TAUSUG: “THIER SPIRIT IS INCONQUERABLE”

By | January 23, 2012
Neldy Jolo
I have been looking for any book that tackles about the Japanese Army in relation to the Tausug warriors in the Sulu Archipelago. Here is it. I got one. I am very thankful to Kah Abdel and his wife Auntie Mhar for extending a gift far from the State of Qatar and ordered it from the Amazon.com. Although I do need to finish reading the book, I was ignited to share the importance of the article below this.

While browsing the book written by Helen Follet, “Men of the Sulu Sea”, published in New York in 1945, I came across with the name “Willard Straight Agricultural School” that was operating in rural Indanan, Jolo Island, Sulu Archipelago in the late 1920’s.
Upon curiosity with that school name, I googled it until I found the magazine Boy’s Life and contain herein an article “Barongs and the Scout Staves” written by Henry F. Phelen. It is about the courageous Tausug and about the Tausug Boys Scouts who made the Scoutmaster happy with the hospitality and kindness of this people.   
Follet’s book was published after few years in memory of the World War II in the land of the “master warrior of the Sulu Sea”. Japanese landed for the first time to Jolo in 23 December 1941 during the war. This is the year that Japanese launched a Kamikaze attacked burned the Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, the American territory.
I retyped the article from the “print screen” picture of the magazine because there is no available copy in a text form. I will not write much about it but let us read the article and judge it with our own conscience.
Hopefully, the young Tausug generations could get lessons from this article on how the foreign invaders respected their forefathers of which to die in defending the truth is their joy.  The memory of the courage in the heart of our forefathers shall not vanish.  
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BARONGS AND THE SCOUT STAVES
By Henry F. Phelen
Boy’s Life: For All Boys Published by the Boys Scouts of America
June 1929 Vol. XIX, NO 6
Pages 26, 67, 68, and 69
In the Sulu Archipelago, the home of the Sulu Moros, once the most fierce and dreaded pirates of the Far East, is a Boy Scout Troop, unique in many respects. For one thing it is the only Mohammedan Troop commissioned by the Boy Scouts of America.

The three hundred or more tiny islands that form this archipelago, lie a very near the cost of the great island of the Borneo. They form the most southerly group of Uncle Sam’s great island empire in the Far East, the Philippine Islands. The early Spanish explorers named the people who inhabited Sulu, Moros, because they were Mohammedans, like the Moors or Moros the Spanish had been fighting for centauries in Europe and Africa. 

These Sulu Moros are a proud race of fighting men and sailors. Before the Spaniard Magellan had landed in Cebu the might of these Moslem Sulus had been felt for to the north. The natives of the Visayas, of Palawan, of Luzon, knew them and feared their power. The vintas travelled as far north as China and Japan, and as far to the south and west of Java and Sumatra.
The Moros fought most ferociously and tenaciously against the might of Spain. Time and again Spain secured a foothold in Sulu, only to be driven out again by the dauntless Moros. Masters of the Seas, in their swift sailing vintas, the Sulu warriors carried the war up among the northern islands, ravaging the coasts and sacking towns. With all her might, Spain was never able to conquer the valiant Joloano Sulus who at no time in their history numbered more than 70,000 people.
It took the American Government nearly fourteen years to establish itself completely among the Moros. Their spirit is inconquerable. They were, and are, ready to stand up against any odds. They love a fight for itself, and being Mohammedans believe that a short cut to Paradise is to kill an infidel and be killed.

