The Origin of Sinawali

Pampanga, an area that once encompassed a large portion of the Central Luzon Plain of the Philippines, has always prided itself of its renowned leaders and heroes, the courage, skill and loyalty of its warriors, and its fighting art known as Sinawali (literal translation: woven), a proven combat art noted for its advanced and sophisticated double weapon system of fighting. Contrary to popular belief, the art of Sinawali is not exclusively a double weapon system but also includes the use of single weapons, knives and the long pole or pingga. The present borders of Pampanga were established in 1873 after various sections of the old Pampanga region were subtracted and incorporated into the provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Bataan and Tarlac.

The highly advanced method of double weapon fighting art unique to this area has been variously attributed to Malay, Chinese, Japanese and Muslim influences. Historically, any or all of the mentioned sources could be traced, studied and verified. One thing, however, remains unique, and it is that a double weapon system of training and fighting has never been developed to the degree of sophistication and structure as in the art of Sinawali. History will also show why Pampanga, an area now known for its agriculture and commercial strength, was once the source of much-sought courageous and proven fighters and an equally fierce fighting art.

The Pampango language appears

Archaeological evidence suggests long standing links between Pampanga and the outside world, whether with nearby regions or directly with Chinese merchants plying the Philippine coastal and river trade. An early Spanish account concerning the Pampangans and the neighboring Tagalogs reported that “they are keen traders, and have traded with China for many years, and before the advent of the Spaniards, they sailed to Maluco, Malaca, Hazian, Parani, Brunei and other kingdoms.” Pampangans were recorded to have traveled to Batavia as late as the first half of the seventeenth century, even after the arrival of the Spaniards. With the influence of the Spanish trading orbit of Manila, they ceased their seafaring ways in 1650 and thereafter became almost exclusively an agricultural and commercial people. The influence of the Chinese arts and sciences gave much to the development of Pampanga. Panday Pira, a well known Filipino blacksmith and a resident of Pampanga, was famous for his skill in metal working and in casting cannons, sciences that were gleaned from the Chinese. Elements of the Pampango language and family dynasties can be traced to Chinese influence and presence in the region. Family surnames ending with “CO” such as Songco, Gocheco and Cojuangco, to mention a few, are manifestations of the presence and growth of the Song, Go Che and Co Juang families in Pampanga. The language also reflects its assimilation of the Chinese language. The term “a chi” in Chinese is “atchi” in Pampango and is used in both languages to address an elder sister. The same term is “ate” in the Tagalog regions.

The Pampango language appears to have been influenced primarily by the Malay-Polynesian family of languages and, according to David Paul Zorc of the Australian National University, belongs to the Proto-Sulic branch of the Filipino languages. It is believed to be a transitional language between the Northern and Southern groups. Brother Andrew Gonzales of Dela Salle University, Philippines, states: “Pampangan shares certain phonological features with Pangasinan and Sambal, likewise transitional languages.”

Pampango food terms, whose origins could be traced from the trade intercourse with Batavia (now Jakarta), Malacca, Moluccas and other Malay settlements, show that Sulipan (Apalit) was an early Malay and Moslem settlement. The terms nasi (rice) and babi (pork) are common among Malay-Polynesian languages. The term mangan (to eat) is the same in Sulawesi and is makan in Bahasa Malaysia and Indonesia.

Spanish Reports

At least one community, Lubao, was deemed by the Spaniards to have come under the influence of the Muslim thrust from the south. An official Spanish report published in 1576 cites: ” [Pampanga] has two rivers, one called Bitis (Betis) and the other Lubao, along whose banks dwell three thousand five hundred Moros, more or less, all tillers of the soil.” Other reports suggest that Muslims may have inhabited Betis and Macabebe as well. In 1571, a force from Macabebe led by their own datu (chief), fought against the Spaniards in Tondo. Rowing down the waterways from Macabebe and Hagonoy to Tundo with several hundred warriors on board 20 or 30 paraos, he jeered at Lakandula and Sulayman for having submitted to the puting mukha (white faces) as he contemptuously referred to the Spaniards. Refusing the offer of peace and friendship from Legazpi, the datu fought valiantly against the Spaniards in the bay of Bankusay. The great Macabebe datu led the opposition and bravely, albeit foolishly, sat at the prow of the leading vessel and was killed by the first volley of the enemy’s cannons.

In later years, the Spanish conquistadors skirted the communities of Betis and Lubao and pacified them only after the rest of the province had fallen. This military challenge to the Spaniards may well have resulted from the Islamic presence and influence in those towns.

