Go to content

Main menu:



The sarimanok derived from a totem bird of the Maranao people, called " Itotoro".
According to the maranaos, the itotoro is a medium to the spirit world via its unseen twin spirit bird called: " Inikadowa".
According to the tradition,the sarimanok is never displayed by itself.
It must be displayed with the set of flags, standards and vexilloids but they can be displayed without it.
At present this is not totally true ; we can find out the sarimanok placed on the top of the payong of a Sultan or dignitary and also the Mindanao State University has adopted it for the graduation exercises following a non-traditional use.
In the Maranao tradition we can find out many kind of birds:The "Nori ", a talking messenger bird; the "Limo ken ", an omen bird of the forest and farm and the "Mera bolawan " (golden peacock ).This bird is placed on the top of the "sambolayan a mera", one of the three gonfalons and vexilloids, with the pasandalang and payong aboard of the ship called :" Rimantao Mapalao ",a magical warship of the Kingdom of Bembaran.

Akram Latip, a maranao scholar gave us a different interpretation of the meaning of Sarimanok , here his words : "Almost all Sarimanok are designed and made by Tugaya craftsmen. When I was a kid I used to ask them where did it came from and who was the first to make a Sarimanok. I haven't really found a very convincing answer. Some says its from "Tonong" or Diwata while others says it is the ... See Moretwins of humans. Some says it's the tribute of the Meranao to the "Matirem" a wild rooster that dwells in the forest with other spirits.
My conjecture is that the Sarimanok is a Bruneian influence. When I was in Kampong Ayer in Bandar Seri Begawan (capital of Brunei) there were stone islands which are said to be fighting roosters turned into stones. For details of this legend read the article here:

Tales about Lumut Lunting and Pilong-Pilongan

by Rozan Yunos

There are two islands on Brunei Bay which are more interesting than all the others. One is called Pulau Pilong-Piolongan and the other very much smaller, more like a raised sandbank called Lumut Lunting.
Lumut Lunting is situated in between Pulau Sibungur and Pulau Berambang and is located at the mouth of the Brunei River whereas Pulau Pilong-Pilongan is out in the sea nearer to Muara.
Both islands - Lumut Lunting and Pulau Pilong-Pilongan have been associated with an old legend that stretched back in time to more than 500 years ago.
The origin of both islands have been chronicled in the Syair Awang Semaun, which is equivalent to the local folklores or in English known as the oral tradition of Awang Semaun’s epic poems. The story was said to have taken place in the early days of the first sultanate of Awang Alak Betatar around the 14th century. In those days, Brunei Darussalam was still a vassal state of the Majapahit Empire.
Awang Alak Betatar was the first ruler of the new Brunei Sultanate and as a vassal state, Brunei pays an annual tribute to the King of Majapahit. The tribute was made up of 40 ships laden with camphor to be paid to the Majapahit Empire from Brunei. Brunei’s camphor was considered to be among the best in the region then. Though some legends talk about a much smaller amount of 40 kati (roughly equal to about 24 kilograms).
During that time, a rooster owned by Awang Senuai, a nephew of Awang Alak Betatar was known for its ability to win all the cockfights that it competed against. A cockfight is of course a fight between two specially trained and conditioned roosters with spectators betting on the outcome of the fight. Most fights end up with the death of one or both roosters.
This came to the attention of Raden Angsuka Dewa who also owned another rooster named Asmara which is said to be equal to Mutiara. Asmara was well taken care of by his owner – eating from a golden plate that was hung high and given a special coop. Asmara was said to be strong, smart and possessed a special power. When he crowed upon entering Brunei, the local cocks were so terrified that they did not crow for several days.
The King of Majapahit dictated that should he lose he will give the 40 ships laden with goods to Brunei; but should he win, he will gain more territories of Brunei which it owns and controls then. Another version talked about should Brunei lose, it will continue to be a vassal state of Majapahit.
Both Asmara and Mutiara were both meticulously trained for the cockfight in front of the Sultan’s Palace. On the day of the fight, many people came to watch it. The fight commenced with the roosters pouncing, pecking, attacking and kicking each other cheered on by the excited spectators. Suddenly Asmara flew out of the ring followed by Mutiara. Asmara had been stabbed during the fight and was seriously injured. Asmara fled out of sight and succumbing to his wound, fell down into the sea turning into a rock becoming an island (Pulau Pilong-Pilongan). Mutiara who tried to give chase, fell into the river cursed by the King of Majapahit. He too turned into a rock and became an island (Lumut Lunting).
It has been said among the elders in Kampong Ayer dwellers that Lumut Lunting will never be under water no matter how high the water level rises. If it does, then that signals a bad omen such as the death of a king or the occurrence of an untoward incident.
This tale chronicled the earlier days of the current Sultanate. According to historical sources, the reign of Awang Alak Betatar who eventually became Sultan Muhammad, the first Sultan was from 1393 AD. If this tale is true, then it must have occurred around that period.
Before Sultan Muhammad, not much is known about the previous Brunei rulers even though in the Chinese annals, Brunei had contact with China as early as the 5th Century.
Most likely this tale is a symbolism of what happened in those days. There could have been a struggle between the new rulers of Brunei and Majapahit. There could have been an actual battle, or at least a struggle of some sort by the new rulers trying to overthrow the yoke of the oppressing powers of the Majapahit.
As by the time of Sultan Abdul Majid, who is the immediate descendant after Sultan Muhammad, whose tomb is found in China, Brunei had already turned its allegiance back to the Chinese Empire.
The cockfight tale signifies the beginning of the ‘new’ Brunei Empire and it marked the existence of the country we lived in now.

