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Maranao People of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Lanao Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

Maranao People of the Philippines: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Lanao Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

The term “Maranao,” “Meranao,” or “Mranao” derives from ranao, which means “lake”; hence, “Maranao” means “people of the lake.” The traditional home of the Maranao is the area surrounding Lake Lanao, the second largest lake in the Philippine archipelago, next to Laguna de Bay in Luzon. Located in Lanao del Sur near the border of Lanao del Norte, the area is roughly triangular in shape, with a 28.8-kilometer-long base. The surface is approximately 780 to 2,300 meters above sea level. This elevation results in a temperature far more pleasant than that in the surrounding areas.

A view of Lake Lanao
A view of Lake Lanao (Courtesy of the Provincial Government of Lanao del Sur)

On the northern tip of the lake lies Marawi City, the premier urban center of the province of Lanao del Sur. In Basa Iranon, the Maranao language, “Marawi” literally means a “place where things are inclined or centered.” The city is bisected by the Agus River, which is the only outlet of the lake to the sea to the north and which feeds the Maria Cristina Falls, now the major source of hydroelectric power throughout Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur. The Maranao language spoken in the Lanao provinces is part of a subgroup of languages called the Danao languages. The others include Ilanun, also Ilanum or Iranun, spoken by a group of sea-based people between Lanao and Maguindanao; and Maguindanao, spoken mainly in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

The Maranao population is estimated at 1,099,997, distributed as follows: 241,400 in Lanao del Norte or 22% of its total population; and 858,559 in Lanao del Sur or 78% of its total population. The Maranao comprise 36% of the population in the province of Lanao del Norte outside of Iligan City. The various Bisaya groups, including the Cebuano, comprise the dominant group in the province at 60%. In Iligan City, the Bisaya and Cebuano are the dominant group at 85% of the city population, whereas the Maranao are a mere 7%. However, in Lanao del Sur’s capital city of Marawi, the Maranao comprise 96% of the population. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Maranao comprise 26.4% of the total population, making it the largest of the Islamic groups in the ARMM. Of the total population of Mindanao, they comprise 5.4%, making them the fourth largest ethnolinguistic group in the region. The largest group is the Bisaya, also known as Visayan, including the Cebuano, 44%; followed by the Ilonggo, 8%; and the Maguindanao, 6%.

History of the Maranao People

The earliest Maranao historical records, found in the salsila (oral traditions), are about the Kingdom of Bumbaran, from where came the ancestors of the present-day Maranao. Legend says that when the first Muslim missionaries came to preach Islam, the inhabitants of Bumbaran refused to be converted. The entire kingdom then sank into what is now Lake Lanao. Only four people survived, and they became the ancestors of today’s Maranao.

A datu and his extended family, 1948, in formal Maranao attire in front of an ancestral torogan decorated for a feast
A datu and his extended family, 1948, in formal Maranao attire in front of an ancestral torogan decorated for a feast (LVN Film Archives)

Before Islam, the Maranao were organized into independent and kinship-based political units called barangay. These units settled in various parts of the lake, but were organized into four pengampong (states or encampments) administered by local datus (chieftains); these states were Bayabao, Masiu, Unayan, and Balo-i.

In the early 16th century, Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan, an Arab-Malay preacher from the royal house of Malacca, arrived in what is now Malabang, introduced the Islamic faith and customs, settled down with a local princess, and founded a new political order. Indigenous administrative structures persisted under the newly introduced sultanate system. Islam became the catalyst for Maranao political integration, the process of which was frustrated by the rise of the Maguindanao royalty. Maranao leadership had been politically affiliated with the Maguindanao until after the decline of the latter’s power.

With the arrival of the Spaniards came successive expeditions to conquer the Muslim groups in the South. Called the Moro Wars, these battles were waged intermittently from 1578 between the Spanish colonial government and the Muslims of Mindanao. In 1578, a Spanish expedition that had been sent against Brunei defeated the Tausug of Sulu. A peace treaty was forged. However, the victory did not establish Spanish sovereignty over Sulu because the Tausug abrogated the treaty as soon as the Spaniards had left. 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 was killed in an ambush, and his troops retreated to an anchorage near Zamboanga. In retaliation, the Muslims raided Visayan towns in Panay, Negros, and Cebu. These raids were repulsed by Spanish and Visayan forces.

In the early 17th century, the largest alliance composed of the Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, and other Muslim groups was formed by Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat, also known as Cachel Corralat, whose domain extended from the Davao Gulf to Dapitan on the Zamboanga peninsula. Several expeditions sent by the Spanish authorities suffered defeat. In 1635, Captain Juan de Chaves occupied Zamboanga and erected a fort. This led to the defeat of Kudarat’s feared admiral, Datu Tagal, who had raided pueblos in the Visayas. In 1637, Governor-General Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera personally led an expedition against Kudarat and triumphed over his forces at Lamitan and Ilian.

In 1639, Corcuera sent Captain Francisco de Atienza and Father Agustin de San Pedro to explore Lanao. Forming alliances with the Maranao datu, Atienza and San Pedro became the first Europeans to see Lake Lanao and to study the country. The following year, Don Pedro Bermudez de Castro led a campaign to erect a garrison in Lanao but was beaten back. After de Castro’s retreat, the Spaniards did not return to Lanao until after 200 years.

These wars made the Maranao perfect their own defense through the kota (fortification of rock and earth), camouflaged with vegetation. During an attack, Maranao warriors would emerge suddenly from their kota and engage the enemies in hand-to-hand combat. Lake Lanao complemented this defensive strategy; warriors would escape from the shelled kota through the lake and to other fortifications. This type of warfare prevented the Spanish conquest of the Lanao region.

The Spaniards later realized this and in 1848 employed their navy to assist their ground forces. Sulu was conquered by Admiral Jose Malcampo in 1876. In 1886, General Torrero led an expedition against Datu Uto of Cotabato but although he was able to destroy the kota in Cotabato, he was unable to enforce Spanish sovereignty.

In 1891, Governor-General Valeriano Weyler personally led a campaign against the Maguindanao and Maranao. From Zamboanga he turned his forces against the different kota in Marawi. With 1,242 heavily armed men and four well-equipped transports—the Manila, Cebu, San Quintin, and Marquez de Duero—he seized Fort Marawi from Datu Akadir Akobar, also known as Amai Pacpac, who managed to escape. Three days later, the Spanish forces retreated as native warriors laid siege to the fort.

Four years later, Governor-General Ramon Blanco and two light gunboats—the SS General Blanco and the SS Lanao—attacked Marawi and destroyed the Maranao kota. Datu Akadir Akobar was killed, and Fort Marawi was taken by the Spaniards. In the same year, the Lanao district was created. However, with the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution in 1896, Governor-General Blanco was forced to transfer his forces from Lanao to Luzon.

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, which 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.

Although the Bates Agreement had “pacified” the Sulu Sultanates to a certain extent, the resistance in Lanao continued after the Americans occupied the Islands. The Maranao joined several anti-American uprisings in Lanao. In 1902, Datu Tungul, a Binidayan sultan, led an attack on Camp Vicars. In the same year, Sultans Ganduli and Tanagan of Masiu staged an uprising that claimed 150 to 200 Muslim lives, including their own. From 1903 to 1909, the protracted defiance by Ampuanagus of Taraca resulted in the death of 290 Muslims.

After the Philippine-American War, the Americans established direct rule over the newly formed Moro province, which consisted of five districts: Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, Davao, and Sulu. Political, social, and economic changes were introduced. These included the creation of provincial and district institutions; the introduction of the public school system and American-inspired judicial system; the imposition of the cedula (head tax); the migration of Christians to Muslim lands, with the encouragement of the colonial government; and the abolition of slavery. These and other factors contributed to Muslim resistance that took 10 years “to pacify.”

The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Moro province on 15 December 1913 and a year later created the province of Lanao. 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.

Provisions were made, however, to allow Muslims time to comply with the new restrictions. “Proxy colonialism” was legalized by the Public Land Act of 1919, invalidating Muslim pusaka (inherited property laws), which had applied until then. The act also granted the state the right to confer land ownership. It was thought that the Muslim would “learn” from the “more advanced” Christianized 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, 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, among them the skirmish between the followers of Datu Amai of Sisiman and the Philippine Constabulary (PC) in 1921, the uprising of the Muslims of Tugaya and Ganassi in 1923, and the revolt of Datu Pandak in 1924, whose movement fizzled out when he died.