Some years ago in a combat a small group of Sulu warriors rush a much larger force of soldiers armed with modern rapis0fire rifles. The Moros had no guns, only their terrible fighting knives called barongs. The last Moro attacker died within three feet of the blazing rifle muzzles. Not one of that little band stopped, not one turned back. The wounded dragged themselves on until killed.
Consider the spirit behind the well-authenticated story of the Moro warrior who was struck in the breast by the bayonet of an American soldier. The bayonet did not penetrate deeply enough to kill. Vainly the Moro swung his terrible knife at the soldier whom he couldn’t reach.
Finally the desperate Moro seized the muzzle of the rifle in one hand, leaned on it, pushing bayonet through his body, giving him one instant of life in which to strike down the soldier. He died while killing and infidel and Allah’s Paradise was his. It is such magnificent and ruthless courage that made the Moros the terror of the Celebes.
It is from the youth of this remarkable people that the Moro Boy Scout Troop is formed. The grandfathers of many of these Scouts were fearless sea-rovers, and the fathers of some of the boys died fighting against the soldiers Uncle Sam. The Moro Agricultural Foundation, organized by Bishop Brent, Mrs. C. Lorillard Spencer would be an excellent supplement to efforts to bring more peaceful ideals to these people, who, for hundreds of years, have known only warfare and piracy.
Every boy in the school attended the first Scout meeting. When I had explained in simple English what a Boy Scout was, what were the ideals that he stood for, and asked how many desired to study and train to become Scouts, the answer was a roar as a hundred young voices shouted, “We all do.” But what a Boy Scout really was, only a few had the remotest idea at the time, for in the whole archipelago of over three hundred islands there was not one Boy Scout.
After the meeting one young boy, who had come from the distant island to attend this school in order to “better his condition of life” as he quaintly said the day he enrolled, asked me what color the Boy Scout uniform was and if I thought he was big enough to carry a gun! Another young Moro boy, a Samal from Tawi Tawi, wanted to know if, after he became a Boy Scout and had earned his uniform, ideas on good turns would come into his head, for he wanted to do as many good turns as he could.”
Knowing that it would be impossible to train one hundred boys all at once, I picked out twenty who looked as if they might become leaders. I concentrated on these boys. Result as were astonishing good. With one exception they came through splendidly in their tests, which were purposely made rather difficult. From this group I selected my Patrol and Assistant Patrol Leaders, and three Assistant Scoutmasters, and formed a temporary skeleton troop.
I explained carefully to the boys that only thirty-two could become registered members of the first troop, but that I would train them all and that hard and meritorious work would determine which would be the lucky thirty-two. Surely there never was a troop of the Boy Scouts of America who came to Scouting with the greater keenness than these thirty-two boys who formed the Moro Troop – No. 155 of the Philippines.
When I left the Philippines a few months ago our troop had been in operation only eight months. Already the boys have a striking record. They seem to have grasped the real spirit of the Good Turn. A part of the Scout Law is in their very blood.
Perhaps the most striking tribute that could be paid to the thoroughness of the Scouting they practice, and the value it has been to them in the development of the responsible and public-spirited citizenship, is shown in the fact that six of the eight Patrol Leaders, because of their Scout experience, have been chosen for work in the Government schools. Fifty boys have since qualified in their Tenderfoot tests and will be formed into troops.
The country is ideal for the practice of the auto door activities of Scouting. Because the boys themselves are handy, and water-and-forest wise, the troop has had a hiking and sailing record, remarkable for an eight-month-old troop. Here is part of it:
  1. A hike of 25 miles to the village of Silangkan, formerly pirate town.
  2. A climb up Mt. Tumantangis, an extinct volcano – 3, 100 feet – distance, 8 miles.
  3. Fourteen-mile hike into the crater of the Bud Tukay volcano, whose crater is a lake. The Scouts cooked their meals and made camp on the banks of the lake inside the craters. Excitement was furnished by presence of the crocodiles in the lake.
  4. To the town of Maimbung on the coast, former residence of the Sultans of Sulu, and once the most important town in Sulu. 18 miles.
  5. A week’s sea-trip in the vintas. 150 miles.
  6. Hike of 20 miles to Parang, the largest Moro village in Sulu. Most of the houses are constructed over the water piles.
  7. A five-day hike to Timpuak Crater Lake and Bud Bagsak Volcano, Total distance over 100 miles. It was in Bud Bagsak that the battle of Bagsak Cota was fought in 1914. In it America and Filipino soldiers crushed the Moro warriors in a fierce two-day engagement in which hundreds of the Moros perished.
The first important hike of the troop was made about six weeks after the first meeting. It was to quaint Moro village on the coast of Jolo Island called Silangkan once a famous stronghold of the Sulu sea-rovers. The houses of these sea-Moros are built out over the sea on wooden piles which allow their boats to be tied at their doors.
The hike was rather a stiff one, nearly twenty miles under a broiling tropical sun; one that would prove a test to a group of American tenderfoots, but one of which these sturdy Moro boys thought nothing.
The principal diversion on this hike was a Scoutmaster being treed by an enraged carabao, a native work-buffalo, which seems to have an inherited dislike for the white man. It was great entertainment for the Moro Scouts to see their Scoutmaster perched on a limb, minus his hat and resembling, as the boys later told him, a Kukao – a large native bird whose call suggests a person in a sorrow.

