Located thirteen kilometers from Tinaka Point, the southernmost tip of mainland Mindanao, is a beautiful island called Sarangany. It is accessible by ferry from Davao City or by banca from my hometown, Malita in Davao del Sur. From the Sarangany town proper, one can take another banca ride to go to Maluku (Moluccas) Beach with its white sand and clear water.
Today, Sarangany Island (I’m keeping the old spelling to distinguish it from the newly created Sarangani province) is one of the poorest and most neglected municipalities in the country. Yet once upon a time, it was the seat of a powerful Principality that held dominion over the east coast of Mindanao (up to Tandag), the Sarangani Bay, the Butuan Gulf (now Davao Gulf) and even in the Sangirese Islands in Northern Moluccas.
The natives of Sarangany and its “twin”, Balut Island, belong to the Sangil or Sangir ethnic groups. According to anthropologists, the Sangils are autochthonous to the Davao area. They speak the Sangil and/or Sangir languages. Sangir is also spoken by some 200,000 Sangirese in Moluccas.
Most Filipinos do not even know that Sarangany Island exists. Yet skimming through the pages of history, one would realize that this obscure island and its people were quite known and respected by other nations, including European powers.
In 1535 the Portuguese Governor of Ternate Tristao d’Atayde sent his trusted lieutenant, Pinto, to explore the Mindanao area. The Datu of Sarangany welcomed him and sealed their alliance with a blood compact. Pinto invited the Saranganies to come to his ship. As soon as they came on deck, the Portuguese crew threw them into the hold to take them as captives and be sold as slaves.
Luckily, one Sarangany warrior escaped. The Datu of Sarangany immediately gathered his men and gave chase to the Portuguese. The Saranganies attacked furiously, and only a heavy storm saved the Portuguese. Pinto barely escaped to Ternate in the Moluccas. The Portuguese were thus warned never to return to Mindanao.
After the debacle in Mactan in 1521, Spain’s Carlos I sent 4 more missions to conquer “Las Islas del Poniente” (i.e., the Philippines). The last mission was led by Ruy Villalobos, who landed in Sarangany island in1543. The Saranganies gave stiff resistance and laid siege to the Spanish. The Spanish were forced “to eat cats, dogs and rats, gray lizards and unknown plants” in order to survive.
Incidentally, on their way home, the Spaniards passed by Samar and Leyte. A member of the crew, Bernardo de la Torre named these two islands Las Filipinas in honor of then Crown Prince Philip.
In 1575, the powerful Sultan Bajang Ullah of Ternate made a mutual defense pact with the Datu of Sarangani / Rajah of Candahar, whose capital was in Balut Island.
With the fall of Ternate to the Dutch, Sarangany’s strategic location made its leaders the natural Moro ambassadors to the Dutch in Ternate. In 1619, the Datu of Sarangany went to Ternate in behalf of the Rajah of Buayan to ask for Dutch aid against Maguindanao. At the same time, Katchil Suleiman, the rajah muda of Maguindanao went to Ternate to ask for Dutch help against Buayan. A couple of years later, the Prime Minister of Sarangany visited Ternate. He was probably the first Ambassador of a “united Moro front”. He brought with him letters from the Rajahs of Sarangany and Buayan as well as from the Sultans of Maguindanao and Sulu. The Moros proposed a joint Moro-Dutch assault on two small Spanish settlements in Mindanao.
In 1628, the Dutch finally sent a mission to Mindanao under Fiscal Daniel Ottens. He met with Sultan Qudarat of Maguindanao, Rajah Amoncaya (Datu Maputi) of Buayan, Datu Mangada of Sarangany and other Moro rulers.
Datu Mangada claimed that he could easily muster a war force of 2000 Saranganies, 2000 alforeses ( now called lumads by some writers), 200 Badjaos plus the help of several negeris (districts/counties) under his dominion; namely, Malita, Bagobo, Canatig, Djabo, Mateau, Sommeleg and Leyne (villages along Mindanao’s southern and eastern coasts). The Sarangani datu also claimed to have a naval force of 10 fully armed caracoas ( a typical Moro war vessel).
In comparison, Sultan Qudarat claimed he could immediately raise an army of 10,000 while the Buayan datus boasted that they could easily gather 100 fully armed caracoas, 60 of them armed and manned by Buayanens and 40 by vassal negeris.
During this time, Ternate was beset by dynastic quarrels. Sultan Mudaffar died and there were three pretenders. Hamza, who had Spanish support, eventually succeeded Mudaffar.
The Datu of Sarangany openly protested Hamza’s coronation. On the other hand, Buayan supported Hamza. To emphasize Buayan’s support of Hamza, the Buayan rajah gave the Ternatan sultan the right to appoint Buayan’s Raja Laut (Lord of the Admiralty). Maguinadanao was presumably against Hamza.
The “Hamza affair” showed quite clearly how the Mindanao and Moluccan politics were intertwined. At that time, Moro and Moluccan natives called Mindanao Maluku Besar (Great Moluccas), perhaps to distinguish it from Maluku (Moluccas proper).
A few months ago, there were reports that Indonesians (Moluccans) were residing illegally in the newly formed Sarangani province. Perhaps these Moluccans did not realize that after World War II, the idea of nation-states is considered sacrosanct and that the boundaries of the new nation-states are inviolable.
In the past, Maguindanao’s, Buayan’s, Sarangany’s, Candahar’s and Sangir’s rulers were practically one family. For example, in the latter half of the 17th century, the children of Datu Buisan of Sarangany a.k.a. the Rajah of Candahar were all over the region. His sons included Kudjamu, the Rajah of Buayan; Samsialam and Makabarat, co-rulers of Buayan who later chose to live in Ternate; and Pandjalang the Prime Minister of Tabukan in North Sangir. His daughters were married to Sultan Barahaman and Katchil Bakaal of Maguindanao, and the Sultan of Tabukan. His favorite daughter Lorolabo, who was married to the Tabukan sultan, had a son, Joannes Calambuta, whom Buisan chose to succeed him as Rajah of Candahar. Rajah Buisan was the son of Datu Buisan of Davao.
If Rajah Buisan of Candahar were alive today, I wonder what passport would he use. The Dutch considered him a Sangirese /Moluccan ruler, yet he was the son of Datu Buisan of Davao and was born and reared in Sarangany Island.
For centuries, Sarangany was an autonomous principality. Historical records show that it took part in numerous Moro expeditions against Spanish settlements in Luzon and Visayas.
The end came in the early 1900’s when Sarangany became part of the Moro Province under the Americans. In 1946, it became part of the Philippine Republic. The once proud datuship of Sarangany was reduced into a mere municipality of Davao del Sur.
Former President Ramos created a new province named Sarangani. This new province is settled and ruled by people who came from afar, even as far as China. They will now carry the name of Sarangani while the real Saranganies will be left further in oblivion.
Their days of glory may be over, but the people of Sarangany Island can take heart from the words of the great American president John Quincy Adams. He said, “Who we are is who we were.” Nobody can take away the Sarangany people’s proud history and heritage.
Published in the Philippine Post on June 3, 2000