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Sulu Islands

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Sulu Islands

For other uses, see Sulu (disambiguation).

Template:Use American English

Sulu Archipelago
Native name: Sūg
Map of the Sulu Archipelago
Location South East Asia
Archipelago Philippines
Major islands Basilan, Jolo
Area 4,068 km2 (1,570.7 sq mi)
Provinces Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi
Largest city Jolo
Population 1,300,000 (as of 2005)
Density 313 /km2 (811 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Moro (Banguingui, Samal, Tausug, Yakan), Bajau and Zamboangueño Chavacano

The Sulu Archipelago is a chain of islands in the southwestern Philippines that forms the northern limit of the Celebes Sea.[1] It is considered to be part of the Moroland by the local rebel independence movement. The archipelago is not, as is often supposed, the remains of a land bridge between Borneo and the Philippines. Rather, it is the exposed edge of small submarine ridges produced by tectonic tilting of the sea bottom [2][3] Basilan, Jolo, and other islands in the group are extinct volcanic cones rising from the southernmost ridge. Tawi-Tawi, the southernmost island of the group, has a serpentine basement-complex core with a limestone covering.[3] This island chain is an important migration route for birds.

The largest cities in the area are on Maimbung and Jolo islands. The larger island of Palawan to its north, the coastal regions of the westward-extending Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao, and the northern part of the island of Borneo were formerly parts of the thalassocratic Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo.

The archipelago is the home of the indigenous Tausug people; various group of Samal (or Sama) people including the semi-nomadic Badjaw; the land-based Sama; the related Yakan people; and the Jama Mapun people. The Tausug language is spoken widely in the Sulu Archipelago as both first and second languages throughout these islands. The Yakan language is spoken mainly in Basilan Island. Numerous dialects of Sinama are spoken throughout the archipelago, from the Tawi-Tawi Island group, to the Mapun island group (Mapun), to the coast of Mindanao and beyond.


The archipelago is geographically subdivided into several groups, most significantly those around the main islands Basilan, Jolo and Tawi-Tawi. There are, however, other groups containing mostly small islands; not all of these are inhabited:

Basilan group

  • Basilan
  • Pilas
  • Bongo, Bubuan, Cruz Island, Linawan, Sumisip, Tambuilan, Timbungan, Zambonga and many other small islands

Jolo group

  • Capual
  • Jolo (Sulu)
  • Pata
  • Tongquil
  • Balanguingui, Bangalao, Bitinan, Bucutua, Bulan, Cabucan, Gujangan, Hegad, Mamanoc, Manangut, Minis, Pangasinan, Pantocunan, Parol, Patian, Simisa, Tatalan and other small islands

Keenapusan group[verification needed]

  • Bubuan, Bintawlan, Nusa, South Ubian, Tabawan, Tagao and other small islands

Laparan group

  • Deatoboato
  • Cap Island
  • Laparan
  • Dog Can
  • Pearl Bank (atoll)

Pangutaran group

  • Kulasssein
  • Panducan
  • Pangutaran
  • Basbas, Cunilan, Datubato, North Ubian, Tubigan, Usada and other small islands

Sibutu group

Tapul group

Tawi-Tawi group

  • Bongao
  • Manuk Mankaw
  • Simunul
  • Sanga-Sanga
  • Tawi-Tawi
  • Topaan
  • Banaran, Baturapac, Bilatan, Calupag, Kang Tipayan Dakula, Kang Tipayan Diki, Languyan, Latuan (Sunsang), Lubucan, Mantabuan, Naungan, Parangan, Pasegan Guimba, Sikubong, Simalak, Sugbai, Tandubas, Tandubato, Taruk, Tingungun, Tubig Dakula (Bohe Mahiya), Tumbagaan and other small islands


  • Mapun (formerly Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi/Cagayan de Sulu)
  • Turtle Islands (Baguan, Boaan, Great Bakkungaan, Langaan, Lihiman, Sibaung, Taganak)
  • Bubuan, Cacatan, Dammai, Datubato, Lahatlahat, Maniacolat, Singaan, Sulade, Teomabal and other mostly uninhabited small islands


The grip of the Spanish Empire on Mindanao, Palawan, and the islands to their south was always tenuous. This area was generally under the control of the Muslim Sultanate of Sulu, centered in northern Borneo, which continually tried to extend the influence of Islam over the southwestern Philippines. In the 16th century, Spanish military expeditions against the sultanate were launched. From the 16th century through 1898, there were about 16 military campaigns against the sultans five of these resulting in a short occupation, except for the last one. During these three centuries, the Spaniards ruled Jolo for about 30 years and Spanish rule over the Sulu Archipelago was generally limited to annual tributes, mostly of pearls, by the sultans to the Spanish Empire. Jolo was not effectively occupied by Spain until 1876.

