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Juramentado, in Philippine history, refers to a male Moro swordsman who attacked and killed targeted Christian police and soldiers, expecting to be killed himself, the martyrdom undertaken as an unorthodox form of personal jihad. Unlike an amok, who commits acts of random violence against Muslims and non-Muslims alike, a juramentado was a dedicated, premeditated, and sometimes highly-skilled killer who prepared himself through a ritual of binding, shaving, and prayer in order to accomplish brazen public religious murder armed only with edged weapons.

For generations warlike Moro tribes had successfully prevented Spain from fully controlling the areas around Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, developing a well-earned reputation as notorious seafaring raiders, adept naval tacticians, and ferocious warriors who frequently demonstrated extraordinary personal bravery in combat. While Moro forces could never match opponents' firepower or armor, such bands used intelligence, audacity and mobility to raid strongly defended targets and quickly defeat more vulnerable ones. One extreme asymmetric warfare tactic was the Moro juramentado.

Etymology and usageEdit

Juramentado is an archaic term derived from the Spanish word juramentar, meaning one who takes an oath.[1] Some sources link amoks (from the Malayan term for "out of control") and juramentados as similar culture-specific syndromes[2][3] while others draw distinctions of religious preparation and state of mind.[4][5] A Moro might be said to have "gone juramentado" or be "running juramentado."

U.S. Army officers who had served in Moroland incorporated the idiom into their own vocabulary, but often simply equated it with the Moro people as a whole. In his memoirs, Army Air Service advocate Benjamin D. Foulois said of volatile rival Army Air Service officer Billy Mitchell, "He had become fanatic much in the way the Moros were in the Philippines. He had become a juramentado and was ready to run amok."[citation needed].


The term juramentado was coined by José Malcampo, in command during the Spanish occupation of Jolo Island in 1876,[4] but Moros had been making such personal attacks for many years.[1] By the time of the Spanish–American War juramentados were being discussed in the American media,[6][7] some official sources finding few documented cases.[8] By 1903, local United States Army commander Leonard Wood sent a report to Governor of the Philippines William Howard Taft indicating juramentados were "an oft repeated offense."[9] Almost forty years later, on the eve of the Japanese invasion of the Philippine Islands beginning the Second World War, Time Magazine was reporting juramentado attacks in Jolo occurring "once every other day".[10]

Path to paradiseEdit

Candidates, known as mag-sabil, "who endure the pangs of death," were selected from Muslim youth inspired to martyrdom by the teaching of Imams. Parents were consulted before the young men were permitted by the sultan to undergo training and preparation for Parang-sabil (the path to Paradise). After an oath taken, hand on the Qur'an, the chosen took a ritual bath, all body hair was shaved, and the eyebrows trimmed to resemble "a moon two days old." A strong band was wrapped firmly around the waist, and cords wrapped tightly around the genitals, ankles, knees, upper thighs, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, restricting blood flow and preventing the mag-sabil from losing too much blood from injury before accomplishing his gruesome task. Clad in white robe and turban, the chosen youth would polish and sharpen his weapons before action.[4]

At the moment of attack, the mag-sabil would approach a large group of Christians, shout "La ilaha il-la'l-lahu" ("There is no god but Allah"), draw kris or barong and then rush into the group swinging his sword, killing and maiming as many victims as possible in the time he had left. The true believer, however, faced a theologic conundrum. If the observant Juramentado believed that his murders pleased Allah, he could not admit that the inevitable consequences of his attacks constituted suicide, per se, as their Qur'an forbids it. To reconcile the inconsistency, they fashioned themselves as martyrs of their own making, coaxing their way into Paradise with the spilled blood of numerous enemies of the faith on their hands. In effect, however, the tactic more closely resembles murder/suicide. The Juramentado—acting neither in self-defense nor through selfless altruism—commits to murder, and his own self-destruction, solely for the promise of his perception of personal gain. After death, the mag-sabil's body would be washed and again wrapped in white for burial. In the unlikely event the mag-sabil survived his attack, it was believed his body would ascend to Paradise after 40 years had passed.[4]

Response to the threatEdit

With the possible exception of Japan's kamikaze pilots in the closing days of World War II, warfare has rarely known a more frightening phenomenon than the juramentados.

