown in the following table or diagram:—

 

Morning Forenoon Noon Afternoon Evening
Day 1 Maswara Kala S’ri Brahma Bisnu
Day 2 Bisnu Maswara Kala S’ri Brahma
Day 3 Brahma Bisnu Maswara Kala S’ri
Day 4 S’ri Brahma Bisnu Maswara Kala
Day 5 Kala S’ri Brahma Bisnu Maswara

The names are the names of Hindu deities, Maswara being Shiva, and constituting with Brahma and Vishnu the so-called Hindu Trinity, while Kala is either another title of Shiva, or stands for Kali, his wife, and S’ri is a general title of all Hindu gods. . . .

The same mystic notions of color and the like are attached to these divisions by the Malays as obtain in the case of the Javanese days of the week: thus Maswara’s color is yellow-white (puteh kuning): if you go out you will meet a man of yellow-white complexion, or wearing yellow-white clothes; it is a lucky time for asking a boon from a Raja, or for doing any kind of work; good news then received is true, bad news is false, and so on.

Kala’s color is a reddish black (hitam merah); if you go out you will meet a bad man or have a quarrel; it is an unlucky time altogether: the good news one hears turns out untrue, and the bad true; illness occurring at this time is due to a ghost (hantu orang), and the remedy is ablack fowl; in cock-fighting a black cock will beat a white one at this time, but when setting him to fight you must not face towards the west, etc.

Similarly S’ri’s color is white, Brahma’s is red, Vishnu’s is green, and each division has its respective advantages and disadvantages.

Another version of this system, known as the Five Moments (sa’at), is based on a somewhat similar diagram but had orthodox Muhammadan names for its divisions, viz. Ahmad, Jibra’il (Gabriel), Ibrahim (Abraham), Yusuf (Joseph), and ‘Azra’il (Azrael)….


Figure 10 — Figures and colors of days of the week

The two words beneath each stick figure in the Blue Booklet designate the colors (warna) black, white, red, yellow, blue, in Malay, not in Maranao. They are shown as colored dots. The days of the week are given in Arabic on the right-hand side with Sunday at the top. What the variations among the stick figures mean is undisclosed, but within each day cycle, the yellow figure is usually the most “developed,” with four out ofseven having penises. By comparison, the red figures are the least “developed.” If the five divisions are times of day, as Skeat suggests, and Morning begins on the right side next to the day names, then it would appear that Morning is the most auspicious, having four penises. The other day divisions have only one.

Obviously, any division of a day into five segments brings to mind the Muslim prayer times. Those prayers are not spelled on this chart, however, and the five-day Hindu god cycles used by Malay diviners suggest a different, possibly pre-Islamic origin. Nevertheless, the chart on the facing page (Figure 11) strengthens the case for a prayer connection.


Figure 11 — Prayer period (?), heavenly body, and color correlations

As in Figure 10, the right-hand column consists of the days of the week. Now, however, there is the name of a heavenly body underneath each day: from the top, Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn. Each square in the next six columns contains a heavenly body name, and below it the name, apparently, of a day part. Since there are six columns instead of five, they cannot all be Muslim prayers.However, zuhur could denote the noon prayer, and asr the evening prayer. Across the bottom of the chart are the same five Malay color names as those shown with the stick figures in Figure 10, plus an added word meaning “green.” Reading up from the bottom along the left side are the words “good” (mapiya), “good,” “less” (korang), “less good” (korang mapiya), “good,” “less good,” and “angel” (mala’ika).

Although there are no labels linking the days to auspicious religious individuals, a chart on a different page does make such associations.


Figure 12 — Identification of the prophets associated with days of the week

As usual, the days of the week are ranged vertically as the first column of the right-hand page. Each day is followed by six ornaments. Lucky signs? Unlucky signs? There is no way of telling. The lines that separate the seven paragraphs of the left-hand page seem to suggest a continuation of the days. I don’t know what the paragraphs say, but each of them starts with the word nabi, meaning “prophet,” and a name: Noah (Nuh), Moses (Musa), Idris, Jesus (Isa), Abraham (Ibrahim), Muhammad, and David (Daud). No Hindu gods, but only the name Ibrahim overlapping the Muslim Malay series described by Skeat. A chart elsewhere in the booklet assigns the same prophets to the same days.

All of the comparisons with Malay divinatory practices raised a question as whether the Blue Booklet was essentially a translation of materials from Malay sources or whether it related specifically to the Maranao people. After all, except for a few pages, the other five booklets in the text bundle were written in Arabic or Malay. A search for distinctively Maranao cultural features seemed daunting,however. Not because there was little to explore, but because there was so much. Besides, what sort of transfer from myth, folklore, dance, or music to divinatory ritual could one even hope to find?

