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The Maharlika were the feudal warrior class in ancient Tagalog society in Luzon the Philippines translated in Spanish as Hidalgos, and meaning freeman, libres or freedman.[1] 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.[2]


In various Indo-Malayan languages (including the languages of the Muslim areas of the Philippines) the cognates mardika, merdeka, merdeheka, or maradika mean "freedom" (as opposed to servitude).[3]

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.[3]


The Maharlika were a martial class of Freemen.[4] 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.[2]

Unlike the Timawa, however, the Maharlika were more militarily-oriented than the Timawa nobility of the Bisayas.[5] 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,[2] as exemplified by the action of Rajah Humabon upon the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan.[citation needed]

History and current usage[edit]

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.[6][5]

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.[2]

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”.[2][7]

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.[8][9]

The modern use of Maharlika persists in original Philippine music (OPM), to be in the lyrics of "Ako ay Filipino", one of the most highly embraced patriotic song of the Philippines:

Ako ay Pilipino

(original lyrics)

I am a Filipino

(unofficial English translation)

Ako ay Pilipino I am a Filipino
Ang dugo'y Maharlika Of blood Maharlika
Likas sa aking puso Innate to my heart
Adhikaing kay ganda Is a goal so fair
Sa Pilipinas na aking bayan For the Philippines my motherland
Lantay na Perlas ng Silanganan Pearl of the Orient so pristine
Wari'y natipon ang kayamanan ng Maykapal. Seems all the riches of our Creator has abound.
Bigay sa 'king talino A gift to me of wisdom
Sa mabuti lang laan Is only served for good
Sa aki'y katutubo Within me it's natural
Ang maging mapagmahal. To be everloving.
Ako ay Pilipino, I am a Filipino,
Ako ay Pilipino I am a Filipino
Isang bansa, isang diwa One nation, one spirit
Ang minimithi ko Is what I dream of
Sa bayan ko't bandila To my flag and my country
Laan buhay ko't diwa Offer my life and spirit
Ako ay Pilipino, I am a Filipino
Pilipinong totoo. A Filipino for real.
Ako ay Pilipino, I am a Filipino,
Ako ay Pilipino I am a Filipino
Taas noo kahit kanino Head raised high to anyone
Ang Pilipino ay ako! The Filipino is me.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott, William Henry (1992). Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino and Other Essays in the Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. ISBN 971-10-0524-7. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Paul Morrow (January 16, 2009). "Maharlika and the ancient class system". Pilipino Express. Retrieved July 18, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b John. M. Lipski, with P. Mühlhaüsler and F. Duthin (1996). "Spanish in the Pacific". In Stephen Adolphe Wurm & Peter Mühlhäusler. Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas: Texts, Volume 2 (PDF). Walter de Gruyter. p. 276. ISBN 9783110134179. 
  4. ^ Samuel K. Tan (2008). A History of the Philippines. UP Press. p. 40. ISBN 9789715425681. 
  5. ^ a b William Henry Scott (1994). Barangay: sixteenth-century Philippine culture and society. Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 9789715501354. 
  6. ^ Laura Lee Junker (2000). Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms. Ateneo de Manila University Press. p. 126–127. ISBN 9789715503471. 
  7. ^ Quimpo, Nathan Gilbert. Filipino nationalism is a contradiction in terms, Colonial Name, Colonial Mentality and Ethnocentrism, Part One of Four, "Kasama" Vol. 17 No. 3 / July–August–September 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network, cpcabrisbance.org
  8. ^ Wolfgang Bethge. "King Philipp II and the Philippines". Literary Bridge Philippines. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ Nathan Gilbert Quimpo (2003). "Colonial Name, Colonial Mentality and Ethnocentrism". Kasama 17 (3). 

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