Historical Uprisings in the Name of the Old Religion

Historical Uprisings in the Name of the Old Religion
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Throughout our history there have been a plethora of revolts and uprisings by our people in the name of freedom, fighting for our rights, and for our beliefs. While some are often well known and taught in schools and history books, others are more or less unheard of.

When the Spaniards first arrived in 1521 through Ferdinand Magellan’s voyages, the introduction of Catholicism took place on the shores of Cebu. One of the first baptisms took place in Cebu after Queen Juana took the image of the Santo Nino and many people were baptized. From then on as Spanish colonization took place the friars learned the local languages to be able to profess the faith and the teachings of Christ to our ancestors. While some people accepted the new religion whole heartedly, others refused to let go of the old beliefs in the deities, spirits, and ancestors. A few of these individuals even led revolts against their colonizers to stand up for their beliefs and defend it.

Before Christianity arrived many parts of the Philippines were still practicing the old Animistic and Polytheistic beliefs. They believed in many different gods and goddesses who were worshiped and prayed to for good harvests, a prosperous marriage, success in war, for good game in hunting and fishing, safe travels out in sea, and so on. These spiritual beings were referred to as diwata in the Bisayas and Mindano and anito in Luzon. Along with the numerous spirits in nature and of the ancestors, they were respected and believed to live along side human kind with the ability to influence our lives. When the friars arrived they labeled them as the agents of the devil or the devil himself. Any religious figures of the old gods and the ancestors known as larawan, likha, tao-tao, in the various local languages, were thrown in the fires and the small shrines out in the fields and by the homes were destroyed and burned.

Over the years as colonization took place some chose to convert either willingly or in fear where as some took the liberty to defend the old beliefs and retaliated against the Spaniards and friars. Here are a few of these uprisings from historical accounts, most led by babaylans, the shamanic priestesses and priests, throughout the Spanish colonial years who fought and died to keep the old religious beliefs alive.


The Tamblot Uprising

The Tamblot Uprising was led by a babaylan named Tamblot from Bohol in 1621. It is one of the two major revolts in Bohol during the Spanish colonial era the other being the Dagohoy Rebellion. As Christianity started to sweep the island of Bohol along with the rest of the archipelago, Tamblot declared a challenge to the Spanish friars to showcase the power of each others religion and god. He told the people “the time was come when they could throw off the oppression of the Castilians; for they were assured of the aid of their ancestors and divatas (diwatas), or gods” (Medina, 1630). The challenge was to produce wine and rice from cutting open a bamboo stalk. The Spanish priest went first, praying to God in Latin before cutting the bamboo from the grove but failed the challenge as no rice and wine came out. Tamblot then prayed to his god and the ancestors, cut another bamboo from the grove where rice and wine spilled out. Winning the challenge the people followed Tamblot as a spiritual leader. Another act was praying for rain and the rains came. They called the acts of Tamblot as trickery and works of the devil however contradict themselves in hypocrisy when the Cebu Mayor Juan Alcarazo who issued an attack against the rebellion, got hit by a stone, fell to the ground wounded, but miracuosly was cured when he called on the name of the Jesus.

Painting of Tamblot. Photo Source: National Commission for Culture and Arts via Flickr

Painting of Tamblot. Photo Source: National Commission for Culture and Arts via Flickr

“At this time the alcalde-mayor of Sugbú was Don Juan Alcarazo, a gentleman so deserving of praises, that the sum of his many good qualities cannot be told in few words. He was endowed with the courage of a good soldier, and had served thus for many years in the galleons of España with his brothers and father, whence his Majesty had derived honors and advantages. He was a Viscayan by birth. During this time, the island of Bohol rebelled. This island lies, as above stated, opposite Sugbú, on the side whence blows the vendaval. It was in charge of the fathers of the Society, who had more than two thousand Indians, the tallest, handsomest, and stoutest in the island. A babaylán or priest called Tamblot had deceived them, by telling them that the time was come when they could throw off the oppression of the Castilians; for they were assured of the aid of their ancestors and divatas, or gods. And in order that they might know this, it was proved by certain signs. The priest went with some of the more trusty among them, cut a bamboo with a small knife, and wine gushed forth. He cut another, and rice came out. These articles he had hidden there cunningly and adroitly. Consequently those men were convinced, and became preachers of those lies, which the Indians love and believe so readily; while we have no power to enable us to persuade them of the certainty of our faith so readily as this sort of trickery can influence their natural disposition. In such manner spread the spark that there was no island where it did not catch little or much; although they did not dare to show their faces, but awaited the result in Bohol. The fathers warned the city of Santísimo Nombre de Jesús, and came to solicit aid from the alcalde-mayor. Here there were no evil-doers among those [natives] who lived in the city. Don Juan de Alcarazo did not dare [to send out troops], as he had no order from the governor, Don Alonso Fajardo, and it might be imputed to him as a blameworthy act. But the fathers, seeing that whatever delay occurred was to make the wound incurable, surmounted all difficulties. Consequently, they were able to negotiate with potent arguments, saying that it was especially important to check the evil in its first stages, so that it should not spread. The alcalde-mayor was persuaded, and assembled the soldiers and adventurers who appeared most suitable to him, besides a number of Sugbú Indians, armed with sword and buckler. With these he landed in Bohol, and went to look for the enemy—who, courageous in their mountains and supplied with rice, thought that they were most safe, and that victory was sure.