Fortunately, in 2019 Christian Jeo N. Talaguit wrote an essay for the History Department of De La Salle University in Manila entitled “Folk-Islam in Maranao society.” After a summary of the scholarly debates about the legitimacy of terms like “Folk-Islam” that draw attention to local “small traditions” coexisting in complicated and contested ways with an Islamic “great tradition,” the author explores some of the main aspects of Maranao mythology and surviving traces of pre-Islamic shamanism in Muslim religious practice. The central myth he draws upon comes from Damiana Eugenio’s authoritative Philippine Folk Literature: The Myths (1986). It is an origin story that takes the region of Lake Lanao to be the geographical center of the world:

How the Angels Built Lake Lanao

Long ago there was no lake in Lanao. On the place where it is now situated, there flourished a mighty sultanate called Mantapoli. During the reign of Sultan Abdara Radawi, the great-grandfather of Radia Indarapatra (mythological hero of the Lanao Muslims), this realm expanded by military conquests and by dynastic marriages so that in time its fame spread far and wide.

The population of Mantapoli was numerous and fast increasing. At that time the world was divided into two regions: Sebangan (East) and Sedpan (West). The mighty sultanate of Mantapoli belonged to Sebangan. Because this sultanate rapidly increased in power and population as well, the equilibrium between Sebangan and Sedpan was broken.

This disequilibrium soon came to the attention of Archangel Diabarail (Gabriel to the Christians and Muslims). Like a flash of sunlight, Diabarail flew to the Eighth heaven andtold Allah, “My Lord, why have you permitted the unbalance of the earth? Because of the power of Mantapoli, Sebangan is now larger than Sedpan.”

“Why, Diabarail,” replied the Sohara (Voice of Allah), “what is wrong with that?”

“My Lord, Mantapoli has a vast population countless as the particles of dust. If we will allow this sultanate to remain in Sebangan, I fear that the world would turn upside down, since Sebangan is heavier than Sedpan.” “Your words show great wisdom, Diabarail,” commented the Sohara. “What must we do, my Lord, to avert the impending catastrophe?”

To this query, the Sohara replied, “Go right away to the Seven-Regions-Beneath-the-Earth and to the Seven-Regions-in-the-Sky and gather all the angels. I will cause a barahana (solar eclipse) and in the darkness let the angels remove Mantapoli and transfer it to the center of the earth.”

Upon receiving the mandate of Allah, Archangel Diabarail, traveling faster than lightning, rallied the millions of angels from the Seven-Regions-Beneath-the-Earth and the Seven-Regions-in-the-Sky. With this formidable army, he presented himself to Allah, saying, “My Lord, we are ready to obey Your command.”

The Sohara spoke, “Go to Sebangan, and lift the land of Mantapoli.” Diabarail, leading his army of angels, flew to the east. In the twinkle of an eye, the sun vanished and a terrible darkness asblack as the blackest velvet shrouded the universe. The angels sped faster than arrows. They swooped on Mantapoli, lifting it with great care and carried it (including its people, houses, crops and animals) through the air as if it were a carpet. They brought it down at the center of the earth, in accordance with the command of Allah. The very spot vacated by the sultanate of Mantapoli became a huge basin of deep, blue water — the present Lanao Lake.

The waters coming from the deep bowels of the earth rose higher and higher. Archangel Diabarail, seeing the rising tides, immediately returned to the Eighth Heaven and reported to Allah, “My Lord, the earth is now balanced. But the place where we removed Mantapoli is becoming an ocean. The waters are rising fast, and unless an outlet for them can be found, I fear that they might inundate Sebangan and drown all Your people.”

In response, the Sohara said, “You are right, Diabarail. Go out, then, and summon the Four Windsof the World: Angin Taupan, Angin Besar, Angin Darat, and Angin Sarsar. Tell them to blow and make an outlet for the overflowing waters.”

Obeying the Master’s command, the faithful messenger summoned the Four Winds. “By theWill of Allah,” he told them, “blow your best, and make an outlet for the rising waters of the new lake.”

The four winds of the world blew, and a turbulence swept the whole eastern half of the earth. The surging waters rolled swiftly towards the shores of Tilok Bay to the southeastern direction. But the towering ranges impeded their onrush. The Four Winds blew, hurling the waves againstthe rocky slopes but in vain; no outlet could be cut through the mountain barrier.

Changing direction, this time eastward, the Four Winds blew harder driving the raging waters towards the shores of Sugud Bay (situated east of Dansalan, now Marawi City). Once again, the attempt to create an outlet failed because the bay was too far from the sea.

For the third time, the Four Winds changed direction and blew their hardest. The waves, plunging with ferocity, rolled towards Marawi. Day and night, the Winds blew as the waters lashed against the shoreline of Marawi. This time the attempt succeeded. An outlet now called Agus River was made, and through the outlet, that water of Lake Lanao poured out to the sea, thereby saving Sebangan from a deluge.

There is so much here to unpack, starting with the great sultan of Mantapoli and hero of the Maranao people. Though his great-grandfather’s name, Abdara, may conceal a Muslim Abdullah or Abd al-Rahman, Indarapatra “Son of Indra” is purely Sanskritic and Hindu, reflecting influences on Maranao culture that long preceded the spread of Islam in the sixteenth century. Yet the name of God is Allah; and God’s voice, Sohara, as distinct from both God and Diabarail/Gabriel, may reflect the medieval Mu‘tazili argument, influenced by Neoplatonism, that the Qur’an is not co-eternal with God, since that would imply dualism and diminish God’s unity, but is simply God’s first utterance.

