Unpacking the Maharlika Narrative

 “MAHARLIKA”……A word, an image, a concept, a symbol, an archetype…..How deep can a word reach? How can a word transcend and transform our consciousness? How can a word be usurped and degraded? How can a word redeem itself? How can a word re-create the destiny of a nation? How can a word guide us into the past, present and the future?”
 Grace Odal-Devora, Ph.D
University of the Philippines, Manila

In February 22, 2014, the Katipunan ng mga Samahang Maharlika, Inc (Ang KaSaMa, Inc.) in partnership with the Alumni, Friends and Benefactors of the Asian Center (AFBAC, Inc.), Humanistic Studies 20 Class, The United Brotherhood for Development and World Peace Thru Maharlika, Inc, The Venus Project-Maharlika, and the Maharlika Artists and Writers Federation (MAWF) convened the Maharlika Summit 2014 at the Asian Center Auditorium, GT-Toyota Hall of Wisdom, University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.

The summit was themed “ReVisioning ‘Maharlika’ as cultural metaphor, folk history and social movement for national identity, transformation and development.”In its goal to provide an avenue for the Maharlika cause and narrative from varying vantage points to be discoursed within a neutral academic setting, the summit was able to gather diverse groups to discuss, and celebrate the Maharlika cause.

Babaylanism and Catholicism

National Historical Commission of the Philippines Commissioner Fe Buenaventura Mangahas in her discussion “Babaylan Tradition: The Ancient Culture” contextualized the role of women as babaylans in the society as time passed saying that babaylans in the ancient communities were women and men who want to be babaylans need to be essentially feminine to be allowed to take on the role. These babaylans are the custodians of faith, healers, forecasters of fate, visionaries, and advisers. She posits that when the Spanish came to impose Catholicism over the archipelago, babaylans chose to accept it rather than to suffer more from the friars, and that these women later on became devotees of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus.

According to Mangahas, these women became active in the Christian tradition through the Spanish and the American periods saying that the influence of the babaylan tradition, in a new form within the woman, remained despite colonization.

Academic discussions on history presented to students in both the current basic education system and the secondary seldom shed light on what happened to the babaylans when colonizers came. We, for one, have always assumed that if not killed, they were extensively tortured which led to their eventual demise. The idea that they, and their influence, remained through the years is a good springboard for other explorations because it has implications.

If it is true that these babaylans converted and remained, what has become of them now? Are they more inclined to Catholicism or to babaylanism? If they converted, would babaylanism still be considered essentially babaylanism? If a babaylan became a devotee of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus, how did they remain as babaylans all along?

In what specific areas of the society, if not specifically of culture, can their influence be felt and seen nowadays?

The Mythic and the Revolutionary

Professor Argonza provided a chuckle-worthy morphological analysis of the terms Philippines and Maharlika.

Morphological analyses on Philippines were inclined to the infamous history of King Philip II of Spain argued Argonza. But the good Prof. offered another way of looking at the term. He said that Philippines could be reduced to the following morphemes: phi, lip, and pines. Phi being the phallus or the masculine concept, and lip as referent for the female organ. This masculine and feminine relation symbolizes wholeness and balance which will make Philippines as a positively potent name to “signify a showering of vast opportunities.” This is the first morphological analysis of Philippines that looked at the positive aspect of the name in relation to King Philip II.

The Vision of Greatness and Maharlika, Its Sanskrit Origin

We have heard about the word Maharlika, on the other hand, being analyzed in terms of its connection to the Sanskrit word “maha” (great) and word “likha” (creation).

The guest speaker former senator Eddie Ilarde, the representative of Prince Julian Morden Tallano of the Tala Estate and Prof. Grace Odal-Devora discussed the word extensively.

It can also be read from the website of the summit itself. Prof. Argonza discussed Maharlika this way:

Ma is maternal element, feminine. Har is the Life Force, or Haj, the masculine aspect. Li refers to act of movement or transfer. Ka is referent for revolutionary spin, which means change. The bisyllabic Mahar, feminine & masculine conjoint, refers to ‘great’ or ‘major’, with the same Wholeness explicitly conveyed. In sum, Maharlika means Great Force for Revolutionary Change.

These new insights on how the terms are seen and interpreted will perhaps revision the Maharlika narrative as scholars, professors, academics and social movements tries to reinterpret Maharlika.

Dravidian-Maharlika Link

One of the good things about the summit is that it provided an avenue for new Maharlika discourses to surface or resurface.

One of these is the Maharlika-Dravidian connection.

The Dravidian culture is easily talked about when related to the Dravidian people of Southern India and the Dravidian language family where Tamil is a part of.

