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Maguindanaon People of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Maguindanao Province Indigenous People | Ethnic Tribes]

Maguindanaon People of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Maguindanao Province Indigenous People | Ethnic Tribes]

Maguindanaon” comes from the local terms magig and danao, which literally means “people of the flood plains.” The Maguindanaon occupy the basin of the Pulangi River, particularly the southern fork of the river that flows toward Illana Bay. They originally settled along the banks and in the valley regions of the river. Today, they reside in several provinces. In Maguindanao province, which accounts for 76% of the total Maguindanaon population, they are settled in the municipalities of Sultan Kudarat (locally known as Nuling), Kabuntalan, Dinaig (now Datu Odin Sinsuat), North Upi, Matanog, Cotabato City, Buluan, Datu Paglas, Pagalungan, Ampatuan, Maganoy (now Sharif Aguak), Datu Piang, Talayan, Sultan sa Barongis, General Salipada Pendatun, and South Upi. In Cotabato province, they are found in Pikit, Carmen, and Kabacan. In Sultan Kudarat province, they live in Lebak, Palembang, and Kalamansig. In Sarangani province, they occupy all coastal towns. Government census records show the Maguindanaon population at 995,500 in 2005, with 508,302 of them in the province of Maguindanao and 81,205 in Cotabato City in 2000.

The Maguindanaon are classified into four major subgroups based on their location relative to the Pulangi River: taga laya, those along the upper valley of the river; taga ilud, those along the lower valley of the river; taga biwangen, those on the left side of the river; and taga kawanan, those on the right side of the river.

The Maguindanaon language is part of a subgroup of languages called the Danao languages. The subgroup includes Maranao, spoken in the Lanao provinces; Ilanun, also Iranun, spoken by a group of sea-based people in the municipalities of Barira, Matanog, Buldon, and Parang; and Maguindanao, mainly spoken in Maguindanao, Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat.

History of Maguindanaon People

Maguindanaon history in both oral and written forms begins with the arrival of Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan, an Arab-Malay preacher from the royal house of Malacca, in what is now Malabang. Kabungsuan proceeded to the mouth of the Pulangi River in the early 15th century. There, he introduced Islam and married a local princess named Putri Tunina. He established the sultanate of Maguindanao, the capital of which was Kutawatu, now Cotabato City. Other Maguindanaon tarsilas (oral histories) say that his two older brothers, Sharif Maraja and Sharif Awliyah, came before Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan and spread Islam in the heart of the present-day Maguindanao province.

Maguindanaon women
Maguindanaon women, circa 1910 (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

The history of Buayan, the other center of power in the area, also dates back to early Arab missionaries, who, although not able to deeply implant the Islamic faith, introduced a more sophisticated form of political system. In Buayan, the transition to Islam took a longer time. Spanish chronicles reveal that Buayan, not Cotabato, was the most important settlement in Mindanao at that time. In 1579, an expedition sent by Governor Francisco de Sande failed to conquer Maguindanao. In 1596, the Spanish government gave Captain Rodriguez de Figueroa the sole right to colonize Mindanao. He met defeat in Buayan and was later killed in an ambush by a Buhahayen named Ubal. His forces retreated to an anchorage near Zamboanga.

Reenactment of the arrival of Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan
Reenactment of the arrival of Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan (Photo courtesy of Princess Maleiha Bajunaid Candao)

The rise of the Maguindanao-Cotabato power came after the defeat of Datu Sirongan of Buayan in 1606. From 1607 to 1635, new military alliances were formed, this time with Cotabato. By the 1630s, Cotabato had become a coastal power.

In the early 17th century, an alliance composed of the Maguindanaon, Maranao, Tausug, and other Muslim groups was formed by Sultan Kudarat, also known as Cachel Corralat, of Maguindanao, whose domain extended from the Davao Gulf to Dapitan on the Zamboanga peninsula. Several expeditions sent by the Spanish authorities suffered defeat at their hands. In 1635, Captain Juan de Chaves occupied Zamboanga and erected a fort. This led to the downfall of Kudarat’s feared admiral, Datu Tagal, who had raided pueblos in the Visayas. In 1637, Governor-General Hurtado de Corcuera personally led an expedition against Kudarat and triumphed over his forces at Lamitan and Ilian. Spanish presence was withdrawn in 1663, providing an opportunity for Kudarat to reconsolidate his forces. From 1663 to 1718, Maguindanaon influence extended as far as Zamboanga in the west, Cagayan de Oro in the north, Sarangani in the south, and Davao in the east. In 1719, the Spaniards reestablished control with the building of the strategic Fort Pilar in Zamboanga.

The 1730s saw the weakening of the Maguindanaon Sultanate as it struggled with civil war and internal disunity. Spanish help was sought by the besieged rajah mudah (crown prince), further destroying the prestige of the sultanate. Thus, Cotabato power became increasingly dependent on Spanish support. This deepening compromise with Spain led to Cotabato’s downfall. Fearing Buayan’s resurgent power, Sultan Kudarat II finally ceded Cotabato to Spain in exchange for an annual pension of 1,000 pesos for him and 800 pesos for his son. Buayan, under Datu Uto, had become the power center of Maguindanao by the 1860s. In 1887, General Emilio Terrero led an expedition against Uto. Although he was able to destroy the kota (forts) in Cotabato, he was unable to enforce Spanish sovereignty.

In 1891, Governor-General Valeriano Weyler personally led a campaign against the Maguindanaon and Maranao. In the next few months, Weyler erected a fort at Parang-Parang between Pulangi and the Ilanun coast. This effectively stopped the shipment of arms to Uto, who died a defeated man in 1902.

During the Philippine-American War, the Americans adopted a policy of noninterference in the Muslim areas, as spelled out in the Bates Agreement of 1899 signed by Brig General John Bates and Sultan Jamalul Kiram II of Jolo. The agreement was a mutual nonaggression pact that obligated the Americans to recognize the authority of the Sultan and other chiefs who, in turn, agreed to fight piracy and crimes against Christians. However, the Muslims did not know that the Treaty of Paris, which had ceded the Philippine archipelago to the Americans, included their land as well.

After the Philippine-American War, the Americans established direct rule over the newly formed “Moro Province,” which then consisted of five districts: Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, Davao, and Sulu. Political, social, and economic changes were introduced, including the creation of provincial and district institutions, the introduction of the public school system and American-inspired judicial system, the imposition of the cedula, the migration of Christians to Muslim lands encouraged by the colonial government, and the abolition of slavery. Datu Ali of Kudarangan, Cotabato refused to comply with the anti-slavery legislation and revolted against the Americans. He and his men were killed in October 1905.

The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Moro province on 15 December 1913. A “policy of attraction” was introduced, ushering in reforms to encourage Muslim integration into Philippine society. In 1916, after the passage of the Jones Law, which transferred legislative power to a Philippine Senate and House of Representatives, polygyny was made illegal. However, the Muslims were granted time to comply with the new restrictions. “Proxy colonialism” was legalized by the Public Land Act of 1919, invalidating Muslim pusaka (inherited property) laws. The act also granted the state the right to confer land ownership. It was thought that the Muslims would “learn” from the “more advanced” Christian Filipinos and would integrate more easily into mainstream Philippine society.

In February 1920, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives passed Act No. 2878, which abolished the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and transferred its responsibilities to the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes under the Department of the Interior. Muslim dissatisfaction grew as power shifted to the Christianized Filipinos—it was one thing to be administered by the militarily superior Americans and another by their traditional enemies, the Christian Filipinos. Petitions were sent by Muslim leaders in 1921 and 1924 requesting that Mindanao and Sulu be administered directly by the United States. These petitions were not granted. Isolated cases of armed resistance were quickly crushed. In Cotabato, Datu Ambang of Kidapawan attempted to incite a jihad or holy war against the Americans and the Christian Filipinos. This, however, did not take place when the governor of the province mobilized government forces.

Realizing the futility of armed resistance, some Muslims sought to make the best of the situation. In 1934, Arolas Tulawi of Sulu, Datu Menandang Pang and Datu Blah Sinsuat of Cotabato, and Sultan Alaoya Alonto of Lanao were elected to the 1935 Constitutional Convention. In 1935, only two Muslims were elected into the National Assembly.

