By Periklis Deligiannis
The Insular world of Indonesia, Insular Malaysia (Sarawak, Sabah), Brunei and the Philippines had a long military tradition before the appearance of the European seafarers and colonists on their seas. Indonesia and Insular Malaysia already had influences on their warfare and weaponry mainly from the Hindu and Islamic civilizations of India, and less from Indochina, while the Philippines were under the military influence mainly of East Asia in total but actually the Philippines’s tribes were mainly based on their own native tribal warfare and weaponry. Excluding the culturally Indianized and later Islamized Indonesian and Malaysian nobility, the native tribal character was also dominant among most Indonesian and Insular Malaysian warriors.
In the early 16th century, the first European seafarers appeared on the seas of the Philippines, Indonesia and Insular Malaysia, pioneered by the Spanish expedition of Magellan (Magellan himself was a Portuguese at the service of the Spaniards). The Spaniards and the Portuguese were the first to settle there as traders and colonists, to be followed by the Dutch and the British.
The Spaniards annexed the Philippines while the Portuguese were established mainly in eastern Indonesia, but the latter were gradually replaced by the aggressive Dutch throughout Indonesia, eventually retaining only the possession of East Timor and the distant Macau in China. Later the British annexed the principalities of Sarawak and Sabah in Northern Borneo (Kalimantan).
The traditional Indian, Indochinese, Chinese and Korean influence on the native armor was followed in the 16th century by the European influence on it. The cuirasses of the natives went on following mainly the Asiatic patterns but a European Renaissance influence was also evident mainly from the 17th century and on. But the main European influence appeared on the construction of the native helmets which seem to have been rare before the colonists’ arrival even among the martial nobility.
From the 16th to the early 20th centuries, several warriors of modern Indonesia, Insular Malaysia (Sarawak, Sabah) and the Philippines (mostly wealthy fighting men) were using European-inspired helmets of the Cabasset, Morion, Burgonet and other types. These types were very popular especially among the warriors of the Moro people of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan (indigenous Moslems of the Philippines, renowned for their martial spirit). The Moro were renowned for their resistance against the Spanish and American sovereigns of the Philippines, as was the case for other groups and peoples of the same islands and Indonesia. Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch influence since the 16th c. combined with Indonesian, Malaysian, Philippine and Moro-Philippine bronze casting tradition resulted in helmets and armor which suited the warfare and techniques of the indigenous peoples and also embraced European influence.
Today only two iron helmets of European style from the Philippines or Indonesia survive, all the other being bronze. Some time ago it was considered that most of the European-inspired helmets were manufactured locally by European blacksmiths or by indigenous bronze smiths in the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch colonial factories manufacturing weapons for the colonial troops, but this does not seem to be the case. At first we have to make clear that the European-made helmets of the colonial Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch troops or the same helmets offered as gifts to the native nobles, are something very different from the European-inspired but indigenous-made helmets. The style of the latter is also basically Western (Morion, Burgonet and others) but the native influence is too obvious and clearly makes them distinct from the European-made helmets of the Island World of Southeast Asia. Excluding some Western-made helmets with indigenous influence (in decoration or design) destined to be offered as gifts to local aristocrats, all the other European-inspired but with native influence in their design helmets are clearly made by the indigenous Indonesian and Philippine smiths for the native warriors. Especially the Moro people were well known manufacturers of this kind of helmets until the 19th century.
In the following collection of pictures there are some indigenous European-style helmets and some European proper helmets used by the natives. There are also some plate-and-mail cuirasses, very popular to the same islands, of Indian, Chinese and Korean style. Some of them bear obvious European features. And finally, I also present a few shields and arms (spears and swords) of the same islands.
A Moro warrior around 1900, with a Burgonet type helmet, a richly decorated shield and plate-and-mail armour.