By Chit Balmaceda Guiterrez
Princess Urduja ancient accounts say, was a 14th century woman ruler of
the dynastic Kingdom of Tawalisi in Pangasinan, a vast area lying by the
shores of the Lingayen Gulf and the China Sea. Pangasinan was an important
kingdom then, and the sovereign was equal to the King of China. Known
far and wide, Princess Urduja was famous for leading a retinue of woman
warriors who were skilled fighters and equestrians. They developed a high
art of warfare to preserve their political state. "These womenfolk
took to the battlefields because the male population was depleted by the
series of wars which came with the rise and prominence of the Shri-Visayan
Empire in the sixth to the 13th centuries," the accounts said. Strong
and masculine physique, they were called kinalakian or Amazons.
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.
The legend of Princess Urduja can be attributed to the famous story of
Mohammedan traveler, Ibn Batuta of India. In 1347 he was a passenger on
a Chinese junk, which has just come from the port of Kakula, north of
Java and Sumatra and passed by Pangasinan on the way to Canton, China.
Urduja, who had a particular fascination for the renowed "Pepper
Country"--pepper being considered black gold then--was quoted by
Batuta as saying, "I must positively go to war with that country,
and get possession of it, for its great wealth and great forces attract
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.
The Philippines' national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, in Dr. Austin Craig's 1916
"Particulars of the Philippines' Pre-Spanish Past" was quoted
as saying in one of his letters: "While I may have doubts regarding
the accuracy of Ibn Batuta's details, I still beleive in the voyage to
Tawalisi". He went as far as to calculate the distance and time of
travel from the port of Kakula. Rizal's commentary was triggered by a
scholar, Sir Henry Yule, who wrote in his time that: "Tawalisi may
be found only in a Gulliver geography."
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.
Today, some historians consider the issue of Urduja's historicity as closed.
Compounding the issue is the lack of archaelogical evidence on the existence
of the Shri-Visayan Empire. In fact, other aspects of Philippine history
are being doubted,too, especially since the late William Henry Scott,
an American historian in the Cordillera, proved that the so-called pre-Hispanic
laws--the Kalantiaw and Maragtas Codes--were faked or invented by psuedo
historians who only wanted fame or riches for themselves.
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
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".
Filipinas Magazine June l999
*Re-printed with permission from Filipinas magazine
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