The Commonwealth years sought to end the privileges the Muslims had been enjoying under the earlier American administration. Muslim exemptions from some national laws, as expressed in the Administrative Code for Mindanao, and the Muslim right to use their traditional Islamic courts, as expressed in the Moro board, were ended. The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes was replaced by the Office of the Commissioner for Mindanao and Sulu, whose main objective was to tap the full economic potentials of Mindanao not for the Muslims but for the Commonwealth. These “development efforts” resulted in discontent, which found expression in various armed uprisings, mostly in Lanao, from 1936 to 1941.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church addressed these problems specific to Mindanao as part of its proselytizing function. The missionaries of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) arrived in 1939 to establish parishes, Notre Dame schools and universities, and commercial broadcast media ministries. They initiated social action projects committed to peace and development efforts among the three groups that comprised the population of Mindanao: Muslims, lumad (indigenous peoples), and Christian settlers.

During World War II, the Muslims in general supported the fight against the Japanese. These invaders were less tolerant and harsher to them than the Manila government, and the Muslims are generally adverse to anything that threatens Islam and their way of life.

After independence, efforts to integrate the Muslims into the new political order met with stiff resistance. It was unlikely that the Muslims, who have had a longer cultural history as Muslims than the Christian Filipinos have had as Christian, would surrender their identity. The conflict was exacerbated in 1968 with the Jabidah Massacre, in which Muslim soldiers were reportedly eliminated because they refused to invade Sabah. This incident contributed to the rise of various separatist movements such as the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), Ansar el-Islam, and Union of Islamic Forces and Organizations.

In 1969, a group of educated young Muslims founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), with the goal of establishing a Bangsamoro Republic. The leader of this group, Nur Misuari, regarded the earlier movements as feudal and oppressive and employed a Marxist framework to analyze the Muslim condition and the general Philippine situation.

In 1976, negotiations between the Philippine government and the MNLF in Tripoli resulted in the Tripoli Agreement, which provided for an autonomous region in Mindanao. Negotiations resumed in 1977, and the following points were agreed upon: the proclamation of a Presidential Decree creating autonomy in 13 provinces; the creation of a provisional government; and the holding of a referendum in the autonomous areas to determine the administration of the government. Nur Misuari was invited to chair the provisional government, but he refused. The referendum was boycotted by the Muslims themselves. The talks collapsed, and fighting continued.

In 1977, a breakaway organization from the MNLF was formed by Hashim Salamat. It was formalized in 1984 as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The MILF shares nationalist and revolutionary elements with the MNLF, but as the name suggests, its dominant orientation is Islamic.

When Corazon C. Aquino became also known as the Organic Act for Mindanao, created a mandate to provide an autonomous region in Mindanao. A plebiscite was held in November 1989 to determine the provinces that would comprise the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Only four provinces opted for inclusion in the new autonomous region: Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. March 1990 marked the start of the first ARMM administration. A new province, Shariff Kabunsuan, was carved out of Maguindanao in 2006, but the Supreme Court voided its creation in 2008. ARMM territory was expanded in 2011 with the enactment of RA 9054; the province of Basilan, except for Isabela City, and the city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur were subsequently included in the autonomous region.

The MILF, which had been opposed to the ARMM from the beginning, continued fighting. A series of peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF were held during the Ramos and Estrada administrations. A ceasefire agreement was signed in July 1997; in August of the following year, both parties signed a general framework agreement of intent. However, in March 2000, a major battle in Kauswagan Town Center, Lanao del Norte, prompted President Estrada to call for an “all-out war” against the MILF. Four months later, on 8 July 2000, the MILF’s Camp Abubakar fell into the hands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). This led to MILF Chairman Hashim’s declaration of jihad against the Estrada administration and the AFP.

During the Arroyo administration, offensives against the MILF were suspended, and talks resumed with the help of the Malaysian government. In 2001, rounds of peace talks were held in Tripoli, Libya and Cyberjaya, Malaysia. On 6 May 2002, the government and the MILF arrived at an agreement to dismantle criminal syndicates and kidnap-for-ransom groups in Mindanao.

Further exploratory talks in 2005 led to the drafting of a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), which would have granted authority and jurisdiction over Bangsamoro ancestral domain to a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). The MOA-AD was to have been signed on 5 August 2008, but the Supreme Court voided it, declaring the granting of state-like powers to the BJE unconstitutional. This led to more fighting in Mindanao.

In August 2011, a secret meeting was held between President Benigno Aquino III and new MILF leader Murad Ebrahim (Arguillas 2011); this was the first direct talk between a Philippine president and an MILF leader. In the same year, a group led by Ustadz Amiril Umra Kato broke away from the MILF, formed the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), and vowed to continue fighting. In 2012, the MILF signed a preliminary agreement outlining the details on power sharing and division of wealth. On 25 January 2014, the peace talks between the government and MILF concluded in Malaysia. Finally, the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB), which was signed by the government and the MILF on 27 March 2014, provided for an autonomous Bangsamoro, which, it was hoped, would put an end to the decades-old conflict and rebellion in Mindanao.

Maguindanaon Way of Living

The banks of the Pulangi River have historically played a huge role in the economy of Maguindanao. The community living by the harbor has reached a population of up to 25,000. In 1645, Sultan Kudarat moved his settlement to Simoay, a strategic area for controlling the flow of goods. Here, he could access local products for trade from Maguindanao’s network of rulers.

Maguindanaon transporting wood along Pulangi River
Maguindanaon transporting wood along Pulangi River (Reuben Bentillo Reusora)

The Maguindanaon sultanate heavily regulated its trade with foreigners, although barter of limited quantities of products, beeswax in particular, was allowed with some Chinese and Dutch traders during the 17th century. The sultan was known to frequently trade wax at Dutch-controlled territories in present-day Indonesia. Thrice a year, traders from Mainland China itself also came to Maguindanao, bringing with them porcelain, silk, iron, and other goods. In turn they took wax, tortoise shells, bird’s nests, dried betel nuts, and even slaves back to China. From 1650 to 1670, the Dutch also heavily imported rice from Maguindanao to supply their colony, Ternate in the Moluccas. Sultan Kudarat’s grandson Sultan Barahaman, who succeeded the throne, made Sarangani Island a granary and used the place as a warehouse for storing trade goods.

The Maguindanaon are traders, farmers, and fisherfolk. They produce and sell brassware, trays, urns, and other native crafts. The excellent climate of the region makes farming a dominant economic activity with rice, corn, and mungo beans as the main crops. Modern irrigation systems have systematized rice production, and harvest could be done two to three times a year. However, low scale agriculturists still adhere to traditional farming methods. Fishing is another important economic activity, particularly in the coastal areas of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani, all of which open up to the Moro Gulf. In 1977, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources counted a total of 17,067 municipal fisherfolk, with 11,895 bancas from 38 towns and 436 barrios located along the seacoasts.

The overall geographic area of Central Mindanao where Maguindanao sits is largely dependent on agriculture, and its major agricultural products are rice, corn, coconut, pineapple, asparagus, cassava, sugarcane, and rubber. The area contributes about a third of overall palay and corn production of the entire Mindanao, and 15% of overall fish production. In recent years, banana plantations in Maguindanao have received government support and private investments.

In the 1990s, President Corazon Aquino signed laws with the aim of promoting cooperatives for development purposes. Along with the rest of the country, Maguindanao saw a massive registration of cooperatives; however, many of these failed to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. The few that did survive and flourish had strong, family-based leaderships, which ensured that the cooperatives endured despite the armed troubles and conflicts in Maguindanao. Strong leadership based on families and core lineages is an integral part of their value system that goes back to the heyday of the Maguindanaon sultanate, when orders by Sultan Kudarat continued to be implemented by his successors. Then and now, indigenous leadership is inextricably linked with commercial success in Maguindanao.