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, two Muslims were elected to 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 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 the various armed uprisings, mostly in Lanao, from 1936 to 1941. The Muslims, being generally averse to anything that threatens Islam and their way of life, were neither anti-American nor anti-Filipino per se. They were simply against any form of foreign encroachment into their traditions and beliefs.

During World War II, the Muslims in general supported the fight against the Japanese, who were less tolerant and harsher to them than the Manila government. After independence, efforts to integrate the Muslims into the new political order met with stiff resistance. It was unlikely that the Muslims, who had had a longer cultural history as Muslims than the Christian Filipinos as Christians, would surrender their identity. In 1959 Republic Act (RA) No 2228 divided Lanao into two provinces, with Lanao del Norte being designated for the Christian settlers and Lanao del Sur for the Maranao population.

The conflict between Muslims and Christian Filipinos was exacerbated in 1965 with the Jabidah Massacre, in which Muslim soldiers were allegedly eliminated because they refused to invade Sabah. This incident contributed to the rise of various separatist movements: the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), Ansar El-Islam, and the Union of Islamic Forces and Organizations.

In 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was founded on the concept of a Bangsamoro Republic by a group of educated young Muslims. 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. Except for a brief show of unity during the pre-martial law years, the new movement suffered from internal disunity.

On 21 October 1972, in a move independent of the MNLF, about 200 armed Maranao rebels launched simultaneous attacks on strategic areas of Marawi City, namely, Pantar Bridge, which connects Marawi City to Iligan City and the Marine camp in Lanao del Norte; Camp Amai Pakpak, the PC headquarters of Lanao del Sur; and the Marawi campus of the Mindanao State University (MSU-Marawi), where two Maranao student leaders took control of radio station DXSO and tried to drum up public support for the uprising with martial songs and speeches. Three buildings were razed, including the provincial capitol building. The uprising ended the following day, 22 October, with 59 casualties, including 49 rebels and 6 of the government forces.

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.

When Corazon C. Aquino became president, a new constitution, which provided for the creation of autonomous regions in Mindanao and the Cordilleras, was ratified. On 1 August 1989, RA 6734 or the Organic Act for Mindanao created the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In a referendum held that same year, four provinces voted for inclusion in ARMM: Maguindanao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Lanao del Sur, excluding Marawi City. In 2001, as a result of a referendum, RA 9054 provided for the inclusion of Marawi City in the ARMM, along with the province of Basilan, except Isabela City.

The government peace deal with the MNLF, which had led to the creation of the ARMM, did not lead to lasting peace as was hoped. A breakaway group of Moro rebels, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by Hashim Salamat, a Maguindanaon, did not recognize the ARMM and continued fighting for Moro self-determination in Mindanao, espousing an Islamist stance instead of the Marxist-Maoist orientation of the MNLF. The Philippine government began another round of peace negotiations, this time with the MILF.

From 1996 to 1998, during the administration of former President Fidel Ramos, several agreements between the Philippine government and the MILF were signed, including an agreement on cessation of hostilities in July 1997 and a general framework agreement of intent on August 1998. The peace talks were ineffectual. By the end of 1999 up to early 2000, the MILF got involved in several attacks in Central Mindanao and taken over the town of Kauswagan in Lanao del Norte. Former President Joseph Estrada, who by then had already replaced President Ramos, declared and carried out an all-out war against the MILF. President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who succeeded the ousted President Estrada, suspended the military offensive against the MILF, and sought a resumption of peace negotiations. Negotiations under the Arroyo administration, despite reaching a breakthrough in the form of a Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD), only resulted in the escalation of violence in Mindanao. The MOA-AD was supposed to be signed on 5 August 2008, but the Philippine Supreme Court intervened and declared the agreement unconstitutional. The court sided with the petitioners, who were mostly local officials from Mindanao, with the following two rulings: that the MOA-AD violated the constitution by creating a state-like entity, and that it went against existing legislation on ancestral domain by lumping even non-Muslim indigenous groups under a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE).

On 4 August 2011, President Benigno Aquino III and MILF chair Al-Haj Murad Ebrahim, a Maguindanaon, met in Tokyo, Japan, setting in motion a series of talks that would lead to the signing of a framework agreement in 2012 and a comprehensive agreement on the Bangsamoro in 2014. This new agreement would replace the existing ARMM with a new political entity called the Bangsamoro, which would have broader powers over its use of resources and wider powers of autonomy. A new law, the Bangsamoro Basic Law, would govern the creation of this new entity. However, it was not enacted into a law when lawmakers withdrew their support from the bill due to the Mamasapano clash in January 2015. The clash took place in the area controlled by the MILF and its breakaway faction, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which resulted in the death of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) personnel, 18 MILF, and five BIFF members (Manlupig 2015). The police operation intended to capture or kill the notorious Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir also known as “Marwan,” who was alleged to have trained and recruited young Muslims to join Dawlah Islamiyah, literally “Islamic State.”

On 23 May 2017, three days before Ramadan, a series of gunfire erupted between some members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Abu Sayyaf subleader Isnilon Hapilon’s group at the lower portion of Mindanao State University Marawi’s Basak Malulut village (Fonbuena 2020, 18). The AFP at this time was undertaking an operation to capture Hapilon who was believed to be in Lanao del Sur to establish the Islamic State Southeast Asia wilayat (province) in Marawi City (Lavallee 2017). Hapilon’s group joined forces with the prominent Maute family to counter the AFP and proceeded to occupy several establishments in the city, including the Amai Pakpak Hospital near the city hall and the army’s brigade station (Yabes 2020, 64). The militants were seen waving the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) black flags as they roamed the streets of Marawi (Cabrera and Gloria 2017). It was close to midnight on the same day when President Rodrigo Duterte, through Proclamation No. 216, placed the entire Mindanao and Sulu under martial law.

It was publicized on the succeeding days of the crisis that several foreign fighters linked to ISIS were among the forces fighting with Hapilon’s group (Quintos 2018). The battle ensued with hundreds of civilian residents unable to flee from Marawi City for safety. Many of them also suffered from numerous air strikes conducted by the AFP. Such strikes resulted in the destruction of various civilian and religious structures, including the historic Grand Mosque, Dansalan Bato Ali Mosque, and Masjid Abu Bkr Mosque (Fonbuena 2020, 70).

Brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute, members of an influential political Maranao clan in Butig, were believed to be ISIS recruiters in Lanao del Sur who had been radicalized during their studies in Indonesia and Jordan. They pledged allegiance to the ISIS in August 2015 (Yabes 2020, 69). Hapilon, who married a sister of the Maute brothers, joined the organizational efforts in the province in December 2016. In one of his speeches during the siege, President Duterte claimed that more than the ideological battle of establishing a caliphate in the southern Philippines, the crisis in Marawi was brought about by the local politicians’ involvement in the illegal drug trade (Fonbuena 2020, 81; Valente 2017). The allegation adheres to Marawi’s reputation as a drug cartel territory in Muslim Mindanao where operations are purportedly controlled and protected by local officials and prominent families (Cagoco-Guiam and Schoofs 2016).

The siege lasted five months until the Joint Task Force Marawi was able to confine the militant group’s area down to Grand Padian Market in Barangay Datu sa Dansalan. On 16 October 2017, Omar Maute and Hapilon were killed by a sniper of the counter-terrorist unit of the Philippine Army (Gallardo 2017). This marked the end of the crisis. Records show that the AFP forces lost 169 men with over 1,400 wounded. At least 87 civilians died and 1,771 hostages were rescued, including an infant who was born within the battle zone. On record, 978 members of the militant group died, some 837 firearms were recovered from them (Fonbuena 2020, 185).

Upon the request of President Duterte, members of the Congress approved the series of extensions of martial law in the Mindanao group of islands from 23 May 2017 to 31 December 2019. Despite several petitions filed before the Supreme Court questioning the extensions, its implementation was continuously upheld until the end of 2019 (Tantuco 2020). In the two years of martial law, various human rights abuses were documented: 162 cases of extrajudicial killings, 704 fabricated charges, 284 illegal arrests and detentions, 1,007 victims of aerial bombardments, and over 500,000 residents displaced in Mindanao and Sulu (Vera Files 2020). The lumad (indigenous peoples) and their ancestral lands proved to be the most vulnerable during the imposition of martial law. Until mid-2021, the Maranao of Marawi City were still busy recovering from the losses, trauma, and distress brought about by the siege (Gotinga 2021).

