The Corporate Slave -Part 1

Your order books are full, you can sell everything you can make and the forward orders might just get you into Forbes. The 500, not the park.
Problem: you need warm bodies on the production line. So you call in your Human Resources Manager and he… does what? This is after all the late 1700s in Jolo and you’re the Sultan of Sulu, a Taosug aristocrat, and rule from southern Mindanao to North Borneo and the Celebes. There
won’t be a classified page until, at best, 1811. You could wait until 1860 and get a free six-line slave wanted ad for free by subscribing to the Diario De Manila, but a century is an awfully long time to wait for the hired help.

You need people to produce deliverables. So, you indent for a kampilan from the company stores, get the transportation department to send 1,000 company bancas around to the front door, load up your lantakas with powder and shot and go off for some serious recruitment in Leyte, Samar, Luzon and wherever else doesn’t have kampilan, lantakas and customers screaming for product.

It was in the 18th century that the slave-raiding business-model changed from one of securing a product, slaves, to sell around the region to one of of acquiring a labour force to produce product to sell to the British for their trade with China.

Don’t think of it as slavery, think of it as hard core recruitment.

In truth, the ‘Moros’ get a bad press when it comes to slavery… er… recruitment, everybody did it. Way back in the 12th century the Visayans were raiding for slaves as far away as Fukien province in China for much the same reason as today’s Singapore government asks big Singaporeans to make more little Singaporeans. Until the mid-19th century population growth rates in much of Southeast Asia ran at the 0.8-1 per cent mark. That’s fine in a stable, internally constructed economy but if the economy enters the global marketplace and runs with the bulls you need what used to be called ‘personnel’ (Before that they were called employees’ but that really dates me) and is today called ‘human resources’. Youneed what computer nerddom calls ‘wetware’ and the rest of us call ‘people’.

Thanks to the British cuppa, the folks in Sulu needed lots of wetware. Hence the .human resource managers of the Sulu Archipelago went off with their ‘made in Sheffield, England’ swords and krisses, manufactured on the other side of the world, so the Brits could get their Orange Pekoe and Earl Grey for breakfast and the Datus of the south could chase dragons in their dreams.

Yes, it was the Brits fault,

In the 17 th century, tea became big in Britain. I mean, really, really big, even bigger than K-Pop and Netflix. Tea came from China, so the Brits
had to trade with China big time. The problem was that the British really didn’t have much the Chinese wanted, except opium produced in their other colonies on the Indian continent. Smoking opium was called ‘chasing the dragon’. Generally, the Brits had to pay for their tea with silver, hard  (You know, of course, that ‘cash’ originally referred to a Chinese coin? And that compressed tea bricks were used as money?).

The Chinese did, however, take to pleasantly smelly things like camphor and sandalwood, wanted to chew on sea-slug, drink bird’s nest soup, and look at pearls, none of which was produced in Britain but was produced in Sulu and elsewhere in what would one day become Philippine waters. Oh, there was also

The Brits did have excellent steel, mass-produced in Sheffield in the Midlands. Sweatshop factories there began churning out a variety of Filipino-
style swords, knives and other paraphernalia. It also had good gunpowder and cannon. It was better than the local product and cheaper, just what your fashionable Taosug aristocrat needed to keep his minor Datus in line.

So, the Brits brought their stuff to Sulu, through a trading post in Balambagan, an island near Borneo leased to the East India Company thanks to a deal between Alexander Dalrymple and Sultan Bantilan of Sulu, aka, Muizz ud-Dinn. It was Sultan Bantilan’s son, Alimmudin II who granted Northern Borneo, Southern Palawan and the fiddly bits in between to the East India Company and laid the foundations for the Philippine claim to Sabah.

Yup, it’s all the Brits fault, again.

In Sulu, the Brits exchanged their goods for stuff they could trade with the Chinese for tea without tapping into their silver reserves and all were happy. The Chinese got what they wanted, the British got their cuppas and the Sulu Datus were
on a roll.

Exports of sea slug from Jolo went from around 61 tonnes in 1761 to more than 600 tonnes in 1835. Wax went from 18 tonnes to 61 tonnes in the same period. Mother of Pearl exports zoomed from 121 tonnes to nearly 730 tonnes and cinnamon from 12 tonnes to more than 600 tonnes, a lot of coffee rolls.

Everybody got well. Except for the slaves. With business booming in Sulu, who going to dive for pearls, collect the sea-slugs and gather the beeswax and camphor that the new expanding market demanded? Sulu needed manpower and went out to get it.

The Iranun became the employment specialists for the Taosug. They were originally known as I-Lanaw-en and probably originated around Lake Lanao then migrated to the southern coast of Mindanao.

The term Iranun, or Illanun, was later misused promiscuously to describe all slave raiders.

Also from the islands off the southern Mindanao coast came the Balangingi of the Samal island group. These and the Iranun traditionally raided for slaves to sell to the Taosug.

This was an international recruitment campaign. Thousands of ocean-going 30 metre long prahus surged across the Philippines, hitting the Visayas, Luzon and as far north as the Batanes. They raided the west coast of Borneo, went through the South China Sea through the Straits of Malacca and the Bay of Bengal, the Straits of Makassar and hit New Guinea and Java.

Next episode

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