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Maragtas Story, Code of Kalantiaw et al. – ‘History’ That Never Was

Image Credit:  The News Today
If you are anywhere near my age, then you will have none-too-fond memories of having to memorise for an exam the story of the ten Malay Datus from Borneo who were supposed to have settled the Philippine Islands.

For those who have forgotten or have only partially retained the story, in the 13th century a Bornean tyrant by the name of Makatunaw was supposed to have been the cause for ten other datus and their families to flee to what would become the Philippine Islands.

The datus – Puti, Sumakwel, Bangkaya, Paiborong, Paduhinogan, Dumangsol, Libay, Dumangsil, Domalogdog and Balensuela – sailed away from Borneo in their boats called barangays and landed on the island of Panay in the Visayas.

Through the efforts of Datu Puti, the new arrivals managed to purchase land at the price of a golden salakot or helmet from the indigenous population of Aetas who, with their chieftain Marikudo, retreated to the highlands after the sale.

Personally, I am not just a little annoyed that we had to spend so much time and energy as high school kids just memorising names like Datu Puti, Datu Sumakwel, Marikudo and many others – only to discover years later that they were not even historical facts.
From Aklan, the datus and the clans that they founded were supposed to have spread out to Bicol and as far as Batangas and Laguna, navigating as they did the Pansipit River to start settlements along the banks of Lake Bonbon or what is now known as Taal Lake.

All these, once upon a time, we all simply accepted as factual history. After all, they were included in our History textbooks and taught as a matter of course.

It took an American researcher by the name of William Henry Scott to expose the story for what it always was – not factual at all and probably a work of fiction.

In his doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History’ presented to the University of Sto. Tomas in 1968 for his Ph.D. program, Scott showed that the Maragtas story could not have been factual.

Scott revealed through his dissertation that the Maragtas story was written by a Panay historian by the name of Pedro Monteclaro whose own publisher in 1907 warned that parts of the story did not jibe with oral traditions as told by elders.

Monteclaro alleged that his ‘sources’ were antiquated and barely readable and made no references to their date or authenticity.

In fact, one of the reasons why Philippine History is not as extensive as those of other countries has always been because researchers have found it difficult to find materials.

This is due either to the probable absence of a culture in writing history as it unfolded or, if at all attempts were made, these were made on perishable materials that could not be preserved.

Then there was the matter of the Spaniards themselves burning whatever literature there was to stamp their own history and culture upon the Philippines upon colonisation.

Thus, Monteclaro’s ‘sources’ were probably not just unverifiable as his own publisher warned but even dubious if at all these existed. In that case, there was every possibility that the Maragtas story was a work of fiction and not at all history.

Furthermore, Scott successfully debunked the legal code called the Code of Kalantiaw, a set of alleged laws promulgated in the 15th century. The code was originally contained in a chapter of a manuscript written by a Spanish friar by the name of Jose Maria Pavon entitled ‘Las Antiguas Leyendas de la isla de Negros (Ancient Legends of Negros Islands).

Although the manuscripts were published early in the 20th century and subsequently became accepted as ‘historical facts,’ Scott’s research revealed that Kalantiaw was in most likelihood a fictitious character and that his code was, therefore, also a fabrication.

The story of the ten Bornean datus has since been relegated to the status of ‘legend’ while the Code of Kalantiaw has become deleted from Philippine History textbooks.

Personally, I am not just a little annoyed that we had to spend so much time and energy as high school kids just memorising names like Datu Puti, Datu Sumakwel, Marikudo and many others – only to discover years later that they were not even historical facts.

Thanks to the efforts of an American researcher, at least high school kids of the present no longer have to. Undoing the effects of the failure of early 20th century Philippine historians to distinguish fact from fiction may take time, however.

Saunter over to Wikipedia, for instance, and you will find that Lipa’s history is based on the migration of branches of the Bornean datus into Batangas through the Pansipit River into Bonbon or Taal Lake.

Kalibo’s celebrated Ati-Atihan festival is also based on the supposed arrival of the datus and their subsequent interactions with the indigenous Aetas. How odd is it, then, to be celebrating something that in most likelihood never really happened?

1. Excerpts from Philippine History by Maria Christine N. Halili on Google Books
2. Wikipedia: William Henry Scott
3. Wikipedia: Kalantiaw
4. WikiPilipinas: Legend of the Ten Bornean Datus
5. Wikipedia: Lipa, Batangas
6. Wikipedia: Ati-Atihan Festival