How Panay artist found inspiration for Antique’s monument to 10 Bornean Datus

Jun Aguirre
How Panay artist found inspiration for Antique’s monument to 10 Bornean Datus

DWARFED. The monuments to the Ten Bornean Datus in Malandog, Hamtic, Antique tower over crew completing the installation work.

Antique tourism and cultural affairs office

Oral history preserves the memory of an actual event although dates cannot be determined and parsing facts from the flourishes that come with the tradition is an almost impossible task

ANTIQUE, Philippines – Historians have debunked the old textbook lessons of ten Bornean Datus arriving in Panay and the Aeta natives bartering away their land for a golden salakot.

That hasn’t stopped Antique province, however, from commissioning a bigger-than-life monument to the Datus as part of its Binirayan Festival. The province officially launched the monument – a set of ten 15-ft (4.57 meters), five-ton statues created by sculptor John Alaban – on Monday, December 19.

When Alaban was offered the commission in 2021, he saw it as a challenge.

“Since it is only a legend, there is no documentation on the personality of the ten Datus,” Abalan told Rappler in early December as the province transported the last five of the statues to the mouth of the Malandog river in Hamtic town. 

“I had to research the physical concept through old photos of people living in the Southern Philippines and Borneo in the 18th century. From there, I used it as a  reference to create the possible images of the 10 Datus,” said the artist. 

“Since it is a historical myth, some (faces and poses) are based on my own interpretation of the story as an artist. I also took some references from the Hinilawod epic,” Alaban said, referring to the 29,000-verse epic handed down through generations among the inhabitants of Sulod, the inner mountains connecting Iloilo and Capiz provinces.

Filipino anthropologist F. Landa Jocano, an Ilonggo, stumbled on the epic in 1955 and would later record this. It remains a centerpiece of local theater, often transformed to dance. It does not claim to present historical facts.

Alaban chose not to put shields on the Datus.

“According to legends, they came to Antique to make peace. So I presumed that they were not carrying any shields when they met the  natives because carrying a shield impresses war. They only carried their weapons as they descended from their boat and met with the local,” Alaban explained.

MASSIVE. Sculptor John Alaban based his representation of the mythical 10 Bornean Datus on photos of people living in the Southern Philippines and Borneo in the 18th century. Antique tourism and cultural affairs office.,

Juan Carlos Perlas, the Antique province tourism officer-in-charge said they commissioned Alaban because he was the one who sculpted the 132-ft (40 m) monument of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Roxas City in Capiz.

“He also traces his roots to Culasi, Antique,” he added.

The launch was scheduled on the first of December but moved back due as the province’s roads and other infrastructure suffered heavy damage from severe tropical storm Paeng.

Why celebrate a myth?

The myth of the Datus and the barter of Panay by Aeta chieftain Marikudo lies behind the world-famous Ati-Atihan festival of Aklan and Iloilo’s Dinagyang Festival, both celebrated in January, and Antique’s Binirayan festival.

The late Governor Evelio Javier launched the Binirayan festival on January 11–13, 1974. It was moved to April in 1975, and then to December in 2011.

While 17th century Spanish friars placed the Sto. Nino or the Child Jesus center stage in the church fiesta, these festivals have since become more popular for the revelry – drums, street dancing, soot-covered faces and esoteric, fantastic costumes that come closer to Mardi Gras celebrations than indigenous Aetas – and the celebration of dubious historical claims.

Historian William Henry Scott  in 1968 debunked Pedro Monteclaro’s The Maragtas as historical source material. Monteclaro himself presented no document and billed his creation as a distillation of various oral histories. Yet as late as the 1980s and 1990s, the myth of the 10 Datus was still taught as historical fact to elementary and high school students. 

But while Scott debunked the document itself, he acknowledged that the legend “preserves the memory of an actual event”, although dates cannot be determined and parsing facts from the flourishes that come with oral tradition is an almost impossible task.

The Datus were supposed to have fled the cruelty of their Sultan and crossed the seas in search of freedom – and a new territory to rule – way before the coming of the Spaniards.

The legend had Datu Puti as their leader. The other Datus also had names: Sumakwel, Bangkaya, Dumalugdog, Lubay, Paiburong, Dumangsil, Balensusa, Paduhinogan, and Dumangsol.

“For the longest time, the Binirayan festival, our folk legend, used to focus on ‘the barter of Panay’ – salakot (hat) or kwintas, (necklace) in return for Malay settlers getting the Panay lowlands.” Perlas told Rappler a mix of English and Hilihaynon on December 12.

“But that itself is being questioned,” he acknowledged. “Where did this happen, in Antique or San Joaquin, Iloilo?”

“What is not being questioned or disputed by historians and anthropologists alike is, that after they paid for the islands, the Datus sailed along the coast, and they saw the Malandog river, and they decided it had promise and so established the first Malay civilization in Panay,” Perlas added.

Perlas is actually sharing more oral tradition. There is no proof of the Aetas bartering the land or that a historical person called Datu Sumakwel founded the town of Malandog, considered to be the first Malay settlement in the country.

It is not surprising, however, if Malay forebears settled on Antique’s long coast, which occupies the entire western side of Panay facing the Sulu Sea. The island’s central mountains connect it to Aklan in the northeast, Capiz on the east, and Iloilo in the southeast.

“Maari man naunahan tayo ng ibang probinsya o ibang lungsod sa Panay, baka umusad sila sa progreso pero dito nauna. Dito ang first civilization. And that in itself would give Antiquenos a sense of pride,” he explained. (It is possible that other provinces and cities in Panay may have overtaken us in terms of progress, but we were first, this is where the first civilization happened.) –

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