On 26 July 2018, the Bangsamoro Basic Law was signed by President Duterte following its approval in the 17th Congress. A two-part plebiscite on January 21 and February 1 resulted in the ratification of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) with territorial jurisdiction in Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Marawi City, Lamitan City, Cotabato City, and 63 barangays in six North Cotabato towns (Arguillas 2019).

The Livelihood of the Maranao People

Lake Lanao is the single most important source of livelihood for the Maranao. It provides the major source of protein diet for the Maranao and supplies their water and energy needs. Economically important species of fish in Lake Lanao include the aruan (mudfish), katipa (catfish), popoyo (climbing perch), kasili (eel), bongkaong (carp), mampawi (tilapia), gorami (plasalit), tamban (black bass), kadurong (goby), arid bangos (milkfish). From 1963 to 1964, fish production in Lake Lanao was only 1,986,330 kilograms for the entire lake, while fish consumption of the entire population of Lanao del Sur was 8,132,156.22 kilograms.

Potri Hadji Karim with a harvest of white scallion
Potri Hadji Karim with a harvest of white scallion (Karlos Manlupig,

Cheap electric power is provided by Maria Cristina Falls, the water source of which is Lake Lanao, 30 kilometers away. Trade is conducted through the lake, thus avoiding major land transport problems. Around Lake Lanao are forest resources that have been tapped for commercial purposes; during the fiscal year of 1973 to 1974, timber harvest around the lake amounted to over 69.5 million board feet for export and domestic markets, with a value of approximately 65.6 million pesos.

In recent years, the condition of Lake Lanao has become threatened and along with it, the livelihood and economic condition of the Maranao who reside near this body of water. After the 1963 to 1964 survey, a new survey of fisheries was conducted in Lake Lanao from 1990 to 1991. The results are worrying because they reveal that “all the endemic and introduced species in Lake Lanao are in a precarious situation” (Rosagaron 2001, 6). Within a span of only 27 years between the two surveys, the production of cyprinids, mudfish, catfish, eel, climbing perch, common carp, white goby, gourami, and black bass have decreased to alarming levels—more than 95%. Production of shrimps and shells has decreased by 74%, while tilapia production decreased by 35%.

The construction of hydroelectric infrastructure in and around Lake Lanao, with the aim of providing power to the rest of Mindanao, adversely affected the situation of the lake. Recognizing this problem, the national government under the administration of President Corazon Aquino created the Lake Lanao Watershed Protection and Development Council in 1992. President Fidel V. Ramos further strengthened the council by prescribing measures to protect Lake Lanao. However, the creation of this council and its Lake Lanao Watershed Protection Plan have not substantially resolved the management issues in Lake Lanao.

Rice is the main agricultural product of Maranao farms, which average 1 to 2 hectares. Harvest is once a year. Other produce include corn; fruits such as bananas, jackfruit, madang, durian, avocado, and mangoes; and vegetables such as cabbage, Chinese leaf, onions, carrots, cassava, sweet potato, and potato. The Maranao do not generally engage in commercial agriculture. The carabao is used for work and food. Other animals raised are the goat, and to a much lesser extent, chicken (Plagata et al. 1976, 71-72).

During the 1960s and 1970s, the green revolution, which introduced science and technology to crop production, had an immense impact on the Maranao, particularly on rice farmers. Today, farmers practice a combination of indigenous forms of planting and breeding rice with modern supplements like pesticides and fertilizers to increase yield (Dimaporo and Fernandez 2007, 77-78).

Commercial activities include the sari-sari (variety) store; weaving, which is a woman’s occupation; and metalcraft such as brass making in Tugaya, which has been very lucrative. Maranao retailers monopolize the rice milling business and transportation in Marawi City (Plagata et al. 1976, 73-74).

Tradition has handed down the Maranao property law, which is very complex. Land ownership is difficult to assess as property transfer is often contested by traditional claims.

Infrastructure for even the most basic services such as water remains inadequate. Transportation and communication facilities are still wanting, as are financial and manufacturing establishments. With basically a subsistence economy, the Maranao standard of living has not improved substantially despite an increase in the number of professionals who have had access to formal education (Plagata et al. 1976, 72-75).

The Maranao’s standard of living could have greatly improved had the creation of the ARMM brought about peace, as was its aim. As a self-governing region, it could have attracted more substantial investments. However, investments have been limited to small-scale enterprises, which have had very little impact on the region’s economy (Wallace 2003, 7). Thus, Lanao del Sur remains one of the poorest provinces in the entire Philippines. Lanao del Sur’s population has 73.8%, or seven in ten people, living below the poverty line (NSCB 2012).

A few companies that had invested in ARMM-covered provinces before the peace deal with the MNLF have fared well, however, despite the volatile situation in the region. One notable example is the Matling Industrial and Commercial Corporation, the biggest processor of cassava in Mindanao, which has been in operation in Malabang, Lanao del Sur since 1928 (Habito 2012).

Political System of the Maranao Community

The Maranao live in agama (hamlets), politically defined by the presence of at least one torogan (great house), where community gatherings are held. Every agama is organized into two or more bangsa (ambilineal descent lines), each of which owns at least one hereditary title. The actual holder of the major title is considered the representative of the bangsa. Within each agama, one or more titleholders belong to a superior political level and are given the title sultan. This larger organization of hamlets is the effective political community, and its strong federal system serves to unite the four Maranao pengampong (states or encampments)—Bayabao, Masiu, Unayan, and Balo-i—into the pat-a-pengampong ko ranao under the taritib (ancient order of customs, traditions, and usages observed in the community). In the past, Maranao society was defined by a three-rank system that included persons having claim to titles, free people with no claim to titles, and bond slaves. Nowadays, with slavery abolished, stratification depends more on wealth and power, and is expressed in the bangsa system.

Datu Mundas, seated center in white shirt, Datu Pedro, seated to his left, and Raja Mudah, standing, second from right, and their retinue, Camp Vigars, Mindanao, 1948
Datu Mundas, seated center in white shirt, Datu Pedro, seated to his left, and Raja Mudah, standing, second from right, and their retinue, Camp Vigars, Mindanao, 1948 (Filipinas Heritage Library)

Muslim leadership may be categorized into three elite groups: traditional, secular, and religious (Che Man 1990, 116-124). The sultan, datu, and other aristocrats who constitute the traditional elite continue to wield influence in Maranao 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 in Maranao society. The religious elite consists of the imam (religious leader), kali (religious judge), religious teachers, preachers, and pious men.

Combinations are possible. An educated person of noble descent who is also a religious teacher belongs to the three elite groups. Most holders of government positions (regional, provincial, and municipal) belong to one or a combination of these elite groups. The national system has had varied effects on the 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 (Mednick 1975).

Political and electoral development in the province of Lanao del Sur, where most of the Maranao reside, continue to be hampered by the prevailing cycle of violence. Failure of elections has been a fixture in the province since the restoration of democracy in the Philippines in 1987, a year after the EDSA Revolt, until as recently as 2010. A failure of elections is declared in an area when election officers tasked to facilitate the process fail to show up and start the polls, most likely because of threats to their safety or the occurrence of violent incidents. From 1998 to 2007, voters in five towns of Lanao del Sur could not cast their votes in regular election days because of failure of elections. These five towns are Madalum, Lumbatan, Lumba-Bayabao, Bayang, and Sultan Dumalondong (GMA News 2007). However, in the 2013 elections, for the first time since 1987, Lanao del Sur made history by having no failure of elections in all its precincts (Dizon 2013).

Maranao Culture, Customs and Traditions

Maranao social structure can be characterized not so much in terms of exclusive ranks associated with exclusive obligations and privileges, but in terms of the rights and duties accorded to “lines of descent.” Each agama, and hence each descent line, is ranked as either pegawiden, literally “the carried” or pegawid, literally “the carrier.” Therefore, a person’s inherited rights, such as claims on land, title, and ceremonial payments, depend on descent lines; these privileges only apply in the agama where these rights originate. It is possible for a prestigious person of one agama to have only the privileges and obligations of a slave in another. His personal prestige may be affected in such a case, but his claims and his capacity to give these to his children cannot be touched (Warriner 1975, 40-41).

Contemporary Maranao wedding
Contemporary Maranao wedding, 2016 (AP Yao and Alfred Yao, Hugbig Photography)

The Maranao associate certain signs with conception and pregnancy. Among these are the wife’s desire for rare kinds of food, the incessant crying of a younger sibling at night, and the wife’s irritability. A panday (midwife) is called to check on these observations.