But the most diligent effort made by this gentleman was to go to our convent to have a mass said to the Holy Child, before whom many candles were burned; to promise to take Him as patron; and to perform no action in that war which should not be done in His name. Since His [Divine] Majesty, he said, had, by His favor, given those islands to the Spaniards, he prayed that He would not permit them to lose, for his sins, those that they already possessed. For the Christianity founded therein with so great toil would be wholly lost, and the victorious enemies of His name would leave no kind of evil undone to the conquered, to the contempt of His name. The most Holy Child showed Himself very gracious, as is His custom in events [that are to be] prosperous, whereupon victory was regarded as sure. Encouraged by such omens, they did not hesitate to attack the enemy, who were entrenched in their fields. The latter were insolent, and reënforced with allies and supporters. During the battle, the rain was so heavy that they could not use the arquebuses, so that the enemy were beginning to prevail. Thereupon, the shields of the Sugbú Indians were brought into service, and the latter aided excellently, by guarding with them the powder-flasks and powder-pans of the arquebuses, so that they were fired with heavy loss [to the enemy]. When the shower of rain came, the enemy’s babaylán encouraged them by saying that there they could see how their divatas had told them true; for what could be of greater use to them at that time than the rain, so that the arms of the Castilians would be useless. Consequently, they became like mad dogs; and they preferred death to enduring the conditions of the conqueror. But so many fell that death had to fulfil its duty, namely, to inspire them with fear. They wounded Don Juan with a stone, but not very dangerously, as his morion received the blow. Although he fell, he arose cured, and with renewed courage, by calling on the Holy Child, who gave the Spaniards the victory, and, with it, the islands for a second time. Truly, had so good an outcome not befallen the Spaniards in Bohol, there would not have been a single one of the Pintados—and these form the bulk of the islands—which would not have risen against them. After this victory, those who had desired to raise the yoke placed their necks once more under it. However, it was not sufficient to deter the natives of Leyte from likewise trying their fortune, which resulted as ill to them as to the natives of Bohol. Then the islands became quiet, and the Indians more humble. However, whenever they see their chance, they will not lose it, as they are a people who wish to live free. The captured Indians were made slaves for the space of ten years. Upon learning of this affair, the governor approved the enterprise, praised it, and promised to reward it. This victory was recognized as the doing of the most Holy Child. Consequently, Don Juan de Alcarazo gave Him thanks, and shared the booty with Him.”


Source: Historia de la orden de S. Agustin de estas Islas Filipinas by Juan de Medina, O.S.A; 1630 via The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, Volume 24, Chapter 38.


Bankaw Revolt

Painting of The First Mass at Limasawa by Carlos V. “Botong” Francisco via Leon Gallery

The Bankaw or Bancao Revolt was followed by the efforts of the Tamblot Uprising. With a lack of patience in waiting for news of the revolts in Bohol, the Datu of Limasawa in Southern Leyte, Datu Bankaw led the revolt in Carigara, Leyte. He was actually one of the first people to embrace Christianity and become baptized. He was a very young man when Miguel Lopez de Lagazpi first arrived on their shores in 1565 and was hospitable to him and his men. However after many years now at a very old age he converted back to his old beliefs and had a change of heart toward the Spaniards. He along with his son and a babaylan named Pagali, they erected a temple to their diwata. They soon gained followers and told them that by saying a chant of the word “bato” repeatedly and throwing dirt at the Spaniards they would turn into clay. News of the revolt reached Mayor Alcarazo of Cebu and he sent an armada of 40 ships with both Spaniards and allied natives to put down the rebellion. Bankaw was killed by a lance by one of these fighters and his head was cut off and put on a stake as a warning. His children were also either captured as a slave or killed. One of his daughters was kept alive and made a slave while his second son was put to death and beheaded and staked the same way as his father and kin. One of their babaylan was also burned as a warning to the people that their gods were the devil and with the burning of the babaylan the Spaniards hoped it would cleanse them.