1587 to 1844: The Sulu Sultanate vs. Spain

From its first encounters with Jolo, the Spanish encountered stiff, highly organized resistance from the Sultanate of Sulu, which was established in 1457 by Shari’ful Hashem Syed Abu Bak’r, who arrived in Sulu from Melaka in 1450. The sultanate had strong ties with Borneo, which by the 15th century was under the influence of Islam. Although Miguel López de Legazpi had established a colony in Cebu in May 1565, the initial push of the Spanish conquest was northwards. In June 1578, Governor General Francisco de Sande dispatched captain Esteban Rodríguez de Figueroa and the Jesuit priest Juan del Campo and the coadjutor Gaspar Gómez to Jolo, resulting in a negotiated compromise where the Sulu sultan paid a regular tribute in pearls. The following year, Figueroa was awarded the sole right to colonize Mindanao. In 1587, during a campaign against Borneo launched by Sande, Figueroa attacked and burned down Jolo. The Spaniards left Jolo after a few days.

The Joloanos resolved to resist Spanish intrusions. In response to attacks, Joloanos raided Spanish settlements and reducciones. In 1593, the first permanent Roman Catholic mission was established on the Zamboanga Peninsula, and three years later, the Spanish Army launched another attack on Jolo, which was repelled by the army of Rajah Bongsu. In November 1593, the Spanish Empire sent Juan Ronquillo to Tampakan to thwart the slave raiders. The following year, the Spanish Army troops relocated to Caldera Bay (Recodo), Mindanao. In 1598, another expedition was launched against Jolo, but was repelled by the Joloanos. In late 1600, Captain Juan Gallinato with a group of about 200 Spanish soldiers attacked Jolo but were unsuccessful. By 1601, after three months of heavy fighting, the Spanish troops retreated. In 1628, a larger raiding force of about 200 Spanish army officers and 1,600 soldiers was organized to attack Jolo to defeat the Moslem slave raiders and traders, but the Spanish again failed to take Jolo. Again on March 17, 1630, a large Spanish force of 2,500 soldiers attacked Jolo but to no avail. When its commander Lorenzo de Olazo was wounded, the Spaniards retreated.

On January 4, 1638, de Corcuera led a naval and military expedition of about 80 ships and 2,000 troops to attack Jolo, but Sultan Wasit put up stiff resistance. However, Sultan Wasit's kuta army suffered a serious epidemic of tropical disease and he and his chieftains sought refuge in the Dungun area of Tawi-Tawi. The Spanish Army easily occupied Jolo, and a small garrison was left there to control the area. The garrison was withered away by frequent raids launched by Sultan Wasit, and by 1645, this garrison had been wasted away. This was the first time that Jolo had been occupied by the Spaniards for an appreciable length of time. From 1663 to 1718, an interregnum of peace occurred because the Spanish troops were ordered to abandon the Zamboanga Peninsula, and forts south of thatTemplate:Mdashand regroup in Manila to prepare for the impending attack of KoxingaTemplate:Mdashwhich never happened.

Hostilities resumed in the 18th century, triggered by the 1718 decision by governor Gen Juan Antonio dela Torre Bustamante to reconstruct the fort Real Fuerza de San José in Bagumbayan, Zamboanga. The fort was completed in 1719 was renamed Real Fuerza del Pilar de Zaragosa (Fort Pilar is its popular name today) and inaugurated on April 16. Three years later in 1722, the Spaniards launched another expedition against Jolo led by Andrés García; this expedition failed. In 1731, General Ignacio Iriberri lead a force of 1000 to Jolo and captured it after a lengthy siege, but the Spaniards again left after a few days. In 1755, a force of 1,900 Spanish soldiers led by the captains Simeón Valdez and Pedro Gastambide was sent to Jolo in revenge for the raids by Sultan Muiz ud-Din, but the Spaniards were defeated. In 1775, after a Moro raid on Zamboanga, Captain Vargas led a punitive expedition against Jolo, but his force was repulsed.

In the second half of the 18th century, Great Britain became a new player in the archipelago After occupying Manila from 1762 – 64, during the Thirty years war between Spain and Great Britain, the British Army withdrew to the south and established trading alliances between the Sulu Sultanate and the British East India Company. Spanish attacks on Jolo were now directed at weakening British trading interests in the south. In 1784, Aguilar conducted a series of unsuccessful assaults against Jolo and in 1796, Spanish admiral José Alava was sent from Madrid with a powerful naval fleet to stop the slave-raiding attacks from the Sulu Sea. The British presence was signaled when in 1798, the British Royal Navy, which had established a base in Sulu, bombarded Fort Pilar in Zamboanga. In 1803, Lord Richard Wellesley, the Governor-General of India, ordered Robert J. Fraquhar to transfer trading and military operations to Balambangan island near Borneo. By 1895, the Great Britain had withdrawn its army and navy from the Sulu Sea.

