‘Sugod, Mga Kapatid!’

Published January 25, 2021, 12:56 AM

by Jaime Laya


SHARP OBJECTS AND BLADED WEAPONS Talibóng of the Mundo (Panay-Bukidnon) warriors and the handle of one, depicting a Makara, a mythical being of Hindu origin. (photo courtesy of Floy Quintos)

Apart from what my kasambahay calls kutsilyo or nayp, the most familiar weapon nowadays is the bolo (also called sundáng, goloc, or itác), held high on monuments by Andrés Bonifacio (Sugod, mga kapatíd!). Next would be balisóng, the butterflyor folding knife, symbol of Batangueño courage. Then you have palacól, the utilitarian axe used for chopping wood or worse and carit or scythe for harvesting palay.

Without electricity, home appliances, and chain saws and before shotguns, dynamite, and cyanide, our ancestors had specialized bladed weapons and implements. Hunters were expert on spears (sibát or pañganuang, a large spear apparently used to hunt wild carabaos) and arrows (panà, palaso, pasolo or pasolot). Spear fishers used panamit or lauil.

Not weapons but tools for domestic use were kitchen knives that my Lola called kampít, although it seems that campít meant also small knives that chewers cut buyò leaves with, used together with panalit or carot that were special scissors to get to the meat of the buñga (areca nut). To shave, males used a calumpagui. Caros was a general-purpose hand knife. Handy for farm work were carit, a large knife used in cultivating palms, andcalauit, a scythe to gather zacate (horse fodder).Houses, furniture, containers, and other furnishings were made of bamboo and rattan, for which sisip and pisáo or hiuas were used.

SHARP OBJECTS AND BLADED WEAPONS Talibóng of the Mundo (Panay-Bukidnon) warriors and the handle of one, depicting a Makara, a mythical being of Hindu origin. (photo courtesy of Floy Quintos)

Cultural communities were far more sophisticated in their weaponry. It turns out that they retained traces of pre-Hispanic traditions, power structure, and belief systems in swords, daggers, knives, axes, and spears.Indeed, they illuminate aspects of our pre-Hispanic past that otherwise we see dimly through the disapproving eyes of Spanish missionaries and bureaucrats and from archaeological excavations and anthropological studies.

European anthropologists of the 19th century collected weapons from the places they visited, mainly Mindanao, Panay, the Cordilleras. American veterans of the “Moro Wars” (1901-1913} and of the “pacification” of the Cordilleras brought them home as souvenirs.The scientists’ collections remain in European and American museums while US veterans’ souvenirs frequently appear on eBay and antique shops, sold by disinterested heirs.These were targeted by Union Bank president Edwin R. Bautista who quietly formed the world’s best collection of traditional Philippine weaponry that he has generously donated to the Museo ng Kaalamáng Katutubò.

Bautista’s first acquisition was an object that he thought was used to split coconuts. It turned out to be of the highest category of fighting sword, the sinapottalibóng of Mount Baloy’s indigenous Mundo group (known also as Panay-Bukidnon, Suludnon, or Tumandok). A tapering long weapon, its hilt represents the Makara, a sea monster of Hindu mythology associated with fertility and protection during sea journeys.It has the trunk of an elephant, the horns of a goat, the tusks of a wild boar, the body of a crocodile, and the tail of a fish.  When made of kamagóng and decorated in silver, it was a dress sword for special occasions.

The elaborate shapes and the materials and methods used also demonstrate technology, social structure, trade patterns and, in general, life from about 500 B.C. to 1000 A.D.There had to be miners, smiths, craftsmen, merchants, traders, priests, and warriors to be able to produce those weapons.

They were not mere deadly weapons but proclaimed power, status, and wealth.They were symbols of authority, bravery, and other attributes.Many parts of a bladed weapon were carefully designed and decorated—pommel, hilt, grip or handle, guard, blade, and scabbard. The hardest and most decorative woods were used—duñgon, kamagóng, yakál, narra, banatì, bansalañgin, and malatumbaga. Embellishments could be coconut shell and rattan, but the more elaborate ones were of gold and silver, bone, ivory, whale tooth, mother-of-pearl, horn, giant clam shell, and/or turtle shell.

Until the early 1900s, life in the Cordilleras was dangerous.There were long-lasting village and family feuds and head-taking could be religious and social obligations.Battle and ambush weapons included the aliwá, a head axe featuring a spur on the opposite side of the bladed edge, the hanggap and hinalung of the Ifugao and the itung of the Ilongot.

We rely on inadequate friar accounts for information on the belief systems and religious practices of our ancestors and from further removed syncretic imagery and theology in anting-anting, amulets still considered powerful in certain areas.It therefore comes as a surprise to learn that elements of what our ancestors believed in survived in the traditional designs in textiles, pottery, woodcarvings, and architecture.Motifs and designs were grounded on our ancient belief systems but were stamped out in the lowlands when natives became Christian.

In his essay, Lorenz Lasco states that our ancestors believed that gods inhabited a tripartite cosmos: the upperworld, middleworld, and the underworld.The upperworld was represented by sun or bird; the underworld by fish, serpent, or turtle, and middleworld by leaves, vines, flowers, bamboo, trees, or silhouette of mountains. Epics also relate to religion and myths, e.g., bat monster Uyutang of the Panay Island epic Hinilawodis sometimes carved in weaponry.

A sarimanok of Mindanao’s Maranao group (photo courtesy of Floy Quintos).

Lasco further explains that the Maranao sarimanok is a rendition of the threefold universe—a mythical bird with a fish dangling from its beak, perched atop a bamboo pole. Departed ancestors are represented by an anthropomorphic figure, butterfly, crocodile, gecko, or lizard.  Daggers with sinuous blades are associated with the naga or serpent deity.  A sun or sunburst on the figural head of a bird is placed on the pommel of swords (i.e., kris, barong, or pira).

Among Bicolanos, the upperworld is represented by a horse and bird and the underworld, a dog.A monster deity is common in Negros, Leyte, and Samar.Weapon scabbards in Cebu have a white or black orb that appears being swallowed by a creature (possibly the serpent bakunawà), the white orb being the sun and the black orb, the moon.A seahorse deity (considered a young dragon) is sometimes present.

Machine guns are the norm nowadays and the Edwin R. Bautista Collection brings us back to the time when our ancestors settled disputes and upheld honor in hand-to-hand combat and battles-to-the-death and when weapons were not only utilitarian but were also masterpieces that proclaimed status, belief system, artistry, and somewhat unexpectedly, economic development.

Notes: (a) This article is based on Bautista, Edwin R., et.al., A Warrior’s Armament and Ornament: The Edwin R. Bautista Collection of Philippine Bladed Weapons (Mandaluyong City: Museo ng KaalamángKatutubò, 2020); (b) The Museo ng Kaalamáng Katutubò (“Museum of Ethnic Knowledge”) is in process of organization and target opening date still has to be set; and (c) The names, spelling and uses of weapons and tools of lowland Christian Filipinos are drawn from entries in Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar, Vocabulario de la LenguaTagala that was first published in 1754.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]