The pregnant wife is accorded a special status: she is allowed to do what women are otherwise forbidden from doing, while the husband becomes more attentive. It is believed that if the wife’s wishes are not granted or if she is given cause for worry, a miscarriage or a serious illness may follow.

Before childbirth, the mother lies on the lantay (delivery bed), her legs covered with malong (a tubular skirt), which is worn by both sexes. The panday checks the abdomen to determine if the child is in the correct position and is moving normally.

During delivery, the panday’s hands work through and within the malong. If the delivery is delayed, the wife is made to drink a ginger mixture. After delivery, the umbilical cord is tied to the nearest base and cut with an irab (a bamboo slit). Ashes are applied to the cut portion to stop the bleeding. Baptismal rites consist of an imam holding the baby while doing the azan (Muslim call to prayer). This act symbolizes the child’s purpose in life, which is to worship God.

In crossing Lake Lanao for the first time with the child, the parents must drop a coin or any metal object into the lake. This gesture is considered an act of respect for the lake’s ancestral spirits, who are believed to protect the child.

Physical manifestations of puberty—the development of breasts for women and the growth of beards for men—signal the onset of certain customs. The boys are required to undergo kapagi-Islam (circumcision), literally “becoming Muslim,” in the mosque. The imam cuts the foreskin with the use of a sharp knife and applies lime, betel nut, and betel leaf to the wound to stop the bleeding.

Kandaonga (courtship) is undertaken through the matchmakers, often in verses exchanged continually until there is an assurance on both sides about the details of the marriage. It even continues until the kalawi-an (rites of marriage), a ritual done when the bride visits the place of the groom for the first time. Matrimonial negotiations often take a long time because of these exchanges.

The kakewing (wedding proper) is preceded by the kambitiara, a public recital by the pananalsila of the lineages of both the bride and the groom’s families. One reason for the kambitiara is to make public the “noble” lineages of both families, and hence to affirm that both are of the same class. The kambitiara can also be recited to praise and extol both families. After the kambitiara, the kakewing takes place. This is often dramatic because the groom has to overcome many obstacles before he is able to meet his bride and batal (touch her for the first time). The imam recites the wedding rite and gives advice on the duties and responsibilities involved in married life. After this, the groom searches for his bride; but he cannot just enter the room where she is hidden until he satisfies the demands of the bridal entourage. Very often, the groom and his entourage have to haggle for whatever is demanded, the fulfillment of which allows him to enter the room. Another obstacle awaits him; he has to fulfill the rites of leka sa gibon (opening the room). A fee has to be paid by the groom to open the door and dine with his bride. The kalawian is the last obstacle that the groom must face. The ritual of bringing the bride to the groom’s place for the first time entails a price, and this must be paid. Failure to do so can forfeit the wedding.

Certain signs are associated with impending death: dog howls, certain birds singing at night, and shouts from the birds mangangasa and ko-ro-wao. Death is confirmed when the pulse is no longer felt and is announced by gongs and rifle fire. The body is washed by the imam and wrapped in white cloth before it is brought to the mosque for saltul gaib (prayer for the dead) and then to the grave.

Other social ceremonies of the Maranao include the tephali, which attends the construction of a house. The direction of the naga (dragon or serpent) must first be established, usually north to south, before construction can begin. The direction is marked by a corner post, above which a cooking jar is placed for two weeks, and on the base of which are placed silver and gold coins. When the family moves into the new house, the relatives come for the semang (housewarming ceremonies), bringing with them palay placed in tabak (trays) and a cheerful hope of prosperity for the family.

Polygyny is allowed; a Muslim man can have up to four wives if he can provide for them. However, this practice is slowly becoming unpopular (Isidro 1976, 46-52).

The Maranao are known to practice rido, a system of retributive justice that erupts when maratabat (honor) of one family member is besmirched by a member of another family. Rido, it should be noted, is not confined to the Maranao alone. Cases of blood vengeance, which comes in different names, have been known to occur in other Muslim, as well as indigenous, groups in Mindanao. This practice predates the introduction of both Islam and Christianity in the Philippines (Durante et al. 2005, 1).

A 2005 study on rido by the Ateneo de Zamboanga University Research Center and the Notre Dame University Research Center found that among the Maranao, the most common causes of clan conflict resulting in violence are land disputes, political rivalry, drug-related crimes, and the violation of the maratabat (as cited in Durante et al. 2005, 3). The study has documented 27 reported rido cases among the Maranao, occurring from the 1970s to 2004, with 22 of these already settled. A weak formal system of justice and the proliferation of firearms further contribute to the outbreak and escalation of rido-related violence. Cases are often resolved through the intervention of mediators, who assume responsibility for raising blood money and for working out a settlement between the feuding families by highlighting possible blood relations between them (Durante et al. 2005, 2-4).

Maranao Religious Beliefs and Practices

The Maranao are basically Sunni Muslims, although traces of minor Shiite and Sufi influences can also be found. Islamic religious roles include that of the imam or the kali, which are affiliated with bangsa titles.

Maranao students in a religious ethics class at Mindanao State University, Marawi City
Maranao students in a religious ethics class at Mindanao State University, Marawi City, 2006 (Henry Francis B. Espiritu,

The ceremonial calendar is Islamic (Lebar 1975, 39). The survival and spread of Islam can be attributed to its ability to accommodate indigenous beliefs and customs (Tan 1985, 3-9). The kind of Islam that arrived in the Philippines had already assimilated various other traditions. Politically, this folk Islam was further indigenized when the local barangay structure persisted in the sultanate system.

Local terms for political leadership show little Islamic influence. Some examples are solotan (judge), paninin diungan (past sultan), datu, rajah moda (sultan’s adjutant), sultan cabugatan (superior judge), sancupan (attorney), cabugatan (justice of the peace), casanguan (counselor), and modim. On the other hand, Islamic influence is evident in the following terms: sarip (keeper of traditions), alim (sublime porter), sherif, shayuk, hadji, imam, and calip or halip.

Most Maranao follow standard Islamic beliefs and practices. The Quran is considered by all Muslims as the Words of Allah, revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through Archangel Gabriel, and as the source of all Islamic principles and values. Aside from the Quran, other Islamic sources of law include the Sunnah or Haddith, literally, “a way, rule, or manner of acting,” which recounts the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad; and the ijma and iftinad, a revisable collection of the opinions of Islamic jurists.

The Five Pillars of Islam consist of faith in one God and the four obligations of praying, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime. Jihad or the natural right to self-defense finds expression in holy war, when Muslim land and religion are threatened. Warriors of jihad are guaranteed a place in sorga (heaven).

The Muslims believe that the world is divided into two spheres: Dar-ar-Islam (Islamic Sphere) and Dar-ar-Hard (non- Islamic Sphere). The first subdivides into four territories: forbidden, that is, Mecca and Medina; reserve, that is, 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, of which Muslims had control until they were forced out by nations like Spain and Israel.

The Baab Ur-Rahman Masjid, the oldest mosque in Taraka, Lanao del Sur
The Baab Ur-Rahman Masjid, the oldest mosque in Taraka, Lanao del Sur, 2016 (Potpot Pinili, Rappler)

Islam, however, has not totally eradicated the pre-Islamic Maranao cosmology that talks of a seven-layered earth, the first of which is the human world, and the second, a world populated by the karibang (dwarfs). Angels occupy the sky, which is likewise seven-layered; heaven is found on the final layer. Hell is a deep, dirty, and dark abode for sinners.

Folk medicine expresses the pre-Islamic belief that illnesses are caused by spirits and can only be cured by the pamomolong (witch doctor), the pundarpaan (a person who can act as a medium to the spirits), or the pamamantok (a person who fights black magic). The Maranao still believe in pre-Islamic spirits and beings, and the practices associated with them. These include the kadaolat sa miyatai, literally “invitation to the dead,” a rite performed seven days after the death of a Maranao; the kapamangangai sa tonong (inviting the spirits), which attends various occasions such as deciding to become a farmer, protecting one’s rice or corn fields, or revenge; the katao (amulets); kaapar, which dictates the offering of newly harvested rice to the spirits before it is eaten; saitan (spirits of the balete tree); invisible beings, such as apo (tornado spirits), sakit (illness-causing spirits), and inikadowa (counter ego).

It is believed that a lunar eclipse is caused by a giant lion that has swallowed the moon. When this occurs, the Maranao play their gongs and recite: “Arimaonga boka inga so alan ka mbangkitun a doniya” (Lion, please release the moon because the world will come to an end).

