The Bullet-Ridden Agong

Nonfiction by | September 23, 2007


By a great coincidence, the title I chose for the American overkill that occurred eighty years ago on a hill outside Jolo town matched that of the recent Tausug youth musical theatre entitled “Ang Antigong Agong.” These very creative descendants of a massacre by the American military of more than 1,000 Moros at Bud Dahu recreated symbolically through the search for the antique agong the agony and psychological black-out still lurking in the Moro soul.

By another coincidence, our Ford Academy museum piece of a 16-inch diameter agong with bullet holes from the Datu Tahil revolt against Americans in 1926 was placed side by side with a much smaller blackened agong given by Datu Tahil to Datu Titing Ishmael that was in turn loaned to Mr. Wanajomi Salahuddin—the very personable Tausug actor playing sultan in “Ang Antigong Agong.”

My mother who lived to be almost ninety-nine-years old told me stories of old Jolo town where my father was a fiscal and served as prosecutor in the Datu Tahil rebellion hearings in February 1927. It was she who told me that Princess Tarhata, then married to Datu Tahil, had a hand in inducing her husband to build a cotta and wage a rebellion against the American administration. And unbelievably, it was an American by the name of Major Malone who talked her into the conspiracy!

“You know, when Princess Tarhata came home from studies in the States with a maid and all—sponsored by the Americans, of course—if you heard her from another room, you’d think she was an American lady. But within a short time she had reverted to Moro ways—in speech and dress and ways—including the chewing of mamâ.

In the affidavit of Datu Tahil executed after his defeat at Bud Bagsak, the old Datu recounted how what he believed was a Constabulary automobile brought a box of ammunition containing about 600 shells and guns.

“On the morning of January 24, when the cotta was originally to be attacked according to rumors, Captain Angeles sent me a letter requesting information as to why an agreement had not been reached regarding my difficulties with the government. I replied verbally through Moro Imian, that I could not explain much but I would not have done those things had not some one influenced me to do them. I sent Moro Imian first because Tarhata was then taking a bath at the water hole. Later, she sent a note. I do not know what the note contained.”

Datu Tahil continues: “Shortly after the departure of the Governor-General, I planned this cotta. During this time Major Malone often visited my place. When he came, sometimes Tarhata interpreted, sometimes Intan my sister, at other times the chauffeur. I was encouraged in all these visits by Major Malone to construct a cotta and start opposition to the execution of the laws of the government.”

The fact that Datu Tahil was in the dark about the motives for the rebellion may be deduced from the following statement:

“A day before the arrival of the Governor-General in August, Major Malone telephoned me telling me to come down with all my force to tell whatever I wanted, and not to be afraid of anyone. The Major specifically told me to complain about Tubig Gantang. If I had not told me, I would not have thought of this affair as I had no knowledge of it. I was even induced to come to town with my people all wearing blade weapons.”

At the cotta, men and women with their children came with the elders taking an oath on the Koran to help each other. The men swore that they would not deceive the old Datu.

On the day of the attack, Governor Moore who lived in the government house next to ours on the Jolo wharf called my mother aside. “Mrs. Rivera, do not be alarmed. There will be fireworks and cannonading on the hills beyond. The military is attacking Datu Tahil’s cotta. But don’t worry. It will be all over in a while.”

As with the Bud Dahu massacre a hundred years ago, very few Moros were left alive in the crater of Bud Bagsak. Princess Tarhata was not in the cotta. Putli Intan managed to escape. Datu Tahil was seen leaving on a white horse.

Datu Tahil was found guilty of rebellion and given a prison sentence. Princess Tarhata divorced him. According to my mother, all one has to do is pronounce “magbugit kita” three times and you are divorced.

The bullet-ridden agong of Datu Tahil was given to my father, Fiscal Pablo S. Rivera, as a souvenir of the trial.

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