Though no angels other than Diabarail are named, the four winds (angina = wind) are. Rather than the wind names indicating points on the compass, however, a Maranao dictionary defines sarsar as “go in a hurry,” without a specific connection with a wind, and cites both anginbesar and angindarat as meaning “strong wind.” As for angintaopan, the dictionary defines this is as “storm,” and it obviously incorporates the notion of “typhoon,” a word of Chinese origin but more likely here a borrowing from Arabic and Persian tufan. Nevertheless, records of storm tracks across the Pacific Ocean indicate that despite the great exposure to typhoons of the Philippine islands as a whole, they are almost unheard of in western Mindanao where Lake Lanao is situated.

Returning to Radia Indarapatra, he is the progenitor of some of the paramount figures in the stories that make up the Maranao epic known as Darangen, a 72,000-line collection of 16 story cycles in iambic tetrameteror catalectic trochaic tetrameter. “A just, wise, and kind ruler, Indarapatra of the Mantapuli Empire is known as the greatest of all kings. He is known to own an enchanted spear (sibat), which comes back to him as he wishes. He has taught his subjects how to farm, hunt for food, domesticate animals, fish, weave, and use plants as medicines.” [myranao.blogspot.com/2013/11/darangan-maranao-epics.html]

He functions, in other words, as the Maranao equivalent of the Yellow Emperor in China or the Pishdadian emperor Jamshid in Iranian mythology.

According to Maranao legend, Prince Radia Indarapatra was persuaded to descend from the kingdom of Mantapuli to the earth. He travelled to many kingdoms, fighting many giants including Omaka-an, eventually reaching as far as Mindanao. In Lanao, he met the water nymph Potri Rainalaut, who lives underwater. From this union, Aia Diwata Mokom saKinialonod a Ig was born, the Diwata of the Rising Water and the apo [grandfather?] of the Maranao.

Many years later, the descendants of Radia Indarapatra intermarried with the characters of the Darangen epic. As years went by, Sarip [Sahib?] Kabungsuwan, a Muslim missionary, reached Lanao, wanting to preach Islam in Bembaran, the setting of the epic. Thepeople of Bembaran were reluctant to embrace Islam, which eventually caused the kingdom to become enchanted. Three datus [chiefs], however, Butuanen Kalinan, Batara sa Kilaten and Dima-ampao Kalinan were able to escape, later establishing the “four sultanates of Lanao.” Today, all ruling families of Lanao trace their ancestry to these founding apo, with Radia Indarapatra at their apex.

As for the angels who carry out God’s command to uproot Mantapoli and move it to the center of the earth, they fit well into the teeming population of unseen beings that inhabit animistic Filipino folklore. Labeling them with an Arabic word for “angel,” however, effectively accommodates them within Islam. Mentions of angels in other discussions of Maranao mythology also have them accompanying the Sun and the Moon in their courses and superintending the seven levels of heaven, each of which has a different color. Figure 13 shows the only stick figure to appear in the text bundle outside the Blue Booklet. The writing accompanying this figure contains the word mala’ikat six times. In Arabic this word means “angels,” but in Maranao it can be used for a single angel. The top left angel may be the barahana (“eclipse”) mentioned in the myth.


Figure 13 — Stick figure with angel names

Whether this rich tapestry of myth can be connected with the diviner’s handbook depends onthe interpretation of Figure 14, the most enigmatic image in Blue Booklet.


Figure 14 — Mantapoli divination?

At the top we find a circle with the Maranao word for Sun above it, and at the bottom a crescent with the word for Moon. Angling in toward the sun circle from the right is the word Sebangan, thename of the eastern portion of the primordial Maranao world. Similarly angling in on the crescent moon crescent from the left is the word for the western half, Sedpan. Neither word is Malay, which indicates the involvement of a distinctly Maranao cultural context. The twelve pie slices into which the great circle is divided bear the names of the months of the Muslim lunar calendar, reading clockwise from Muharram just to the right of the sun. Some of the months were obviously mislocated and had tobe washed out and resituated.

While circular divinatory charts show up in Malay magic, none I have seen remotely resemblesthis one, particularly with the two tiers of stick figures. If those figures can be interpreted as angels, the two tiers may represent the angels above and the angels below who moved Mantapoli at God’s command. In that case, the black-headed angel in the month of Shawwal probably stands for Diabarail/Gabriel.

The absence of any stick figure in one outer and one inner pie slice gives the chart a resemblance to a combination lock, as if the passage of time over the course of the year causes alignments of angels that are either propitious or unpropitious. In support of this suggestion, the very next page after this one shows the nagas/bakunawas pointing in different directions throughout the year (Figure 9). Just as Prof. Kawashima’s divination texts using celestial features and animal namessucceed one another, and the charts dividing the day into significant parts do the same, so a thirdgrouping of methods for divining by months of the year would support the idea that the practitioner who composed and used the Blue Booklet liked having similar tools grouped together for easy reference.

Having reached the conclusion that the Blue Booklet is, in its entirety, a genuinely Maranao handbook presenting a wide assortment of divining practices, I still didn’t know exactly how it was used. But I was okay with that. After all, learning to predict the future was not the object of my quest. I will happily leave that to the professionals.

What continued to intrigue me, however, was the eclectic character of a world of ritual activity that the booklet introduced me to. It touched upon all of Southeast Asia, but also borrowed images and practices from India, China, and the Islamic Middle East. Though I knew something about the relics of pre-Islamic magical practices still traceable in other Muslim cultures, the Blue Booklet did not bring to mind any obvious Turkish/Persian/Arabic model. It contained no magic squares or horoscopes, and its numerology did not go beyond the assignment of numeric values, based on the abjad sequence of the Arabic alphabet, to the names of days, months, and a few holy words.

Skeat’s voluminous Malay Magic never mentions the Chinese calendrical animals, and has only this to say about constructing a horoscope:

The Bidan [Wise Woman] generally performs some species of divination … in order to ascertain the nature of the child’s horoscope. This object may be achieved in several ways; e.g. by astrological calculations; by casting up … the numerical values of the letters of both parents’ names, in accordance with the abjad, or secret cipher alphabet; by observance of a wax taper fixed upon the brim of a jar of water; and by observance of a cup of “betel-leaf water”.1

Skeat does talk about magic squares, however, as does Farouk Yahya in his recent book Magic and Divination in Malay Illustrated Manuscripts (Leiden: Brill, 2015). Clearly, some geographical/cultural boundary separates Malay and Malay-influenced Islam from the heritage of cultures farther to the west and to the north.

Given the expansive maritime activity that spread Islam through the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian archipelago well before the arrival of the Spaniards, it comes as no surprise that Maranao culture should be influenced by Malay Islam. After all, in navigational terms, the Philippines were simply the next set of islands beyond Indonesia and New Guinea. But where Indian religious culture left a visible stamp on some parts of island Southeast Asia, viz. the Hindu religious observances of Bali and the massive Buddhist temple of Borobudur on Java, its impact on the Philippines was much attenuated.

Malay-speakers could be found in the seaports of a few small sultanates, but well over a hundred local languages were spoken on different Philippine islands. Most were not written, but as already demonstrated, they contained large stores of oral myth and folklore nevertheless. The human repositories of this cultural wealth were commonly called babaylan or balian. The Maranao form, walian, is probably influenced by Arabic wali, meaning “benefactor” or “saint.” Today, writers describing their roles in the Philippines commonly refer to them as shamans while sometimes calling their counterparts in the Malay world magicians.

Specialists on Islam in Malaysia and Indonesia have studied Muslim engagement with this shamanistic or magical substrate extensively. In addition to the works by Skeat and Yahya mentioned earlier, an interestedreader can consult R. O. Winstedt, Shaman, Saiva and Sufi: A Study of the Evolution of Malay Magic (London: Constable and Co., 1925, John R. Bowen, Muslims Through Discourse (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), and Teren Sevea, Miracles andMaterial Life: Rice, Ore, Traps and Guns in Islamic Malaya (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Though equivalent studies for Muslim societies in the Philippines are not available, interactionsbetween shamans and Spanish Catholic colonialism have frequently been discussed. Clerics and governing authorities were appalled by indigenous societies conferring high respect on female shamans, who were as important as headmen. The few male shamans (asog) either dressed as women or acquired the social identity ofwomen by wearing women’s clothes, or adopting a female voice, mannerisms, and hairstyle. They served as mediums in séances and as healers, diviners, and sorcerers. The role could be hereditary, or older shamans could pass on their lore and rituals to apprentices they deemed qualified. Critical illness, a near-death experience, seizures, or strange dreams might be taken as indicators of readiness for initiation. The initiation itself involved anything from an alcohol or drug induced trance to being buried alive or immersed overnight in water.

Carolyn Brewer has recently studied the horror, frustration, and disbelief that the female Filipino shamans aroused among the Spaniards. She quotes the Jesuit missionary Pedro Chirino: “This pagan priest, while offering his infamous sacrifices, was possessed by the Devil who caused him to make most ugly grimaces; and he braided his hair, which for his particular calling he wore long, like a woman.”

Ay caramba! How could such societies exist? Brewer writes: “I questioned, in relation to the Philippine situation, the model that claims that it is identification with an ambiguous ‘third sex/gender space’ that provides shamans with spiritual potency. On the contrary, I conclude that in the Animist pre-colonial Philippine archipelago it was the male shaman’s identification with the feminine, either as temporary transvestism or as amore permanent lifestyle choice, that reinforced the normative situation of female as shaman, and femininity asthe vehicle to the spirit world.”2 How Muslim missionaries had handled the gender issue is lost to history, but coming from the Malay world, which also had female magicians and monarchs, they probably encountered it long before reaching Mindanao. Today, all Maranao shamans are male.

