Chapter 2

Kauman Sama Observations: Here within are contained details of Basilan’s political situation as separate from Sulu from 1876 onwards. Malamawi is a long existing Sama community. The story of Datu Kalun, Pedro Cuevas is both interesting and important, especially to his many descendants. The connection between the Sama and the Yakan historically is never remarked on in this chapter but there is evidence of Sama people being around. The fish traps mentioned on page 24 may very well be Sama owned bubu. Landor makes clear that the boat he is on going to Zamboanga is not a Sama Dilaut boat, but that does not stop it from being a Sama boat. The boatmen singing songs from their land as mentioned on page 30 is interesting to think that if these are Sama, singing on top of their boat’s has been a part of Sama culture for hundreds of years. We would love to know what songs were being sung.

Book InformationCh1, Ch2, Ch3

Chapter 2

Basilan Island — The wild Yacanes [Yakan] — The romantic Datto [Datu], Pedro Cuevas.

Had I sufficient space at my disposal much could be said of many other fascinating little islands, such as Kapul (1,022 feet), a three-humped island ; Butinan, 722 feet; Guyangan Island, Bolod, and other islands of the Samales Group which I had an opportunity of seeing during my cruise. But perhaps Basilan, the largest of the Archipelago, will interest the reader more than any of these, because of its romantic history, its remarkable chief, and its curious inhabitants.

I approached Basilan from the south-west. The southern portion of that island is densely wooded and undulating. In the centre are high mountains with graceful slopes and well-rounded summits, the principal of which rise to 2,970 feet, 3,348 feet, 2,940 feet, 2,165 feet, 1,204 feet; and a regular chain of hills from 700 to 800 feet, directly south and south-west of Isabela.

On our track we passed the picturesque rocky

[end page 19]

island of Lampinigan, shaped in a semi-circle with a peak at each end, and then entered the narrow channel between Malamaui Island [Malamawi] and Basilan.

One could not help being impressed by the immense size of the trees on this island.

On approaching Port Isabela, formerly a Spanish naval station, one saw a few patches cleared of forest and now under cultivation.

Port Isabela lay in a well-sheltered spot on the east of the southern part of the channel, and was screened on the cast by low hills, and on the north by Malamaui Island [Malamawi], rising in the centre to 538 feet. Malamaui Island [Malamawi] was densely wooded, and a great number of cocoanuts, as well as a stunted species of palm, could be seen along the beach to the south-east of the island. There was also a village of some sixty or seventy houses. At the western mouth of the channel was Panusuhan Island — a mere islet, 50 or 60 feet high, with a tuft of trees upon it.

We entered the channel at sunset, passing between Panusuhan and the reef of sand just above water to the east, marked by a beacon. There were from 33 to 62 feet of water in this central channel, but in the southern one, between the reef and Basilan Island, the reef extended right across, and there were only 16 feet of water. In front of Isabela there was deep water, from 33 to 59 feet everywhere, and the bay was encircled by mangrove swamps.

The town looked neat enough, a low, white building on posts over the water — formerly the

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hospital — being prominent, and a line of corrugated iron roofs standing high up against the background of dark green trees of the hill. Some 60 or 70 feet above the sea-level was a small fort used as quarters for the American garrison, and this fort commanded both the west and the north-east entrances of the channels of approach. It had four bulwarks, and was entirely surrounded by a moat with a draw-bridge. At the entrance of the Pasahan River were a small dock and workshops, as well as other Government buildings — but everything was rather in a state of abandonment and bad repair.

I was much gmtified to find here an enterprising gentleman — Dr. J. G- Beebe — who was busy constructing a saw-mill in order to develop the timber trade, for which there seemed to be a golden opening. His scheme seemed practical, and it is to be hoped that other American gentlemen of equally sound views may receive every help in putting the immense resources of these forests to some practical use.

I left the coastguard cruiser Tablas, as I wanted to meet the romantic chief, Pedro Cuevas, who lived on the opposite side of the island, and also to make certain studies of the Yacanes [Yakan] — a somewhat wild tribe living in the interior of Basilan.