Carabaos rarely molest the natives. One of the smallest of the Scouts walked up to it, and hitting it on the nose with a piece of bamboo drove it away. These animals weigh about 2,000 pounds. They have been responsible for the death of quite a number of white people, although they rarely bother the natives.

As we neared the coast we attracted quite a bit of attention in the neighborhood. Moros often travel about the islands but usually in groups of two or three and with a set purpose. Large bands of people were usually looked on with suspicion as perhaps a war party or a group of outlaws. To see a gang of young boys making a long hike for no particular purpose was a source of amusement and surprise to the people.

After a swim in the sea the boys found a lovely white sand beach in the shade of the tall coconut palms. Each patrol cooked its own lunch, which it had carried.
One of our longest hikes was a five-day trip to Bagsak, the scene of the decisive battle between General Pershing and the Moros. This hike proved to be one of thrills and surprises. On the first night we had planned to camp on the banks of a stream running through a teak forest. When we arrived at our chosen over-night camp site about 3 P.M. a Moro boy appeared on the opposite bank of the river and ran towards us.
As he neared he seemed quite excited. Still panting for breath he rapidly poured out his tale in the Tausug dialect. My boys immediately translated what he was saying . . . it wasn’t safe for us to stay here, there had been a fight between the Constabulary and a large band of outlaws that morning, the outlaws had defeated the Constabulary and driven them off. . . as the outlaws were very near it wasn’t safe to stay here. Without waiting to be thanked he ended his tale and dashed into the forest.
A halt was called, and a troop-in-council held. To stay there was dangerous, and to turn back difficult. The best thing would be to push on in a forced march to the coast. One of the boys said he knew a place on the coast where we could hide. We had travelled fifteen miles since morning, carrying full packs and blanket rolls.  
Without a single complaint, in perfect order we pushed on, a long line of khaki clad Scouts, in a single file, followed by ten big Bengali Bulls carrying food, water, lanterns, and extra baggage, travelling along a narrow trail, at times in thick forest, sometimes in dense jungle, through open grass lands, uphill and down, we must have presented quite a sight. If any outlaws were watching us from nearby hills they must have thought the staffs were guns and mistaken our unarmed Scouts for a reinforcing column of soldiers!
It was nearly dusk when we reached the coast and halted on a white sandy beach; we had covered eight miles in two and a half hours or a total of twenty-three miles since morning. After a ten-minute rest we pushed on along the beach led by the Scout who had been there before.  
We soon reached the place he had in mind, an ideal hiding place mad to order for us in this emergency. A tiny grass and tree covered island barely 150 yards by 100 wide, surrounded on three sides by deep swamps infested with crocodiles on three, and on the fourth by sea. That night the tide came up and closed the beach trail so that we were safety locked in for the night.
With the aid of their sharp bolos (knives) which the Moro boy always carries, grass lean-toss were soon constructed. Patrol fires were started and dinner cooked. A tired, famished but cheerful lot of boys answered mess call that night. As they ate their dinners, the talk was all on how we had out-witted the outlaws and found a fine camping site Patrol sentries were set and the rest turned in for a will earned rest. 
As I made my turn of the sentry posts I thought how different our night’s slumber might have been had not that Moro boy warned us. We never found out who he was saw him again; nor even now do we know why he did us such a good turn.  Surely he is another “Unknown Boy Scout.”
Six months later I met the Chief of this outlaw band, after he had surrendered to the officials. I asked him if they remembered our passing through the teak forest long months before. The old Chief smiled grimly.
His fierce eyes bored into mine: “Yes, I remember well. My men reported a force of soldiers entering the teak forest, and had you camped there that night, we would have rushed you at day break!”
How the boys of your Scout Troop might attend an Athletic   Meet held on another island, eighty miles from the school, was rather a problem until the boys asked to be allowed to sail in their own vintas there and back. Sons of a sea people, the toys are home at sea as on land.
The start was made from the Moro village of Parang on the South Coast of Jolo Island, early Thursday morning. Despite the early start great crowds of Moros gathered to see the unusual sight – a group of Moro boys dressed in the attractive Boy Scout Uniform with their red Fez hats setting out on a trip to a distant island, twenty-seven of them accompanied by three Assistant Scoutmasters and the Scoutmaster, in five fleet vintas.
