Not to be confused with the War in Mindanao and Sulu that lasted from 1949 to 1967

Great War in Mindanao and Sulu
Malaking Digmaan sa Mindanao at Sulu (Filipino)
Pertempuran Besar di Mindanao dan Sulu (Malay)
A painting of a native Manobo warrior slaying a Spanish soldier during the battle between the Rajahnate of Bukidnon and the Spanish forces
Date 1521-1900
Location Mindanao, Sulu Archipelago
  • Spanish forces fail to conquer and subdue all of Mindanao
    *Sultanate of Sulu and Lanao emerge victorious
    *Spanish forces defeats Rajahnates of Bukidnon and Butuan
    *Spanish forces defeat Sultnates of Maguindanao and Buluan
    *Buluan becomes Spanish vassal state
    *Alliance is dissolved
    *Americans help Sultanates of Lanao and Sulu vanquish remaining Spanish forces
Great Alliance of Six
Sultanate of Maguindanao
Sultanate of Sulu
Sultanate of Buluan
Sultanate of Lanao
Rajahnate of Butuan
Rajahnate of Bukidnon
(Supported by)
US flag 45 stars United States (1989-1900)
A World of Difference Flag of Ming China Ming Dynasty (1560-1644)
Flag of the Qing Dynasty (1889-1912) Qing Dynasty (1785-1898)
Flag of the United Kingdom British Empire (1700-1822)
Flag of Cross of Burgundy Spanish Empire
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Spanish Philippines
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Spanish Cuba
Commanders and leaders
Rajah Aluy
Rajah Kalahap
Sultan Maka-Alang
Sultan Bangkaya
Sultan Dimansankay
Sultan Salikula
Sultan K. Laut Buisan
Sultan Kudarat
Sultan Amirul-Umara
Sultan Muizzul-Mutawadi-in
Sultan Nasirud-Din
Sultan Bantilan
Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II
Datu Ahmad †
Datu Sulayman †
Datu Kalun
Datu Piang
Flag of Cross of Burgundy King Phillip II
Flag of Cross of Burgundy King Philip III
Flag of Cross of Burgundy King Charles II
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Miguel López de Legazpi
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Guido de Lavezaris
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Cristóbal Téllez de Almanza
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Juan de Chavez
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Bobadilla
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Mariquina
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Don Cristóbal
Flag of Spain (1785-1873 and 1875-1931) Don Pablo

The Great War in Mindanao and Sulu (Filipino: Malaking Digmaan sa Mindanao at Sulu, Malay: Pertempuran Besar di Mindanao dan Sulu, Spanish: Gran Guerra en Mindanao y Sulu) also known as the Great War in the South (Filipino: Malaking Digmaan sa Timog, Malay: Pertempuran Besar di Selatan, Spanish: Gran Guerra del Sur) was a near 400-year long conflict between the native kingdoms in the Philippine islands of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago against the Spanish Empire and their Filipino cohorts and native collaborators. While the Spanish gained the upper hand during the earlier parts of the war, they eventually weakened, caved in and collapsed in the latter parts.

It began as war between the Spanish Empire and a six-kingdom alliance in Mindanao, namely the Sultanates of Maguindanao, Sulu, Lanao and Buluan and the Rajahnates of Butuan and Bukidnon. The latter two previously accepted Spanish colonization and Roman Catholicism, and were integrated as vassal states to the Spanish Empire. However, their rulers rebelled and joined their southern Moro Muslim counterparts in fighting the Spanish Empire. The six rulers signed a pact, and formed the "Great Alliance of Six".

