FMA CORNER: The Juramentados and the Development of the Colt .45 caliber Model 1911
By Perry Gil S. Mallari - May 4, 2010
Among the most repeated stories within Filipino martial arts circles is how the fanatical Muslim warriors of Mindanao affected the development of the Colt .45 caliber Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol.
Robert A. Fulton, in his research paper titled “The Legend of the Colt .45 Semi-Automatic Pistol and the Moros,” explained that while the Moros were indeed the reason for the development of a handgun with more stopping power than the .38 caliber revolver, the Colt .45 caliber Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol in actuality was not used in the Americans’ campaigns in Mindanao during the turn of the 20th century. The .45 caliber handguns that were actually used against the fanatical Moro warriors were the Colt .45 Model 1902 and DA Model 1909 revolvers. Fulton is also the author of the book “Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899-1920.”
Muslim men circa 1890/1907 (Philippine Photographs Digital Archive, Special Collections Library, University of Michigan)
Fulton’s paper includes accounts on the use of the .45 caliber handgun of American troops fighting the Moros, it reads, “In mid-1903, the jurisdiction of Philippine Constabulary was extended to the lands of the Moros through a newly-formed subsidiary organization called Moro Constabulary. In early 1904 the Moro Constabulary fought side-by-side with the US Army while serving as scouts against the Moros. In his annual report of June 1904, General Leonard Wood stated what he thought was obvious to anyone paying attention, ‘It is thought that the .45 caliber revolver [meaning Constabulary Model 1902] is the one that should be issued to troops throughout the Army… Instances have repeatedly been reported during the past year where natives have been shot through and through several times with a .38 caliber revolver, and have come on, cutting up the unfortunate individual armed with it…The .45 caliber revolver stops a man on his tracks, usually knocking him down… “
Besides the .45 caliber revolver, Wood also requested that soldiers assigned for outpost duty and as an advance guard be furnished with 12 gauge Winchester repeating shotguns.
Fulton wrote that in 1908, the Bureau of Ordnance finally approved the Colt .45 DA Model 1909 as the new service revolver of American troops. On the invention of the magazine-fed, semi automatic Colt .45 Model 1911, he pointed out, “In March of 1911 the Colt .45 caliber Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol was selected as the official sidearm of the armed forces of the United States, replacing the M1909 revolver. But it would not be put into production for another year. However the new M1911 did not reach US Army units just after they had fought their last battle against the Moros in mid-1913.”
The juramentado, a Moro warrior with a blade in hand on a suicidal killing rampage against targeted enemies is a phenomenon unique to Mindanao. The term juramentado came from the Spanish word “juramentar,” which means “one who takes an oath.” Among the Tausugs, the term for this practice is “parrang sabbil.” In his book “Parrang Sabbil: Ritual Suicide Among the Tausugs of Jolo” released in 1973, Thomas Keifer explains the etymology of the term, “The words parrang sabbil are borrowed from Malay (perang sabif), parrang (Malay perang) meaning "war" and sabil (short for Arabic sabil Allah), "in the path of God". A person who dies in the path of God is considered a martyr (shahid), and is entitled to the immediate rewards of heaven.”
Keifer wrote that there were two forms of parrang sabbil, it can be done by a single person or a group, attacking a Christian settlement or a military camp with the intention of killing and being killed. He traces the origin of the practice during the middle 19th century upon the Spanish intrusion of the island of Jolo. It continued during the American period and occasionally occurred by the end of the Second World War. Keifer clearly differentiated parrang sabbil from the the classic Malaysian pattern of "running amok." On this he wrote, “The so-called amok is usually described as a pattern of uncontrollable violent behaviour directed randomly without apparent regard for the consequences. As such, it is usually regarded as an indication of psychological imbalance.”
The following words are Keifer’s description of the elaborate preparatory ritual of the juramentado, it reads, “The preparatory rituals for a single individual act of parrang sabbil were quite complex, but basically were all extensions of the need to insure that the corpse of the sabbil would be properly prepared to enter the afterlife. Accordingly, all of the normal rituals for a corpse — or at least those which were feasible — were done for the suicide while he was still alive. Religious officials would bathe his body in the same manner as they would a corpse: three times facing east, three times facing west, and three times on his back. Dirt would be removed from the anus and other bodily orifices to insure complete ritual purity. The head would be- shaven, eyebrows plucked, and fingernails neatly trimmed. Finally, the suicide would be dressed in a suit of shroud-like white clothing specially prepared for the occasion. As is common in other Moslem rituals, the state of purity created by these rituals could be immediately broken by contact with women, bodily elimination, or any other unclean act. While not derived from the normal rituals for a corpse, one preparatory act is interesting as a reflection of the masochistic and quasi-sexual attitude which underlay much of the institution. The penis of the sabbil was bound tightly in an erect position to insure the success of .the mission. While this might reasonably be interpreted as simply an instance of homeopathic magic (upright penis equals upright body) designed to insure that the sabbil does not fall too quickly, the potential implications go even deeper. For a man to be in a state of ritual purity and nevertheless have an upright penis — albeit a magical one — is quite incongruous with Moslem ritual practice. Why this should be so is a puzzle, but it may be a reflection of a theme I will pursue in more detail below: that the peculiar value of the institution of sabbil for the Tausug is that it unites two otherwise disparate roles in their culture — the man of piety and the man of action.”
A harrowing encounter with a Moro juramentado was vividly described in Victor Hurley’s “Swish of the Kris,” it says, “While they were tying these prisoners beneath the house, a Moro in a near-by field was plowing rice with a carabao. They heard him shout as he leaped to attack with a barong. "Timbuck aco," he was shouting; "shoot me." He came with long bounding strides, headed straight for the waiting patrol. Four of the soldiers opened fire on the advancing Moro in support of Lieutenant Ellsey. A stream of hot lead poured into his body, but the Moro never faltered. He came nearer, slower now, but still on his feet. The barong was upraised as he headed for Lieutenant Ellsey. Ellsey fired his last shot, and the Moro still came. Ten feet from the officer a Krag bullet thudded into the amuck's spine. His legs gave away. As he fell, he hurled his barong before he died. The patrol stripped the dead man and turned him over. Twelve bullet holes were in his body. Ellsey had escaped decapitation by only ten feet.”