Today in Philippine History, May 23, 1578, Governor Francisco de Sande sent off an officer to subdue the Sulu Islands

Tuesday May 22, 2012 ()

Francisco de Sande

On May 23, 1578, Governor Francisco de Sande, who had taken possession of Borneo for Spain, sent off an officer, Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa, to subdue the Sulu Islands, instructing him to convert (as gently as he can) the pirates of that place into peaceful farmers, paying tribute to the Spanish Crown.

De Sande was the third governor of the Philippines who ruled from August 25, 1575 to April 1580.

Today in Philippine History,  May 23, 1578, Governor Francisco de Sande sent off an officer to subdue the Sulu Islands

The actual order from De Sande to Esteban Rodriguez de Figueroa.

I certify thereto:
Alonso Beltran, his Majesty's notary

That which you, Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa shall observe on the expedition which you are about to make, God our Lord helping, is as follows:

From this city and island of Borney, God willing, you shall go to the islands of Xolo (Sulu), where you shall endeavor to reduce that chief and his people to the obedience of his Majesty. You shall bargain with them as to what tribute they shall pay, which shall be in pearls, as they are wont to give to the king of Borney. You shall exercise great care and, if possible, much mildness; for it is of importance that those islands should not become depopulated; therefore, in case they receive you peaceably, you shall treat them well. And, in addition to the above, you must order that, besides the tribute that they are to pay in pearls, they shall obtain as many of them as possible, so that we, the Spaniards or Castilians, may buy them; that they must trade with us from now on; that every year Castilians will go to their lands with cloths and merchandise from China, of whatever they shall declare that they may need. You shall inform yourself of their needs; and if they wish to come to our settlements you shall give them permission to go freely to Manila and to come to Borney, although not to steal.

Item: You shall find out from them the whereabouts of the artillery and anchors of a ship lost there some three years ago; and you shall seek it and see that it be brought you with all haste. You shall keep close watch over the artillery, ammunition, vessels, sails, and other like things pertaining to the armed fleet; and you shall deprive them of those supplies, for it is notorious that those people are common marauders.

And because of my information that the chief who calls himself lord of Xolo is a Bornean, and owns houses in this city of Borney; that he fought against us in the naval battle, and that he fled to Xolo, where he is now; and since I am told that he took two galleys and three small vessels, artillery, and ammunition--you shall exercise the utmost despatch to obtain the said galleys, vessels, artillery, and ammunition. If he acquiesce, you shall give him a passport. You shall see whether he has any children; and, if so, you shall take one, and tell him that he must come to see me in Borney in February.

And, as I have said, this must be done if possible gently, in order that no people may be killed. You shall tell them that it will be to their advantage to be vassals of his Majesty, and our allies. If they do not act respectfully, and it shall be necessary to punish them in another manner, you shall do so. And inasmuch as the Joloans, as is well known, are open pirates, whose only ambition is to steal, and to assault men in order to sell them elsewhere--especially as they go annually for plunder among all the Pintados Islands, which are under his Majesty's dominion--you shall try to ascertain the Pintados slaves among them, in order to return such to their homes, especially those who are Christians. And, as I have said, you shall deprive them of such vessels as seem to be used for raids, leaving them their fishing-vessels, so that if the said lord of Jolo so desire, he can come to confer reasonably with me. Thus you shall ascertain who has vessels, and who can inflict injuries; and you shall command them expressly to settle down in their land, to cultivate, sow, and harvest, develop the pearl industry, and cease to be pirates. You shall order them to raise fowls and cattle. You shall try to ascertain their number, and bring it to me in writing, in order that I may see it, together with the distance from these islands to the Jolo Islands, information regarding the food, water, and healthfulness of that land, and other things that may occur to you. And you shall tell the people, in my name, that they shall tame for me a couple of elephants; and that I shall send for those animals and pay for them.

After having finished affairs in Xolo, if time permits you shall, God willing, go to the island of Mindanao. There you shall try, by the most convenient methods and with friendliness, to reduce the chief of the river of Bindinao, and the other chiefs of that island, and of those near by, to the obedience of his Majesty--giving him to understand what they will gain in becoming his Majesty's vassals and our allies, and in having trade with us.

And, in order that the tribute may not prevent them from making peace with us, you shall not ask them for any tribute; but you shall take what they give freely, and nothing more, and in such form as they are willing to give. Thus you shall suit their convenience in everything pertaining to them, and cause them to understand the great expenses of his Majesty in this land. You shall also tell them that the gain therefrom affects them chiefly, since we come to teach them our civilization, and most of all the service of God, our Lord, who created and redeemed them, and of whom they are ignorant; and how to live in accord with natural law, as is their obligation. For this purpose you shall tell them that you are going to their land for two principal reasons.

