A Filipino movement that conducted fierce resistance against American colonial forces in the early 20th century.

Religion: Folk Religion
Founded: Late 19th century
Location: Philippines

The Pulahan movement, or “those wearing red,” emerged in the Philippines during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized by its members’ distinct red uniforms and a complex mix of religious revival, martial prowess, and resistance against colonial powers. Originating in the Visayas region, it developed against the backdrop of the Philippine Revolution and continued to play a significant role during the Philippine-American War, challenging both Spanish and later American colonial forces.

The Pulahans were not a centralized force; instead, they comprised various regional groups with a shared ideology rooted in a syncretic blend of indigenous Filipino and Christian beliefs. This decentralized nature made the movement resilient but also elusive, complicating American efforts to suppress it. Despite lacking a unified command, the Pulahans managed to leave a lasting impact on Philippine society by symbolizing resistance against colonial rule and fostering a sense of nationalistic sentiment.

Central to the Pulahans’ identity was their combat style and weaponry, particularly their use of the bolo knife, a long, single-edged blade pivotal to Filipino martial culture. The Pulahans revered the bolo as both a weapon and a spiritual symbol, believing it to be imbued with ancestral spirits and protective powers. Their combat techniques were influenced by indigenous martial arts and were adapted to the rugged terrain of the Philippines, allowing them to conduct swift guerrilla attacks against their adversaries. The Pulahans’ belief in the mystical protection provided by holy oil, prayer books, and consecrated amulets further exemplified the integration of their spiritual practices into warfare, believing these items shielded them from harm and enhanced their fighting prowess.

The Pulahans often suffered from a lack of strategic planning, which led to significant losses. Their approach to combat emphasized ferocity and individual bravery over coordinated tactics, making them vulnerable to the more technologically advanced and strategically disciplined American forces. The movement was ultimately suppressed by the Americans through military offensives, strategic positioning, and a campaign of pacification that targeted the Pulahans’ support base among the local population.

The suppression of the Pulahan movement by American forces was brutal and decisive, employing scorched-earth policies that not only aimed to eliminate the Pulahans but also to dismantle their support structures within the local communities. The capture and the uncertain fate of their leader, General Papa Faustino Ablen, marked the decline of the movement, leading to its eventual disbandment and absorption into the annals of Philippine resistance history.

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