The Yacanes [Yakan] are people who keep much to themselves, are suspicious of everybody, treacherous, unreliable, and given to fighting whenever a chance occurs. They are seldom to

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be seen about, their haunts being high upon the mountains. They have marked Malay features, — slanting eyes, a fleur de tete skin of a deep brown, and wavy black hair of a fine texture and rich blue-black colour. They have a few hairs on the lips and chin, but none on the jaw. This tribe, too, like others we have examined in the Sulu Archipelago, possess stumpy hands, with short, stiff fingers and thumbs, ending in a triangular phalange, the webbing between being very high. Their feet, although coarse, have abnormally long toes— almost like fingers — which, in comparison with the clumsiness of the hand, are quite pliable and supple.

Curiously enough, although the type is degraded, there yet remain signs that these people came from a good stock — formerly much more refined than at present — or else how could one account for the prettily-formed and chiselled ears with undetached lobes.

The Yacanes [Yakan] live principally on camotes [camote]. They are hunters, and of nomadic habits, constantly changing their whereabouts. They do a considerable trade in wax, honey, rattan, almacega, gum, copal, etc., with the coast people, and at one time they possessed many cattle, which have of late all died of rinderpest.

As the people keep to themselves they have preserved their racial features, except for the corrupting influence of constant intermarriage. Occasionally, of course, extraneous influence can be traced, due, no doubt, to marriage with slaves seized from other tribes. This, however, is not

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common. They profess to be Mahommedans [Muslims], although to a rudimentary belief in the Koran are added a vast number of superstitions of their own. They revere — almost worship certain trees.

They were formerly given to constant pillaging and murder, but have been somewhat checked in this by Datto Pedro Cuevas [Datu Pedro Cuevas], who has continually fought them. The coast inhabitants, nevertheless, can by no means be induced to travel in the interior, such is their fear of the Yacanes [Yakan]. Their characteristic weapon is the pira, a sort of scimitar, but they now possess a good many old-fashioned muzzle-loading rifles. Spears are also used.

One of the peculiarities of the suspicious Yacanes [Yakan] is that, when visiting a stranger, they cannot be persuaded to enter the house. They sit on the doorstep and in an attitude ready for defence or retreat in case of attack.

The Yacanes [Yakan] are very wiry and have great powers of endurance. Boys arc everything in the family, the girls being merely considered for what they can fetch in marriage. A man often indulges in two or three wives, but never more than four, according to the rules of the Koran. Men and women wear large trousers.


Standing Height 1.593
Span 1.678
From base of neck to breast nipple 0.163
Distance between breast nipples 0.196
Armpit to armpit 0.328
Shoulder blade to shoulder blade (highest ridge) 0.158

[end page 23]


Humerus 0.316
Radius 0.263
Hand 0.199
Maximum length of fingers 0.110
Thumb 0.120


Femur 0.466
Tibia 0.403
Height of foot from ground to ankle 0.068
Length of foot 0.260


Horizontal maximum length of cranium
(from forehead to back of head)
Width of forehead at temples 0.131
Height of forehead 0.070
Bizygomatic breadth 0.131
Maximum breadth of jaw 0.125
Nasal height 0.060
Nasal breadth (at nostrils) 0.039
Orbital horizontal breadth 0.032
Distance between eyes 0.031
Breadth of mouth 0.055
Length of upper lip (from mouth aperture to base of nose) 0.020
Lower lip and chin (from mouth aperture to under chin) 0.045
Length of ear 0.063

In the pleasant company of Dr. Beebe, and travelling by native vinta with two men paddling hard, we started on a voyage of several hours, first through the north-east channel between Malamaui Island [Malamawi] and Basilan, and then along the north coast of the latter island, in order to visit Pedro Cuevas at his  residence and capital on the opposite side of the island.

We paddled away from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and landed at the mouth of a river, among numberless heart-shaped fish-traps, the bay at the mouth of the stream — some 200 yards wide, but very shallow — being lined with mangrove swamps; dozens of monkeys were playing about on the higher branches. A few houses, some on piles, others directly on the ground, but all of plaited bamboo and cogon grass, stood near the landing-place, where Datto [Datu] Pedro had also a small shop. Bato-Bato (which means “rock-rock”) was the name of this place.

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The valley of the Gibuan River, where Pedro’s settlement lies, is very beautiful; flat, and with plenty of water — screened by a mountain mass to the south-west, by a conical high peak (1,959 feet) to the south-southeast, by a hill at the entrance of the bay at the river mouth, and by four other mountains, one on each point of land, on the north coast.