The region’s economic development has remained at a virtual standstill. Poverty in Maguindanao has been a growing concern, particularly in recent years. Those who own land, like the affluent datus, hire tenants to farm their plantations. About half of the urban families belong to the middle-income range, with the rest living in varying degrees of poverty. Trained labor, such as agricultural technicians, is scarce in the region, and this is exacerbated by low wages. Unemployment is high. Due to the lack of market information, entrepreneurial activity in the region is limited.

The province remains one of the poorest provinces in the country. The results of three successive government poverty surveys (2006, 2009, and 2012) show poverty incidence among families in Maguindanao almost double that of the national figures. More than five in every 10 families in the province are poor. Poverty and the armed conflicts have made young women in Maguindanao vulnerable to human trafficking, lured by the promise of a better life working elsewhere. Among all ARMM provinces, it has the greatest number of trafficked persons and potential victims. The signing of a peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014 was expected to pave the way for robust economic growth in Maguindanao.

Maguindanaon Social and Political System

A feature of Maguindanaon social and political life is the system of maratabat (social ranking). In the past, distinctions were made between datu (nobles), sakop (free people), and ulipun (slaves or servants). The Maguindanaon described the maratabat in numerical terms: 1,000 sultan and datu, who are members of the royal lineage; 700 dumatu, or lesser nobles; 500 sakop; and 300 ulipun. The “0” rank was given to those outside the system and to the banyaga (chattel slaves). These numerical equivalents were more explicit during marriage negotiations, in a form of bantingan (customary dowry). Today, classes include the datu, the sakop, and indentured free people or servants, the last being mostly descendants of the ulipun.

Sultan of Maguindanao, seated, with his retinue
Sultan of Maguindanao, seated, with his retinue, circa 1910 (Photo courtesy of Paul Eric Darvin)

Through the salsila or tarsilas (written genealogies), the sultan and datu trace their ancestry to Sharif Kabungsuan, himself believed to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Kabungsuan and the local princess Putri Tunina begot three daughters; from them the royalty of Maguindanao emerged. The dumatu are generally believed to be the descendants of mixed marriages between royal blood and non-royal blood. Tabunaway, the native leader of Cotabato, who became brother in religion to Kabungsuan, is said to have given up his sovereignty in favor of his older brother Mamalu in exchange for privileges for his children. Others opine that the dumatu, who are called bala bansa (tainted rank), may have been members of the datu class who lost rank through intermarriage with people of lower ranks, among other reasons. The more common meaning of “sakop” is “follower,” although the term is presently used to refer to free people who owe allegiance to a specific datu. Other names include tinaua, timagua, or kanakan. Their relationship with the datu is built on free consent and involves reciprocal obligations. As commoners, they have no claims to titles. A free person sentenced to a term of work service because of a criminal offense or indebtedness is called an ulipon. This rank is only temporary, but unpaid debts can be inherited by succeeding generations. Some impoverished sakop may sometimes willingly assume this rank in exchange for the economic security involved or for the datu’s future patronage.

The Muslim leadership is categorized into three groups: traditional, secular, and religious. The sultan, datu, and other aristocrats, who together constitute the traditional elite, continue to wield influence in Maguindanaon society. Although stripped of temporal power, they are nevertheless seen as symbolizing Islam and adat (customary law). The highly educated professionals such as academicians, lawyers, doctors, and engineers, belong to the secular elite. Because of their education, they are able to exercise considerable influence. The religious elite consists of the imam (priest), kali (religious judge), asatids (religious teachers), and pious men. Most holders of government positions (regional, provincial, and municipal) belong to one or a combination of these elite groups.

Sultan Kudarat monument in front of the provincial capitol of Sultan Kudarat
Sultan Kudarat monument in front of the provincial capitol of Sultan Kudarat (Christian Perez)

Colonialism, in general, had a profound impact on the entire Moro population in Mindanao, including Maguindanaon politics. The Maguindanaon sultanate resisted both Spanish and American colonial rule, but its sovereignty was eventually eroded with the introduction of colonial laws, treaties, and compromises made by leaders to colonial governments. The Spanish government, through its doctrine of “state domain,” claimed sole ownership of Moro land, nullifying Moro communal land ownership. The US government later enacted laws such as the Land Registration Act of 1902, which further restricted clans from land ownership. By 1913, Moro resistance had been subdued by the colonial American government. It was also during this period that resettlement programs began to be implemented.

Calls for Moro self-rule predates the 1946 Philippine independence, when leaders began asking the US government to keep Moros administratively separate from Christian Filipinos. These calls would not be heeded. The Commonwealth government and the independent Philippine government continued resettlement programs to Mindanao up to the 1960s. Toward the end of this decade occurred the Jabidah Massacre, which became the catalyst for Moro armed struggle for independence.

The national system of governance has had varied effects on Maguindanaon traditional political structure. At the local level, the role of the mayor is given to those who can deliver votes for the dominant political party, maintain peace and order, and advise provincial and national authorities on municipal matters. The traditional sultan or datu often assumes this role, and in effect becomes the most powerful sultan in the area. However, national policies are rarely put into effect, and the sultan-mayor who implements national programs becomes unpopular. For example, tax collection is not well enforced; this has led to deterioration in basic services. By virtue of RA 6734 or the Organic Act for Mindanao, the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi now comprise the ARMM.

The creation of the ARMM would not, however, solve the critical political issues of governance in Moro territories. The autonomous regional government was still almost completely dependent on the Philippine central government, having very limited taxation and wealth-sharing powers. Maguindanao in particular has greatly suffered from this structure of power relations between the center and the periphery. Hence, feudal warlordism continues. The rise to power of the Ampatuan political family is linked with the issue of the state supporting paramilitary units in far-flung communities like Maguindanao to quell separatist forces like Moro rebels. State-backed militias have been in the country since the 1940s, but a crucial turn in Maguindanao came in 2006, when former President Gloria Arroyo issued an executive order that became the basis for the arming of civilian volunteer organizations, such as the barangay tanod, supposedly as force multipliers in the fight against insurgency. These various paramilitary forces came under the command of the Ampatuan family, who by then had been holding the crucial political positions in Maguindanao as well as in ARMM.

One of the most egregious effects of this unchecked and unregulated control over paramilitaries (also commonly called private armies) in Maguindanao was the massacre of at least 58 civilians in the town of Ampatuan in 2009. The victims were a convoy of journalists, lawyers, supporters, and relatives of Datu Esmael Mangudadatu. They were on their way to the provincial capitol when they were stopped at a checkpoint and murdered. They were to file the certificate of candidacy of Datu Esmael for governor, challenging the incumbent, Datu Andal Ampatuan. The national government placed Maguindanao under martial law after the massacre.

A cultural factor frequently cited in relation to the massacre is rido (revenge-driven clan war). In Maguindanaon culture, rido is resorted to whenever a person’s or a clan’s kanaman is violated. Kanaman is the conviction to preserve one’s honor and virtue by protecting it by all means. Rido alone, however, does not fully explain what transpired in Maguindanao in 2009, because revenge-driven violence targeting entire clans is neither typical of nor exclusive to Moro behavior. The combination of factors such as the volatile political state of the entire ARMM, its history of conflict, and state policies and interventions encouraging militias to combat insurgency has all contributed to the continuing violence.

The forging of a new peace agreement between the Philippine government and the MILF in 2014 aimed to correct flaws in the earlier peace deal with the MNLF that led to the creation of ARMM. The Bangsamoro entity that is seen to replace the ARMM was given greater powers on revenue generation, wealth sharing, and power sharing.

Maguindanaon Culture, Customs and Traditions

The Maguindanaon use the following kinship terms: mangaluks (parents), ama (father), ina (mother), manga babu (aunt), bapa (uncle), wata or mulia-taw (children), wata a mama (son), wata a babai (daughter), kaka wata (oldest child), ali a watalbungso (youngest child), geget (cousin), pakiwataan (nephew/niece), apo (grandchild), panugangan (parents-in-law), panugangan na mama (father-in-law), panugangan na babai (mother-in-law), manugang (children-in-law), manugang na mama (son-in-law), manugang na babai (daughter-in-law), ipag na mama (brother-in-law), ipag na babi (sister-in-law), pataliluan (adopted child), and geget/suled (relatives in general).

