LAST week, I met a group of Maranaoans who trace their roots from the Austronesians and are the descendants of the Iranūn ethnic group—the prehistoric seaborne race from the Pacific islands. They claim that they have evidence to prove that their ancestors were the first to have conquered the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea (SCS/WPS).
To understand the Maranaoan claim, one needs to study the heritage of the Iranūn tribe or “race.” And for someone who has not read much about Filipino-Muslims, I begged the indulgence of Maranaoan royalties who were kind enough to give me a crash course on their history.
“Philippine history is based on the accounts of the Spanish and the Americans,” Nasser Sharief told the BusinessMirror. “Remember, Mindanao was not conquered by [either,] and that’s because of the Iranūn.”
Sharief is a certified public accountant by profession and a retired overseas worker from Saudi Arabia. He immersed at finding more stories about his ancestors’ past because of the dearth of historical accounts in the Philippine history’s annals. So he started doing his own research from libraries worldwide, genealogy and oral history. What he found was a rich historical trove of the Iranūns dating back from the 3rd Century—thousands of years before the Spanish conquest of the Philippines.
‘Vikings of Asia’
THE Iranūns are believed to be originally from the Sultanate of Maguindanao. They expanded their influence in Mindanao, as far as Sulu, before and during the Spanish rule of Luzon and the Visayas. They engaged in major trading activities in Champa—the former kingdom of what is now Vietnam and some parts of Cambodia. They also had political and trade ties in Borneo and other areas of the Malay Peninsula.
In Western historical records, the Iranūns were labeled as “pirates,” because they attacked the Spaniards, Portuguese and later on, the Americans and British, in the high seas. But from their own accounts, the Iranūns were excellent sailors and mariners, and they raided foreign ships to protect their territory. Southeast Asian historians called them the “Vikings of Asia.”
Their excellent seafaring skills were evident from their ability to ply the Champa Sea, or what is now known as the “South China Sea.” It is one of the most difficult bodies of water to navigate due to high waves during storms.
“Spain tried to conquer the rest of Southeast Asia from the Philippines, but they could not,” Sharief narrated. “Their ships always sank along the way.”
Over troubled waters
USING Palawan as their starting point mainly for trading, the Iranūns were able to proceed to Champa, which underwent upheavals for hundreds of years. The Iranūns aided Cham refugees migrate to Palawan, and had to pass “Sulawan,” or the Spratlys.
As proof of the Iranūns’ mastery of the sea, Sharief pointed to a map stored in a Spanish museum which details the region’s geography, along with the body of water.
The map called “Carta Indigena Filipina” by curators of the Museo Naval de Madrid was seized from a “Moro pirate ship,” which the Spanish navy turned over in the 18th Century, along with other artifacts and heirlooms.
Said artifact was found cased in a bamboo tube inside a ship that was captured near the Sulu Archipelago. The 72 centimeters x 90 cm cartographic chart was drafted in ink on cowhide (not on paper), with highlights in various colors. The map contained the “unorthodox route” the Iranūns took to “shortcut” their way to Southeast Asian territories. The chart has a profusion of dots which, in the view of Sharief, are points that Iranūns used during battles, including the forward bases, settlements and haunts.
He said this is the first “indigenous map” showing the Philippine conquest of, not just the Spratlys, but the entire SCS/WPS. Sadly, it is devoid of labels to provide documented proofs to those claims.
Sharief said they have traced the genealogy of the present-day Maranao royalties as descendants of a princess from Pulo Condor in southern Champa (Vietnam). They have oral histories passed down from generations through songs.
“The connection between Pulo Condor and Palawan is through Sulawan (Spratly Islands),” he pointed out. “There was a princess in Pulo Condor: Princess Mabay. And that’s in our genealogy—we are [her] descendants.”
SULTAN Tomas Reyes Cabili Jr., an Iranūn descendant, hopes the national government would pursue their story to manifest the country’s “patrimony” over the SCS/WPS.
“Our trump card is much, much better than the Chinese. [They say they own the SCS/WPS because they are traditional fishing grounds. Ours is…a long history of usage of the said waters as a] trade route and as jump-off points for refugees from Champa,” Sharief insisted.
Both believe that the Iranūn’s history would “complement” the Philippine claim, and further cement the gains made with the Unclos or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea’s arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines.