Subject: pulahan 'red' rebel
Culture: Waray Visayan Filipino
Setting: Samar-Leyte mid-19th - early 20thc
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
"There had been a messianic group under the Spanish in the late nineteenth century, the “Dios-Dios,” which arose in similar economic conditions as those described above, including both smallpox and cholera epidemics. At the time, the highlanders thought their illness would be healed by a mass pilgrimage to Catholic shrines to pray for their loved ones’ souls. But the Spanish, thinking this exodus from the mountains was a revolt in the making, attacked the peasants, thus igniting a several-year-long struggle (Couttie). In 1902 this movement resurfaced—or maybe it had never left. Several of the key figures in Lukban’s guerrilla war—the ones who had not surrendered—had been tied to Dios Dios. While under Lukban, the war had not taken on a distinctly religious character, his most die-hard supporters now made fighting Americans a mission from God."
* McCallus 2010 p39
"In November 1903 ... Leyte was still being ravaged by the Pulajanes, groups of religious fanatics who attacked both Filipinos and Americans in the coastal areas. ... At the time the island [Samar] was known as 'bloody Samar,' a hotbed of guerrilla and lawless activity. Here MacArthur would have seen the early attempts at 'Filipinization,' essentially replacing U.S. troops with the Philippine Constabulary's forces. It would take years before peace would come to the island."
"The Pulahans not only terrorized the American forces, they terrorized lowland villagers, as well. Those who cooperated with the Insular officials were meted out punishments with special malice. In one town, they wrapped up the barrio lieutenant’s head in a kerosene-soaked American flag and set it on fire. The Pulahan leader said in front of the crowd: “Call upon the flag you have adopted to protect you now” (Hurley, 62). Then they burned down the village and carried off 50 of its people."
* McCallus 2010 p106
"Bolos are usually ugly things. Forget the vision of a jewel-encrusted handle and a shining silver blade. Most bolos I have seen are handmade, crude, worn, and rusted, often with cracked handles. This kind of condition is not surprising; a bolo is the indispensable tool of the Visayans. It is used for doing farmwork, clearing land, and butchering. During the Philippine-American War, it was the Filipinos' chief and formidable weapon. The Balangiga massacre of U.S. troops was executed almost exclusively with bolos."
* Steel and magic 2020 p216
"While the Visayas are known a variety of edged weapons, the garab is a typical weapon from the islands of Samar and Leyte, even though it can also be found on other islands. ... [A] characteristic example ... features a sturdy blade in the shape of a slim crescent moon and with the tip in line with the back of the blade. The so-called 'chisel-grind' edge geometry, i.e. flat on one side of the blade and bevelled on the other, is a common feature for weapons from the Visayas. The shallow convex curvature on the back of the short ricasso can be used as a thumb rest when wielding the weapon.
"The hilt is set at a distinct angle, leaning towards the edge, which supports the heavy blows dealt with this weapon.
"[...] Garab were used in the resistance against the American occupation in the Philippine-American War (1899-1902). The final campaign took place on Samar and remains notorious today for its brutality."
"Fanatics are not easy to fight. An American officer of the period, Victor Hurley, wrote on page 60 of Jungle Patrol:
These red-garbed mountaineers, with white flowing capes and crescent blades, were contributory to one of the most ferocious eras of guerrilla warfare that our arms were to experience. Not even the Indian campaigns of the old West, fought in open country, could compare with the rushing, jungle-shielded tactics of the Pulahans.
Russell Roth described an attack on page 99 in Muddy Glory:
Brandishing their talibongs (two-foot-long, razor-keen bolos), which could behead a man at a stroke, and assured of ‘invisibility’ by their anting-antings, they suddenly appeared in the valleys, red garb bedecked with crosses, charging en masse, shouting ‘Tad-tad!’ [“Chop-chop!”] as, in blade-spinning wave after wave, they attempted to overrun whatever stood in their path.
If this does not sound fierce enough, some Pulahans carried a blade in each hand: “two revolving disks of scintillating steel,” according to Russell Roth’s article in volume 2, 1978 issue, of the Bulletin of the American Historical Collection. “One veteran witnessed a Pulahan split a soldier from his shoulder to his buttocks with a single bolo stroke” (Linn, 52). In fact, the Pulahans were better off with knives than rifles, partly because their captured Springfields were single-shot guns. (In this kind of war, no matter which side, by the time you reloaded, you were already dead.) Moreover, the Pulahans did not know how to use the gun sights, and they almost always aimed high (Hurley, 93). On the other hand, “When the Pulahans got to close quarters with their great knives, massacre was the result” (Hurley, 62)."
" The name given to them is thought to mean “red pants,” but few of these men actually had enough pants to set aside a pair as a uniform, let alone dye them a specific color. Sometimes they were known to wear red bandanas or other items, but not always. The name could also come from the pulajan, or red, variety of abaca grown by these farmers."
* San Beda Alabang Museum > Evolution of Filipino War Uniforms
"PULAHANES (1890-1902) Visayan rebels became known as Pulahanes primarily because they adapted red trousers and red shirts as their uniform. Contrary to ideas of modern military camouflage, Pulahan forces became easily discernable [sic] as they battled in swarms of anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000. Members were known for their heavy, crescent-shaped bolo knives, for employing a form of indigenous martial arts called derobio eskrima, and for arming themselves with protective amulets called anting-anting, which in their belief rendered them brave and invincible during battle.
"An anting-anting particularly associated with the Pulahanes was a white flag decorated with a red cross in the center that they unfurled and waved during battle.
"Babaylan, traditional healers and spiritual intercessors, accompanied the Pulahanes to assist in treating their wounded."
"The Pulahan soldiers were a special kind of fierce: they did not cut their hair, did not cut down vegetation while trekking through the jungle, and did not need food or water on their multi-day operations (Talde, “Bruna ‘Bunang’ Fabrigar,” 180-81). They wore special charms, known as anting-antings, made out of anything: cloth, paper, or even carabao horn. Special prayers—composed of pseudo-Latin, local languages, and numerology—offered protection against bullets and bolos. “Should they be shot, which could only happen if they turned their backs, their spirits would return in another person’s body in three days, or if hacked by a bolo, in seven days” (Borrinaga, G.E.R., “Leyte,” 230-31). Even better, this reincarnation would deliver the soul to another island. It was a decent way out, given the conditions on Samar and Leyte at the time."