Harri Sri, a Sri Lankan board member of a mission house in Davao City and professor at the Saint Paul University and Niagra Catholic School Board, posed that the Philippines might have been a Tamil-Hindu colony.

Because little was known and discussed about pre-Hispanic Philippines, only one important Tamil inscription of Rajendra Chola, in addition to Dravidian remnants in Philippine languages, could provide information on long lost historical accounts of the Maharlika-Dravidian connection.[2]

If more explorations on this connection emerge, the Maharlika narrative will be clearer especially in relation to its supposed association to Sanskrit. These will provide more reliable evidences and content of the connection, more than mere linguistic associations.

Actually, Harri Sri’s Maharlika-Dravidian connection is only the first of interconnected theories on this historical aspect of the narrative.

The golden Tara of Agusan recovered in the Wawa River sometime in 1917 corroborated early Ind0-Philippine contact. The 21 carat gold figurine of Tara is presently kept at the gem room of the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History, USA.

Sundaland and Some Implicit Connection to Maharlika

UP Manila student Angelica Montalbo discussed how Maharlika was connected to Stephen Oppenheimer’s theory of the Sundaland, the drowned continent of Southeast Asia.

She discussed that Sundaland’s culture may have reached India and Mesopotamia. This idea also implied ancient connection with Dravidian culture and Maharlika.

Her professor Dr. Grace Odal-Devora discussed the Hindu-Buddhist and Austro-Dravidian links of Maharlika citing numerous and specific evidences.

Even Ric Vil Hori’s discussion on “Speculative Research on Maharlika-Lemurian Timeline” deepened the context of the Maharlika research.

The Maharlikas. Pre-colonial Philippines was rooted is rooted in warrior culture
The Maharlikas

Unpacking the Narrative and Some Alternative Futures

In the not-so-distant past of the Maharlika narrative, there is also the Maharlika-Marcos-New Society connection.

Most of the other presenters disregarded the fact that Marcos popularized and employed Maharlika in different context – social, technological, cultural, economic, environmental and political.

The Maharlika Highway Map
The Maharlika Highway Map

Maharlika was, basing and reflecting on existing information, Marcos worldview and governance myth.

Marcos used it to uphold Filipino nationalism and was influential in making Maharlika somewhat stylish (Source: Wikipedia).

He was responsible in naming several streets, halls, banquets, villages and cultural organizations to Maharlika. He utilized the name to name highways, broadcasting corporation and the reception area of the Malacanang Palace.

In fact, Maharlika was the culmination of the system and society envisioned by Marcos (Source: Wikipedia).

Today, historians and cultural advocates imagine it as of warrior origin and which, perhaps, influenced Marcos’ views of Maharlika that inspired him to use it to name his guerilla unit during the 2nd World War.

As a folk history, Maharlika is linked to Marcos as if it’s his own myth or legend.

Is the Marcosian narrative a weight of history to the future of Maharlika? Or is it a disowned future? a preferred? alternative?

Beyond the system, we offer our worldview analysis.

Mahardikka: Rich, Prosperous and Powerful

“During the Majapahit Empire which is entirely part of Southeast Asia, and the capital surrounding the islands of Sulu, the name Maharlika was respected by the Datus and Rahas, and all the leaders of the society. The name also empowers strength, winning not only in battles, but in morals and love among people….Moreover, the word is deeply grounded within the Dravidian and Austronesian ancestral traditions and heritage of the peoples in the region.


Maharlika is extremely popular among Filipino Muslims, Maguindanoans, Maranaos, Lumads and  some indigenous groups and ethnic communities.

The word reminded them of the era where their ancestors fought the Spaniards and resisted European colonization.

It was a symbol of freedom; of people who were not obligated to pay taxes and tribute in the 7th century.

The Maharlika were the warriors of the light (Mandirigma) and it was synonymous to “victory” (Vijaya (victorious) -Visayas – Shrii Vijaya -pagtatagumpay) against all forms and types of oppression, repression and suppression.

Maharlika was a symbol of freedom from exploitation (Mahardikka, Merdeka, etc.).

For the Malayan, the Singaporean and the Indonesian, Mahardhikka and Merdeka was the battle-cry for independence.

In the virtual world,  Maharlika is gamed and digitized. It has re-emerged as Anak Bathala meaning a natural born leader and a master of advanced tactics. The Maharlika is the embodiment of the native islands greatness.