“The natives of Carigara in the island of Leyte became impatient, and revolted without waiting for the result in Bohol, incited thereto by Bancao, the ruling chief of Limasava—who in the year 1565 received with friendly welcome Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and the Spaniards who came to his island, supplying them with what they needed, for which Phelipe II sent him a royal decree, thanking him for the kind hospitality which he showed to those first Spaniards. He was baptised and, although a young man, showed that he was loyal to the Christians; but, conquered by the enemy [of souls], he changed sides in his old age. This man lived in the island of Leyte, and with a son of his and another man, Pagali (whom he chose as priest of his idolatry), erected a sacred place to the divata, or devil; and they induced six villages in the island to rebel. In order to remove from them their fear of the Spaniards, these men told their followers that they could change the Spaniards into stones as soon as they saw them, by repeating the word bato, which signifies “stone;” and that a woman or a child could change them into clay by flinging earth upon them. Father Melchor de Vera went to Zebu to give warning of this sedition and obtain aid to check it. Captain Alcarazo equipped an armada of forty vessels, in which were embarked some Spaniards and many friendly Indians, also the father rector of Zebu and Father Vera; these united with the forces (both Spanish and Indian) that the alcalde of Leyte had. They offered peace to the rebels, but the latter spurned it with contempt. Our men, divided into three bodies, attacked them; and, when that which Don Juan de Alcarazo commanded came in sight of the rebels, they fled to the hills. Our soldiers followed them, and on the way put to the sword or shot those whom they encountered; and, although the compassion of the Spaniards spared the children and women, these could not escape the fury of the Indians. Many of the rebels died, the enchantment not availing them by which they had thought to turn the Spaniards into stone or clay; the rest saved themselves by flight. The Spaniards came to a large building which the rebels had erected for their divata; they encamped in it ten days, and then burned it. Some one pierced with a lance Bancao, the chief instigator of the rebellion, not knowing who he was, whom two of his slaves were carrying on their shoulders and immediately his head was placed on a stake as a public warning. He and his children came to a wretched end, as a punishment for their infidelity and apostasy; for his second son was beheaded as a traitor, and a daughter of his was taken captive. To inspire greater terror, the captain gave orders to shoot three or four rebels, and to burn one of their priests—in order that, by the light of that fire, the blindness in which the divata had kept them deluded might be removed. The Spaniards also cut off the head of an Indian who had robbed Father Vinancio [i.e., Vilancio] and broken to pieces an image of the Virgin, and kicked a crucifix; and his head was set up in the same place where he had committed those horrible sacrileges. There were many who, in the midst of so furious a tempest, remained constant in their religious belief.”

Source: Historia de la orden de S. Agustin de estas Islas Filipinas by Juan de Medina, O.S.A; 1630 via The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, Volume 24, Chapter 38.

The Tapar Uprising

The Tapar Uprising or Panay Revolt took place in 1663 and led by a babaylan named Tapar in Oton, Iloilo, Panay. Tapar was recently converted to Catholicism, however, their form was a syncretic mix of indigenous beliefs and practices with the arrival of Catholicism. After burning a church and killing a Spanish Friar, Francisco de Mesa, who opposed and oppressed them, Tapar and their followers fled to the mountains from persecution by the Spanish where they were eventually caught and killed. Their bodies were then brought back and tied to bamboo poles in the Jalaur River (originally called Halawod) with one woman being staked where they were all fed to the crocodiles.

1734 Map of Panay Island by Murillo Velarde

Close up of Panay Island from the 1734 Map of the Philippines by Jesuit Father Pedro Murillo Velarde