Pre-Islamic Maranao beliefs and customs that relate to rice agriculture, which they call kakupe-kupet ko elaw or arate, have remained to this day, although only a few Maranao farmers still practice these. Modern Maranao rice farmers are mindful of keeping rice seeds separate from houses with pregnant women or dead persons. Some Maranao rice farmers still do kak’to, in which they hang rice panicles at the ceiling of a house; these panicles are cut a few days before harvest time and are smoked for niat (good harvest). Some Islamic practices and prayers have also been incorporated by the Maranao in their farming. At the behest of younger Maranao farmers, elders may recite a prayer to drive away rats: “Assalamoalaikom ko elaw, leyawaw ka di mamin, lontoka di malungan, patre ka badan kumbang ka o neyawa” (May Allah be with the seeds and may there be good harvest) (Dimaporo and Fernandez 2007, 77-78).

Pulembonan (reading passages from the Quran on each side of the rice field) is still being observed, although only by a few Maranao farmers. Pulembonan is done for seven straight days during ashar (the prayer time during late afternoons when Allah grants most wishes). Rice yield also is subject to zakat (tithe), and a portion of the harvest is given to a high priest or a religious person.

However, Maranao farmers today no longer consult the stars or astrologers. Kashawing, a ritual that is depicted in the Maranao epic, is no longer practiced. Maranao farmers used to follow set days for planting their crops to bring a good harvest: rice and red beans on Sundays, root crops on Saturdays or Sundays, leafy vegetables on Tuesdays, trees on Wednesdays, and sugarcane on Thursdays. But they no longer do this.

Maranao Houses and Community

There are three types of Maranao houses: the lawig, small house; mala-a-walai, large house; and the torogan, ancestral house of the datu. Some Maranao houses have posts resting on rounded boulders; these “floating foundations” prevent the structures from collapsing during earthquakes. The mala-a-walai is a single-room and partition-less structure. It stands 30 to 220 centimeters above the ground and rests on nine to 12 bamboo or wooden poles. A fenced porch serves as the front of the house; the kitchen, which is 50 centimeters lower than the structure, is at the back. The main space is the sleeping area, which doubles as a living and working area in the morning. Storage space can be found underneath the main house and the kitchen. The widowed line flooring of the house is of split bamboo tied with rattan.

Maranao torogan or large datu’s house, Marawi City
Maranao torogan or large datu’s house, Marawi City, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Carved chests, headboards, or mosquito screens divide the interior into the sleeping and non-sleeping areas. Covered with a riyara (woven mat), rice-stalk bundles serve as bed mattresses, the head and foot of which are laid out with pillows. Over the bed is the taritib canopy, and beside the bed are the curtains. The roof of the mala-a-walai is made of thick cogon grass secured on bamboo frames by rattan. Notched bamboo poles serve as the stairs, which are placed at the front and back of the house.

The finest example of Maranao architecture is the torogan, which showcases the best of Maranao okir, literally “carving.” On the facade there are panolong (winglike house beams) with a pako rabong (fern) or naga motif. Inside are carved panels and the tinai a walai (intestines) or central beam of the house. A traditional way of testing the torogan’s durability was to have two carabaos fight inside the structure. If it collapsed, it was not deemed worthy to be occupied.

The torogan is a partition-less structure, housing many families. Each is given a “sleeping space,” provided with mats and sleeping pads, and divided from each other by cloth partitions. Each sleeping space also serves as the family’s living room, working space, and dining room.

Visitors are not allowed into the gibon or paga, the room for the datu’s daughter, and the bilik, a hiding place at the back of the sultan’s headboard. The torogan may also have the lamin, a towerlike structure serving as a hideaway for the sultan’s daughter.

The flooring of the house is of barimbingan wood; the walls, of gisuk wooden panels, profuse with okir; and the roof, of cogon grass secured on bamboo frames by rattan. Maranao architecture also includes the masjid (mosque), inspired by West Asian architecture. There are two types of masjid. The first is the ranggar, a small mosque made to accommodate a few individuals for the daily prayers, built in the rural areas for the Muslim masses, and more similar in design to Southeast Asian prayer houses.

The second type is a permanent structure that comes in various architectural designs, most of which are simple and decorated with okir. One outstanding example is the pagoda-like, three-tiered mosque in Taraka, Lanao del Sur. The interior of the mosque is laid out according to the nature of salat (Islamic prayer), which is announced from tall minarets. The direction of Mecca, which the congregation faces, is marked by a mihrab (niche in the wall). Sermons are said by the preacher standing on the mimbar (staired pulpit), which is of okir-carved wood. Wudu (places of ablutions) are located near the mosque.

Very little is known of the early architectural designs of the Maranao mosque for the following reasons: many of the earlier mosques used temporary materials like wood, bamboo, and cogon; the remaining earlier types were either demolished, destroyed by fire or earthquake, or remodeled according to West Asian designs; the yearly sojourn to Mecca influenced and eventually changed all earlier types; and very little has been written on the subject.

In 2008, the National Museum of the Philippines declared the Maranao torogan as a national cultural treasure, citing the structure as the “last standing example of the finest of traditional vernacular architecture of the Philippines” (Alba 2008). At present, the only remaining habitable Maranao torogan, built by Sultan sa Kawayan Makaantal during the American occupation of the Philippines, can be found in Bubung Malanding, Marantao, Lanao del Sur. Many other Maranao torogan have decayed or collapsed, including what could have been its finest example, which used to stand in the municipality of Ganassi, also in Lanao del Sur.

Maranao Arts and Crafts

Maranao visual arts include weaving of mats, textiles, and baskets; carving of wood, stone, bamboo, horn, and ivory; and casting of brass and iron, silver, and gold. One underlying feature of Maranao visual art, be it brass, silver, textile, or wood, is okir. The term refers to both the technique of carving and the types of motif found in the art of Lanao and Sulu. Basic okir motifs are the (1) birdo, the motif of growing vines or crawling plants, often etched on a horizontal rectangular panel, but also on the vertical or oblique; (2) magoyada, the motif dominated by the naga or serpent figure, and complemented by other leaf motifs; (3) pako rabong, the motif of a fern growing in an upward direction, usually from a central point where all other designs emanate; (4) niaga, the motif dominated by the naga plus leaves, vines, and flowers; (5) armalis, the motif combining designs of fern, leaf, and a bud; (6) obid-obid or tiali-tali, the coiled ropelike motif often used as border designs on practically all compositions; (7) potiok, the bud motif; (8) matilak, the circle motif; (9) dapal, the leaf motif; (10) todi, the flower motif; (11) saragonting, the cross-like motif; (12) binitoon, the star-like motif; (13) pinatola, the adjacent squares motif; (14) biangon, the rectangle motif; (15) pinagapat, the motif consisting of any four-sided design in series; (16) olan-olan, the artificial moon motif; (17) pialang, the square motif; and (18) katiambang, the diamond motif.

Multicolored panolong
Multicolored panolong (Jehad Zacaria Pangcoga)

What is discernible in the okir is that the work of women is generally more geometric, while that of the men, more floral (Saber and Orellana 1963). The visual arts of the Maranao are also exemplified by the elusive bird of art, the sarimanok, literally “artificial bird” (see logo of this article) or the papanok, its female counterpart.

The Islamic aversion to realistic representations of human or animal forms has resulted in nature being abstracted into sophisticated symbolic forms. Exceptions include the burrak, literally “the bright one,” which is the horse with a human face, on which the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to Heaven. The burrak appears on carpets, paintings, and sequined cloth panels.

Maranao women weaving in Lanao del Sur
Maranao women weaving in Lanao del Sur, 2016 (Potpot Pinili, Rappler)

Maranao mat weaving designs are purely geometric, and attending motifs have specific names, such as binitoon (starlike), onsod (pyramid), matilak (circle), and saragonting (cross-like). The mats called sesed are woven from local tikug, which is gathered, dried under the sun, cooked, and dyed with different colors called atar. It is re-dried and flattened, after which it is ready for weaving. The size of the mat is determined by the number of da-ir (panels), which, in turn, are determined by the length of the sesed. Woven too is the gradated pinipig container.

Maranao pinipig container called minarigay
Maranao pinipig container called minarigay (National Museum of the Philippines)

Weaving is usually done in flat areas because these make the process easier. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to weave because the cooler temperature not only provides for the personal comfort of the weavers but also prevents the sesed from getting brittle. It takes approximately two to three weeks to weave a mat, which is then taken to the market and bought by a comprador. The price is determined by the size, workmanship, and patterns used. The finer the patterns and the more subdued the colors, the higher the price.

