Princess Urduja

Urduja (ca. 1350–1400 AD) is a legendary warrior princess who is recognized as a heroine in Pangasinan, Philippines. The name Urduja appears to be Sanskrit in origin, and a variation of the name “Udaya”, meaning “arise” or “rising sun”, or the name “Urja”, meaning “breath”. A historical reference to Urduja can be found in the travel account of Ibn Battuta (1304 – possibly 1368 or 1377 AD), a Muslim traveler from Morocco.

Ibn Battuta described Urduja as the ruler of Kaylukari in the land of Tawalisi. After reaching Samudra in what is now Sumatra, Ibn Battuta passed by Tawalisi on his way to China. Princess Urduja was described as a daughter of a ruler named Tawalisi of a land that was also called Tawalisi. The ruler of Tawalisi, according to Ibn Battuta, possessed many ships and was a rival of China, which was then ruled by a Mongol dynasty. Ibn Battuta sailed for 17 days to reach China from the land of Tawalisi.

Ibn Battuta made a pilgrimage to Mecca and he traveled to many other parts of the Islamic world. From India and Sumatra, Ibn Battuta reached the land of Tawalisi. Ibn Battuta described Urduja as a warrior princess whose army was composed of men and women. Urduja was a woman warrior who personally took part in the fighting and engaged in duels with other warriors. She was quoted as saying that she will marry no one but him who defeats her in duel. Other warriors avoided fighting her for fear of being disgraced.

Urduja impressed Ibn Battuta with her military exploits and her ambition to lead an expedition to India, known to her as the “Pepper Country.” She also showed her hospitality by preparing a banquet for Ibn Battuta and the crew of his ship. Urduja generously provided Ibn Battuta with gifts that included robes, rice, two buffaloes, and four large jars of ginger, pepper, lemons, and mangoes, all salted, in preparation for Ibn Battuta’s sea-voyage to China.

The saga of this unique princess was the stuff of legend. Parents and teachers tell her story like they would a fairytale, or the biography of Gabriela Silang, an 18th-century revolutionary, or Tandang Sora, a granny who fed members of the Katipunan.

For a time, feminists tried to revive the Urduja story but were discouraged to learn that Batuta’s account of the voyage to Tawalisi was labeled as either an intrigue or a fantasy. Scholars, considering the story absurd, declared Urduja a myth.

Today, years after scholars have passionately debated whether the 14th-century heroine is a product of mythology or history, Princess Urduja continues to fascinate Filipinos. In Pangasinan, the Governor’s office building in the coastal town of Lingayen is called the Urduja Palace. So is a hotel along the highway.

Urduja’s name still has great resonance among the Ibaloi, one of the major ethnolinguistic tribes in the Cordillera region. Dr. Morr Tadeo Pungayan, a respected scholar of Ibaloi culture and professor at the St. Louis University of Baguio City, said, “Linguistically, Urduja is Deboxah (pronounced Debuca) in Ibaloi. We’ve always had a woman named Deboxah from time immemorial among the genrations of Ibaloi. The name usually describes a woman of strong quality and character who’s nobly descended. That name is an Ibaloi name. That’s why Ibaloi trace their ancestry from Urduja”.

The Cordillera tribes, also known collectively as Igorots, pride themselves as being the only ethnic group that doesn’t talk about the origin of man according to Spanish chronicles. Among the tribes, genealogy and family history are orally passed history. The Ibaloi, just like other highland tribes, could easily trace their ancestry. This is ensured by their custom of naming newborns after ancestors to help keep their memory alive and evoke affection and protection.

“No Ibaloi will bear the name of an ancestor unless she’s related,” Dr. Pungayan explained. While the Bontoc tribe bestows the name of an ancestor to a grandchild, the Ibaloi style is namesaking the great-grandchild, he added.

A book on the history of Benguet province, written by Anavic Bagamasbad and Zenaida Hamada-Pawid, shows the Benguet genealogy tracing tribal family lines from the year 1380 to 1899. The book says, “The extent of inter-settlement alliances is climaxed in the memory of Tublay informants with the reign of Deboxah, Princess Urduja, in Pinga. She’s acknowledged as the granddaughter of Udayan, an outstanding warrior of Darew. Her death signaled continuous decline of kinship and alliance between highland and lowland settlements.”

The Darew mountain range is remembered as the earliest settlement in the mining town of Tublay. The close relations between the Cordilleras and Lingayen are well-accounted for in Batuta’s chronicle. It said that the Kingdom of Tawalisi was very extensive, including the vast areas up to the fringes of the Benguet mountains and the Cordillera ranges in the east of Luzon.

Th ruler, Batuta further said,”possesses numerous junks with which he makes war upon the Chinese until they sue for peace and consent to grant him certain concessions.”

Despite recent research, however, most academicians remain cold to oral history, saying that such accounts still have to pass through stringent rigors of scholarship.

Dr. Jaime Veneracion, the University of the Philippines head of history department, said that the old Chinese scripts which may have chronicled Urduja’s kingdom have remained inaccessible for their archaic language and calligraphy.

But history buffs like writer Ed Reyes remain undaunted. He says: “The researchers aren’t conclusive, given the fact that the Philippine history has only been covered in writing for the last 500 years”.

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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