There vintas are long narrow boats cleverly fashioned out a very light wood, with long bamboo out-riggers on both sides to prevent capsizing under the tremendous   expanse of sail they carry. In a good wind they are swifter than steamboats and are a most picturesque sight with their brightly colored sails, the white water curling under their sharp bows. A vinta under sail in fresh breeze is a sight one never forgets.
 It was in just such boats that the famous Sulu pirates, the forefathers of these boys, cruised the Sulu, Celebes, South China Seas, and inland waters of the great Philippine Archipelago. One can picture the fear aroused in the breast of northern natives who saw approaching their shores, fleets of swift vintas, crammed with fierce Mohammedan warriors armed to the teeth, who laughed as they died.
The Sulu Sea dotted by some 300 islands and hundreds of reefs, is traversed rarely by large steamers and one which captains dread. Very few light exist to guide the mariner.   The Sulu mariner seems gifted with an inborn sense of direction, and travels at night as we as in a day time.
With a skilled boatman at the helm of each vinta, and the Scouts as crews we sailed on through the night in as single file. A lantern was hung over the stern of each vinta as a beacon. The gurgling of the water under the sharp prows, the creaking of the sails, the subdued voices of the boys ads they chatted in Sulu, the warm fragrant air, were soothing. But dangers lurked on every hand.  
Unseen reefs dotted these seas, and to capsize or swamp is a serious thing in a sea teeming with sharks; where low banks are the abodes of the fierce crocodiles, the one creature feared by all Moros. This anecdote may illustrate the danger from crocodiles found in salt water as well as in fresh water.
Not very long ago a young American Officer in the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, while engaged in a charting one of the low coral banks, every nearly lost his life while travelling in a motor launch very close to the beach.
A large crocodile rose out of the water and seized his leg in its tremendous jaws. The young officer was standing on the rail with his leg pressed against a stanchion. Fortunately the crocodile grasped the iron stanchion as well as the leg. This saved the officer’s life, since pulling with all its might the crocodile could not pull him over the side, but the cruel teeth mauled his leg terribly, breaking the bones in several places.
 Luckily, an armed constabulary soldier, whose business was to protect the working parties from crocodiles was in the launch. He immediately emptied his rifle into the crocodile. Crocodiles often seize people who are wading, but this is an actual case of one trying to pull a man out of a moving motor launch.
Our trip lasted twenty-seven hours. These boys are born Sea Scouts. They are natural sailors, and their skill brought us through a dark night without even the suggestion of an accident. They were without aid of compass or light house. Often on his trio and on its return through the velvet blackens an island or a reef would loom up before my untrained eye, and it seemed a miracle that these boys unfailingly found the exact channel.
The Meet was a most successful one. The boys won numerous events and carried back with them the thought that they had been the first Boy Scouts to take part in a Sulu Athletic Meet. To say that these boys are at home on the sea is putting it very mildly. They are at home even under the sea!
In the Troop are six boys who can dive over ten fathoms, or nearly ninety feet, in search for pearl oysters. With only rock to carry him swiftly down and a knife between his teeth this boy would dare the dangers of sharks, octopuses and giant clams, time and again, for pearl-diving is a profession in Sulu, and many boys are trained from infancy to dive to great depths.
For centuries these Sulu Moros have led an existence of almost continual warfare. The youths of the race were trained to warfare, for those who unskilled in the use of arms quickly fell in battle.
To-day the Moro children are anxious to go to school and fit themselves for a life of peace. Only the facilities are not adequate. So very much remains to be done. These Mohammedan subjects of the United States look to Uncle Sam for aid and guidance.
Being so far away, so few in number, they are apt to be overlooked and forgotten. Yet of all the peoples in the great Philippine group, whose population totals over ten millions, the Moro of the South (about 300,000 all told) are perhaps the most loyal subjects of Uncle Sam in the Far East.  
Through the efforts of the Willard Straight Agricultural School in starting a Boy Scout Troop, a new outlet has been opened to Moro boys. Moro youths can spend their surplus energies in a field where; as I pointed out at the beginning, a harvest is already being reaped.
Instead of learning to handle weapons to kill, they are endeavouring to live up to the Scout Laws, to bring into the life of their communities the Scout ideals, and to learn the many useful things which are so useful in our country, but which mean infinitely  more to these Mohammedan boys of Sulu.
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