Today, when a person goes upon a crazy, violent rampage he can be said to have “run amok”. The origin of the term “amok” is actually Malay, and entered the English language as an idiom when horrified English traders encountered the strange practice of “running amok” among the Muslim peoples of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the southern Philippine Islands.

There, men would for a variety reasons work themselves into an uncontrollable rage; and go on a murderous killing spree. A man “running amok” would cut down any who came across his path; continuing until his neighbors, bystanders, or the authorities killed him.

Some scholars consider the origin of this strange and deadly practice to lie in the Islamic prohibition against suicide. When humiliated or “dishonored” a Muslim man could regain his honor (manhood) by going “amok”, and dying with sword in hand, forcing others to kill him and thus accomplish his suicide.

Sulu+Warriors.jpg (403×593)

This unique practice took a new and unique turn in the Philippines at the beginning of the 20th Century. Moro insurgents, fighting against American rule of their islands, would send lone suicide assassins called juramentado to “ran amok”; attacking and killing American Army officers and civilian administrators.

The juramentado would prepare for his mission in a most unique and painful way: by having his TESTICLES TIED OFF WITH COPPER WIRE! [1] In a state of intense agony, the would-be assassin spent the night working himself into a killing frenzy. By the next day, the juramentado would be in a virtual altered state of consciousness, so filled with agony that his mind would no longer register additional pain. The  assassin would then be led by his comrades to a place his target was expected to appear (usually a public place, to increase the propaganda and “terror” value of the act). Just before being unleashed against his victim, the juramentado’s arms and legs were tied with occluding ligatures, to reduce expected blood loss from possible wounds to these extremities.


The juramentado would then charge forward (often out of a crowd) and assault the victim with the distinctive Moro sword, the kris; or the equally nasty-looking hacking knife, the barong. Despite being shot multiple times by the victim and his escort or comrades-in-arms, the juramentado would not stop till the target lay dead, hacked into bloody pieces. After which, the juramentado would collapse and die, his last mission accomplished.


A Moro assassin running amok seemed impossible to stop. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that sidearm of the American Army in the Philippines was only a .38 caliber revolver. This small caliber proved utterly incapable of stopping the juramentado.

For this reason the US Army adapted the .45 caliber colt pistol: the heavier bullet of the .45 could knock the charging juramentado onto his back, stopping dead his frenzied “amok”!

The Colt .45 revolver firing the “long Colt” cartridge (not the later Model 1911 .45 automatic pistol, firing the smaller ACP cartridge) was issued to the Philippine Constabulary [2] in 1903. It proved much superior to the standard .38 caliber pistols then used by the American Army.

Comparison of the Long Colt revolver cartridge to the smaller  cartridge used in the Model 1911 .45 caliber automatic pistol

Additional help came from adoption of the Winchester pump-action shotgun; then coming into service in both the Marines and Army. These were weapons with the “stopping power” to stop a rampaging Moro.


There has been much discussion about the veracity of this bit of history; whether or not the .45 caliber could have made a difference. But in his Annual Report of June, 1904, General Leonard Wood (commanding American forces engaged against the Moros in the Philippines, stated his opinion on the subject:

“It is thought that the .45 caliber revolver (Constabulary Model 1902) is the one which should be issued to troops throughout the Army… Instances have repeatedly been reported during the past year where native have been shot through-and-through several time with a .38 caliber revolver, and have come on, cutting up the unfortunate individual armed with it… The .45 caliber revolver stops a man in his tracks, usually knocking him down… It is also recommended that each company be furnished with 12-guage Winchester repeating shotguns… There is no weapon in our possession equal to the shotgun loaded with buckshot.”


American Army officers and NCOs of the Philippine Constabulary, circa 1905

While the campaign to subjugate the Moros of the southern Philippines continued, the problem of the lone Juramentado was solved.

Today, when you hear in the news of a person “running amok”, remember the origin of the word, and the viciously effective Juramentado of the Philippines!

1351633Photo taken of Moros during the Insurrection.


  1. This factoid was conveyed to the author first-hand while serving in the Philippines with Moro soldiers in the Filipino Constabulary, who had taken amnesty from the central government.
  2. The American-led Filipino force created to fight the Moros and keep the peace throughout the archipelago.
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