The Maharlika were the feudal warrior class in ancient Tagalog society in Luzon the Philippines. They belonged to the lower nobility class similar to the Timawa of the Visayan people. In modern Filipino, however, the term itself has erroneously come to mean "royal nobility", which was actually restricted to the hereditary Maginoo class.
The Merdicas (also spelled Mardicas or Mardikas), whose name comes from the same etymon, were also the Catholic natives of the islands of Ternate and Tidore of the Moluccas, converted during the Portuguese occupation of the islands by Jesuit missionaries. A number of Merdicas were resettled by the Spanish in the communities of Ternate and Tanza, Cavite, Manila in 1663.
The Maharlika were a martial class of Freemen. Like the Timawa, they were free vassals of their Datu who were exempt from taxes and tribute but were required to provide military service. In times of war, the Maharlika were obligated to provide and prepare weapons at their own expense and answer the summons of the Datu, wherever and whenever that might be, in exchange for a share in the war spoils (ganima). They accompanied their ruler in battles as comrades-at-arms and were always given a share. 1/5 of the spoils goes to the Ginoo and the 4/5 will be shared among the Maharlikans who participated, who in turn will subdivide their shares to their own warriors. The Maharlika may also occasionally be obligated to work on the lands of the Datu and assist in projects and other events in the community.
Unlike the Timawa, however, the Maharlika were more militarily-oriented than the Timawa nobility of the Bisayas. While the Maharlika could change allegiances by marriage or by emigration like the Timawa, they were required to host a feast in honor of their current Datu and paid a sum ranging from six to eighteen pieces of gold before they could be freed from their obligations. In contrast, the Timawa were free to change allegiances at any time, as exemplified by the action of Rajah Humabon upon the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan.
History and current usage
The only contemporary account of the Maharlika class was by the Franciscan friar Juan de Plasencia in the 16th century. He distinguished them from the hereditary nobility class of the Tagalogs (the maginoo class, which included the datu). The historian William Henry Scott believes that the class originated from high-status warriors who married into the maginoo blood or were perhaps remnants of the nobility class of a conquered line. Similar high-status warriors in other Philippine societies like that of the Bagobo and the Bukidnon did not inherit their positions, but were acquired through martial prowess.
During the “New Society Movement” (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan) era in the Philippines, former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos used the word Maharlika to uphold Filipino nationalism, incorrectly claiming that it referred to the ancient Filipino nobility and included the kings and princes of ancient Philippine society. Apart from recommending changing the name of the Philippines into "Maharlika", Marcos was influential in making "maharlika" a trendy name for streets, edifices, banquet halls, villages and cultural organizations. Marcos himself utilized the word to christen a highway, a broadcasting corporation, and the reception area of the Malacañan Palace.
Marcos's utilization of the word started during the Second World War. Marcos claimed that he had commanded a group of guerrillas known as the Maharlika Unit. Marcos also used maharlika as his personal nom de guerre, depicting himself as the most bemedalled anti-Japanese Filipino guerrilla soldier during World War II. During the Martial Law Period in the Philippines, the Philippine film industry produced a film entitled Maharlika to present his “war exploits”.
Despite the misconception of its meaning, "Maharlika" as a proposed new name for the Philippines remains popular among Muslim Filipinos, the Lumad, and other Filipino ethnic groups who fought the Spanish colonization. They view the name "Philippines" as a colonialist reminder of the ruler of their previous colonial masters.
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