The first is that they should cease to be pirates, who rob and harry the weak, and enslave wherever and whomsoever they can--selling their captives outside of their own island, and separating them from their wives and children; and that they must cease to commit other like cruelties and thefts, and must become good and virtuous men, who shall grow to merit the second and principal reason for going to their lands. You shall give them to understand that they are ignorant of God, our Lord, who created and redeemed them, so that when they know him they may serve him and become good. It is quite evident that they will gain very much in these things, and therefore it is right that they aid us and give us something. This shall be at their own will, as above said.

Item: You shall order them not to admit any more preachers of the doctrine of Mahoma (Mohammed), since it is evil and false, and that of the Christians alone is good. And because we have been in these regions so short a time, the lord of Bindanao has been deceived by the preachers of Borney, and the people have become Moros. You shall tell him that our object is that he be converted to Christianity; and that he must allow us freely to preach the law of the Christians, and the natives must be allowed to go to hear the preaching and to be converted, without receiving any harm from the chiefs.

And you shall try to ascertain who are the preachers of the sect of Mahoma, and shall seize and bring them before me. And you shall burn or destroy the house where that accursed doctrine has been preached, and you shall order that it be not rebuilt.

Item: You shall order that the Indians shall not go outside of their island to trade; and you shall seize those vessels used for plundering excursions, leaving them those which, in your judgment, are used for trade and fishing. You shall take also what artillery and ammunition they have.

You shall ascertain the harvest, seasons, and products of the land; the gold mines, and the places where they wash gold; the number of inhabitants, and their settlements; and their customs. You must especially secure information regarding cinnamon, in order to ascertain if it is found along the river, or if one must go to Cabite for it, and why it is not as good as that which the Portuguese take to Castilla. You shall ascertain how they cut and strip it from the tree, and if it be of importance that it dry on the tree, or in what other manner it should be treated; for I have been told that that obtained from these districts in the past has not been good, and has not a good sale in España.

And, since it might happen that the people will not make peace, and may offer fight, and show disrespect, then you shall punish them as you deem best, taking special care not to trust them for it is evident that before all else they will, if possible, commit some treachery. You must not await such an occasion, for we know already their treachery against his Majesty's fleet commanded by Villalobos, certain of whose men they killed under assurances of safety; and they seized a boat. In that treachery all the inhabitants of the islands were participants; for four or five thousand of the said natives attacked one small boat, which contained four or five Spaniards. Likewise many people took part in the killing of the said Villalobos's master-of-camp, and other soldiers, in that same year. You shall remind them of these things, and warn them; for, from now on, we shall destroy them and their generation.

And since it might happen that, without any occasion of war or peace, the said natives flee to the mountains, you shall order that certain of the said natives summon them; and, when they have come, you shall discuss the matter with them. If they refuse to come, you shall, in conformity with your orders, remain there a given time. And if they continue to refuse to come down, you shall leave them, and shall return, without permitting their houses to be burned or their palm-trees to be cut down. Neither shall anything be stolen from them; but you shall take only what is absolutely necessary for food, and the food and other things necessary to provision your vessels for the return trip.

You shall try to secure information of the island of Linboton, as well as of Batachina and Celebes, so as to advise me thereof; and you shall do this in accord with the time-limit I have set for you to make this exploration, and you shall observe the same rule as in that of Mindanao.

In order that we may allot in encomiendas whatever people are found in these districts, you shall bring me a signed notarial writ. Thus, as those lands have no other owner, the natives thereof may be reduced to the obedience of his Majesty, according to his will--and by war, if the natives begin it, so that war on our part may be just, and that the same justice may continue, so that we can compel them to obey, and impose tributes upon them. You shall exercise much diligence in this and see to it that these orders be carried out carefully and intelligently.

God willing, I shall be in Borney by the end of the month of January next--or, at the latest, by the eighth of February--with the fleet and all the necessaries that must be brought from Manila, and that which is here. And at that time your Grace shall come to Borney with the fleet that you have, and with all the people that you have or shall have in the Pintados, so that we may do here whatever is proper for the service of his Majesty, to which we are bound. These instructions must not be disregarded in any point, unless I advise you to the contrary by letter. And to this end you shall see that all who live and dwell there be commissioned for the above, in addition to their other duties. Given at Borney, May twenty-three, one thousand five hundred and seventy-eight.

If the natives of Mindanao or of any other place shall give tribute according to the above, you shall act according to the usual custom in these islands--namely, you shall take one-half and place it to the account of his Majesty, while the other half shall be distributed among the soldiers.

Doctor Francisco de Sande


  1. Philippines News Agency
  2. Expeditions to Borneo, Jolo, and Mindanao
  3. The Philippine Islands 1493-1898, Vol. 4 of 55, 1576-1582 Edited by E. H. Blair and J. A. Robertson


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