[This is part of a collection of posts serializing the second chapter of Pasyon, Awit, Legend.]
Colonial authorities labeled the long-standing tradition of resistance at San Mateo banditry, and the inhabitants of the region, tulisanes. Telesforo Canseco, the overseer of the Dominican hacienda in Naic, Cavite, wrote of
the bandits (tulisanes) of San Mateo with long beards whom we have called tulisan pulpul, are men who are dedicated to robbing and committing crimes and have taken to the mountains (remontarse) and have lived for many years in the mountains of San Mateo, where even the Spanish have not been able to reach them.
Noceda y Sanlucar, Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, 1754 edition
Noceda and Sanlucar in the 1860 edition of Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala defined tulisan as “malhechor, salteador; de tulis, agudo” [evil-doer, highwayman; from tulis, sharp.] The etymon of tulisan is tulis, to sharpen. Tulis is an Austronesian root which developed into the Malay tulisan, writing, a significance related to the sharpened implement which was used for scratching letters into the leaves of the lontar palm. Tulis thus had pluripotent significance, waiting to be sharpened into one or the other of at least two possible meanings. As the Spaniards supplanted and destroyed Philippine writing systems, the highly literate native populations were driven to orality; tulis came to mean banditry.
The word tulisan, as banditry, was appropriated by the Spanish. Felix Ramos y Duarte in his 1898 Diccionario de mejicanismos defines tulis as “ladron, ratero” (bandit, pickpocket). Tulis, rather than tulisan, had entered Mexican Spanish by the late nineteenth century as a word meaning bandit. The Diccionario Porrua attributes the origin of the word ‘tulises’ to a ‘grupo de bandoleros del Edo. De Durango’ who escaped from the jail of the town of San Andres de Teúl, in approximately 1859. Most notable among them was the famous bandolero, El Cucaracho. From Teúl the dictionary derives the word tulis as bandit. Gironiere, among others, was already using ‘tulisan’ as a Tagalog word for bandit long before these events in Teúl, thus ruling out this etymological reconstruction.
An alternative etymology has been proposed by Paloma Albalá Hernández in her Americanismos en las Indias del Poniente. She suggests a Náhuatl origin for the word, deriving tulisán from “tule, planta de la que se hace el petate, que etimológicamente procede de la voz náhuatl tullín o tolin, según Molina (1571) ‘juncia o espadaña’ y según Siméon (1885) tollin o tullin ‘junco, juncia, carrizo’.” [“tule, plant used in making bedrolls, proceeding etymologically from the náhuatl tullin or tolin, according to Molina (1571), sedge or bulrush, and according to Siméon (1885) tollin or tullin, rush, sedge, reed-grass.”] No further explanation is given for this proposed etymology, but it would seem that petate, bedrolls, were considered a standard item of the bandolero, and since these bedrolls were made from tule, the bandoleros became known as tulis. Teresita A. Alcantara follows the same path for the entrance of tulis into Tagalog. This etymology seems far-fetched.
It would seem likely that the word tulisan traveled from Manila to Acapulco in the final years of the galleon trade. Teul, in the Estado de Durango, was on the west coast of the Mexican isthmus, north of Acapulco. En route, the word also entered Chamorro, as tulisan rather than tulis. Chamorro is an Austronesian language and Chamorro speakers would have found the desinence -an familiar.
Regardless of the path taken by the word ‘tulisan’ in its transpacific peregrination, what is important is that there was a specific historical phenomenon in the nineteenth century in both Mexico and the Philippines with which the word was associated: social banditry.
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