Chinese Presence In Jolo, Sulu

By Oswalda A. Cabel

In the prehistoric Times, Sulu -Chinese relations revolved around a lucrative barter trade system of local products and Chinese goods, whick were loaded on Junks, or tung-yangs from the Middle Kingdom and unloaded on the beaches of Jolo and left there until claimed by their owners.  No currency was used.  Voyages were unscheduled with long intervals as theses were determined by halcyon weather.  The trade which went on for centuries in the Yuan Period  (1278-1368),  where Sulu's appearance was recorded in Chinese Annals.  Currency was already in use then.

            During the Ming Period (1368 - 1643) the trade was already a state function where the Sulu Sultanate and the Celestial Throne were supposedly partners; but viewed from the Chinese perspective of ethnocentricity, Sulu was not treated as a partner, rather Sulu was a vassal and China was the Lord.  Hence, goods from Sulu were considered as tributes or gifts to the Emperor instead of payment for chinese goods, which were collected by emissaries sent occasionally for the purpose.  Poon Tao Kong was one of these collectors.  Wu Ching Hong in Supplement to a Study of Reference to the Philippines in Chinese Source in Earlier Times observed:

"That China had trade relations with 3 Kingdoms:
The Sulu Sultanate as Mindanao Kingdom, Brunie as Middle Kingdom,
and Kinabalu in Sabah as Mountain Kingdom"
In 1417 Kamaluddin Paduka Batara, descendant of Rajah Baguinda sailed to China on a trade and diplomatic mission.  He was stricked by cholera and lies buried among Ming emperors in Shantong Province.  To this day, the state hires caretakers of the tomb, who are Kamaluddin's descendants of the 58th generation.

Sulu society is a spectrum of diversity - Asean, Arab, Indo-Malayan and western cultures are woven in to the colorful tapestry of names of persons, food habits, dress design, rituals, martial arts, cuisine, fine arts, beliefs and other aspects of local customs and traditions with the dominance of Chinese legacy nowhere equaled except by Islam.  The similarities in Sulu Chinese cultural refinements born of the early trade and the interaction of people of diverse backgrounds led to the ultimate enrichment of the national heritage.  Poon Tao Kong no doubt, contributed a mosaice in the structure.
Among foreigners, the Chinese comprised a sizable part of the population of the town of Jolo and played important roles in Sulu economy as wholesalers and retailers. Before World War II it was commonplace to find Chinese merchants in many towns and municipalities in Sulu who controlled local markets and exports of marine agricultural products. In the town of Jolo trading was monopolized by the houses of Chuan Lee, Ban Guan and Hernandez and Company.
Intermarriages between Sulus and Chinese were encouraged by Sulu rulers for reasons of security and convenience.  These unions produced a class of mestizos who took active roles in politics and agriculture.

            "The Sulus having great connections with China and many Chinese settled among them, they have learned the art of ingrafting and improving their fruits.." (Captain Forrest, 1774 - 1776).

            Datu Teteng of the Sulu Sultanate was a mestizo and so were several warlords. Contemporary political leaders trace their geneology to the Chinese, and so were several landowners who eventually sold out to the natives.

The secessionist upheaval of 1974 and subsequent crises in peace and order resulted in the intermittent exodus of the Sulu Chinese, whice poses a threat to the economy in the transfer of vital components for development in terms of goodwill, capital investment and other material accessories of trade. This problem calls for immediate and sustained attention that the inert socio-economic infrastructure be saved from total loss and once more Jolo and its environs become a hub of commerce and ultimately a tourist destination in Southeast Asia and "the little cup of silver" overflowing with progress and peace.

            The restoration and development of the Poon Tao Kong Memorial which, in the distant past served a bond in the solidarity among Sulus and Chinese and with those from other parts of the country and mainland China is timely.  The benefit to be derived therefrom will not only redound to the revival of the moribound Sulu-Chinese cooperation, but will also be beneficial for local commerce, global tourism, cultural exchanges and research that will provide a perspective in future rewriting of Philippine History.

Comment by   Walt Okon:            Ms. Oswalda A. Cabel is the Honorary Curator of the SULU NATIONAL MUSEUM BRANCH, Capitol Site, Jolo Island, Sulu this branch is part of the National Museum of the Philippines.  The museum was established in 1982 as a provincial museum (Sulu Provincial Museum and Library), containing historical and ethnological artifacts (notably in connection with the performing arts) from the South-Western Sulu islands group.  This museum contains archaelogical materials and ethnographic materials of the Tausug and Sama.

History before 1898 Walt Okon visits Jolo
The Town of Jolo An American in Jolo - March 1998
The Province of Sulu American Insight  - 10 September 1999
Chinese Presence In Jolo, Sulu by Oswalda A. Cabel The Family
Sulu Tong Jin School My Heart is in Jolo  By Rosie Go
Education in Jolo - Education Today 1998 People from Jolo - Send in your Name, and e-mail
Chronology of Moro Resistance - By Madge Kho Food from Jolo
Historical Timeline of  the Sultanate of Sulu by Josiah C. Ang, PM News Articles about Jolo and Zamboanga
Tribute to a daughter of Jolo Links to Jolo Web Pages
Song of Lelleng Pictures from Jolo

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