Maguindanaon men and women with kulintang ensemble and drum, Simuay, Sultan Kudarat
Maguindanaon men and women with kulintang ensemble and drum, Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, 1999 (Felicidad A. Prudente Photo Collection)

The social and religious life of the Maguindanaon is reflected in the customs and rites attending their life cycle. The Maguindanaon believe that conception takes place after kambalatemuay or kaubay (sexual contact), and after the disappearance of the basa (menstrual flow). A native walian (priestess) is then consulted to verify the woman’s condition. Fruits to be given the woman are picked with utmost care because if any fall to the ground, this is considered an omen of a miscarriage. Other social behaviors are also observed. The couple must see all good things in others. Her criticisms of others’ faults may register the same on her child. She must also avoid unusually shaped food to prevent deformities in the child. A ceremony called pelekatsa lantay may be performed by the walian to ensure the safe delivery of the child.

Maguindanaon women playing gandingan at a social event in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat
Maguindanaon women playing gandingan at a social event in Simuay, Sultan Kudarat, 1999 (Felicidad A. Prudente Photo Collection)

During delivery, a piece of sharpened bacayawan bamboo is used to cut the umbilical cord. Before disposing of the inayanan (placenta), the walian fills it with cold water and then empties it; this is believed to temper the child’s actions when older. The water inside the placenta is believed to fill the child’s life with success. The father buries the inayanan while uttering a request to the placenta not to bother the baby and guide him or her in growth. On the seventh day, the local imam baptizes the child in a ceremony called pedtabungawan, which includes the dyeing of the baby’s hair, which is then dipped in a basin filled with water.

Upon reaching the age of five, both male and female children undergo pag-Islam (circumcision), a religious requirement. During childhood, the children are left to play with their peers. As soon as they reach their teens, they are called bagu sugkud mama or egkakanakan, if male, and bagutaw or endadalaga, if female. A girl’s first menstrual flow indicates the onset of adolescence, and she is called an akil balig, who must now heed certain social rules. For instance, for her to go unchaperoned is punishable by a fine.

When a marriage is arranged between two clans with a high social rank, it is done for its sociopolitical advantages. Both clans mutually strengthen their power and influence through marriage, hence increasing their wealth as well. Thus, the aim of traditional courtship is for the prospective groom’s family to fortify their ties with the girl’s family.

Traditional courtship consists of the following steps: It may be a prearranged marriage between two families, without the prospective bride and groom knowing each other. On the other hand, if the boy finds the girl of his choice, he tells his family, who then conducts the panininting, in which they identify the girl’s family. Kabpaninilong is the formal meeting of the boy’s family with that of the girl to inquire if she is free to marry. The kabpanganagadung follows, in which the prospective bride’s family, through their spokesman, welcomes that of the groom’s. Friends and clan members serve as witnesses when the bride’s family agrees to the marriage. Kabpanalungguni, also called salangguni, transpires during the second meeting, in which the sunggudan or kuyug (bride-price) and the wedding arrangements are discussed. The spokespersons and mediators are paid a token fee called the kawa, which is worth about 10% of the bride-price. If a mutual agreement is arrived at, the girl offers betel nut to the guests, and the young couple is considered officially engaged. If the two families arrive at an impasse, a datu may be called in. If the girl’s response is panguyaw (refusal), the boy courts her by serving her family for a period that can last for months. If the boy and girl live in together without the benefit of a wedding, they are paguli or minuli.

In former times, high-ranking families would host pre-wedding activities, including games and entertainment that could last for seven days. Presently, these festivities may be limited to one or two days. The day before the wedding or on the day itself, the groom and his relatives walk in a procession to the girl’s house. They are led by one or two pasasagayan or kadsasagayan, dancers dressed in red and yellow, armed with a kampilan (sword) and shield, and engaging in a mock battle to the sound of a gong. A ceremonial umbrella is held over him, while the members of his entourage each bears presents on a tray as part of the bride-price. They are followed by the unta, which is an effigy of a carabao made of bamboo and cloth and manipulated by two men.

On the eve of the wedding, people are entertained by the playing of the kulintang, which is a set of eight gongs, and by the dayunday, which is a lighthearted joust between a man and two women. On the day of the wedding, the groom’s female relatives go to the bride’s place to help her dress; but they have to pay the bungkal sa bilik (similar to an entrance fee) in order to see her. During the wedding ceremony called the kagkawinga or kawing, she sits at a distance from the groom and is surrounded by her bridesmaids. The groom performs the ritual ablution to purify himself. The imam holds the groom’s hands under a handkerchief while prayers are recited. The relatives of both parties take turns giving the couple religious advice. Finally, the groom circles the bride three times and places his thumb on the bride’s forehead. This is the kadsampaya, the solemnization of the marriage.

In former times, the bride was completely hidden behind a screen throughout the kawing, and this was what the groom circled three times. Other modern innovations to the Muslim rites are the presence of godparents, who can number as many as a dozen; the lighting of candles by the wedding entourage as the groom responds to the imam’s ceremonial questions; and the wedding couple slipping wedding rings on each other’s finger.

To foretell what their married life will be, the groom is led to the dining table, where a cooked chicken, cut to pieces but arranged to look whole, is laid. He is asked to pick a piece. If he picks the head, this signifies that his own family will be successful; if he picks the feet, his family will be labet or have no direction.

Maguindanaon death and burial practices are defined by both their Islamic and indigenous beliefs. The corpse is cleaned, wrapped in a white cloth, and buried in a tarking (grave) about 1.8 meters deep, with a plain wood placed as partition between the corpse and the soil. Because of their belief in the body’s resurrection, the top is not cemented. Pouring water over the tarking completes the burial. Kandiaga (night vigil) is done on the following days after death: on the 3rd, 7th, 20th, 40th, 50th, and 100th day; and on the death anniversary. When a family member dreams about the departed, they hold the pabatian, which is the celebration in memory of the dead.

Maguindanaon Religious Beliefs and Practices

Most Maguindanaon follow standard Islamic beliefs and practices. The Quran is considered by all Muslims as the words of Allah (God), revealed to Prophet Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel, and the source of all Islamic principles. Other Islamic sources of law include the Sunnah, or Hadith, literally, “a way, a rule, a manner of acting,” which recounts the deeds and sayings of Prophet Muhammad; and the Ijima and Ijtihad, a revisable collection of the opinions of Islamic jurists. The Maguindanaon believe in the six articles of the Islamic faith: the oneness of Allah, the angels of Allah, the books of Allah, all the prophets of Allah, judgment day, and Allah as the sole source of the power of good deeds.

Muslims praying outside the Masjid Dimaukom, also known as the Pink Mosque, in Maguindanao during the beginning of Ramadan
Muslims praying outside the Masjid Dimaukom, also known as the Pink Mosque, in Maguindanao during the beginning of Ramadan, 2014 (Jeoffrey Maitem)

The Maguindanaon adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam: faith in one God and the four obligations of praying, alms giving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime. The concept of jihad, or natural right to self-defense, finds expression in the holy wars of defense when Muslim land and religion are threatened. Warriors of jihad are guaranteed a place in sorga (heaven). Muslims believe that the world is divided into two spheres: Dar-ar-Islam (Islamic Sphere) and Dar-ar-Hard (non-Islamic Sphere). The former is divided into four territories: forbidden, namely Mecca and Medina; reserved, namely Iraq, Syria, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, and other areas controlled by Muslims; canonical, where Muslims are allowed to practice their faith in a non-Islamic country like the Philippines; and irredentist, the areas where Muslims had control until they were forced out, such as Spain and Israel.

Maguindanaon religious practices, which have historically governed much of their ethics, politics and social behavior, could be described as “folk-Islam,” a merging of Islamic concepts with indigenous practices. Arabic, perhaps the Islamic world’s major vehicle of religion and culture, has barely made a dent among the Maguindanaon, who still communicate in their own language.

