The Land of the Moros

    "Moroland" was a term coined by the Americans when they first arrived in the southern Philippines in May of 1899. It was an Anglicization of the Spanish La Tierra de el Moros, or "Land of the Moros." Ferdinand Magellan claimed the islands for Spain in 1521, but it was not until 1565 that the Spanish conquistadores, with cross in one hand, sword in the other, came to conquer the islands. Their goal was to extend the realm of their king, Philip II (whom the islands were earlier named when he was still a prince), find riches, and save souls. To their consternation and rage, they discovered that many of the people they sought to subjugate were Muslims, believers in the same religion as that of their ancient and bitter enemies, the Barbary Moors of North Africa (present day Morocco). To them, any practitioner of Islam was deemed a “Moro” (or Moor), a hereditary enemy of their nation and religion, and a legitimate a target for their vengeance and destruction. The Americans continued the use of the term "Moro" to refer to anyone of the Islamic faith, regardless of the fact that it applied to nearly a dozen distinctly different people, united only in their belief in the same religion, with similar cultures, but divided by different languages.   

Map of Moroland in 1900

    While successful in pushing the Muslims out of the northern island of Luzon and the central islands known as the Visayas, despite 330 years of trying the Spanish  failed to fully conquer and subdue the Moros. At the time the Spanish were forced to abandon the Philippine Islands, they had never controlled more than a handful of small, fortified port cities, and their effective sovereignty never extended beyond the parapets of these few miserable and remote outposts. The Spanish in effect "colonized" the sparsely-settled northern and western coasts of Mindanao through encouraging and subsidizing Christian Filipino immigration from the nearby Visayas. The Spanish Army essentially consisted of Spanish officers and Christian Filipino foot soldiers. Large penal colonies were established in Zamboanga and Cotabato and provided much of the labor force to build and maintain the Spanish garrisons. While the Catholic church evangelized among the pagan tribes, they met with little success, as most of the tribes were culturally similar to the Muslims and adhered to some limited elements of Islamic belief.