The Moro Chessmen
Offered here is a rather rare and unusual set of the Moro Chessmen. The tallest piece stands 3-3/8” tall. The chess pieces are crafted from bone and horn and are housed in a replacement wooden hinge top box. These chessmen are crafted only in the Philippines by local craftsmen The exact age of this set of chess pieces is not know.
The most striking of the Moro Chessmen are the knights. Often, they are than every other piece on the board. Many theories have been brought forward as to the origin of elaborate Knight design or what it represents. The particular Knight design has been associated with the “Naga” pattern, a Sanskrit term referring to a mythical dragon or serpent noted for its wisdom, agility, power and bravery. According to some research, the design can be linked to the “Okir” pattern, a local symbol of good luck, status or power. The Okir design has been described as a flowery pattern with serpent influences. In the village communities of the Maranao, the village chiefs use this design on their houses to show their status and prestige.
Moro chessmen are exclusive to the Philippines and originate from the second largest Philippine island Mindanao in the very south of the country’s archipelago. The Moro chessmen are noted for their simplicity and unique design. Many different theories have been brought forward on the genesis of this design. The rather abstract, nonfigurative design resembles, in many ways, Islamic chess pieces. As a result, it has been questioned whether sets of this style actually originated in the Philippines. (Ref: Ned Munger, Cultures, Chess & Arts, Vol. 3 Pacific Islands & Asia, p. 165).
The largest non-Christian group in the Philippines are the Muslim Moros, representing about 5% of the total Philippine population. The term Moro is a short form used to address the Moro or Bangsamoro people and is derived from the Spanish term for Moors. It is used as a collective term referring to an ethnolinguistic group of 13 different people, the majority of which are Muslim.
Moro chessmen are somewhat rare, particularly old ones. The region in which the Maranao people reside (the sole makers of this style of chess pieces) was in a constant state of war since the 1960’s. Getting access to such sets is rather difficult. The sets are only produced by local carvers, who work mainly from memory with hand tools or basic hand-driven lathes and without any patterns. Sometimes, more than a year can pass between the making of two consecutive sets, which explains why the differences between them can be significant.