Male shamans frequently led non-Muslim revolts or otherwise resisted the imposition of Catholic control in the Spanish colonial areas. One revolt early in the seventeenth century ended with 82 asog being burned at the stake. In the nineteenth century, dios-dios shamans borrowed Christian imagery to claim supernatural powers. Attempts at suppressing their followers sometimes triggered revolts. “Pope Isios,” one of the last dios-dios holy men, redirected his resistance from Spain to the United States in 1899. He was captured and sentenced to death (later commuted) in 1907. In his photograph with shackled legs, he is standing next to a disciple who is wearing a woman’s dress.


Figure 15 — “Pope Isio” in American custody

A violin with a hidden inscription set me off on this text adventure, so no matter how satisfying it was to unravel some of the complexities of the Blue Booklet, I feel compelled to return to the mystery of the violin. If only the inscription were in Maranao! But Prof. Kawashima assured me that it is not.

A chance Internet mention that some of the shamans marginalized by the spread of Christianity and Islam worked as musicians led me to investigate Maranao music. Though stringed instruments are all but non-existent amidst a wide array of drums, gongs, and xylophones. I found reference to two, one with a single string and gourd-like sounding box played with a bow, and the other a kutiyapi. Also termed a boat-lute, the kutiyapi is a long, plucked instrument with two strings, one a drone, the other passing over beeswax frets. It is played along with a drum (tambor) and brass gongs (kulintang) to accompany ceremonial recitations of Darangen, a very long Maranao epic poem described earlier. Such performances, which can last as long as a week, feature strongly in Maranao cultural life. I could well imagine a Muslim shaman engaging in such a performance. But it’s the wrong sort of instrument. Plus, the inscription in the instrument I am focused on is not in Maranao.


Figure 16 — Man playing a kutiyapi

Prof. Kawashima suggested that the violin’s provenance is more likely somewhere in the Sulu archipelago, because they use there a native stringed instrument called a biyula. Historically the center of the Sulu Sultanate, a powerful maritime state — piratical, in the Spanish view — in the days before steamships, the Sulu archipelago includes the island of Jolo, where the American army carried out the massacre that sparked Mark Twain’s heartfelt outrage.

As described by Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa in Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Expressions (Filipinas Foundation, 1983), a biyula is a locally-made musical instrument with four strings stretched over a hollow body and played with a bow. “It is traditionally played after the Indian manner: resting on the chest. Its neck, back, and belly are of a less convex construction than a violin . . . Quite often a local musician fashions a biyula for his own use.” Though I lacked the expertise to do a knowledgeable examination of the instrument I saw in 1968, it looked very much like the biyula shown in Figure 17. It was rather crudely made and unvarnished. I also seem to recall that it was lying flat on a table when I saw it, so it probably had a less convex back than a true violin.


Figure 17 — Biyula design from Pangalay: Traditional Dances and Related Folk Expressions

Had I not learned from examining the Blue Booklet that there is a close relationship between the lore of Maranao shamans and that of Malay magicians, I might have stopped my search there, because the biyula seems not to be used elsewhere in the Philippines. When I turned to the Malay world, however, I quickly discovered that a violin called a biola (with variant spellings), and the rabab pasisia, its often home-crafted twin, are commonly used of accompany singing in Malaysia and Indonesia. The words biola and biyula obviously betray an originally Portuguese word viola, and point to the era of Portuguese control of the Spice Islands before the Dutch seized them in the early seventeenth century. According to Megan Collins, a specialiston the use of the instrument in Sumatra, the difference between the biola and the rabab pasisia is that theformer is held under the chin, and the latter held to the ground vertically with the neck sticking up.3

In the course of her discussion of biola design, Collins also mentioned use of the instrument among theTausug-speaking people of the Sulu archipelago, just as Prof. Kawashima had suggested. And she cited a 1972 doctoral dissertation entitled “Tradition and Repertoire in the Cultivated Music of the Tausug of Sulu, Philipines, PhD thesis, UCLA, 1972, by R. D. Trimillos, a recently retired ethnomusicologist at the University of Hawaii. While waiting to see whether Professor Trimillos will respond to my emailed query about the inscription, and possibly end my quest for its translation, I proceeded to explore the role of the biyula in Tausug musical culture.

Though the Tausug people are Muslims, like the Maranaos, their language belongs to a group of tongues spoken in northeastern Mindanao and on islands further north. Having established the Sulu Sultanate centered on the island of Jolo, they were heavily involved in maritime relations with the Malay Muslim societies on islands to the west of the Philippines. Consequently, their culture is quite different from that of theMaranaos, who live away from the sea and take their identity from living around Lake Lanao. Indian religious and story-telling traditions from the era before the arrival of Islam can be found in both cultures, but each has its own set of myths and folklore from even earlier times.

Among the Tausug, the biyula is popularly used to accompany extemporized verbal jousts called sindil and long solos, called liangkit, that may be about love, war, nature, etc. However, it does not play arole the Pangalay, the famous Indian influenced dance tradition of the Tausug.

