Princess Urduja, Legendary Warrior Princess

Scout - Princess Urduja  by Frohboy

Scout - Princess Urduja by Frohboy

Princess Urduja is a legendary 14th-century warrior princess of the dynastic Kingdom of Tawalisi in Pangasinan, a vast area by the shores of the Lingayen Gulf and the China Sea. Though whether or not she actually existed is in contention among scholars, she is still considered a popular heroine and Philippine icon, especially in Pangasinan. The ruler of Tawalisi, according to firsthand accounts by Muslim scholar Ibn Battuta from Morocco, possessed many ships and was a rival of China, which was then ruled by the Mongol dynasty. Urduja is often described as tall and beautiful with golden bronze skin and dark hair, clad in gold, and was famous for leading an army of strong women warriors adept in sword fighting and horseback riding called Kinalakihan or Amazons. She is also believed to be multi-dialect which is a common characteristic of nobles in pre-colonial Philippines.The name Urduja appears to be Sanskrit in origin, and a variation of the name “Udaya”, meaning “arise” or “rising sun”, or the name “Urja”, meaning “breath”.

The only firsthand account of Princess Urduja is found in the travelogues of the Islamic writer Ibn Battuta. In his diaries, Battuta narrated his journey as he passed by the province of Pangasinan on his way to Canton, China, in the year 1347. He was appointed as an honorary citizen of a kingdom named Tawalisi which was ruled by a king with a daughter named Urduja. Urduja had proven herself in battle where her brother had fallen short, and so was granted charge over much of the kingdom. Battuta described Urduja as a warrior princess who personally fought in battles and duels and led a retinue of skilled female warriors riding on horseback. The Philippines' national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, in Dr. Austin Craig's 1916 paper "Particulars of the Philippines' Pre-Spanish Past" was quoted as saying in one of his letters: "While I may have doubts regarding the accuracy of Ibn Batuta's details, I still believe in the voyage to Tawalisi". Rizal based his speculations on his own calculation of the time and distance of travel Battuta took to sail from China to Tawalisi.

Restituto Basa (author of Footnotes on Pangasinan History and The Story of Dagupan) believes that Urduja was not a Pangasinense but a Cambodian. He asserts that the one who should be honored as a heroine of Pangasinan is Princess Kabontatala, daughter of the ruler of Barangay Domalandan, who married the Chinese pirate Lim-Ahong and helped him dig a canal to escape from the Spanish forces who blockaded the mouth of the Agno River.

tracing urduja through indigenous ancestral lineage

Oil painting of a native warrior princess by Cesar Amorsolo, 1956

Oil painting of a native warrior princess by Cesar Amorsolo, 1956

The Ibaloi tribe of the Cordillera region are said to trace their ancestry from Urduja, the name “Urduja” rendered as “Deboxah” or “Debuca” in the Ibaloi language, and refers to a strong woman of noble descent. 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 generations 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 Batuta'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.

Urduja in popular Culture

Collage by Sean for  The Thing

Collage by Sean for The Thing

Urduja's story has inspired generations of girls and women and gives us a peek into the drastically different gender roles of our precolonial past compared to today. Parents and teachers tell her story like they would a fairytale, or the biography of Gabriela Silang, an 18th-century revolutionary, or Tandang Sora, a granny who fed members of the Katipunan. The office and official residence of the governor of Pangasinan is known as the Urduja Palace or Urduja House, and its entryway currently contains a famous Urduja portrait by Antonio Gonzalez Dumlao (1954), acquired by the provincial government in 2011. It sits alongside a Fernando Amorsolo painting, also of the princess, commissioned by Governor Conrado Estrella, the first governor to actually hold residence in Urduja House. In his efforts to promote pre-Hispanic Filipino icons, National Artist Fernando Amorsolo made several paintings in the 1950s depicting Princess Urduja. In 2008, the first Philippine-made feature-length animated film Urduja was released, based on Princess Urduja's legend.


Resources: Wikipilipinas, "Princess Urduja" by Chit Balmaceda Guiterrez, Filipinas Magazine June l999, Wikipedia


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