"Slaughter is a good word," American author Mark Twain wrote in 1906 to describe the Bud Dajo massacre, after anti-imperialist media outfits in the U.S. published the anecdotes of the successful, at least on the part of the colonial government in the archipelago, military operation to quell the Moro resistance in Mindanao and Sulu.
“Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion,” the celebrated American author lamented, as the public grappled with words to describe the carnage.
Even Tausugs of my generation who heard the story of Bud Dajo early in our lives struggled also to find the best word to describe this historical event that shaped the consciousness of the people of Jolo, of how intruders could easily violate our peace and re-arrange our lives.
There’s only one image that circulates in social media and in history books that captured the bloody incident: white colonial American soldiers standing proud in front of the camera, piles of dead bodies in the foreground, killed during the campaign.
It was the testament of resistance for us Tausugs that the struggle was in perpetuity unless we found the freedom we were longing for centuries, an evidence of victory perhaps for the Americans, and smaller piece of story in the grand narrative of Filipino resistance against the U.S. colonial rule in the archipelago for the Filipinos.
The first time I heard about Bud Dajo massacre was outside the classroom, from family members from Jolo who were active in the armed struggle. It would be shared to me by elders whenever the Bangsamoro struggle was being discussed among family members and relatives.
For my older relatives, the story was held as a candle in the darkest hours for us Tausugs during the Martial Law years; it was a narrative that gave us hope that what has been sacrificed by our ancestors will always remind that we need to keep on walking until we found that freedom that will secure peace in our land.
Bud Dajo is a dead volcano six miles from Jolo, Sulu’s capital, and its crater 1, 600 meters wide in circumference provided a haven for almost 900 Tausugs, mostly women and children who resisted American control on their lives and on their economic activities.
It was a community protected by a steep mountain, thick forest, and rich vegetation that could provide subsistence for hundreds of families who took refuge at the crater. It was at the height of the U.S. pacification campaign against the Moros in Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago.
General Leonard Wood was then the governor of the Moro province. He abolished slavery and the reintroduction of cedula among the Tausugs. It was a very unpopular move and resisted by the local communities as social preparation was driven by colonial interests than improving the lives of the people.
The road to the carnage in Bud Dajo was still being debated as several threads of stories were being unearthed by scholars and historians. Aside from resistance to U.S. control, one thread of narrative was pointing to a fugitive, wanted by the American authorities and was being protected by the datu of the community. Whatever the stories that lead to the hundreds of dead Moros in Bud Dajo, one thing was for sure: that Tausugs resisted the foreign colonial domination even if their lives were at stake.
It was a story that needed to be told over so the next generation will never forget the sacrifices of our ancestors to resist U.S. colonial domination. But on how the story was needed to be told, who’s the bearer of the narrative, and on the reasons on the necessity that it needed a space for recognition and relevance were among the basic questions that needed to be addressed by both Moros and Filipinos. And I will ask it frankly without reservations: for whom the story of Bud Dajo should serve its purpose?
For Filipinos, it was simply one of those bloody battles against the colonizers. The same narrative of resistance against the U.S. colonial domination in Luzon and in the Visayas; Bud Dajo, within the dominant narrative of Filipino nationalism will serve as reminder for Filipinos that we need to fight for our freedom and maintain our independence from the United States. That they did not come here to civilize us, but to enslave us. However, the peak of narrative of U.S. colonial domination of the archipelago rest on liberation against the Japanese and the establishments of political, cultural, and economic institutions that were being utilized today by the former colonial master. The narratives of Bud Dajo, like the Balangiga Massacre of the Warays in Samar, was silenced until recently when historians needed to re-read Philippine history outside the education system established during the colonial period.
It was ironic that the massacre at Bud Dajo in 1906 again reached the public’s attention when a Filipino president mentioned the incident in one of his press conferences last year as banter against the U.S. interventionist policies in the country. It was Duterte’s response to the criticisms against the statements released by the U.S. embassy in Manila on extra-judicial killings and on his "war on drugs," a campaign promise that would drastically eliminate substance abuse and drug pushing in the country.
Duterte considered the comment from the government of our former colonial master an assault on the country’s ability to craft its own independent foreign affairs policies. Duterte, using the narratives of Bud Dajo, reminded the U.S. of its atrocities and human rights violations against the Bangsamoro people at beginning of the 20th century that until now dividing this country.
This week, the country will commemorate the anniversary of the Bud Dajo massacre. In Jolo, the people will look at the mountain as a towering monument of Tausug courage and resistance to foreign domination, and to remind ourselves too that Bud Dajo may be old, but like any other mountains, it can never forget.
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