Today, indigenous beliefs, such as the belief in evil spirits, devotion to gentler ones, and belief in magic to provide security in the face of immediate danger, coexist with Islamic practices. Their conversion to Islam did not stop the Maguindanaon from continuing to practice panunjiung, literally the “veneration of tombs,” which is contrary to the Islamic precept forbidding the belief in intercessors between Allah and man. The Maguindanaon reconcile these seeming contradictions in their faith by believing that their ancestors can ask Allah for help on their behalf. Panunjiung is not an elaborate ritual, being limited only to the kin of the venerated ancestor. Simple offerings of basic food items are laid by the tomb, and Islamic prayers are uttered. It is customarily done during Sapar, the second month of the Islamic calendar. Panunjiung, however, is now on the wane.

Linked with their indigenous belief in ancestral spirits is the Maguindanaon belief in other unseen spirits and in possession. The unseen spirits that populate the Maguindanaon universe include the aruak (spirits of the dead), who will bother the living if they are not given proper funeral rites; laping (twin spirit), who must be respected; and the frightening guim (djinns), who can cause death and are seldom appeased by offerings. These form the basis of pag-ipat, a pre-Islamic ritual against disease. The pag-ipat may be held when someone falls ill, although some families may hold the pag-ipat every four years to ward off illness.

During the pag-ipat, the pedtompan (healer priest) dances for several hours in a trance after he or she is possessed by the spirit causing the illness. Outside the house, ritual objects are spread around for the pag-ipatsa tonong, literally“to heal with food offerings to the spirits.” Sugarcanes standing on the ground prop up the sabakan, a makeshift shelf on which are laid food offerings such as rice cakes. Hanging from nearby bamboo trees are the lalag or rice cakes intended as food offerings for the spirits but which children are allowed to take. The centerpiece is the tinatao ni talabusao, a human likeness of the illness-causing spirit. It is made out of a banana trunk, to which chicken feathers, entrails, and blood are attached. Binudtu or offerings for Saitan sa lupa (Satan of the earth) are laid on budtud (tree stumps). Offerings for Saitan sa langit (Satan of the sky) are also laid out on another spot in the same area. A wealthy family can hold a pag-ipat for up to seven days. An abridged version is the ubad, which lasts for only half a day, although none of the essential components of the ritual are omitted. The pag-ipat is never held on a Friday, when Muslims must attend their congregational prayer at the mosque.

Another ritual with indigenous roots but fully accepted in Islam is kanduli (thanksgiving). Malay in origin and practiced in certain areas of Indonesia and Malaysia, kanduli can be performed for all occasions of varying degrees of importance, such as a birthday, a graduation, or departure for another country. Doua (Islamic prayer) is recited. The thanksgiving ritual includes sedeka (almsgiving), in which celebrants receive gifts. Kanduli remains widely practiced today, and one of the more prominent recent ones was held at the signing of the peace deal between the Philippine government and the MILF in 2014.

Traditional Maguindanaon Houses and Community

The town of Cotabato represents a cosmopolitan mixture, with Muslims no longer being the predominant group. The earliest Christian settlers, the Zamboangueños, also known as Chavacano, are concentrated on the riverfront along the west side of town. Subsequent Christian settlers are scattered throughout the better residential areas. The Chinese occupy flats above their stores in the business district. The majority of the Maguindanaon live close by the river in villages and towns on the outskirts.

Ambolodto ancestral home in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao
Ambolodto ancestral home in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao (Bailallie Lidasan)

Traditional Maguindanaon houses are usually made of nipa, with bamboo wood for wallings and floors. The one-story structure is partitioned into various “rooms.” A ladder is used to enter and leave the house. Interesting features include the okir or ukil (carved decorations), the steep and graceful roofs, the solid construction, the indigenous ornaments, the concern for ventilation, and the concept of space. Today’s houses incorporate all these features but include modern materials as well, that is, galvanized steel, aluminum sheets, and glass.

While the general features of Philippine mosques approximate the traditional Islamic mosque, some of its elements are peculiar to the country. The sahn (wide, enclosed courtyard) is generally absent; instead, benches are provided outside the mosque where people may sit and talk while waiting for the next prayer. The mimbar (elevated pulpit) is not as high as those in Africa and Western Asia. An elevated platform, a chair, or any similar structure could take the place of the mimbar in some mosques. The crescent and star ornament on top of the domes is almost ubiquitous. The use of okir and the burrak (a mythical winged creature, half-human, half-horse), and other motifs in highly colorful designs are also local adaptations.

Minarets, which may be found in Philippine mosques, are usually not functional. Until recently, the call to prayer was done not from tall minarets but inside the mosques, as is done in Indonesia. Before the invention of the loud speaker, suspended drums called the tabo or dabu-dabu were beaten to call people to the mosque. Great care, however, is taken so that the sound of drums in one mosque is not heard in nearby mosques. The same care is observed with respect to congregational prayers. The bilal (one who calls the prayers) may simply stand in the mihrab found in the quibla, which is the wall that faces Mecca; from the mihrab, he calls the azan, with the help of a microphone and loudspeakers mounted on the domes or minarets, and traditionally with the beating of drums.

The masjid was originally a three-tiered bamboo or wooden structure similar to a Chinese or Japanese pagoda or a Balinese temple, a pattern also common in Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. A second style, the more familiar onion-shaped dome on squinches set over a carpeted square or rectangular hall that can accommodate at least 40 people at any given time, became popular later, perhaps after Mecca pilgrims saw Middle East mosques.

Prominent contemporary structures in Cotabato are the Legislative Assembly Session Hall and the mosque. The first is a concrete edifice with a flaring triangular roof in the front, covering the reception area. At the peak of the roof, there rises a “tower” that resembles a lamin, a structure that served as hideaway for the sultan’s daughter. Also made of concrete, the white Cotabato mosque is topped by an onion-shaped dome, which also crowns a tower rising at the back of the building.

ARMM government building in Cotabato
ARMM government building in Cotabato (ARMM Bureau of Public Information)

Whereas the Old Cotabato City Hall boasts of Malay-inspired architecture, the sprawling new city hall, also called the People’s Palace, combines ethnic and modern architectural design and is covered by a roof designed to represent Muslim royalty. A similar blend of modern and Muslim architecture is evident in the buildings of the Office of the Regional Governor (ORG). These buildings are the ARMM regional library, museum, and the Shariff Kabunsuan Cultural Center.

The Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid stands in the village of Inawan near Cotabato City. Funded by the Sultanate of Brunei, this Grand Mosque is the biggest in the country, a masterpiece of Islamic architecture that is able to hold 15,000 people. The mosque is strategically located so that it is the first sight that greets those arriving in Cotabato City, whether by the Moro Gulf or at Cotabato’s Awang Airport.

Maguindanaon Weaving and Carving Tradition

The Maguindanaon possess a strong weaving and carving tradition. As with all other Muslim groups, the Maguindanaon are prohibited from representing animal or human forms in art. This has led to the development of abstract artistic representation in textiles and carvings on weaponry and musical instruments. The birdo (vine motif), which may be shaped like a mythical animal resembling a crocodile, usually embellishes the musical instrument called kudyapi (see logo of this article).

Maguindanaon textile called inaul
Maguindanaon textile called inaul (Rosalie Matilac Collection and Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

Maguindanaon textile called inaul
Maguindanaon textile called inaul (Rosalie Matilac Collection and Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

A typical Maguindanaon blade is the kampilan, usually handled with both hands and used for cutting off heads or splitting the body from top to toe. The handle of the kampilan features the naga (S-shaped abstraction of a mythical serpent) in the form of a gaping mouth. The area above the mouth is usually adorned with reddish fibers, turning the handle into a manelike figure.