We walked some distance along a good trail to Lamitan or Gibuan, the capital of the Datto [Datu], a place consisting of two or three shops and a few modest residences. We met Pedro in the street, and he greeted us cordially enough, although he seemed reserved. He asked us to adjourn to his house — a two-storied building walled with whitewashed wooden panels. The rooms inside were modestly furnished — a looking-glass in a tarnished gilt frame, and a dozen new Vienna cane chairs, suspended from the ceiling, were all we saw.

Datto [Datu] Pedro seemed worried. He did not quite understand American ways, and he, who had from the first been loyal to Americans, felt bitterly some petty irritating lack of judgment on the part of some official or other. He seemed suspicious as to the object of our visit. The mere mention of the census which was being carried on, under the instructions of General Sanger, sent him into ironical fits of laugher.

“You Americans are curious people,” he said; “I suppose you will try to count the birds in the forest next!”

On my explaining that I was a Britisher and

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not an American, and that I had merely come to have the pleasure of meeting him, he presently cleared up and became quite communicative. Some chairs were taken down from their high perch and offered to us, and one of his girls — he had five daughters and two boys — was ordered to make coffee for us.

“I am very ill — I shall soon die,” said Pedro in Spanish, half-recovering from a terribe attack of coughing, and wiping his wet eyes, nose, and lips with the back of his hand. ” You have reached here just in time to see me.”

“Datto [Datu] Pedro, drink some water, and tell me your wonderful history,” said I, as soon as the old man had regained his breath.

“I am a Tagalo [Tagalog] by birth,” said the Datto [Datu] slowly and faintly.” When I landed here I had great trouble, as I had to fight the Yacanes [Yakan]. I gradually conquered 26 of their villages, and these savages are now my best friends; but, mind you, they are treacherous people and need to be held with a hand of iron. We have cleared a lot of forest land, and we grow sugar-cane, maize, rice, and an excellent quality of hemp. All our animals have died. Yes, we have had no luck of late. I am getting old and worn, and none of the other Datto [Datu]s in the island have any power worth mentioning. They are Sulus. Datto [Datu] Assan, uncle of the Sultan of Sulu ; Datto [Datu] Sabudin, Datto [Datu] Indal, Datto [Datu] Jong — but Datto [Datu] Calun — ” he said, proudly, as he struck himself upon the chest, — “that is what the natives call me — rules over them all.”

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In fact, Basilan Island is politically absolutely separated from the Sultanate of Sulu, and has been so since the year 1876. This, I think, is extremely fortunate for the Americans, and I believe that if the Americans will treat Pedro Cuevas fairly, and tolerate, within reason, the laws and customs of these people, they may eventually remove the now-existing distrust and even inspire respect among the population. There are few Christians in Basilan, and although Pedro Cuevas was formerly a Christian himself, he has adapted his religion and manners to suit Mahommedan theories [Islamic].

Pedro Cuevas’ early history borders on romance, so extraordinary it is. When a young fellow he was captured with a band of Ladrones in Cavite Province, and a heavy sentence having been passed upon him, he was conveyed to the Penal Settlement of San Remon (near Zamboanga). He organised a daring escape with six others, and they took to the hills. The Spaniards tried in vain to recapture them. Spies in disguise were sent out, whom Pedro duly captured and returned, bound and with compliments, to the Spanish authorities.

Eventually he and his companions, Silverio, Sabran, Tavio, Basilio, and Santulan — all dead now, Pedro was telling me with a sigh — crossed the wide strait in a vinta and landed on Basilan Island. By surprise and strategy they captured every town and village except the Spanish naval station of Isabela. Every Spanish attempt to capture Pedro failed. The Sulus [Tausug] sent some four

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or five hundred men to Basilan, and this force was about to attack Isabela — where the garrison happened to be unduly weak. Pedro immediately sent word that he and his followers — if assurances were given of future pardon and liberty — would fight the Sulus [Tausug] and help the Spaniards — conditions which were accepted. He then came between the town and the Sulu [Tausug] contingent and kept the enemy off. On Don Remon Larracochea and a Spanish lieutenant going out as hostages into Pedro’s camp, the Datto [Datu] was persuaded to visit the Governor, and from that time became a staunch and loyal friend of the Spanish, who fully recognised his services.