Maranao textiles can be classified into landap, andon,and karangkali. The most innovative malong makes use of the sewing machine. The landap type of malong is a lakban (vertical woven strip) sewn into the entire length of the body of the malong. Ranging from 10 to 17.5 centimeters in length, the vertical strip comes in alizarine red base inwoven with multicolored motifs, ranging from the strictly geometric and the curvilinear, to the leaf and vine. Crisscrossing the strip at two points are two horizontal strips that are smaller and simpler in design. These horizontal strips are called tubiran; all three strips are collectively referred to as langkit. Additional designs called borda, adapted from traditional okir motifs, are embroidered on the malong.

Maranao textile
Maranao textile (CCP Collections)

Maranao textile
Maranao textile (CCP Collections)

Maranao textile
Maranao textile (CCP Collections)

The andon type of malong is made by applying the tie-dye process on the thread. The undyed portion results in the motif. Andon subtypes include the katiambang (complete tie-dye designs), the sinalapa (enclosed designs), and patola (vertical and geometric designs). The karangkali type of malong is an assortment of patterns that can be combined with tie-dye patterns. These include plaids, stripes, and checks. Mixed with tie-dye type patterns, the type is called babalodan.

Muslim basketry consists of small hand baskets, carrying baskets, storage baskets, trays, and fishing baskets. Materials include bamboo, rattan, bust, pandanus, and others. Motifs are produced in various ways, such as weaving black over white or “one square over another.” Cylindrical baskets are made with the radial arrangement of the spokes. Square baskets such as fish baskets are done with the “over-one, under-one, parallel-open-weave” method (de los Reyes 1977).

Kapangokir (carving) can be found in different media, such as wood, stone, bamboo, horn, and ivory. The best examples of wood carving are done for the panolong, arko (arches), musical instruments like the kudyapi (lute), lansa (motor outboards), house tools, kitchen utensils, agricultural implements, and grave markers. The Maranao tinai a walai is also intricately carved with okir designs. The kaban (chest) may be carved or inlaid with bone or mother-of-pearl.

One outstanding example of Maranao wood carving is found in the galingan (spinning wheel), whose base is a solid wood block and whose sides are carved in the magoyada motif. From the base rise two lengths of wood from either side, intricately carved in the armalis motif.

Maranao kulintangan
Maranao kulintangan, 2017 (CCP/Lucrecia R. Kasilag Collection)

The arko also displays different okir motifs. Some of the most significant show the burrak and naga. In big weddings, the kulintang, a musical instrument consisting of eight graduated gongs laid horizontally on a stand called langkongan, is played on top of an arko. The lansa also has the naga on the prow and stern, and the birdo on both panels of the lansa.

The most common stone carvings include hollow blocks using okir motifs for house decor and grave markers, which are not as elaborately carved as those in Sulu.

An example of bamboo carving is found in the kubing (mouth harp), a musical instrument used traditionally for courtship and ordinary communication. The lakub (tobacco container) is another fine example of bamboo craft. The complicated lakub dye technique includes covering portions of the container while dipping the others in dye. Bold primary and secondary colors are used: violet, yellow, dull red, and dull green.

A medium used by the Maranao for carving is the horn. Commonly fashioned items include the horn sarimanok, which is smaller than the usual sarimanok; and the gukum, a mortar-shaped wax container. Mythical creatures, snakes, or leaves are carved into the ivory handles of kris.

The Maranao and the Maguindanao are famous for their brassware. The reason is that yellow and gold, the colors of nobility, are approximated by this alloy. Maranao brassware includes the talam (tray with stand); panalogadan (vase with stand or holders); sakdo (ladle); pangolain (sieve); salapa (betel box); lotoan (silver in-laid betel box); pots like the batidor and kandi; lantaka (cannon); and ceremonial and decorative vessels, the gador, niana, langguay, baong, and kabo.

Maranao gador or brassware
Maranao gador or brassware, 1990 (Photo from CCP Collections)

One outstanding example of Maranao metalwork is the silver in-laid, brass sarimanok piece from Taraka. The piece, which is used as a wax container, uses silver coins. To date, this is the only known sarimanok piece made from the silver in-laid process.

There are three methods of brass making: the batak (hammering process); garaoang or kapanabas (cut-out process); and the kapanowang (casting process). The first process is composed of two subprocesses: pamokpok (plain hammering) and the stamping process, where embossed designs are hammered into the article. The first two processes are simpler and take less time.

The Maranao employ a modified wax-mold method for kapanowang. Okir designs are done with the strip method. To form a waxy substance, paraffin is mixed with almaciga and beeswax. The shape is formed by pressing the substance around a wooden model, after which the mold is removed. Small spaghetti-like strips of wax are made separately, formed into various okir designs, and laid together with the mold. The encasement is then made by applying a mixture of bamboo charcoal and muddy soil on and inside the wax mold. Melted wax is poured out and molten brass paired in. The finishing process is done by professionals like engravers, silver in-layers, and polishers.

Kakelaya-layang (kite making) is an activity enjoyed when the wind is strong and the weather fine. Other occasions for kite making include the sprouting of palay grains and the bearing of fruit from the local nonang tree, the fruit of which is used as paste in kite making. On a bamboo framework, manila paper and papel de japon (japanese paper) are pasted to create the kite’s “wings.” Tied to the head of the kite is a nipa leaf, which vibrates and produces romeging, a sound similar to the drone of an airplane. The kite makers compete according to size, color, and stability of their kites. The motifs used range from the most traditional, such as the paruparu (butterfly), to the most modern, such as the ariplano or kagangkagang (airplane). Primary colors are preferred. “Fighter kites,” which are kites made to fight in midair, are also popular with the Maranao.

Maranao Literary Traditions: Riddles, Proverbs, Poems and Folktales

The Maranao literary tradition can be classified into pre-Islamic and Islamic-inspired literature. Pre-Islamic literature consists of the antoka (riddles), pananaroon (proverbs), tubad-tubad (short love poems), verses recited during kandaonga (courtship), tutul (folktales), Pilandok tales, and the epics Darangen and Raja Indarapatra.

The antoka display Maranao wit and wisdom, and portray various aspects of their psyche:

Ilelebeng da matai

Bangkai baraniyawa. (Riya)

(Buried but alive

A corpse with a life. [Mouse])

Ladia sa kalasan

A di ketanglan sa ig. (Salag)

(A cup from the forest

That holds no water. [Nest])

Proverbs are recited to reprimand a child, to make a point, or to ridicule or belittle another person. They convey messages in poetic form, which often make more impact than direct confrontation. A pananaroon called kapangilat, aimed at someone else, indicates that size does not necessarily mean strength:

Ba den mala so dalog

a pekelilid ko lapad

na da a kapadal iyan.

(It’s nothing

but a tasteless, big, rolling rootcrop

on a plate.)

A pananaroon may also admonish or promote right conduct even in the privacy of one’s home, for someone may be looking. A metaphor used for this purpose is the “small hole,” which is associated with the people looking through it:

Maia ka pen sa ilag.

(Be ashamed of small holes.)

A Maranao expresses his love indirectly through tubad-tubad, which are reserved in tone and employ metaphors and allusions. Here is an example (Madale 1976):

Pupulayog so paspas ka pupumagaspas apas

Ka tulaki kon ko banog

Na diron pulatalakin

Ka daon ka sakriti

Kanogon si kanogon na kanogon ni ladan ko

A pukurasai mamikir a ana palandong a dar

Na di akun mapukangud a bologong ko sa gugao

Ka oman akun ipantao na pasulakapan a ig

O matao kanndalia.

Bangkadun tatangkudun i papanok ka sa nori

Ka apan so sambur iyan

Na dangka ka sampiroti

Ino ko di tungkudun

A papanok ko so nori

A sasowar o didapo

Kago di ka sampiroti.

(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, thinking of a loved one.

And I cannot let my feelings prevail,

express my love.

Because every time I want to reveal it

Water gets in its way.

How could you own that parrot

When trapped? You haven’t

Even the wind that its wings stir?

Why shouldn’t I say

That the parrot is mine

When only if in flight

Can I not trap it?)

During kandaonga, the matchmakers recite verses to stress certain points. For instance:

Ino mangadai ladan

o mamola kami saya

sa kaio pat a mering

di mangadai mandedas

o pakibonsodi ami

sa kaio pat a romaging?

(Suppose we plant

four mering trees here

will it not wither

once it is fenced

with four mering trees?)