In 1815, the galleon trade across the Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Mexico ended, since Mexico had declared its independence in 1810, and an extended war of independence was in progress. Most of the other Spanish-ruled areas of the Americas had also rebelled against their colonial masters. In 1821, the Philippine Islands were administered directly from Madrid, rather than via the Viceroy of Mexico, since Mexico and its southern neighbors had won their independence from Spain. The Spanish Empire sought to end the "Moro threat". In 1824, the Marina Sutil, a light and maneuverable naval force under Capitan Alonso Morgado was sent to confront the slave raiders in the Sulu Sea.

1844 to 1889: Spanish colony

In 1844, Governor General Narciso Claveria led yet another expedition against Jolo and in 1848, Claveria with powerful gunboats Magallanes, El Cano, and Reina de Castilla brought from Europe supervised the attack on the Balangingi stronghold in Tungkil. The raid resulted in the capture of many Sama Balangingi and the exile of many to the tobacco fields of Cagayan Valley. The leader of the Sama, Paglima Taupan, was not captured. With the fall of the Balangingi, a powerful ally of the Sulu Sultanate was decimated, beginning the decline of the sultanate’s maritime sea power. In 1850, Governor General Juan Urbiztondo continued with Claveria’s campaign and annihilated the remaining Balangingi strongholds at Tungkil. A raid on Jolo that year was a failure. On 28 February 1851, Urbiztondo launched another campaign against Jolo, razed the whole town and confiscated 112 pieces of artillery. The Spanish troops later withdrew.

In 1876, the Spanish launched a massive campaign to occupy Jolo. Spurred by their need to curb slave raiding, and worried about the presence of other Western powers in the south, the Spanish made a final bid to consolidate their rule in this southern frontier. The British had established trading centers in Jolo by the 19th century and the French were offering to purchase Basilan Island from the Spanish government. On February 21, 1876, the Spaniards assembled the largest contingent against Jolo, consisting of 9,000 soldiers in 11 transports, 11 gunboats, and 11 steamboats. Headed by Admiral Jose Malcampo, they captured Jolo and established a Spanish settlement with Captain Pascual Cervera appointed to set up a garrison and serve as military governor; he served from March 1876 to December 1876 followed by Jose Paulin (December 1876 - April 1877), Carlos Martinez (Sept 1877-Feb 1880), Rafael de Rivera (1880 – 81), Isidro G. Soto (1881 – 82), Eduardo Bremon, (1882), Julian Parrrado (1882 – 84), Francisco Castilla (1884 – 86), Juan Arolas (1886–93), Caesar Mattos (1893), Venancio Hernandez (1893 – 96), and Luis Huerta (1896 – 99).

The Spaniards were never secure in Jolo, and by 1878 they had fortified the town with a perimeter wall and tower gates, built inner forts called Puerta Blockaus, Puerta España, and Puerta Alfonso XII, and two outer fortifications named Princesa de Asturias and Torre de la Reina. Troops, including a cavalry unit with its own lieutenant commander, were garrisoned within the protective walls. In 1880 Colonel Rafael Gonzales de Rivera, who was appointed by the Governor, dispatched the 6th Regiment to Siasi and Bongao islands. The Spaniards' stronghold was sporadically attacked. On July 22, 1883, it was reported that three unnamed men had succeeded in penetrating Jolo's town plaza and killed three Spaniards. The word “Ajuramentado” was coined by the Spanish colonel Juan Arolas after witnessing several such raids while serving with the Jolo garrison.

1898 to present: American rule and independence

In 1898, the Spanish-American War broke out. Commodore George Dewey of the U.S. Navy defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay, following which the American army occupied Manila. The United States took possession of the Philippines under international law after the Treaty of Paris of 1898 ended the war. The Philippine-American War followed, during which the American military fought and defeated the Philippine forces under Emilio Aguinaldo for control of the Philippines. In December 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor and in the Philippines. The United States declared war on Japan and entered World War II. Japan conquered and occupied the Philippines during the Philippines Campaign (1941–42). In 1944 the Liberation of the Philippines began with the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and Allied forces drove the Japanese from the islands.

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines became independent The fortifications of Jolo remained in good state during the American occupation when its walls, gates, and the buildings within it were photographed. These early pictures of 20th century Jolo show a well-ordered town, neatly laid out in a grid of streets and blocks—characteristics of Spanish urbanism applied with the rigidity of the military. In the postwar years the walls degraded; Jolo suffered major destruction due to bombardment and fire during the military operations in Jolo in 1973. There are no records of how many of the existing walls were destroyed during this time. As of 2013, short stretches of degraded perimeter wall still exist, but take some time to find because they are covered by houses or buildings, or partially demolished to less than a meter in height.

See also


Further reading

Coordinates: 6°00′N 121°00′E / 6.000°N 121.000°E / 6.000; 121.000

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