Maguindanaon weaver from Sultan Kudarat
Maguindanaon weaver from Sultan Kudarat (Roel Hoang Manipon)

Oulan (weaving), also called awlan, is traditionally done on a very simple backstrap loom. The process involves the methodical interlacing of warp and weft threads. The warp yarns or “verticals” are spread between two bars: The cloth bar is fastened to the waist of the weaver by a string; and the warp bar is affixed to a small tree, a post, or a wall. To apply tension on the warp, the weaver leans against the backstrap as she generates pressure against a piece of wood in front of her outstretched legs. The weft threads or “horizontals” are rolled inside a shuttle, which is passed back and forth through the warp openings. Additional decorations are made through supplementary warps and wefts inlaid over the basic matrix. The Maguindanaon batek (color) and design process is basically resist-dyeing, the assumption being that uncontrolled color spread can be resisted by binding, knotting, stitching, or applying wax or paste to parts of the yarn. The technique produces the desired pattern, design, or motif.

Maguindanaon textile called inaul
Maguindanaon textile called inaul (Rosalie Matilac Collection and Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

Maguindanaon textile called inaul
Maguindanaon textile called inaul (Rosalie Matilac Collection and Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

A common design on the Maguindanaon malong (tube skirt) is the ikat (literally “to tie”) design. Before weaving commences, the warp or weft or both yarns are secured with waxed threads. One common ikat design is the eight-pointed star, which is reminiscent of the “radiating core” motif.

Silver-inlaid lutuan (betel boxes), gadur (jarlike containers), and panalagudan (pot holders) are some examples of Muslim brassware. Indicating wealth and status, these decorate the affluent Maguindanaon home. The gadur come in pairs and are dignified objects with minaret-like tops. They are profuse with silver-inlaid scrolls and various geometric shapes. Betel boxes come in sets of four or at least have four compartments to accommodate the four ingredients of betel chew: bunga (areta nut), buyo (fresh pepper leaves), apug (lime powder), and damp tobacco leaves. These objects of brassware usually have either silver or white metal inlay, and are ornamented with okir designs. Other metalcraft adorned with okir motifs are the sundang (sword), the gulok (knife), the panabas (long knife), the dilek (spear), the badung, the kris, and the bongalambot, which is the hairclip worn by female royalty.

The baluyan (carrying baskets) found in Maguindanao are usually open-plaited, with a cover and a handle, and are generally made of bamboo with some nito trimming. Other items of basketry include the salakot (hat), an example of which is the tapisan hat made of finely split soft-strip bamboo over a coarser bamboo frame. Basket weavers add indigenous designs either by changing one-over-one weaving to extended twill patterns or by introducing into trims or smoked bamboo a contrast to the natural. The tapisan hat is worn over a turban. Another type of hat is the binalono salakot made of finely woven reed, which, sewn together with thread, is shaped into a dome. A coconut shell and a piece of carved wood top the hat. Like the tapisan, the binalono salakot is worn over a turban.

The Maguindanaon have recently developed their own mats, which are circular in shape and made from seagrass. Colors used are red, green, and blue. These mats measure 180 centimeters in diameter. Other types of basketry made from seagrass include fans and colorful, small, round or square containers with covers and handles.

Maguindanaon kadyun (pottery or earthenware) is made mainly through the turn-modeling technique, where a turntable, as well as a paddle, an anvil, and a broken rim, are used to mold and shape the pottery. Maguindanaon pottery includes kuden (cooking pot for rice and viands), lakub (vessel covers), paso (tub for washing rice and vegetables), buyon (drinking water jar), kararo (small drinking water jar), tampad (jar for storing water or salt), baing (open front jar for parching coffee or grains), simpi (a covered bibingka or rice cake baking pan), dapuran (elongated, floored stove), sinokuran (steamer pot), binangka (a buyon-like jar but with decorated shoulder), pamu-mulan (flower pot), torsian (coffee pot), ititi (tobacco jar), tutugan (square ember holder), and lagan (cooking pot for fish).

Sara Z. Duterte wore a Maguindanaon dress costume during President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 24 July 2023
Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Z. Duterte wore a Maguindanaon dress during President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 24 July 2023. Her SONA dress is a Bangala paired with a trouser and a flowing inaul or malong. Vice President Sara Duterte’s Bangala features gold accessories that symbolize the wealth and abundance of Mindanao’s natural resources. Inaul is a Maguindanao fabric intricately handwoven using cotton and silk. It is a treasured cultural gem that profoundly reflects the pride, bravery, heritage, and history of the people of Maguindanao.

Inaul, the traditional Maguindanaon hand-woven fabric, has been getting national attention since former President Benigno Aquino’s sister Kris featured the cloth in her morning show and promised to introduce it to the fashion market. Featuring intricate designs, inaul can be sewn into many forms of clothing, such as formal garments used in weddings, polo barongs, malong skirt for women, and trousers for men. The fabric can also be used as material for turbans, baskets, baby cradles, blankets, pillowcases, mats, and bags. Popular inaul designs are binaludto (rainbow), makabimban (stripes), and panigabi (taro).

Maguindanaon Folk Literature

The literary forms of the Maguindanaon include folk speech and folk narratives. The folk speech is expressed in the antuka (riddles), also called pantuka or paakenala, and bayok (lyric poems), while the narratives may be divided into the Islamic and the folk traditions. The Islamic tradition includes the Quran; the tarsilas or genealogical narratives; the luwaran, an embodiment of customary laws; hadith or sayings of the Prophet; and the quiza or religious stories. The folk tradition comprises the tudtul (folktales) and the epics Raja Indarapatra, Darangen, and Raja Madaya.

Raja Madaya fighting a dragon to rescue Princess Intan Tihaya
Raja Madaya fighting a dragon to rescue Princess Intan Tihaya (Illustration by Luis Chua)

For the Maguindanaon, riddles promote friendship in a group. They are also tools for basic pedagogy. The structure of a Maguindanaon riddle consists of an image and a subject. There are four types of image: comparative, descriptive, puns or puzzles, and narrative. The Maguindanaon believe in a basic unity underlying the various aspects of the environment and this belief is reflected in the use of often-conflicting image and subject in the riddles.

Riddling involves a group of people, one of which is the riddler. A person volunteering to be a riddler has to have a riddle ready or else be subject to dtapulung (ridicule), which is given not as a criticism but as part of the riddling tradition. The Maguindanaon consider bad riddlers as those who add to or subtract from the “original” text of the riddle. Riddling can take place anytime, anywhere as long as there is some form of group activity in progress; it can be done during work or recreation or both.

Ambiguities of answers can be settled by an old man or somebody who is respected in the barangay, the basic political unit. In this sense, riddles allow a certain flexibility in their solutions; that is, they point to various logically possible solutions, thus providing some form of basic pedagogy. An example of this would be:

Entuden, niaden.

It is here, it is there. (Wind)

The Maguindanaon believe that riddling should not be done at night so as not to invite the participation of evil spirits. Another belief associated with riddling at night is the avoidance of the word nipai (snake). If the use of the word cannot be avoided, euphemisms are resorted to, such as the use of the phrase “big worm.”

Maguindanaon verses are expressed through such forms as the ida-ida a rata (children’s rhymes sung in chorus) or through the tubud-tubud (short love poem). For instance:

Pupulayog sa papas ka pumagapas apas

Ka tulakin kon ko banog

Na diron pukatalakin

Ka daon kasakriti.

Kanogon si kanogon nakanogon ni ladan ko

A pukurasai mamikir a ana palandong a dar

Na di akun mapkangud a bologang ko sa gugao

Ka Oman akun ipantao na pusulakan a ig

O matao kandalia.

(Flying hard, the swift is

Trying to catch up with the hawk

But he cannot equal him

Because he is far too small.

Woe, woe unto me

Worried from thinking of a loved one

And I cannot let my feelings prevail,

express my love

Because everytime I want to reveal it

Stops it in its way.)

Composed in metaphorical language, the bayok is resorted to when a cautious and euphemistic expression is required (Wein 1983):

Salangkunai a meling

A malidu bpagimanen,

Ka mulaun sa dibenal

Dun-dun ai lumaging

A paya pagilemuan

Ka mumbus sa hakadulat

Na u saken idumanding

Sa kaludn pun na is

na matag aku ’ngka maneg

di ku mawatang galing.

Talking Salangkunai

’Tis hard to trust you,

For untrue leaves could sprout

Dun-dun fond of chatting

’Tis hard believing you

For cheating buds may show

Once I [start to] fondle

From the sea

You would just hear from me

My darling, close to me.