Reaching a point of near clarity on the nature of the two MacGuffins at the center of my quest, the Maranao text bundle and the Tausug violin, I realized that as a man over eighty years of age who had been immersed in this text adventure, off and on, for almost 55 years, it was now time for me to scramble back out of the fascinating rabbit hole of Muslim Filipino culture. Never had I suspected such complexity, such romance, such beauty in a part of the world that only gets mentioned in world history textbooks when Spanish or American armies try to impose their will on it.

The question I had to ask myself was whether I was any closer now to figuring out how the MacGuffins got to Boston. The violin and the text bundle both came from remote parts of the Philippines, but not from the same part. How, then, did they come together? The text bundle must have belonged to a Maranao shaman. The booklets are so thumbed and worn as to be on the verge of falling apart, and the different handwritings I have found in them number well over a score. It is amply apparent, therefore, that they must have constituted their original owner’s primary treasury of essential lore — maybe, even, his only “book.” Moreover, studies on shamans and magicians in Southeast Asian Islam agree that such repositories were closely guarded and passed on only to favored apprentices.

Would such a man also play the violin accompaniment for Tausug singers extemporizing a verse contest? And would he possess a home-crafted instrument safeguarded by a hidden inscription? Was he a Tausug? Or a Maranao? Though there were times when the two groups cooperated in resisting Spanish incursions, there were also times when they fought one another.

Assuming, as I have from the beginning, that these two strange artifacts from one of the least studied corners of the globe must have made their way to Boston as the possessions of a single person, the possibility arises that they were never in the hands of one individual until that unknown Bostonian acquired them. But even so, the violin was rudely crafted and homely, not to mention bulky to pack. In other words, not somethingthat would have appealed to a visitor wandering through a flea market full of colorful textiles and wood carvings. As for the text bundle, it was surely too full of precious secrets ever to have been put up for sale, not to mention being in languages that no casual buyer could possibly have deciphered.

Nevertheless, when I first mused on the likelihood of the two items being souvenirs of the American military campaign against what the United States termed the Moro Rebellion, I assumed they had beenacquired under benign circumstances. After all, exotic cultural artifacts would have been readily available to soldiers stationed in Zamboanga, the sizable administrative city located in the Tausug-speaking part of northwestern Mindanao (see Figure 4).


Figure 18 — American officers at Zamboanga, Department of Mindanao, 1899-1902 (University of Wisconsin-Madison Library)

But maybe this is too rosy a scenario. Generally speaking, I have a hard time imagining a shaman and a violinist bringing their professional accoutrements onto a battlefield, but one military engagement was special: the First Battle of Bud Dajo in 1906, also known to outraged souls like Mark Twain as the Moro Crater Massacre. After all of the Moros were killed, men, women, and children, certain American soldiers must have combed the battlefield for survivors, if only to put them out of their misery. In my mind’s eye, I can imagine one of them happening upon the holy book of a dead shaman and the biyula of a dead musician. Sad but touching debris. But what kind of soldier would feel moved to pick up these drab but evocative possessions and take them away with him?

Having lived as an adult civilian through the era of wars in Vietnam, Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, I cannot help but see both excess and restraint as aspects of the U.S. military. American actions in Mindanao during the Spanish-American War illustrate this duality. The officers who commanded the troops that quashed the Moro rebellion included some with previous experience in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. Colonel Frank Baldwin, for example, had won a first Medal of Honor during the Civil War and a second one fighting the Southern Cheyenne under Chief Grey Beard. According to historian Robert A. Fulton, “Few doubted Frank Baldwin’s courage or pugnacity, but while a fighting man’sfighting man, at age 60 he was known to be somewhat to the right of the Sherman-Sheridan doctrine of ‘the only good Indian is a dead one.’” [www.historynet.com/hearts-minds-mindanao.htm]

An opportunity to display both his pugnacity and his racist contempt arose when two Moro religious zealots — the term the Spaniards was juramentados — ambushed and killed two American soldiers. Baldwin organized, and then launched, without authorization, a retaliatory strike into Lake Lanao districts that had not been involved in the incident. The human cost of the campaign was 400 Maranaos killed and 10 Americans, but the political cost was high.

Embarrassed by Baldwin’s insubordination and his calamitous incitement of the Maranaos, his superiors nevertheless felt they had to recognize the successful retaliation and the planting of the American flag in the heart of Maranao territory. Baldwin established Camp Vicars close to the shore of Lake Lanao and named it for a lieutenant who had been decapitated during the campaign. His superiors promoted him to Brigadier General but transferred him to the already pacified island of Panay, where massacre opportunitieswere scarce. Succeeding Baldwin in command at Camp Vicars in 1901 was his intelligence officer, Captain John J. Pershing, who described his predecessor as “a fine soldier with a long experience in handling Indians, but he was inclined to be impetuous.”

