On Datu Ali's Trail (continued)

The Protagonists

Datu Ali in better days, c1901, when still friendly to the U.S.         Major General Leonard Wood

    Wood's predecessors, Generals Kobbe and Davis, had maintained amicable relations with Ali. However, in one unconfirmed story, Ali inadvertently went up the back stairs of American headquarters in Cotabato for a meeting with a new local commander. An American sergeant, surprised by his entry through the back door, roughly threw him back down the stairs. The commander, a junior officer, neglected to proffer an apology to Ali or discipline the man. Earlier, Ali and several other prominent datus had been invited by President Roosevelt to attend the St. Louis Fair of 1904 (although at his own expense--Ali borrowed $10,000 from Datu Piang to pay for the trip). But a minor White House political functionary heard Ali was involved in slave trading, and abruptly withdrew the invitation without bothering to provide an explanation, and after Ali had already purchased tickets for the passage. Both incidents coincided with Wood's arrival and attempt to strip the datus of their powers, fanning Ali's sense of grievance and distrust of the Americans. (In 1907, two years after the death of Ali and during the regime of General Tasker Bliss, a son and heir, Datu Sansaluna, was invited to the United States, this time on Uncle Sam's nickel, and was the guest of President Theodore Roosevelt in the White House).

General Wood with his aide, Captain George Langhorne, in the field c1904

Datu Piang (l) and Datu Mastura and Judge Punga (r)

    Piang was considered one of the most able, astute, and powerful Muslim leaders during the American period in Moroland. Born poor into a mixed Maguindanao-Chinese family, by the time of the American arrival he had become the wealthiest man in Mindanao through trade, and demonstrated leadership. To demonstrate the breadth of his enterprises, "Piang Studios" generated many of the photographs and postcards found in this and other sections of the web site. He was an invaluable ally to the Americans in asserting control over the Cotabato basin and through connections with American commercial interests built up a very lucrative trade in gutta percha, a rubber-like sap from trees that was used to insulate underwater telegraph cables. Through the marriage of his daughter, Mingka, to Datu Ali, he assured his descendents royal blood (Ali traced his lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad) but inherited an uneasy and contentious son-in-law. 

    Piang allied himself with two other wealthy and hereditary nobles, Datu Mastura and Princess Tarita. They, like Piang, benefitted from forging close relationships with American commercial interests. But the overwhelming sentiment and loyalty of the ordinary Maguindanao was with Ali, turning most of them against the American presence. During the nearly two-year conflict Piang vainly attempted to act as an intermediary to bring about a reconciliation and a return to more amicable conditions of a few years earlier. Datu Mastura and Princess Tarita  tried to be neutral as well. But eventually, facing Wood's intransigence, the near-destruction of the Cotabato economy, and a reckless attempt by Ali to seize Mastura's arsenal and Tarita's gold, Piang disclosed the exact whereabouts of Ali to Captain McCoy and assisted in the expedition that achieved his demise.

A postcard of Princess Tarita and her entourage c1902 (from hand-tinted B&W photograph)


Sharif Afdal, second from right and shown here with Piang.

    Afdal was a respected Arab Imam who acted as a go-between during the many fruitless negotiations between the Americans and Ali. He helped lead Captain McCoy's final expedition to Ali.

Datu Piang with American naval officer and Datu Inuk

    An exceptionally large and physically powerful man, Datu Inuk, a follower of Datu Piang and a fearless warrior, harbored a long-time, serious grudge against Datu Ali dating from an incident in which one of Inuk's wives left him for Ali. Because of Ali's royal provenance and his kinship with Piang, Inuk had been constrained in seeking revenge. But finally with Piang's consent, Inuk voluntarily accompanied McCoy's expedition in order to point out Ali (the Americans had no photo of him and did not know him by sight). In fact both Inuk and Tomas Torres identified Ali to the American infantrymen in the final shoot out.

    In addition to his size, Inuk had another physical anomaly that for years gave him celebrity status with the American community in Cotabato. In a fight as a young man, a kris stroke completely severed his right ear. Deeply superstitious, Inuk believed an old Muslim folk tale that he would be denied entry to heaven if his body was lacking any part. Inuk had the ear sewn back to his head, and remarkably it took, but it was ineptly reattached both crookedly and below the Eustachian tube and opening. To make the ear work, a bamboo tube was inserted into the original opening. It presented a strange site. (To see a photo at the Eastman Collection, click this link).


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