“At the time when this conflagration—which threatened to destroy what Spanish constancy had gained in these islands during a hundred and ten years—had just been extinguished, another and new one began to burn in the province of Ogtong in Pintados; and, if timely measures had not been taken to check it, this one would have caused greater ravages than the previous rebellions in the provinces of Pampanga, Pangasinán, and Ilocos. This entire province is in charge of our religious. We have in it eight convents and doctrinas—Antique, Guimbal, Tigbauan, Ogtong, Jaro, Dumangas, Laglag, and Pasig—which belong to the jurisdiction of the alcalde-mayor who resides in Iloilo, where there is a good supply of artillery, with two companies of Spaniards, and one of Pampangos. This province and that of Panay are united in one island, yielding a great abundance of rice; it is the Sicilia of Filipinas for its fertility, and also resembles that island in its extent, and in having three promontories such as gave it the name Trinacria. This island is called Panay, so even its name suits it; for in it there grows so great an abundance of rice, which is the bread of this country. It contains two provinces, governed by two alcaldes-mayor—that of Iloilo, already mentioned, and that of Panay; the latter rules over nine large villages. Of these, six are in charge of the order of our father St. Augustine—Capiz, Panay, Batan, Mambusao, Dumalag, and Dumarao; two are administered by secular priests, Aclán and Ibahay; and the island of Romblón is a doctrina of the discalced religious [i.e., Recollects] of our father St. Augustine. [Diaz here refers to the description of Panay and the Augustinian houses therein which is given by Medina, and to the foundation of their convent at Laglag.] This ministry and doctrina comprises five visitas and dependent churches: two on the river that is called Araut, named Sibucao and Sumandig; and three in the mountains, Misi, Camantugan, and Malonor. These were a cruel and rude people, and greatly addicted to superstitions and heathen rites on account of living so separated from intercourse with the gospel ministers—who throughout the year share, in their turn, in the instruction and administration of these visitas. It cost the first religious many hardships to tame these mountaineers and instruct them in the holy faith; for what they gained with the utmost toil in a week was dissipated during the absence of the religious from their ministry. The village of Malonor always had disguised babaylanes—which is the same as “priests of the demon,” by whose direction the sacrifices which they made proceeded. They offered up swine, birds, and various kinds of food produced by the ground; and held solemn drinking-feasts—the main purpose of the universal enemy [of souls], since from this vice resulted many acts of lewdness and [other] abominations, all which tended to the perdition of their souls.

The prior and minister of that district in this year of 1663 was father Fray Francisco de Mesa—a native of the city of Manila, and who had professed in our convent of San Pablo; a religious of great virtue, and most zealous and diligent in fulfilling the obligations of his office. In the visita of Malonor there was at this time a malicious Indian, a noted sorcerer and priest of the demon, who lived in concealment in the dense forest; and there he called together the Indians, telling them that he was commanded by the nonos—who are the souls of their first ancestors who came over to people these Filipinas—in whose name he assured them that the demon had appeared to them in trees and caves. This minister of Satan was named Tapar, and went about in the garb of a woman, on account of the office of babaylán and priest of the demon, with whom they supposed that he had a pact and frequent communication. Moreover, he wrought prodigies resembling the miracles, with which he kept that ignorant people deluded.

With these impostures and frauds Tapar obtained so much influence that the people followed him, revering him as a prophet, and he taught them to worship idols and offer sacrifices to Satan. Seeing that he had many followers, and that his reputation was well established, he made himself known, declaring that he was the Eternal Father; and he invented a diabolical farce, naming one of his most intimate associates for the Son, and another for the Holy Ghost, while to a shameless prostitute they gave the name of María Santisima [“Mary most holy”], as the name of Mary had been given her in baptism. Then he appointed apostles, and to others he gave titles of pope and bishops; and in frequent assemblies they committed execrable abominations, performed with frequent drinking-bouts, in which there were shocking fornications among the men and women, both married and unmarried. This debauchery ended with the sacrifice to the demon, who, they said, gave them replies, although confused ones; but all were for their greater perdition; at other times, they believed, the demon appeared to them in various forms. All these things were done in the most retired part of the mountains, which there are very craggy. For a long time this infernal epidemic remained concealed; but finally spread as far as the visitas of the villages of Jaro and Pasig, although those who were infected by it were not so many there as in the village of Malonor, where the morals of those wretched people; deluded by the demon, were more corrupt.

Father Fray Francisco de Mesa received word of the unhappy condition in which were the souls of those parishioners of his; and, knowing that that cancer, which was spreading so far, needed to be severely cauterized, he gave information of all this to the purveyor-general of Pintados, the alcalde-mayor of that province, Admiral Pedro Duran de Monforte—a valiant soldier, whom we have mentioned in this history at various times. That officer, with the promptness that was necessary, sent Captains Gregorio de Peralta, Nicolás Becerra, and Francisco Duarte, and Adjutants Pedro Farfán and Pedro Brazales, with some Spaniards, Pampangos, and Merdicas from Siao (which is an island of Maluco)—a brave people, but cruel, which is a vice of cowards.