Salsilas or tarsilas are family narrative heirlooms that trace one’s line of descent; they are used to ascertain noble lineages that may go back to the days of the Kabungsuan. One tarsila recounts the adventures of Datu Guimba, who leads the first group of Maguindanaon to Labangan. He marries the local princess, Bai-alibabai, and adopts the title Datu sa Labangan. The next to arrive at Labangan is Datu Buyan Makasosa Kanapia, an adventurer, who marries a Maranao. Together Datu Guimba and Kanapia rule Labangan. Other datus arrive in time: Datu Maulona Taup Consi and Datu Canao Sultan Maputi.

The Maguindanaon luwaran is a set of encoded adat laws that deal with murder, theft, and adultery, as well as with inheritance and trade. The laws apply to all regardless of class and have since become the basis of modern Islamic jurisprudence.

The hadith are the sayings and practices of the prophet Muhammad, collected, compiled, and authenticated by Islamic scholars. Hadith constitute one of the sources for Islamic law and jurisprudence. They are also used to explain and clarify certain points in the Quran. The language used is Arabic.

Religious quiza are stories written in Arabic and are used by the imam to teach Islam to children. An example is the “Izra-wal-Miraj,” which tells the story of why Muslims pray five times a day. The Prophet Muhammad is awakened one night by the angel Diaba-rail. The Prophet then rides on a burrak and travels to Masjid-el-Agsa in Jerusalem, where he sees a bright light that leads to heaven. Each layer of heaven has a different color. On the seventh layer, he hears the voice of God, and sees heaven and hell. On the way down, he is instructed by Moses to ask God that the number of prayers be reduced from 50 to 5 times daily. His request is granted.

Prophet Muhammad riding the burrak to the seventh layer of heaven
Prophet Muhammad riding the burrak to the seventh layer of heaven (Illustration by Luis Chua)

A Maguindanaon tudtul is “Lagya Kudarat” (Rajah Kudarat), which tells the adventures of the two children of Lagya Mampalai of Lum: Lagya Kudarat and Puteli Sittie Kumala (“puteli” means “princess”), who are blown away after Mampalai laments the lack of suitable partners for them. Puteli Kumala is blown to a forest where she meets a kabayan, a character associated with an old unmarried woman in all Maguindanaon stories. The kabayan adopts her, as she earlier did a prince named Sumedsen sa Alungan. Although Kumala and Sumedsen live in the same house, they never speak to each other. Later, because of peeping toms, Kumala leaves and Sumedsen goes with her. They find their way to Lum, where a happy reunion takes place. Sumedsen eventually marries Kumala. Meanwhile, Lagya Kudarat has been blown to Kabulawanan. There he meets another kabayan who allows him to live with her. While hunting, Kudarat hears the game of sipa (rattan ball kicked with the ankle) being played. He goes to the game and is invited to play. He accidentally kicks the sipa toward the princess who is sitting beside the window. She throws him her ring and handkerchief. The princess and Kudarat are wed. Soon after, Kudarat feels homesick and so returns to Lum with his wife. There is a happy reunion. A week later, Kudarat and his wife return to Kabulawanan to live with his in-laws.

“Pat-I-Mata” is the story of two brothers: Pat-I-Mata, ruler of Kabalukan, and Datu sa Pulu, ruler of Reina Regente. Pat-I-Mata is so called because he has four eyes—when two of his eyes sleep, the other two are awake. He is cruel to women, marrying them when they are beautiful and returning them after they have become ugly. When the people of Kabalukan could no longer stand Pat-I-Mata’s cruelty, they ask his brother for help. Datu sa Pulu tries to restrain his brother, who pays him no heed. He then decides to kill Pat-I-Mata. He builds a cage, which he gives to Pat-I-Mata, who had asked for it. Pat-I-Mata and his followers enter the cage, and the Datu orders the door shut. Before being thrown into the river, Pat-I-Mata curses his brother, vowing that they will be enemies for eternity and that his spirit will cause any boat that his brother will ride on to capsize.

In “Mama sa Palad,” the title character is a poor but clever young man. One day, Mama sa Palad joins Datu Utu, who is on his way to court Putri Intan Biduli. During the courtship, Mama sa Palad outwits the Datu by telling the princess a number of stories that allow him to become more intimate with the princess. In the end, Mama sa Palad gets to marry Putri Intan Biduli.

Maguindanaon epics are chanted and antedate Islam, the elements of which were later incorporated in the narratives. Many of the characters in the epic Raja Indarapatra are imbued with supernatural powers. One episode is about two brothers, Raja Indarapatra and Raja Sulayman, who save Mindanao from terrible creatures. Another episode is about the birth of Raja Indarapatra, who is said to come from the union of Sultan Nabi and his cousin who knows black magic. The plot revolves around a trick that the cousin plays on the Sultan.

Raja Madaya is believed to be an indigenous Maguindanaon work because many of its elements—language, metaphor, and objects in the tale—are Maguindanaon. Other elements in the epic point to foreign origins. One episode is about the childless Sultan Ditindegen. In his despair, he prays for a child, promising to give it to a dragon. His wish is granted; but in time, a dragon appears to claim the now grown Princess Intan Tihaya. Hearing about Intan’s plight, Raja Madaya comes to the rescue.

Maguindanaon Musical Instruments and Folk Songs

The Maguindanaon have many types of musical instruments: kudyapi (boat lute), suling (bamboo flutes), kubing (mouth harp), bamboo zithers, bamboo scrapers, and the most important, the kulintangan ensemble. The kulintangan ensemble consists of five instruments. These are the kulintang, agong (wide-rimmed gong), dabakan (goblet-shaped drum), gandingan (set of four, thin-rimmed gongs), and babandir (small, thin-rimmed gong). Taken as a whole, the ensemble is called palabunibunyan (an ensemble of loud sounding instruments). It is heard in various occasions like weddings, water baptism called paigo sa ragat, and curing rites called kapagipat.

Maguindanaon man playing the dabakan and young boy playing the agong a tamlang
Maguindanaon man playing the dabakan and young boy playing the agong a tamlang, 1987 (Felicidad A. Prudente Photo Collection)

The kulintang is arranged horizontally from largest—that is, lowest in pitch—to the smallest or the highest in pitch, and laid over an antangan (wooden frame). The gongs are played by striking the knobs with a pair of basal (light wooden sticks).

The agong, played exclusively by men, is a large kettle-shaped gong. It displays a high busel (protrusion or knob) and a wide takilidan (rim) of approximately 30 centimeters. Other parts of the agong include the pakaw (collar), biyas (face), and bibir (mouth). It hangs from a horizontal pole or wooden frame and is played when the player holds the knob with his left hand, and strikes the gong with a mallet in his right. The agong is also used to announce an emergency and to mark the time of day. Moreover, the sound of the agong is believed to possess supernatural power.

The dabakan is a goblet-shaped drum with a single head covered with goat, lizard, or snake skin. The instrument is played by striking the head with two thin bamboo sticks, each 50 centimeters in length. Traditionally, the instrument is played by a woman sitting on a chair.

The gandingan is a series of four graduated gongs with a thin rim and a low central protrusion. They hang in pairs facing each other and are played by a woman who stands in between them. She uses two mallets, one for each pair, to strike at the knobs.

Finally, the babandir is a small gong with a thin rim and low central protrusion. The instrument produces a metallic sound when struck with thin bamboo sticks. There are three ways of playing the babandir. The first way is by striking the suspended gong with a pair of sticks. The second way is by striking the gong’s rim with one stick while holding the rim with the left hand. The third way is by laying the instrument upside down and striking the gong’s rim with two sticks.

There are four types of musical genres played in the palabunibunyan: binalig, duyug or sirong, sinulog, and tidtu. These genres are heard in various kinds of festive occasions. Tidtu pieces are played fast to display one’s virtuosity and are often heard in musical competitions. Binalig pieces are played to express different emotions like anger, love, and joy. Sinulog pieces, on the other hand, are played slowly in a flowing manner to express loneliness. It is said that sinulog pieces can move its listeners to tears and is best played at night or early dawn.