Recognizing the courage and fighting abilities of the Pampangan natives, the Spaniards recruited local soldiers that were soon to become both admired and derided as the Macabebe Scouts. Many Pampangans from the town of Macabebe served as volunteers in the colonial army alongside the traditional Pampangan mercenaries who remained in the pay of Spain. In 1574 these and other Pampangan soldiers armed with rifles and the ubiquitous bolo, were to fight side by side with the Spaniards to repel the attacks of the Chinese pirate Limahong. Don Juan Macapagal earned Spanish praise and trust when he became instrumental in suppressing the woodcutters revolt of 1660. He was asked by the authorities to lead (as Master of the Camp) a Pampangan contingent against the threatened invasion of the Chinese pirate Koxinga in 1662. Macapagal was later awarded an enconomienda by the king for his long and faithful service.

Pampangan soldiers

In 1603, the Pampangan soldiers took a major part in a military operation against a Chinese rebellion that amounted to a Spanish-led massacre of the Chinese population around Manila. As a result of their role in suppressing the Chinese, some Pampangans were awarded captaincies in the Spanish army. From 1603 to the end of the Spanish regime, a Pampangan contingent served in the colonial army. In the seventeenth century it fought against the Dutch and served as an occupation force in the Moluccas. It also took part in campaigns against a rebel group in Panay.

A royal decree in 1636 ordered the “pacification” of the island of Mindanao. Two large companies composed of mainly Pampangos and Visayans were part of the force led by Governor General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera. This force traveled aboard 11 large vessels with 760 Spanish infantrymen which were divided into a total into seven companies. Using Zamboanga as base, the troops underwent rigorous training with the advice and help of Datu Suksukan of Zamboanga and Datu Piatong of the Lutaos.

In 1640 the Pampangans participated in another operation against the Chinese. The greatest Filipino hero of the Chinese revolts was Francisco Laksamana, a descendant of Lakan Dula and commander of the 4000 Pampanga troops in the Spanish army. He defeated the Chinese rebels in the hills of Antipolo in June 1662 and saved the City of Manila. As a result of his heroic action and brilliant leadership, Laksamana was made commander of Fort Santiago for 24 hours. This was the highest military honor given by Spain to a Filipino during the Spanish era. In the eighteenth century, besides fighting against marauding Muslims, Pampangans turned out in full strength to fight with the Spaniards against the invading British. This operation included a Pampangan commando force that penetrated deep inside the British fortifications led by Francisco Manalastas, who was renowned for his bravery and daring. General Wiliam Draper, who was the primary target of the marauders, recounts this raid in his Journal, “although armed chiefly with bows, arrows and lances, they advanced up to the muzzles of our pieces, repeated their assaults, and died like wild beasts, gnawing the bayonets.”

Pampangan Historical Records

In late 1897 the Macabebe troops acquitted themselves well against a rebel group lodged on Mount Arayat. Because of their fierce loyalty to the governing authorities, the Spanish provincial governor, Jose Canovas, petitioned the government to grant the province of Pampanga the title of “Muy Leal”.

As the fervor and spirit of the revolution caught up with the Pampangans, they proudly joined the fight for freedom and redeemed themselves in countless battles. Pampangan historical records indicate June 3, 1898 as the revolution against Spain, for it was on this date that the Pampangans themselves commenced their fight against their colonial masters. Armed with the martial skill, courage and training seasoned by generations of military leadership and experience, the era of Spanish colonialism in Pampanga ended within a month.

This independence was, however, short-lived for the war between the United States and the newly formed Philippine Republic broke out on the night of February 4, 1899. Even in the early days of American intrusion and rule, they recognized the value and skills of the Pampangan warriors. As a result an American-led force of 5,000 Macabebe mercenaries was sought, hired and used to eliminate pirates, bandits and insurgents from the swampy areas of the province. They are recorded in American military archives as “fierce and effective fighters.”

Developed by and inherited from this breed of warriors and leaders is the art of Sinawali. Despite its brief loss of popularity, the legacy of double stick drills and techniques have been fortunately preserved in cultural plays, dances, family dynasties and regional meets. From the basic to the more advanced forms, the drills and techniques of Sinawali remain unchanged and unchallenged through the years. Preserved and incorporated into Bakbakan International’s curriculum of weapons systems, the original method of Sinawali training and techniques reveal the foundations of the combat skills of the Pampangan soldiers and mercenaries. Using the more readily accepted and understood Pilipino and Spanish terms rather than the original Pampango descriptions and terms, the structure and progression of the art of Sinawali can be easily discerned and appreciated.

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