Pershing, who later gained fame commanding the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I, had graduated from West Point in 1886 and opted for active duty in conflicts with the Apaches and the Sioux. After a subsequent stint as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he simultaneously earned a law degree, he was given command of a troop of African-American soldiers in the 10th Cavalry Regiment, one of the original “Buffalo Soldier” units created after the Civil War to fight Native Americans. This appointment doubtless reminded Pershing of his first job out of high school in Missouri teaching African-American children. On returning to West Point in 1895 as part of the tactical instruction staff, he was tarred with the disparaging nickname “Nigger Jack” because of his cavalry command. This was later softened to “Black Jack,” which stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The Spanish-American war brought First Lieutenant Pershing first to Cuba and then to the Philippines, where his service in several positions earned him a promotion to Captain. It also made him aware of the intense racism exhibited by some of his fellow officers. In his autobiography he writes: “The bodies of some jurament[ad]os [the equivalent of today’s jihadi suicide bombers] were publicly buried in the same grave with a dead pig. It was not pleasant [for the Army] to have to take such measures, but the prospect of going to hell instead of heaven sometimes deterred the would-be assassins.” [Jim Lacey, Pershing (Great Generals), PalgraveMacmillan, 2008, p. 66] No evidence has been found that Pershing himself engaged in such desecrations, but in deploring them as a military necessity he seems nevertheless to accept them.

Assigned as an intelligence officer in Mindanao, Pershing, along with an interpreter and three native scouts, embarked on a journey deep into unfriendly Maranao country. He parleyed with various datus (“chiefs”), and established cordial relations with Manabilang, the most influential datu on the north shore of the lake. Ten weeks later, as Colonel Baldwin was planning his reprisal for the ambush, Pershing took a second trip. Manabilang and several hundred angry Maranaos, including some from the south side of the lake who were deeply hostile, listened to him explain, through an interpreter, that the U.S. army just wanted to find the two killers, explore Lake Lanao, and build roads. America, he told them, had no designs on Islam and no intention of imposing a Christian regime. This did not forestall the bloodshed that lay ahead, but it did establish the pattern of seeking constructive accommodation that would characterize Pershing’s tenure as commander at Lake Lanao.

It is tempting to see Pershing’s live-and-let-live attitude as the product of his diverse earlier encounters with non-White, non-Christian groups. The Moros he was fighting, after all, differed dramatically from the Spaniards and their mostly Cuban and Filipino soldiery. One officer described them as follows:

The individual Moro is, on the average, from 5 to 5 feet 7 inches tall, solidly built, erect of carriage, with red-brown complexion, straight black hair, front teeth ground concave and polished black from chewing buyo, or betel nuts.…The Moro dress is colorful and picturesque: bright colored turbans, embroidered jackets leaving the broad and often scarred chest bare, tight-fitting trousers and yards of colored sash around the waist in which is carried the brass buyo box and the razor-sharp kris, or barong.…Don’t try to bluff him or push him around, or that kris will cut you down in a flash. I have seen it done. [Colonel Horace Potts Hobbs, Kris and Krag: Adventures Among the Moros of the Southern Philippine Islands.]

As for the warrior juramentados:

Candidates, known as mag-sabil, “who endure the pangs of death,” were selected from Muslim youth inspired to martyrdom by the teaching of Imams. Parents were consulted before the young men were permitted by the sultan to undergo training and preparation for Parang-sabil (the path to Paradise). After an oath taken, hand on the Qur’an, the chosen took a ritual bath, all body hair was shaved, and the eyebrows trimmed to resemble “a moon two days old.” A strong band was wrapped firmly around the waist, and cords wrapped tightly around the genitals, ankles, knees, upper thighs, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, restricting blood flow and preventing the mag-sabil from losing too much blood from injury before reaching their target. Clad in white robe and turban, the chosen youth would polish and sharpen his weapons before action.…At the moment of attack, the mag-sabil would approach a large group of enemies, shout “La ilaha il-la’l-lahu” (“There is no god but Allah”), draw kris or barong and then rush into the group swinging his sword, killing and maiming as many victims as possible in the time he had left. The mag-sabil’s body would be washed and again wrapped in white for burial. In the unlikely event the mag-sabil survived his attack, it was believed his body would ascend to Paradise after 40 years had passed. [Vic Hurley, Swish of the Kris: The Story of the Moros,1936, ch. 14.]


Figure 19 — Iligan circa 1903, American capital in Lake Lanao region (https://janb920.wordpress.com/about/)

So much for the positive side of American soldiers sent on imperialist missions. On the negative side, detailed accounts of the shameful massacre at Bud Dajo are still being published. The most recent, perhaps, is by Renato Oliveros on academia.com. “The Massacre of the 600 Moros (March 5-7, 1906). What really happened at Bud Dajo 1,” summarizes the author’s Temple University 2005 doctoral dissertation “Moro-American Conflict [1899-1913]” and draws on both American and Tausug sources. What it adds to previous accounts is explicit mention of Imams being present in the crater to inspire resistance and take the oaths of juramentados. (They probably also fashioned amulets to protect fighters against bullets.) “Panglima [Commander] Hassan had inculcated in the Moros that the only way to preserve God’s sovereignty was to resist American sovereignty through sabilillah, to fight in the name of Allah.” Confirming that resistors had been gathering in the crater for ten months, along with their wives and children, he cites Jack C. Lane, a biographer of General Leonard Wood, as saying: “With sufficient water in the extinct volcano, they planted rice and potatoes and ventured out during the day to obtain other supplies.”

