Maharlikanism Maharlikanism
A small country where great things come from

The 3 Meanings of Maharlika

by Juan Icon
July 7, 2021 7 minutes  • 1419 words  • Other languages:  
Table of contents

Maharlika was the name of the pre-colonial confederation based in the city of Manila.

  • Maha means great, such as Maharashtra and Mahabharata. It adds r when it is conjugated
  • Lika either means:
    • creation from Tagalog “likha” which in Sanskrit means to draw or paint
    • cup in Sanskrit, made up of la (cup) ika (small, feminine)*

*Pottery was among the first industries of mankind. Among the creation myths of the country is the supreme god Bathala creating Maharlikans from heated clay which ended up “just right”, not being too dark like the Negritos nor too light as the East Asians.

Therefore, Maharlika means “a country where great things come from or are created.”

This is very different from the meaning of the “Philippines” which comes from King Philip II of Spain.

  • His Hapsburg family line had genetic diseases resulting from inbreeding
  • His religious policies were very intolerant
  • His reckless spending pushed his Spanish Empire into debt

His attributes are neither creative nor noble. So to upgrade the qualities and attributes of the country, we clearly have to abandon the name “Philippines”. This leads us to the question: Why did the original Maharlika name have different meanings?

Meaning 1: Maharlika as Nobility

The Heart of Maharlika was Manila which was then known by the Song dynasty as Ma-yi, from their pronunciation of “May-nila”.

  • Nila means blue in Sanskrit which was used by the nobility to distinguish themselves from the rest of society. It follows that Manila meant “place of the nobility”. This led to Maharlika being understood nowadays as noble or blue-blooded.
Maginoo nobility wearing blue
In the song ‘Maginoo pero Medyo Bastos’, the Maginoo is the Maharlikan trait while the Bastos is the Filipino trait. We aim to forget about the latter just like the British have forgotten their Anglo-Saxon ways (i.e. Prince Charles does not have war tattoos to show his status in society).

Meaning 2: Maharlika as Freedom

The nobility was then protected and served by free men known as timawas, leading to a class system:

Maharlikan Notes Indian
Nobility or Maginoo Means “having dignity”, led by a datu who wore blue and gold Vaeshya
Free men or Maharlika or Timawa Means “in peace or freedom”, wore blue Ksattriya
Babaylan Priest caste Brahmin
Indentured servants or Aliping Namamahay Means slaves within the house Shudras
Slaves or Aliping Sagigilid Means slaves “on the sides” who were naked with only “bahag” Shudras

This class system then led to another interpretation of Maharlika to mean freedom, which confuses it with the Indonesian word merdeka.


Timawá signifies now in Tagál: 'in peace, quietness, tranquil, free', etc. Maginoo, from the root ginoo, 'dignity,' is now the title of the chiefs. The chief's reunion is called 'kaginoóhan'. Colin says that the Chiefs used the title 'gat' or 'lakan', and the women 'dayang'. The title of 'mama' applied now to men, corresponds to 'uncle, Señor, Monsieur, Mr,' etc. and the title 'al' to women.

Rizal (History of the Philippine Islands by Antonio de Morga)

A Confederation Based on Trade

Based on the definition of Chinese historian Chau-ju-kua, the immediate territory of Maharlika included:

  • Luzon (Tondo, Bulacan)
  • Visayas
  • Western Mindanao + Sabah (Pigafetta writes that Cagayan in Mindanao was a penal colony for Borneo)
  • Eastern Mindanao (Kingdom of Butuan or Masawa)
  • Babuyan Islands

However, there was no single constitution as all the cities were independent:

A ship will not remain at anchor longer than three or four days, after which it proceeds to another place; for the savage settlements along the coast of San-su [Visayas] are not connected by common jurisdiction [i.e. are all independent]

Chau Ju Kua

This is common in archipelagos. For example, the Greeks were divided into city-states – The Spartans fought the Athenians and the Athenians fought the Thebans. Yet, we call them all as ’the Greeks’. We never take Sparta nor Athens by themselves in isolation, just as we never regard Mindanao in isolation from Luzon, though both can be isolated from Thailand or Papua New Guinea.

