The Moro

Nowhere in the Philippines are there as many types of fine metal blades, richly ornamented with gold, silver, ivory, and brass as among the Moros of the Sulu Archipelago and in western Mindunao (Krieger, 1926).

The Moro name, originated from the Spanish word “Moor”, is used for the collective Muslim tribes situated mainly on the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao Island in Southern Philippines. There are known four major Moro tribes: the Samal (Zamboanga), the Maguidanao (Mindanao), the Maranao (Mindanao), and the Tausug (Sulu). 

“The Moro tribes are of Malay origin, immigrating over one thousand years ago from the Malay peninsula and North Sumatra. They have the same cultural influences as other Malay coastal tribes: Hinduism and more widely, Islam.  Today they are the largest mainly non-Christian ethnic group in the Philippines. 

The Moro people are tenacious when it comes to their ancient traditions, which they practice as long as they live. They were never conquered by Spain.  The Moros are known to be fierce warriors and have developed a wide range of efficient weapons.  The blade, whether as a sword or the tip of a spear, was emblematic of the Moro warrior culture every bit as much as it was among the ancient Greeks, the Scottish Highlanders of the 17th Century, or the Zulus of the 19th Century. The Moros shared with other warrior cultures the value of facing one's enemy face to face in hand combat, and in this regard, they became masters of close quarters combat. Those who died in battle were celebrated by long-ingrained cultural traditions.  The major swords, barong, kampilan, and kris, and shorter than what one might expect based on western standards.  Yet, they are perfectly sized for close fighting in the jungle where range of movement is often constrained.

Moro weapons were superbly fashioned, with metalurgical properties, handling, and artistic sense able to match or better the finest edged weapons found elsewhere in the world.  From a very early age, every Moro carried at least one weapon, including women.  As in some other cultures, one's blades were thought to have souls with certain mystical powers that could imbue the owner with strength, skill and cunning on the battlefield.  Blades were not implements as much as beings in their own right, and because they were passed down, as connections to ancestors and community.

A martial society, they have long been the rulers of the southernmost Philippine islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.  The Moros are one of the largest tribes in the Nuba Mountains, located half-way between Kadugli and Talodi. 

The Moros made peace with the U.S. in the person of General John J. Pershing, who secured their respect (and disarmament) through force of character as well as force of arms.  Nevertheless, longstanding grievances and resentment arising from mainstream Philippine prejudice against them and impoverishing government neglect have rekindled Moro struggle in recent decades, a conflict which is still ongoing. Unfortunately the Moroland of the early 21st Century is as troubled and contentious as it was one hundred years ago.

Weapons of the Moro

Moro Edged Weapons: Barong, Gunong, Punal de KrissPanabas

Moro Weapons


Krieger, H. W. "The Collection Of Primitive Weapons And Armor Of The Philippine Islands In The United States National Museum” Smithsonia Institution, United States National Museum. Bulletin 137. GPO. 1926. Page 15.