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The Juramentados and the Colt M1911 Myth

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.

Moro warriors.

Moro warriors.

The history of the Philippines is both fascinating, and blurred all the same. It may surprise you with discoveries, and never before seen facts that will change the way you see Filipino cultures. Beyond what is always written in school books and history texts are rich and colorful traditions, stories of heroism, or long-lost customs. But admittedly, those so-called facts are sometimes plagued with exaggerated tales, revisionisms, fabricated truth and stuffs meant to entertain rather to inform.

And a series of horrific encounters during the Philippine-American War showed us how truths could get mixed with tall-tales.

The Filipino Moro warrior was a frightening sight to behold. They were a force to reckon with during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. And these guys won ‘t go down without a fight, literally, even when faced with a more technologically advanced enemy. After going through religious rituals, they will charge head on towards their chosen target. Taking shots along the way and hacking their enemies to death before expiring due to bullet wounds. This made the American soldiers carry heavier weapons, to stop this charging suicidal warriors before their short swords reach them. It’s an accepted fact how this fearsome class of men affected the weapon of choice for these soldiers. But there was also a story that the Moro warriors gave birth to the legendary Colt M1911. How true is the story? To be honest, not at all.

The Threats of the Juramentados Were Real

The moro barong sword.

The moro barong sword.

Just to be clear, the records were true. The .38 caliber issued to American soldiers at that time wasn’t enough to stop Juramentado attacks. Killing a charging enemy was one thing, stopping him was another.

The term “juramentado” came from the Spanish word “juramentar” meaning “one who takes an oath.” Among Tausugs, it was known as parrang sabbil. Whereas it was a combination of Malayan word for “war” (perang) and the shortened Arab word “sabil Allah”, which meant in the path of God. And the etymology itself summed up what a juramentado was.

A juramentado refers to a Moro warrior, who participated in targeted killings with no regards to personal survival. It was a form of suicide rampage, considered as Jihad where martyrdom was achieved through death in combat. A modern-day terrorist, or a suicide bomber may come in mind to the less knowledgeable, but the juramentados were a far outcry from these mass murderers. For one thing, juramentado kills were limited to combatants, not to the general civilian populations. For another, it took greater skills and courage to be a juramentado. Those who chose to take such paths were trained swordsmen, who will charge head on amidst a barrage of bullets, with a possibility of slow death due to gun-shot wounds. Modern suicide bombers will head out behind enemy lines, in unarmed populations and perish quickly in a push of a detonator.

Preparation for the Attack

A dead Juramentado

A dead Juramentado

Muslim men, who wished to perform such act known as mag-sabil, would first undergo training and preparations. After taking an oath, with hand on Qur’an, the participant will be given a ritual bath reserved for the dead. Since it was a suicide mission, the participant was already considered dead, and the ritualistic bath ensured his readiness to enter the afterlife. He will be bathed three times facing east, and three times facing west, and three times on his back. His hair was shaven, his eyebrow plucked, and even the fingernails were trimmed. He will head out clad in specially made white clothing (the color of choice for the dead's shroud).

The juramentados wielded blades, like the kris, or barong, which he polished and sharpened before staging the attack. He will charge head on after shouting “La ilaha il-la'l-lahu" ("There is no god but Allah") and kill as many as possible, before perishing in a stream of gun fire. The use of intelligence and their knowledge of surprise attacks made these warrior-martyrs hard to combat.

Combating the Juramentados

Colt Single Action Army revolver.

Colt Single Action Army revolver.

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Again, it was true that the .38 calibre pistol issued to American soldiers wasn’t enough to effectively stop juramentado attacks. It was well documented how these men chased soldiers, and kept on going even after being shot several times. Killing the enemy, and stopping him from doing harm was actually two different things, and it was clear that the Colt 1892 wasn’t suitable for this type of confrontations. Hence, the army shifted to heavier pistol caliber, and revived the old Colt .45.

Now, a .45 caliber round, and the weapon that fired it was already in existence even before the Philippine-American War. The Colt Single Action Army revolver was in service since 1873, but was replaced by the .38 model due to less recoil and ease of handling. But experiences in Juramentado attacks led to the readoption of the .45 Colt, which proved more effective on stopping frenzied attacks. This gave birth to a number of myths, particularly in Filipino Martial Arts communities, that the .45 caliber was invented to fight rampaging Moros. In addition, soldiers carried pump action Winchester shotgun loaded with buckshot. An Annual Report by General Leonard Wood indicated the heavy caliber pistol, and the shotgun offered protection against the Juramentados:

“It is thought that the .45 caliber revolver (Constabulary Model 1902) is the one which should be issued to troops throughout the Army… Instances have repeatedly been reported during the past year where native have been shot through-and-through several time with a .38 caliber revolver, and have come on, cutting up the unfortunate individual armed with it… The .45 caliber revolver stops a man in his tracks, usually knocking him down… It is also recommended that each company be furnished with 12-guage Winchester repeating shotguns… There is no weapon in our possession equal to the shotgun loaded with buckshot.”

Then, there was another myth going around, stating that the Colt M1911 model was specially made for the juramentados. A myth that was untrue for an obvious reason.

The Colt M1911

This gun was issued years after the Philippine American War.

This gun was issued years after the Philippine American War.

But again, the notion that the Colt M1911 was made to fight the juramentados was false. The Moro warriors did influence the development of such weapon, but it was never made to fight them. In fact, it was never carried by American soldiers during the Philippine-American War.

Like the Colt Single Action Army, firearm enthusiasts consider the M1911 as a classic weapon, with a legend of its own. It saw its greatest battle during the two World Wars, but not in the Juramentado confrontations. The model number itself is actually the year it was introduced, 1911. Years after the Philippine-American War. Hence, there was no way it saw action in Mindanao.

And as easy as that, the myth was busted.

Truth vs Myth

From here, we could separate what was true, and what was obvious exaggerations.

Firstly, were the truth.

It was an accepted historical fact that suicidal Moro warriors known as juramentados could not be easily stopped by .38 Colt, the firearm caliber issued at that time in the U.S. army. They could be killed by those rounds, but not after doing enough damages and terrors to the American side. Hence, soldiers readopted their old .45 Colt, made years before. The confrontations with these suicidal warriors also influenced future firearm developements.

Then there was the myth.

The .45 caliber was not invented to fight the Moros, in fact it was already in existence long before the Philippine-American War. Plus, the Colt M1911 was never made to fight the juramentados, since it was adopted in 1911 as what the model number indicated.


  1. "Juramentados and the Development of the Colt .45 caliber Model 1911" (29 June 2014).
  2. Langer, Edward (15 September 2019.). "The United States Army Quest for a Modern Semiautomatic Pistol."

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