While the people were on their way to the village of Malonor, father Fray Francisco de Mesa decided to risk the attempt to prove whether he could through his preaching persuade them to accept better counsels, and, repentant, to put an end to that abominable farce of apostates; for it seemed to him that he would not fulfil his obligation if he did not make this endeavor. He encountered much opposition from the chiefs of the village of Laglag, who were not accomplices in the sedition by those of Malonor; but with intrepid courage to confer with the rebels. He reached the village and sent word to them to assemble in some convenient place, where he would go to discuss with them what concerned the deliverance of their souls, in case they were unwilling to come to the place where father Fray Francisco was. They replied “that they would not go out of the place where” (on account of its being rugged) “they had taken refuge for the sake of their safety—not, however, for fear of the Spaniards, whom they esteemed but lightly, for they themselves were accompanied by all the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the apostles, who would defend them by working miracles.” They also said that they did not need father ministers, because they had popes and bishops and priests who could minister to them in their own way, although it was very different from that which the fathers used; and “that Fray Francisco should be content with this, that they did not undertake to do harm to the other Christians who, deluded, followed him—although they could do these much harm with the power of God the Father, who assisted them”—and in this fashion they uttered other execrable blasphemies.

Father Fray Francisco, grieved at the perdition of those souls, with intrepid heart determined to go to the place where the rebels were (which was almost inaccessible on account of its ruggedness), where they had erected a shed which served them as a temple in which to offer their sacrifices to the demon and to hold their infamous assemblies. But he did not venture to do so, being dissuaded by the peaceable Indians of Laglag, and by Fray Martín de Mansilla, the prior of Pasig; for that would be to search imprudently for danger, without hope of accomplishing even the least good, since the people of Malonor were so obstinate. The prior told him that it was better to wait for the coming of the Spaniards. But this was not enough to prevent him from going to the said Laglag.

The father arrived, very late in the day, at the house which he had in the village, close to the church, with the intention of obtaining better information regarding the condition of those misguided people, so as to see if he could make any endeavor for the good of their souls. In case he could not do so, he intended to return to Laglag the next day, and there await the coming of the Spaniards. The rebellious apostates consulted the demon as to what they should do; and in consequence resolved to put Father Francisco to death; and they proceeded to carry out this decision. It was about midnight when they all came down to the village in a mob; and some surrounded the house, which was made of bamboo, and others began to thrust their lances through the openings in the floor, between the bamboos, wounding father Fray Francisco, and uttering many abusive words. The father religious, alarmed at his peril, sprang up intending to jump out at the windows, as the house stood very low, not considering the greater danger of this. As he leaped, the insurgents ran toward him, and received him on the points of their lances; and all he could do was to reach the cross which stood in the cemetery, next to the church. He embraced it tenderly, and in this position received many lance-thrusts; and thus, his arms flung round the holy cross, and uttering loving and devout words, he rendered his soul to the Lord—to go, as we may piously believe, to enjoy eternal peace. The insurgents burned the house and the church, but they did not dare to profane the body of the venerable father, and retreated to the most secluded part of those mountains.

On the same day when the news that the apostates had killed the father reached the village of Laglag the Spaniards and soldiers arrived whom Admiral Pedro Durán had sent; and with them came the notary-public of the province and Lorenzo Tallez Mucientes to make an investigation [of the murder], although there was some delay in the arrival of the alcalde-mayor, Pedro Durán, in person. Two days after the death of the venerable father, they went to the village of Malonor, and found the body of the venerable father at the foot of the cross—quite ruddy and without corruption, and the blood dropping from it as if the murderers had but that instant slain him (as the notary Bernabé López has assured me at various times); and it remained in the same incorruption, and without the blood coagulating, until the third day, when they buried it in the church of Laglag. Pedro Durán proceeded, as both a soldier and a judge, to search for the aggressors; and a considerable time after the death of the venerable father, and after many endeavors, and having employed adroit spies, the Spaniards seized the principal actors in the diabolical farce. Others defended themselves and were slain; but their corpses were brought in, and carried with the criminals to the port of Iloilo. There justice was executed upon them; they were fastened to stakes in the river of Araut, and the body of the accursed woman who played the part of the Blessed Virgin was impaled on a stake and placed at the mouth of the river of Laglag.”

Source: Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas by Casimiro Diaz; written in 1718 and published in Valladolid in 1890, via The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898 by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson, Volume 38

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at Pinoy-Culture.com. She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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