Datto Calun [Datu Calun], or Calong, a Sulu [Tausug], disputed the rights and power of Pedro, and constantly opposed him. He even proposed to settle the matter by a personal fight between them, which was accepted, and Pedro mortally wounded his opponent. The conqueror, who had been nominated a Datto [Datu] by Sultan Aliudin, then assumed

his adversary’s name, by which he is better known to the natives — who number in all some 1,500. This was in 1882, and in 1890 the Spanish Government promised him a yearly allowance of 600 Mexican dollars — a promise which was never fulfilled.

The old Datto [Datu] is of middle height, but bowed by age, his limbs wiry but restless, his eyes discoloured and weary ; but a light came back to them when — having found a sympathiser — he was telling me some of his hairbreadth escapes.

“I must show you my scopetta. It has been

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my best friend all through my life, and when I die, I want it to lie by my side in my grave.”

Pedro took me to his bedroom, where, by his bedside, was an old double-barrel muzzle-loading gun, so worn and broken at the muzzle that the edges were sharp as a knife.

“You see, you can use it as a bayonet when you have no more powder,” said the Datto [Datu]. “I captured it from the Spaniards in my younger days. It has killed many people” — pff — “indeed it has,” soliloquised Pedro, in a sort of reverie — “people who stood in my way — for Pedro has never been known to turn his back. But now I am old and worn, more worn even than my poor scopetta” — he gave it a fond embrace — “and I shall soon die. My chest is weak, one lung gone . . .” Another severe attack of coughing seized him.

“Oh, you will live a thousand years yet,” said the jovial Dr. Beebe, reassuringly.

But the old Datto [Datu] shook his head and coughed and coughed — a snappy sort of a cough — and, screening his mouth with his trembling hand, expectorated a lot of blood. The Doctor and I looked each other in the face and the Doctor made a most significant gesture.

I bade good-bye to this fellow — one of the most remarkable among the natives I met in the Philippines.

I also bade farewell to Dr. Beebe, who returned to Isabela, while I chartered a vinta to proceed across the Basilan Strait to Zamboanga — a distance of fifteen miles as the crow flies. It

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was getting dark when we — two “Moros” and myself — put off, and, as is usually the case when you want to sail anywhere, the wind, which had until then been favourable, suddenly shifted, at the moment we most needed it, and turned into a head wind. So down went the sail, and recourse had to be made to paddling — and as the sea was getting up pretty high we kept close in to the Basilan shore. This being the time of the change of monsoon — when for a period of weeks the wind is capricious — a favourable breeze did eventually arise, and by tacking about we at length sighted the Zamboanga lights. We had some little trouble in the centre of the Strait, owing to the strong current in midchannel which drifted us considerably out of our course — a long way beyond (west) Presidente Bank and Santa Cruz Island. But there was a fine moon above our heads, and my two boatmen sang weird songs of their land — interrupted occasionally by refreshing shower-baths from dashing waves into which we had run.

My skifF, though small — about 16 feet long — was wonderfully seaworthy, considering the difficult sea we were on ; and for want of other amusement I analysed the five sections into which it was divided, the three central ones covered over with movable decks of split bamboo, the sections aft and forward being left open and forming a well for the paddlers to squat in. I had a fine opportunity for studying the marvellously practical fashion in which the outriggers were lashed — in a slightly different

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mode from that of the Bajao [Sama Dilaut/Badjao]— upon a series of double arms, the lower being 4 feet long, the upper only extending 2½ feet from the boat’s side, and serving to strengthen the lower arm at its weakest point just beyond half its length. Astern, the outriggers were supported by a straight arm of hard wood, whereas the two central supports were curved downward at the end and firmly braced, the one aft — where the strain was greatest and most constant — being laced tight to a secondary horizontal bar above it.

Near Santa Cruz Island we unhappily bumped on a rock, on which we stuck fast for a considerable time, our combined efforts — when we had all jumped into the water- — not being sufficient to lift the heavy boat and get her off. But eventually we moved off again, and at last, at midnight — or after six hours’ unsteady navigation — I arrived safe and sound in Mindanao, glad indeed, very glad, to have completed my visits among the innumerable smaller islands of the Philippine and Sulu Archipelagoes, with their perplexing tribes.

There now remains the most important portion of my journey across the larger islands — among the weirdest and most interesting people of the Archipelago.

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Book InformationCh1, Ch2, Ch3