Oliveros also cites Rowland Thomas, a veteran of Bud Dajo quoted in the Manila Times on May 5, 1906: “[I]t was merely a piece of public work such as the army has had to do many times in our own West.”“The West” here, according to Oliveros, “refers to American encounters with the Indians (Native Americans). [Peter G.] Gowing argued that U.S. policy regarding the Moros had a similar purpose and commonality with its policy toward America’s native people. The ‘Moro policy and administrative methods of the White Americans were influenced as well by their experience in governing the Indian peoples of North America. Many of the military and civil officials who were placed in authority over the Moros were veterans of the ‘Indian Wars’ in the American West.”

To zero in on the possibility of a Bostonian military man being present at the battle and acquiring mementos, I am following two hints. The first is from Dr. Annabel Teh Gallop, the Head of the Southeast Asia section of The British Library. In assembling an inventory of the shockingly small number (under 40, including one of the booklets in my text bundle) of surviving Filipino Qur’an manuscripts, she observes that severalmanuscripts were the possessions of American field surgeons. The second goes back to Labib Zuwiyya-Yamak handing around the violin inscription on day one of my text adventure in 1968. He stressed that he didn’t know the owner because the instrument had been first brought to the Hebrew Division of Widener Library for identification.

My take away from these two hints is that the man who brought the texts to Boston was a Jewish doctor serving in the U.S. Army during wartime. Why Jewish? Because whichever of his descendants took the violin for restoration could not distinguish Hebrew from Arabic handwriting. To be sure, Hebrew cursive script looks quite different from the familiar printed Hebrew characters, but it is clearly not the same as Arabic. My presumption is that a grandson or granddaughter assumed that the old family violin was an ancestral relic of life in the shtetl. Think Chagall’s painting of the fiddler on the roof.

So let me give my imaginary veteran of Bud Dajo a name: Mordechai Frankl, the son of “enlightened” Jewish immigrants from Germany, born right after the end of the Civil War. I will also postulate a degree from Harvard Medical School, whose graduating classes in the 1880s, before admissions policies took an anti-Semitic turn after 1906, were 20% to 40% Jewish. By contrast, only a half dozen Jews graduated from WestPoint during Mordechai’s college-age years.

Why did Mordechai volunteer to serve? Patriotism, perhaps, after the Hearst newspapers hyped the “Remember the Maine” revenge war in Cuba. But the Spanish-American War also saw army doctors doing pioneering work on tropical diseases. I can imagine Dr. Frankl as a member of General Walter Reed’s team working to stamp out yellow fever. Let us say, then, that he moved on from Cuba to the Philippines and joined the contingent of doctors under General Leonard Wood’s command. Yellow fever never reached the Philippines, but dengue fever, also carried by mosquitos, did. So there was much to do.

These simple hypotheses could easily put Mordechai on the scene when General Wood ordered the all-our assault on the fighters and families gathered in the Bud Dajo crater. And if he was there, it is more than likely that he joined other field surgeons making a trek across the bloody battlefield, possibly hoping to find someone alive. Instead, they found a field of corpses and the bullet-ripped huts the Moros had built for themselves. In one hut, Mordecai found the holy book of a dead Imam/shaman. Having been taught growing up in an educated household to revere such books, he couldn’t bear to leave it to disintegrate. And then he found the violin. How could he just leave behind this forlorn token of joys forever lost?

When Mordecai returned to the United States, he discovered an anti-war fervor that made him want to forget he had ever heard of Bud Dajo. The Anti-Imperialist League failed to shape the country’s colonialist enthusiasm, but it was full-throated in Boston. Along with Mark Twain, it numbered Carl Schurz, a leading German-American intellectual, among its spokesmen.

So Mordechai left the story of Bud Dajo out of the war experiences he shared with his family. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to dispose of the crude violin and the shabby bundle of texts. He died in 1936, leaving two children and four grandchildren. One of the latter, assuming the violin was an old family piece from Germany, took it to be restored. Eventually, a great-grandchild donated the bundle of texts to an old man with a curio store.

And thus my text adventure began.

Images from the Maranao Text

Footnotes

1 Walter William Skeat, Malay Magic: Being an introduction to the folklore and popular religion of the Malay Peninsula, London: Macmillan, 1900, p. 333.

2 Carolyn Brewer, “Baylan, Asog, Transvestism, and Sodomy: Gender, Sexuality and the Sacred in EarlyColonial Philippines,” Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, Issue 2, May 1999. See also her book Shamanism, Catholicism, and Gender Relations in ColonialPhilippines, 1521–1685. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World. Burlington, VT, and Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2004.

3 Megan Collins, “Bongai in Tanjung Ipoh, Negeri Sembilan,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the RoyalAsiatic Society, Vol. 75, no. 1 (282), 2002, pp. 91-114.

 

RICHARD W. BULLIET is Emeritus Professor of History, Columbia University. He specializes in Middle Eastern history, the social and institutional history of Islamic countries, and the history of technology.

The Diviner’s Handbook

An American-Muslim-Filipino Text Adventure

The Diviner’s Handbook

An American-Muslim-Filipino Text Adventure