—Peter Gowing (1965), [11]

The Moros' use of local intelligence to mark target situations, coupled with a keen understanding of the tactical element of surprise made combating juramentado warriors difficult for Spanish troops during its long attempt to occupy the Sulu Archipelago. In an era of warfare where body armor had become anachronistic, an unexpected melee attack with razor-sharp blades was a devastating tactic against veteran soldiers. Even when soldiers had time to draw weapons and fire on the charging attacker, the small caliber weapons commonly in use possessed no stopping power, bullets passing though limbs and torso, the juramentados' ritual binding working as a set of tourniquets to prevent the swordsman from bleeding out from wounds before accomplishing his purpose.[citation needed]

The phenomenon has been documented as recently as 2011, but the introduction of more potent, higher-caliber cartridges of consequence in the hands of intended victims markedly reduced the allure, and subsequently the incidence, of this peculiar method of self-annihilation. The United States occupation is claimed by some[citation needed] to have seen the use of burial of Juramentados with pig remains as a psychologic deterrent to continued suicidal aggression.[citation needed] This purported action by Americans[citation needed] is apparently thought, by those who hold that Jurementado is a legitimate path to heaven, to be abhorent to the "guardians of heaven."[citation needed] Dr. Frank E. Vandiver, professor of history at Texas A&M University and author of Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J. Pershing said about the burial of Juramentados with pig remains that he never found any indication that it was true in extensive research on his Moro experiences. He has also been unable to find any evidence corroborating the claim that Muslims believe that "eating or touching a pig, its meat, its blood, etc., is to be instantly barred from paradise and doomed to hell." It is true that Islamic dietary restrictions, like those of Judaism, forbid the eating or handling of pork because pigs are considered unclean. But according to Raeed Tayeh of the American Muslim Association in North America, the notion that a Muslim would be denied entrance to heaven for touching a pig is "ridiculous." A statement from the Anti-Defamation League characterizes the claim as an "offensive caricature of Muslim beliefs." [12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Tarling, Nicholas (1992). The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia: The Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries. Cambridge University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0-521-35506-0. Retrieved May 25, 2009. 
  2. Corsini, Raymond J.. "Juramentado". The Dictionary of Psychology. Psychology Press. p. 518. ISBN 1-58391-028-X. 
  3. American Medical Association (1921). Archives of neurology and psychiatry. 5. Chicago, Illinois: American Medical Association. p. 405. Retrieved May 25, 2009. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Hurley, Vic (1936). "Chapter 14: Juramentados and Amuks". Swish of the Kris; The Story of the Moros. E.P. Hutton. Archived from the original on February 15, 2005. Retrieved April 17, 2011. 
  5. Lindsay, Mark; Lester, David (2004). Suicide by Cop. Amityville, New York: Baywood. p. 32. ISBN 0-89503-290-2. Retrieved May 25, 2009. 
  6. Carpenter, Frank G. (October 6, 1899). "In the Philippines". In Pattengill, Henry Romaine. Timely Topics. IV. No. 39. Johnson, Mary I.. Lansing, MI: Henry Romaine Pattingill. pp. 617–620. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  7. Worcester, Dean C. (September, 1898). "The Malay Pirates of the Philippines". New York City, NY: The Century Company. p. 699. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  8. Division of Insular Affairs (1901). The People of the Philippines. Elihu Root Collection of United States Documents Relating to the Philippine Islands. 34. Elihu Root, Secretary of War. Washington, D.C.: United States War Department. p. 341. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  9. Wood, Leonard (December 16, 1903). "Report of General Wood as to Abrogation Bates Treaty". Washington, D.C.: United States Philippine Commission. p. 489. Retrieved April 30, 2011. 
  10. "Terror in Jolo". December 1, 1941.,9171,802183,00.html. Retrieved May 29, 2011. 
  11. Gowing, Peter G. (July/August 1965). "Kris and Crescent". Saudi Aramco World. Retrieved May 30, 2011. 

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