The Spanish Empire eventually ended up vanquishing two of the six kingdoms, decisively defeating the Rajahnates of Butuan (1526) and Bukidnon (1525). It slowly, narrowly and barely defeated the Sultanates of Maguindanao (1675) and Buluan (1680), with Buluan accepting its status as an autonomous protectorate of the Spanish Empire - effectively dissolving the alliance. However, it could not conquer the Sultanate of Sulu or the Sultanate of Lanao, who used reinforced strength, constant guerillia-style warfare and exploited the weakness of the Spanish forces due to them having to exhaust their military means fighting the forces of Maguindanao and Buluan. In addition, ex-Maguindanaon soldiers were employed by the armies of Sulu and Lanao to avenge their loss.

The Sultanate of Sulu eventually grew too powerful, and invaded the Zamboanga Peninsula to drive the Spanish forces away, after successfully taking over their forts and establishing their own stronghold.

The fighting persisted all throughout, and in that time-frame, a number of kingdoms had provided support to the native armies of Mindanao as the Spanish Empire had common enemies. The Spanish also had to repeatedly deal with their native Filipino collaborators rebelling and joining the native armies of Mindanao and Sulu. One example was Cavite-native Datu Calun (born Pedro Javier Cuevas), who first took part in the un-related Cavite Rebellion, then joined the Royal Sulu Army under the reign of Sultan Ali-ud Din of Sulu. Therefore the Spanish retaliated by implementing harsh policies on Filipino natives, involving temporary bans against Filipinos from serving in the Imperial Spanish Army from time to time. The Chinese and later the British, provided weapons to the Sultanate of Sulu, who wanted to become a protectorate of the British Empire. This resulted in a proxy war between Spanish and British forces. The Chinese also provided aid to the Sultanate of Lanao, and Maguindanaon militants from the former sultanates of Maguindanao and Buluan. The Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo was successfully grafted into the British Empire via a protectorate status upon Spanish defeat. In 1898s, Americans armed and helped the Moros vanquish the remaining Spanish forces away from Mindanao and Sulu Archipelago.

As to who emerged victorious is a point of conflict. To the Moro and Filipino nationalists, it was a victory for the Alliance since the Spanish could not subdue all of the kingdoms and subsequently failed to do so, miserably. To Spanish historians and Hispanophilic Filipinos, it was a Spanish and Filipino victory since by defeating four of the six kingdoms, they had successfully vanquished and dissolved the alliance.

The war has had great impacts on Philippine society. The war influenced another armed struggle of a similar name that lasted from 1949 to 1967 under the leadership of Maguindanaon leader Gumbay Piang against the Philippine government. Paradoxically, the president responsible for ending that armed struggle, Ferdinand Marcos, declared all of the rulers that fought against the Spanish Empire in the Great War as National Heroes of the Philippines, starting with the rulers of the Great Alliance of Six.

History and timeline


The natives of the island groups of Luzon, Visayas and Palawan generally did not resist Spanish rule. Spanish misssionaries were able to convert the indigenous populations of Palawan, Visayas and Manila to Roman Catholicism. One exception would by Rajah Sulayman, the Islamic rajah of Manila at the time of Spanish encounter, as well as Tarik Sulayman, a Muslim datu from modern-day Pampanga would died in Bangkusay Channel.

Palawan was a territory that was under possession of the Sultanate of Sulu, previously by the Bruneian Empire. However, Spanish missionaries were able to convert almost all of the Muslim datus and rajahs to Roman Catholicism, taking the regular people with them.

The Spanish split into three groups: Miguel López de Legazpi and Ferdinand Magellan takes care of Visayas, Martín de Goiti took care of Luzon. However, no specific conquistador was assigned to Mindanao, which had been explored by Ruy López de Villalobos in 1515. Villalobos befriended the native kingdoms in northern Mindanao, particularily Rajah Aluy of Bukidnon and Rajah Kalahap, the Muslim ruler of Butuan. Villalobos had brought soldiers with him, not as an invasion force, but more of a mere protection group. However, he did bring Spanish Catholic missionaries, of whome Rajah Aluy and Rajah Kalahap invited with open arms into their kingdoms, allowing the royalty and the indigenous peoples to be converted to Roman Catholicism. Legazpi had assumed Mindanao was taken care of.