The nobilities were then unified by confederation which allowed each area to have freedom in politics, economics, and culture. Maharlika was part of a regional trade network that included:

  • Northern Taiwan
  • Luzon (Tondo, Bulacan, Ilocos)
  • Visayas (Cebu)
  • Mindanao (Butuan as Masawa)
  • Borneo (Brunei)
  • Moluccas
  • Celebes
  • Tendaya

According to ancient and modern cosmographers, that part of the world called Asia has adjacent to it a multitude of greater and lesser islands, inhabited by various nations and peoples, and as rich in precious stones, gold, silver, and other minerals, as they abound in fruit and grain, flocks, and animals. Some of the islands yield all kinds of spices which are carried away and distributed throughout the world. These islands are commonly designated.. as the great archipelago of San Lazaro. Among the most famous of them are the islands of Maluco, Céleves, Tendaya, Luzon, Mindanao, and Borneo, which are now called the Filipinas.

Antonio Morga

The Filipinas was the resource-rich region that the Spanish wanted, of which Maharlika was a part. Therefore, Filipinas, Philippines, or Pilipinas are all abstract ideas of the Spanish which really expressed their ambition and greed instead of anything about the nations in Southeast Asia.

In other words, “The Philippines” has nothing to do with Filipinos, but everything to do with the Spanish desire for precious stones, gold, silver, minerals, fruit, grain, animals, and spices. So being “proud to be Pinoy” means being proud for your land having precious metals, bananas, coconuts, tuna, etc. and not really for you having skills, morals, or intellect.

Meaning 3: Maharlika as Warrior Class

Some natives also had greed and ambition for those resources and consequently resorted to piracy. For protection, Maharlika relied on a military force from Luzon (the island where Manila is).

Brunei is a large city with a very large bay.. many canoes, in number 260, were equipped to capture us and came upon us. When we saw them, we left hurriedly, and sailed out of the bay, whereupon we saw some junks coming. We went to them and captured one, in which was a son of the king of Luzon.

Pigafetta 1521

In contrast to the militaries of China, Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia which were used for conquest, the military of Maharlika (and Indonesia) was for defense, until Manila was conquered by Brunei. This military force was sourced from the free men or timawas, just like in any civilization*.

*For example, the early Roman army was made up of citizens and only added foreigners and servants later.

This then led to the word Maharlika being associated with the warrior class. It’s similar to the word “Spartan” being associated with tough soldiers, meagre lifestyle, simplicity, low-maintenance, etc.


Spartan warrior

These gave us 3 different meanings of Maharlika

  1. Nobility
  2. Freedom
  3. Warrior class

How Buddhism Led Us to Maharlika

When we were in university, we agreed that Catholicism had too many contradictions, while Islam was quite constrictive. And so we tried Buddhism, which then is closely connectted to Hinduism, Yoga, and Sanskrit.

Filipino Buddhists say that Buddhism was the original religion of Precolonial Philippines. This has been proven by the Golden Tara Statue in Agusan near Butuan. Magellan held his first mass in Masawa in the kingdom of Butuan. This was the start of our quest.

Golden Tara statue
Tara is a female devata which became a female diwata

Historian William Henry Scott mentions the Kingdom of Butuan from Chau Ju Kua who mentions Ma-i as its owner. Historians who are ignorant of Sanskrit will say that Ma-i is Mindoro. But this doesn’t make sense because:

  • Mindoro had no Kingdom
  • The Mindoro ports of Calapan and Puerto Galera are incapable of handling world trade with big ships

The only Kingdom with Ma-i in its phonetics is “Maynila”:

  • Manila had a Kingdom of Tondo
  • Manila has an excellent port in Manila bay which could easily handle world trade, as evidenced by its modern port containerization

We learned a bit of Sanskrit, thanks to our shift to Hindu-Buddhism. We know that “nila” means “blue”. And so, may-nila combines:

  • the Tagalog “mayroon” (to have) and
  • the Sanskrit nila

This leads to “having blue” which was then applied to Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, as noted by Chau Ju Kua.

The Real Historical Meaning of Maharlika

From the original Sanskrit, we can fix those confused meanings and settle on our earlier definition as a small country where great things come from.

Among those great things are nobility, freedom, and martial skill that is not forced, but naturally developed. In this way, our definition fairly absorbs those 3 definitions.