( Note: An edited version of the above article was published in The Golden Legacy column in The Brunei Times dated 28th April 2007.
Source: The Brunei Times )

Probably, the Maranao got hold of the legend of Lumut Lunting and Pilong-Pilongan through trade or when they helped (together with the Sultan of Sulu and the Sultan of Maguindanao) in 1658 or 1703 the Sultan of Brunei to quell a rebellion. This is perhaps the reason why a Sarimanok will always have a fish in its beak. Well, its just a conjecture.
I think the big question is what does the Sarimanok symbolize? When I ask an old craftsman, you'll be amazed of the answer... .
Well, the story goes this way. A long time ago said, the old craftsman when one of the first Sarimanok was made. In Lumbak, Tugaya, Lanao del Sur there live a master artisan, whose favorite son have a fighting rooster. The artisan's... See More son loves the rooster so much that he always brings it wherever he goes. Then a time comes when the sky was darkened and the earth shakes. For day’s end, ashes falls from the sky blocking the sun and causing livestock to die and crops to fail. Unfortunately, the rooster also died. This plunged the son to melancholy and loses all jest of life. In order to alleviate the suffering of his son, the master artisan work tirelessly to create a brass rooster for his son that will never die and will forever be there. Thus, the first Sarimanok was born casted from pure brass.
According to the old craftsman, Sarimanok symbolize fidelity, hope and abundance. While others opined that it means prestige, wealth, and royalty. But there are people who say Sarimanok is the embodiment of defiance and freedom as the story in the Darangen when the Sarimanok defies established laws.
I’m not really sure if the old craftsman story is true or simply made up to amaze me when I was a boy. However, more than a hundred years ago in 1883 a volcanic island in Indonesia called Krakatoa exploded. It is consider as one of the most violent volcanic events in modern and recorded history. This could have coincided with the story of the old craftsman, since Mindanao and Indonesia are quite close.
Anyway, Sarimanok are no longer made these days. The craftsmen in Tugaya are afraid of the Ulamas who banned the making of Sarimanok. They said that a craftsman have to give life to Sarimanok in the hereafter."


Image of the " Mera Bolawan " or golden peacock.

The komentai is a small triangular flag.
The sequence of many komentai can be attached to the ends of the sambolayan or to the rigging of boats or can be displayed across the streets or inside and outside the houses.

* Pictures of Bobby Timonera
** Courtesy of Abdel Aziz Dimapunong

Back to content | Back to main menu