Rajah Aluy and Rajah Kalahap allowed themselves and their families to be converted and baptized to Roman Catholicism. Rajah Aluy took the name "Pedro" in honor of St. Peter, and Rajah Kalahap took the name "Felipe" in honor of King Philip II of Spain. The kingdoms of Butuan and Bukidnon were integrated as protectorates and vassal states of the Spanish Empire. Missionaries worked to convert the peoples of those kingdoms to Roman Catholicism, doing so successfully for the most part.

Due to the open arms the rulers of these two kingdoms treated the soldiers with, Villalobos continued to modern-day Indonesia, leaving the soldiers behind. The expeditions and occupation intents of the Spanish conquistadors were not met with welcome in central and southern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago, home to the Muslim kingdoms. 

Eventually feeling that they had been duped and tricked into surrendering their sovereignty, Rajah Aluy and Rajah Kalahap eventually travelled to Kota Batu (or Kuta Wato) to join the meeting with the rulers of the Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, Lanao and Buluan, namely: Sultan Saripada of Maguindanao, Sultan Amirul-Umara of Sulu, Sultan Saleh of Buluan and Sultan Karim of Lanao. Eventually, the six rulers signed a pact, and vowed to shed as much blood needed to fight the Spanish invaders. This formed the "Great Alliance Six". 

Back in their kingdoms, Rajah Aluy and Rajah Kalahap ordered the killing and slaying of Spanish soldiers and officers in their kingdoms. Aluy employed much more harsh policies, and ordered the killing of Roman Catholic missionaries. Two Spanish diplomats escaped to Visayas, where they notified soldiers of the betrayal.

In a letter to the New Spain Viceroyality in Mexico it read, "The ones who call themselves king Alóy [Aluy] and Caláhap [Kalahap], rulers of two realms in northern parts of the island of Mindanao, they betrayed us. They must be slain, and no mercy shown. Their realms must be met with force. They have allied themselves with the savage Mohammadens, the Moors [Muslims] of that island. Worse, they did so after accepting God's gift and mercy, they have toyed with their salvation and they must pay for it with their blood.


By the time the 1800s came, although Spaniards abandoned religious conversion projects in the south, the Roman Catholic missionaries did not stop there.

Many Muslim datus, sick of the constant fighting favored alliances with the Spanish rulers. Datu Jawa, a military leader for the Sultanate of Sulu portrayed this ideal, and was not met with welcome. Datu Garang, his colleague sent soldiers to look for him and kill him for treason. Datu Jawa converted to Roman Catholicism during a trip to Manila in 1870, the following year, his brothers, also datus, converted to Roman Catholicism. Datu Jawa took the name Pablo, and was baptized as Pablo Datujawa. For his cooperation, the Spanish promised he would be the next Sultan of Sulu. They also gave him control of land stretching from Basilan, to Zamboanga and Jolo. 

In 1811, another prominent Sulu prince by the name of Rajahmuda Salim ud-Din converted to Roman Catholicism, and was baptized with the name "Cristóbal". Both Sulu princes helped the Spanish fight the Moro pirates.

In 1885, the imprisonment of a Cavite-native rebel by the name of Pedro Javier Cuevas backfired on the Spanish. Cuevas took part in the un-related Cavite Rebellion, and used the Moro raids against Spanish Zamboanga to his advantage. He fled to Basilan via a vinta commandeered by a Yakan chief. After conquering villages and helping fight the Spanish, Cuevas took the name Datu Kalun from Sultan Ali ud-Din of Sulu.

The Moros used the American invasion of the Philippines to their advantage. Beaten and tired of constant-fighting with the Spanish, the Americans armed Moro and Lumad groups, incorporating the as native units and sections within the U.S. Armed Forces. For the most part, most Moros were okay with American occupation and used their help to vanquish the remaining Spanish forces away from Mindanao.