To tap the possibility of a marriage, the boy’s matchmaker asks whether the girl is betrothed. The phrase “planting a mering tree and fencing it” signifies the boy’s desire to marry. To these verses, the girl’s spokesperson will probably indicate, after a series of exchanges, that the boy must exert more effort because, like a bird, the girl can alight and build a nest of her own.

Bangka den tatangkeden

papanok ka so Nori

apai so samber iyan

da ngka kasampiroti.

(You want to be sure

the bird Nori is yours

when in flight

you cannot catch.)

Maranao tutul (folktales) can be divided into tutul sa pakapoon (legends), tutul a pangangayaman (fables), tutul o mnga suda ago papanok (stories of birds and fishes), and tutul a piya kakuyakayad (funny stories) like the Pilandok tales.

An example of a tutul sa pakapoon is the legend of Lake Lanao, which indicates Islamic influence. Once, there was no Lake Lanao. Instead there was the sultanate of Mantapoli, which, under the reign of Sultan Abdara Radawi, the great grandfather of Raja Indarapatra, expanded its power and population. The world then was held in equilibrium by two regions: Sebanyan (East), where Mantapoli was located, and Sedpan (West). Because of its increasing population and power, Mantapoli was threatening the very equilibrium of the world. Archangel Diabarail (Gabriel to the Christians) reported the matter to Allah. As a solution, the Sohara (Voice of Allah) commanded Diabarail to gather all the angels, and with them, to move Mantapoli to the center of the earth. All of these would be accomplished in the darkness of a barahana (solar eclipse). And so what had been Mantapoli became Lake Lanao. The overflowing waters of the lake began to threaten Mantapoli. Sohara commanded Diabarail to call on the Four Winds of the World—Angin-Taupan, Angin-Besar, Angin-Darat, and Angin-Sarsar—to create an outlet for the lake. This was done, and the outlet is the present Agus River.

Some of the animals that populate Maranao fables are the dog, the cat, the monkey, the deer, the fox, the heron, and the lion. The most popular of these animal characters is the monkey, who can transform himself into a handsome prince. The kindest is the deer. The story “The Dog and the Lion” begins with a hungry lion chancing upon a dog one day. The dog, though initially terrified, instantly composes himself. To avoid being eaten by the lion, the dog warns him that, should the lion eat him, all the lions that his fellow dogs have captured would be killed. The lion laughs in disbelief, so the dog takes the lion to the pools of clear water, which, he claims, are the lions’ prisons. The lion looks into every pool of water and always sees a lion and a dog. Not knowing reflection from reality, the lion walks away, outsmarted by a clever dog.

In Maranao stories, birds, shrimps, and sparrows often play the protagonists. A sparrow and a shrimp fall in love and marry. Married life proves to be difficult: the shrimp breathes only in water, but the sparrow must live in air. The married couple decides to alternate daily between land and water. But the shrimp dies anyway. In grief, the sparrow promises never to leave its wife’s dead body. One day a farmer sets the forest afire. The sparrow vainly tries to move its wife’s body to a safe place. It perishes in the fire with its dead wife.

Said to originate from the tales known as “Kalilah and Dimnah,” which are, in turn, related to the tales of Arabian Nights, are at least 30 Pilandok tales. These may have been brought from Arabia to the southern Philippines through Malaya and Malacca. The original character in the earliest collection is a clever fox perpetually playing tricks on the sultan. Another view is that these tales are indigenous, although influenced by external factors, such as trade and Islam. Pilandok, a mouse-deer before it evolved into a human character, plays different, versatile, and even ambivalent roles. It is at once a hero and a villain, bridging two worlds: the natural and the supernatural, the human and the nonhuman, the cheater and the cheated, the fool and the sage. When caught red-handed, it assumes another personality and eventually gets off the hook. It exchanges lies for truths, truths for lies, the unreal for the real; it amuses, ridicules, criticizes its adversaries, plays tricks on them, but always wins out in the end. As a person, it claims to be the son of a sultan of Bandiar Masir but criticizes and ridicules the sultan and his men. Nevertheless, it wants a share of the sultan’s property when he dies.

Here is a typical Pilandok story: On orders of the sultan, Pilandok is put in a cage and dropped in the middle of the sea. Several days later, the sultan is surprised to see a healthy Pilandok in court and inquires how it has managed to escape. Pilandok answers that at the bottom of the sea rests a kingdom where gold and silver abound. The sultan asks Pilandok to take him there. Pilandok replies that the sultan needs to go alone in a cage. The sultan obliges and appoints Pilandok temporary sultan—he lends Pilandok his magic ring, crown, and sword. The sultan does not return, and Pilandok rules the kingdom for many years.

Radia Indarapatra, hero of the Maranao epic Darangen
Radia Indarapatra, hero of the Maranao epic Darangen (Illustration by Jonathan Rañola)

An important prose narrative of the Maranao is the “Maharadia Lawana,” the Maranao version of certain episodes and characters in the Indian epic Ramayana. In the Maranao story, Rama is known as Radia Mangandiri. The episodes in the narrative include the winning of Tuwan Tihaya’s hand by Mangandiri, who is able to kick the rattan ball called sipa to the penthouse of the princess; the abduction of the princess by Maharadia Lawana, who takes the form of a golden goat; and the rescue of the princess by Mangandiri and his brother, Laksamana, a monkey prince conceived by Potre Langaui when the latter swallowed one of the testicles which Mangandiri lost.

Radia Mangandiri kicking a rattan ball to the penthouse of his beloved Tuwan Tihaya
Radia Mangandiri kicking a rattan ball to the penthouse of his beloved Tuwan Tihaya (Illustration by Jonathan Rañola)

Darangen is an epic composed of several narratives whose verses are chanted by the onor (singer). Handed down by word of mouth for many generations, the epic has about 25 known episodes, of which there are many variations. Darangen is basically a genealogical account, highlighting the adventures of prominent figures even as it weaves in moral values and traditions. It antedates the advent of Islam, but later versions have incorporated Islamic elements; some collections have been edited to include Allah instead of the tonong.

Seventeen episodes of the Darangen have been collected. The first episode, “Paganay Kiyandato o Diwata Ndaw Gibon” (The First Ruler, Diwata Ndaw Gibon), recounts the genealogy of the epic heroes. It begins with the kingdom of Diwata Ndaw Gibon, who was at that time still a bachelor. His kingdom is Bumbaran. The datus of Bumbaran meet one day and express concern about the unmarried state of their datu. A suitable wife must be found. The Sama chief gives his choice: the beautiful princess Aya Paganay Bai of Minangoaw a Ragong. So Datu Gibon sails off in the magic boat of Bumbaran, finds the beautiful princess, and marries her. For several years, he stays with his wife and his brother-in-law, Miyangondaya Linog, in their kingdom. Two sons are born to the couple. One day, Datu Gibon decides to return to Bumbaran. Before the family leaves, Miyangondaya Linog names the couple’s two sons Tominaman sa Rogong and Mangondaya Boisan. He advises his sister not to turn against her husband and to help bring glory and fame to Bumbaran. In Bumbaran, after some time, Datu Gibon decides to take other wives and make his kingdom great. The first wife painfully agrees and helps to raise the bride wealth. The ladies Kadarangan a Lena, Lombayoan a Lena, Bagombayan a Lena, Songgiring a Dinar, and Minisalawo Ganding are married to Datu Gibon. They bear him several daughters, and the family members live harmoniously. When Datu Gibon grows old, he names his eldest son his successor and gives his final counsel to his two sons: to keep the nobility pure, to be just and fair, to keep the magic boat as an heirloom, and to be clean. After his death, the other datus endorse the datuship of Gibon’s eldest son and allow the other wives to return to their homes. Gibon’s aged widow expresses her desire to return to her birthplace. Her wish is granted, and she dies in Minangoaw a Rogong.

The opening lines of the epic are as follows:

Na sa alongan imanto

na matorak so mongangen

na mainot peloba’an

so mata’o sa rantapan.

(In these our dark and confused times

Well-informed men are hard to find,

For very few would know all things,

Good and bad or just anything.)

On 25 November 2005, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) proclaimed Darangen among the world’s “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” This honor had been previously bestowed on the Hudhud chants of the Ifugao (NCCA 2011). Darangen, like all the other proclaimed masterpieces of oral literature, was chosen for its “outstanding value, roots in cultural tradition, affirmation of cultural identity, source of inspiration and intercultural exchange, contemporary cultural and social role, excellence in the application of skills, unique testimony of living cultural tradition, and risk of disappearing” (UNESCO 2005).