Maharlika (digitized) as the Anak Bathala by Nordenx Digital Art. Here the Mahalika is the embodiment of the native's island greatness.  He is a master of advanced tactics and born leader.
Maharlika – gamed and digitized – as the Anak Bathala by Nordenx Digital Art. The virtual world revisions Maharlika. Maharlika is seen here as the embodiment of the native’s island greatness. The Maharlika is the enlightened warrior, a  master of advanced tactics and a natural born leader. Source: http://www.deviantart.com
The Maharlika Throne Design by Deviant Art.com
The Maharlika Throne Design by Deviant Art.com

Maharlika: The PROUT perspective

For the PROUTist (advocates of Progressive Utilization Theory), however, Maharlika reflects and speaks of the values and value of the indigenous people, of ancient history and alternative futures.

Like a mantra, Maharlika is a spiritual word, a cultural memory or a code that can ‘liberate colonized intellects’ and minds altered by past trauma and colonial histories.

The word is a key to decolonizing the local psyche.

The word and its meaning, they argue, were profoundly influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.

It could also mean as ‘self-awareness’ or, if we may,  a ‘Filipino’ (the Maharlika discourse sees the Filipino as a persisting form of psychic exploitation) perspective and philosophy of human existence.

Maharlika is offered as an alternative worldview – a worldview that embraces complexity and diversity in the expression of the human spirit.

Maharlika, in a PROUTist context, is dynamic and represents the interrelation and independence of all forms of life thus the word Mahat meaning Great and Likha, creation.

Maharlika addresses all spheres of existence – the physical, the mental and spiritual.

It is the “dynamic equipose” of the local native.

Maharlika is a social movement. It is a viable alternative to the word Filipino.

It has the potential to disrupt and disturb current context of self-perception and worldviews.

As a social philosophy, Maharlika has the potential to disrupt current conventions of power and power configurations.

It could do this if it is able to harness – in a cooperative and non-violent way – the Maharlikan human spirit.

The Maharlika PROUT narrative has its own vision of alternative leadership, system of government and forms of power – the Sadvipra, the Social Cycle and approaches to ethics, society, justic, politics and economics.

More Questions than Answers

So this is how the participants at the Maharlika summit perceived and envisioned Maharlika today but, of course, there are more questions than answers.

Is the Marcosian narrative and nationalists contexts of Maharlika the official future of the word? Do we want these to represent Maharlika? Or do we want to question it and create alternative futures for Maharlika? If yes, how can we transform Maharlika as a cultural metaphor, folk history and social movement for national identity, transformation and development? It’s a hard nut to crack but how? What are our hopes? What are our fears?

How will the future of the word impact the way we perceive ourselves and our world?

We did flashed some questions at the conference and toyed with some idea or images of what might the future of Maharlika narrative be like in the future.

Below are some images.

The Marcosian Narrative of Maharlika?
The resurgence of the Marcosian narrative of Maharlika?
Another foreign country invading and renaming us?
Another foreign country invading and renaming the Tinubuang Lupa?
Out of the Colonial Stigma? Filipinos would be called Maharlikans and the country renamed as Maharlika?
The spiritual context - Babaylan? Maharlika? The re-emergence of the Golden Tara - a Hindu-Malayan goddess and mother of liberation, creation, compassion and mercy. Source: Kin Enriquez, http://www.boardinggate101.com/2013/04/golden-tara-of-agusan.html
The spiritual context – Babaylan? Maharlika? The re-emergence of the Golden Tara – a Hindu-Malayan goddess and mother of liberation, creation, compassion and mercy. Source: http://pinoy-culture.tumblr.com/post/28719802992/the-golden-tara-of-agusan-can-we-return-this


Romelene Pacis Notes at the Maharlika Summit 2014 @ University of the Philippines Diliman, Asian Center Auditorium.

“ReVisioning ‘Maharlika’ as cultural metaphor, folk history and social movement for national identity, transformation and development” @ http://maharlikasummit.com/

Rodel Rodis. 2012. Maharlika Reconsidered @ http://globalnation.inquirer.net/mindfeeds/mindfeeds/view/20080902-158208/Maharlika-Reconsidered

[1] He authored a book in 2000 titled “13th Gate Unveiled: the Glorious Destiny of the Philippines and Southeast Asia” in which he discussed said visions.

[2] For the sake of Tamil readers, he posted a copy of his paper and the Tamil inscription on his Facebook page.

 By Romelene Pacis and Shermon Cruz

Rome Pacis at the Maharlika Summit 2014. UP Asian Center, Diliman.
Rome Pacis at the Maharlika Summit 2014. UP Asian Center, Diliman.
Maharlika Summit 2014 Participants at the UP Asian Center, Diliman.
Maharlika Summit 2014 Participants at the UP Asian Center, Diliman.