Princess Urduha, Warrior Queen of Pangasinan

(Written by Jamie Yancovitz. Originally published on Tumblr)

A warrior queen of a matriarchal dynasty, Urduha was a 14th century ruler of Tawalisi, in what is now known as Pangasinan. Princess Urduha was trained in the art of war since she was a child, and became an expert in using the kampilan and a skilled navigator. Known far and wide, she was famous for leading a retinue of women warriors who were skilled fighters, equestrians, and experts in weaponry. With bodies of strength and muscular physique, they were known as Kinalakian, or Amazons. The legend of Princess Urduha can be attributed to the story of when she met the greatest traveler in history, Ibn Battuta.

To the Pangasinan court, many suitors came seeking the hand of Urduja. The Princess said to them, “I will marry only the man who can defeat me. My husband must be braver, stronger, and wiser than myself.” As no one qualified to her demands, she remained unmarried all her life.

When her mother died, she became the ruler of Pangasinan region. Her bravery and skills were known far and near. She ruled her people well and wisely. Like the famous Amazons of the old, Princess Urduja was not only intelligent, beautiful, and dominant, but also the very personification of kindness and virtue. One of her policies was to introduce the best of other countries, and adapted them to her own. She was a woman who was interested in foreign affairs for the good of her own kingdom. She liked to hear tales about India, the Pepper Country. 

The legend of Princess Urduja can be attributed to the story of when she met the greatest traveler in history, Ibn Battuta. 

In 1347, Ibn Battuta was a passenger on a Chinese junk, which had just come from the port of Kakula, north of Java and Sumatra, and passed by Pangasinan on the way to Canton, China. 

According to her custom, Princess Urduja invited the ship’s crew to a banquet. The Arab refused to go because he could not eat their food since they were “infidels.” The princess was offended and summoned him. He was surprised at what his eyes witnessed and his ears heard. For the Princess was robed in her richest and best, decked with precious stones and surrounded by brave and loyal men and women.  She talked to the visitor in Arabic. This alone proved that she was a Muslim, knew her Qur’an, and in Arabic, she told him: 

"You, Priest, I have had you brought here by my guards because, of all of your ship’s company, you alone scorned my invitation. You told your Captain that we, people of Northern Luzon are infidels, and that it would be against the Prophet’s law for you, a holy man, to eat our food.

"You behold about me, seated around my throne, the elderly ladies who are my counselors. Do their chairs of sandalwood, does my silk-canopied and gold-plated throne, suggest the court of a barbarous people?”

"I  greeted you with the usual salutations of courtesy in the Arabic tongue, and had one of my attendants fetch ink and paper so I could write for you [Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Raheem] in Arabic characters that you recognized as the name of The Merciful and Compassionate God. Are such tokens of culture common among barbarians?

“When my father Dalisay, the aged king by whose name you call his kingdom, was a much younger man, there visited here a priest of another faith from far distant Europe. But he did not shun novelty in food as you do. The sago trees that produce flour, interest him, he admired the sugar-giving buri palms, and liked our coconut wine. And I hope you will appreciate the cordial pickles and preserves which, with some other gifts for your acceptance in remembrance of the land of Dalisay, I have had sent to your ship.

“But let us no more speak of our mistaken notions of us. We pride ourselves upon our hospitality, and you, a holy man though you are, need have no compunction of conscience in eating the food set before you.

“You have been told all about me. You know that I am governor  of this port in place of my brother because, with my army of free women, slave girls and female captives —all of whom fought just as well as men could—I won a big battle.  And you have heard, too, I’m sure, that I am still unmarried because I will marry no man except him who shall conquer me, and all the eligible suitors in this vicinity are afraid to try for fear of being beaten by a girl.

“Now tell me of great India, which we know as the Pepper Country. I want to hear all about it. The little I know has fascinated me. Would there be any chance, If I should go to war with India, of my getting? Its great wealth and great forces attract me.” And the Arab replied, “Do so.” 

Princess Urduja told him of her many expeditions, sending him on his journey with robes, two elephant loads of rice, two buffalos, ten ships, and four martabans (large jars) filled with ginger, pepper, lemons, and mangoes, all of them salted, these being among the things prepared for sea voyages. 

Urduja’s name still has great resonance among the Ibaloi, one of the major ethnolinguistic tribes in the Cordillera region. Dr. Morr Tadeo Pungayan, a respected scholar of Ibaloi culture and professor at the St. Louis University of Baguio City said, "Linguistically, Urduja is Deboxah (pronounced Debuca) in Ibaloi. We’ve always had a woman named Deboxah from time immemorial among the genrations of Ibaloi. The name usually describes a woman of strong quality and character who’s nobly descended. That name is an Ibaloi name. That’s why Ibaloi trace their ancestry from Urduja." 

The Cordillera tribes, also known collectively as Igorots, pride themselves as being the only ethnic group that doesn’t talk about the origin of man according to Spanish chronicles. Among the tribes, genealogy and family history are orally passed history. The Ibaloi, just like other highland tribes, could easily trace their ancestry. This is ensured by their custom of naming newborns after ancestors to help keep their memory alive and evoke affection and protection.

"No Ibaloi will bear the name of an ancestor unless she’s related,” Dr. Pungayan explained. While the Bontoc tribe bestows the name of an ancestor to a grandchild, the Ibaloi style is namesaking the great-grandchild, he added.

A book on the history of Benguet province, written by Anavic Bagamasbad and Zenaida Hamada-Pawid, shows the Benguet genealogy tracing tribal family lines from the year 1380 to 1899. The book says, 

“The extent of inter-settlement alliances is climaxed in the memory of Tublay informants with the reign of Deboxah, Princess Urduja, in Pinga. She’s acknowledged as the granddaughter of Udayan, an outstanding warrior of Darew. Her death signaled continuous decline of kinship and alliance between highland and lowland settlements.”

The Darew mountain range is remembered as the earliest settlement in the mining town of Tublay. The close relations between the Cordilleras and Lingayen are well-accounted for in Battuta’s chronicle. It said that the Kingdom of Tawalisi was very extensive, including the vast areas up to the fringes of the Benguet mountains and the Cordillera ranges in the east of Luzon.


References:

  • Galang, Encyclopedia of Philippines, p. 179-181.

  • Del Castillo y Tuazon, Antonio, “Princess Urduja : amazon ruler of the Amazon Dynastic Kingdom of Tawalisi or Talamasin, Pangasinan-Caboloan.”

  • The Researcher, Vol. II, No. 2, November 1969, p. 133-168.

  • Guiterrez, C, Filipinas Magazine, June l999.

  • http://snml.weebly.com/princess-urduja.html


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Modern Interpretations of Queen Urduha:

Urduha for Survival Arts by  Bayani Art

Urduha for Survival Arts by Bayani Art

Julia Saubier as Queen Urduha for Binibining Pilipinas 2019

Julia Saubier as Queen Urduha for Binibining Pilipinas 2019