Traditionally, the tagunggo refers to the music used mainly in rituals and is used to accompany the sagayan dance. However, in present day practice, tagunggo is now performed for secular occasions like the opening of a cultural program or the end of a celebration.

Samaon Sulaiman, acclaimed kutyapi player
Samaon Sulaiman, acclaimed kutyapi player, 2003 (Renato S. Rastrollo, NCCA)

Many Maguindanaon have distinguished themselves nationally in the performing arts. Samaon Sulaiman is an acclaimed kutyapi player in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. Samaon’s repertoire consists of the dinaladay, linapu, minuna, and binalig. Aside from being a musician, he is also a popular barber in their community and an imam in the Libutan mosque. In 1993, he received the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Award (GAMABA) from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Amal Lumuntod is a master kulintang player who innovated and popularized the binalig style. Performing solo, he is known for “his sudden stops, the use of rests, more plays for the left hand, a fast right hand melody, and an unpredictable introduction traditionally done through a middle gong” (Cultural Center 1991). Recordings of his music have been made. For his virtuosity, Lumuntod has been invited to perform in Manila, Hong Kong, Iran, and Europe, and was given the Gawad CCP sa Sining in 1991. Among his students are kulintang performers like Danungan Kalanduyan, Madendog Kamangsa, and Ussop Tanggo. A group that has also distinguished itself in the kulintang is the Maguindanaon Lilang Lilang.

The epics that are chanted in Maguindanaon are generally in a melismatic style, employing tones of the Chinese scale. The religious chants, sung in Arabic, are also melismatic, and mostly use the diatonic scale. Some passages are played in penta- and tetrachordal settings. Maguindanaon love chants are of two types: the sindil, which are “coloristic,” and the bayok, which are syllabic and tetrachordal. Lullabies are tetrachordal in form. Singers of epic and religious chants are semi-professionals, whereas bayok and lullaby singers come from the general populace.

Maguindanaon Ritual Dances

Street dance performance during the 2nd Sagayan Festival in Buluan, Maguindanao
Street dance performance during the 2nd Sagayan Festival in Buluan, Maguindanao, 2013 (Ferdinandh Cabrera)

The Maguindanaon dance is not a category in itself but is a part of various ritual dance performances. These rituals include several forms of movements: leaping, prancing, mock attacks, singing, yelling, poetic incantations, and even carrying a tray of embers. Within such symbolic performances are various “moments” involving religious ecstasy, a shifting of physical boundaries, a transformation of time itself and an element of uncertainty articulated in the concept of the frivolous, if not malevolent supernatural beings. These different ritual dances are usually done to the accompaniment of the kulintangan.

One of the most important Maguindanaon ritual dance performances is the sagayan, a warrior dance depicting the exploits of Bantugan, a mythological hero prince. The sagayan is performed for different reasons and occasions: for entertainment during wedding ceremonies, for datu-sponsored celebrations, or for the paguipat festivals held to honor the spirits and to cure the ills of Maguindanaon. The dance features a warrior-dancer equipped with a wooden shield in one hand and a shining kris in the other, and who moves to the rhythm of the kulintangan.

Other ritual dance performances of the Maguindanaon are the asik, the dance of the dolls for girls; the kamayang sanusala, a fan and kerchief dance highlighting the art of fan handling; the dinggunda, a courtship “dance-in-verse,” where a male and a female performer recite poetic lines while translating them into physical gestures and poses; the gardingan, a counterpart of the pangalay dance in Basilan; and kagsingkil or kadyasan sa singkilan. The Maguindanaon proudly claim that the kagsingkil originated from them.

Video: A Tribe Called Maguindanao

Another dance is a cock dance, done usually for the sultan’s pleasure. The performers of this dance are garbed in red, green, and yellow cock costumes. They execute movements representing a cockfight. The kulintangan provides the necessary rhythmic cadence and guides the performers’ movements. The dance culminates with two competing “cock performers” left, one of which is left to claim victory.

A ritual dance is the solemn pre-Islamic walian dance. The music accompanying this dance resembles a Hawaiian or Tahitian tune. The dance itself involves a walian carrying fire on a tray. The ritual incantations are followed by the appearance of the male performers who represent the malevolent spirits. The walian then prays that the good spirits send away the malicious ones, who are still thriving in the bodies of the deceased.

Maguindanaon People as Featured in Media

Maguindanaon radio broadcasting started in the early 1960s, with Hadji Abdul Samad Abdullah sponsoring local radio stations in Cotabato City. Some Maguindanaon professionals and politicians have sponsored radio programs dedicated to their religious, political, and sociocultural concerns. Mindalinaw, a radio program that airs on DXMS in Cotabato City and DXMY in Carmen, North Cotabato, aims to promote a dialogue among the tri-people caught in the crossfire in Mindanao. The program coordinates with service providers and agencies, the military, and the MILF for any assistance and humanitarian protection needed.

The municipality of Upi in Maguindanao established a community-based radio channel called DXUP-FM. The radio channel is prominent for advocating gender and peace among the peoples of Mindanao. Its programs provide a venue where residents get to communicate with concerned authorities and local officials and allow listeners to participate through SMS or text messaging.

In 2006, also in Upi, Father Eduardo Vasquez Jr., OMI, founded i-Watch Media, which was to become the video documentary outfit of the OMI missionaries. I-Watch has documented stories in Maguindanao such as deadly clashes between the military and the MILF, and the Maguindanao massacre. In 2011, i-Watch held an exclusive interview with then MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who would break away from the rebel group and lead the BIFF. For his documentary work, Father Vasquez was awarded that same year the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Fellowship for excellence in journalism.

The Maguindanaon have been featured several times in film. Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Bagong Buwan (New Moon), 2001, tells of the war in Mindanao through the eyes of the Moro people. The film narrates the story of a Muslim doctor who returns to Mindanao after his son is killed by a stray bullet. He wishes to take his family to Manila, but he cannot convince them to come. The film has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies and simplistic depiction of the Mindanao conflict as being merely the difference between the Christian and Muslim ways of life.

Gutierrez Mangansakan II’s Limbunan
Gutierrez Mangansakan II’s Limbunan, 2010 (Photo courtesy of Gutierrez Mangansakan II)

In Limbunan (The Bridal Quarters), 2010, Maguindanaon filmmaker Gutierrez Mangansakan II depicts the varying attitudes of three women toward the ancient tradition of arranged marriages. As Ayesah, a 16-year-old girl betrothed to a man she has never met, is kept in a bridal chamber for a month before her wedding, her aunt, mother, and cousin convince her to accept the wedding for different reasons. Set in 1989, almost three years after the nation was liberated from a dictator under the leadership of a woman, Limbunan is one of the first Mindanaoan films to question ruling patriarchal traditions.

In Qiyamah, 2012, Mangansakan dramatizes the apocalypse in a Maguindanaon village. Signs of impending doom are the sun rising in the west, insect noises deep in the night, and the presence of Evil that shatters the village folk. The film weaves together the complexities of life, death, war, and peace.

Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Then), 2014, is directed by Maguindanao-born Lav Diaz. Central to this five-and-a-half-hour opus are a cast of colorful barrio characters whose lives intersect and slowly change as their area is militarized in the period before martial law was officially declared. Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon won the grand prize at the 2014 World Premieres Film Festival Philippines and became the first full-length feature to compete at the Locarno Film Festival.

Maratabat (Honor), 2014, is the debut film of broadcast journalist Arlyn dela Cruz, who spent 98 days with the Abu Sayyaf group. One of five films included in the New Wave category of the 2014 Metro Manila Film Festival, the film portrays the effect of rido or clan wars on a fictional town named Maratabat.


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  • This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition. Title: Maguindanaon Author/s: Gary E. P. Cheng, with contributions from Corazon A. Hila (1994) / Updated by Jake Soriano, with contributions from Jay Jomar F. Quintos, Rosario Cruz-Lucero, and Alano Kadil (2018) URL: Publication Date: November 18, 2020 Access Date: September 12, 2022


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