Darangen is still performed by the Maranao up to this time, albeit infrequently. UNESCO has cited several reasons for this, including the epic’s “rich vocabulary and archaic linguistic forms that can only be understood by practitioners, elders and scholars.” These, and the Maranao embracing more mainstream and modern ways of living, may cause its eventual extinction. Nevertheless, Darangen remains relevant to the lives of the modern Maranao, some of whose elders cite it when applying custom law (UNESCO 2005).

A variant of the folk narrative, Raja Indarapatra tells the story behind the birth of the hero. The hero’s father, Sultan Nabi of Mantapoli, has a cousin who is accomplished in the arts of black magic. She decides to play a trick on him for not teaching her the art of singing. With magic words, she has one of her leper slaves enter a statue of a golden bird that she has made. The bird flies to the kingdom of Mantapoli and destroys all its trees, including those in the garden of the sultan. It is caught and placed on the sultan’s window. At night, the sultan dreams of making love to a woman transformed from the golden bird, and in his dream, the woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child, who is named Raja Solaiman. Much later, the sultan discovers his cousin’s trick. He sails to her kingdom and proposes marriage. The two are married and a boy, Raja Indarapatra, is born to them.

Two types of Islamic-inspired literature are the salsila and the religious quiza (stories of a moral nature). The study of the salsila is usually reserved for the maongangun (wise men and women). Nevertheless, the average Maranao has an idea of what they are all about. The accounts tell the history of Lanao and the Maranao. The following example narrates and explains the division of Lanao into four states or encampments: Four brothers—Butuanon, Dimaampao, Batara Sa Kilatun, and Batolacongan—from the land of Bumbaran journey to the Lake Lanao region, which is still a jungle. They continue their trek until they find a place that Butuanon claims as his property and names it Bayabao, literally “I am the one who chose first.” Butuanon marries Baisa Kisali sa Miyakarang. The three other brothers go on and find a place that they call Masiu, literally “a place where Lanao’s royal bloods meet.” Batara Sa Kilatun claims it and later marries Nomonao sa Raginai. In the coastal region of Lanao, Batolacongan finds his place called Baloi. Dimaampao goes on alone and settles in Unayan, so called because of a tree that has imprisoned his bride. The four brothers create the four sultanates, which survive to this day.

Religious quiza are stories written in Arabic and are used by the imam and guru to teach Islam to children. An example of a religious quiza 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 Diabarail. The Prophet then rides on a burrak and travels by night from Mecca to Masjid-el-Aqsa in Jerusalem, where he sees a bright light that leads him to heaven. Each layer of heaven has a different color and is guarded by an angel. On the seventh layer, he hears the voice of God and has a glimpse of heaven and hell. On the way down, Moses asks him if he has requested anything of God. The Prophet Muhammad answers no. Moses then tells him to return and to ask God that the number of prayers be reduced from 50 to five times daily. This he does, and his request is granted. It is believed that if God had not granted Muhammad’s request, the Muslims today would have to pray 50 times a day.

Another example of the quiza is the story of the disobedient duck. In a battle against the tribes, the Prophet Muhammad and his followers find themselves surrounded. They discover that their supply of food and water is almost depleted. One day, the Prophet calls on a duck to fetch water from a source kilometers away. The duck flies off but does not return with the promised water. Instead, it enjoys itself in the pond. A dove is then sent to find out what happened to the duck. The dove is surprised to discover the duck enjoying the waters; but, instead of reprimanding the duck, the dove collects the amount of water it can carry back to the Prophet. The Prophet curses the duck upon learning of its laziness. The curse endures, and that is why when one touches a duck today, it becomes “all squeezed in” (Madale 1976).

Other types of Islamic-inspired literature that are more concerned with religion include the khutba (sermons), Quranic exegeses, and explicatory statements about Islam.

Maranao Music 

Maranao music forms can be classified into two: boni-boniyan (instrumental) and kaplogo (vocal). Maranao boni-boniyan applies to the whole range of the instrumental repertoire produced by various musical instruments. One of these is the isa ka daradiat, a kulintang ensemble composed of a pair of big gongs with a buzzle or claves, a pair of cylindrical sticks called mamales; eight graduated gongs laid horizontally on a stand called langkongan; the debakan, a drum made from goat or deer skin; and babendir, a small flat gong. Other musical instruments include the gandingan, a horizontal war drum; tabo, a “call-to-prayer” drum hung horizontally in the mosque; a very small kulintang called alotang but known as saronai if manufactured from metal; a bamboo instrument scraped and struck called tagotok, also called sirong a ganding when plucked and beaten; insi, an end-blown lute; kubing; and oni-oniya, a rice stalk resembling an oboe.

Traditional musical instruments played by the Darangan Cultural Dance Troupe of the Mindanao State University, Marawi City
Traditional musical instruments played by the Darangan Cultural Dance Troupe of the Mindanao State University, Marawi City, 1990 (CCP Collections)

Maranao kulintang melodies can be classified into inandang (classical), binalig (borrowed from other groups), and bargo (modern). The melodies represent several themes, among them the palagoy ka saladung (run deer run), kapromayas (a place), mamayog (love), sinolog (from Sulu), kasegorongan (characterized by a rising and falling melody), kapmagarib (sunset), katitik panday, derived from tintik (beating), and panday (creative). This last piece is said to originate from a woman who, during a quarrel with her husband, played the kulintang to summon the neighbors to intercede.

The most popular and artistic way of playing the kulintang is the kapagonor, where the various styles of holding the basal (decorated sticks used in beating the kulintang pieces) are shown. The word “kaplogo,” from logo (sound), refers to the vocal music repertoire classified according to the themes or subjects and the manner in which these songs are chanted. Common among the themes or subjects are kandarangen, which is derived from the Darangen epic, and characterized as rhythmically fast, accompanied by tintik; kambayoka, which refers to the love songs based on episodes from the epic; kandikir, which is derived from the Arabic dekr, which originally referred to any recitation praising God but now refers to praises sung to the Maranao dead; kapranon, which refers to sentimental and nostalgic songs, which are more melismatic than the Darangen; and kaprongrong, which refers to personal love songs sung to entertain oneself.

Vocal music differs from instrumental in at least the following respects: the onor are pembalbegan or hired for weddings, funerals and wakes, or any festive occasions; appreciation of vocal music requires knowledge of a special language and forms; and the pedagogy of kaplogo is based on the guru system. Mga ida-ida wata (children’s songs) are also part of the vocal music repertoire. The texts are essentially children’s rhymes, as in A. Madale’s (1975) example:

Dayo, dayo capitan

Dayo somonta sa ig

Dayo di akoron sung

ana ikuluk akun

A bubaruka a nipai

Dingun, ding a diawa

Busalangka sa agong

Ka an manug a datu

A magogop a mamuntong

A pud a panarakayo

A pumbalain a barit

A walai a datu oto

Ago giya bai aya.

(Friend, friend, captain

Playmate, to the river,

Friend, I won’t go,

For afraid am I

Of multicolored snakes and striped crocodiles

Beat, beat, oh drummer,

Beat hard the gong

To inform the datu

Who will help cut bamboos

And fell big trees

For building a palace

For the datu

And his lady.)

Maranao Folk Dances

Maranao dance forms can be classified into two: those which are reenactments of some episodes in Darangen, and those which are adaptations from the epic. Examples of the former are kaganat sa darangen, sagayan, and sadoratan; and of the latter, kapemalomalong. Other types include those that deal with life-cycle rituals and, in particular, with spirits or souls of the dead. One example of this last type is the kadaolat sa miatai.

The dance forms are extremely formal. Unlike other ethnic groups, Maranao dancers do not smile because that would be a form of flirtation, which is frowned upon in the culture. The dancers may employ other paraphernalia like mosala (kerchief), fan or bamboo sticks, shield, and kris. The presentation can be either on stage or in a lama (yard). The dancers, trained early in their careers, are professionals.

Kaganat sa darangen, literally “to stand from the darangen,” is an attempt by the performer to interpret and reenact, in song and dance, the journey of Prince Lomna to propose marriage in behalf of his father Bantingen. It is the second and most popular episode in the epic. It requires a very talented performer, someone who can perform the intricate steps with ease, poise, and finesse. Body movements—of the fingers, the sway of the hips, and every step—are calculated to convey a meaning. The performer must be single, with a beautiful and supple body. There is much swishing of the fan and swaying of the hips as the performer reenacts the adventures of Prince Lomna.

Sagayan (war dance) also originates from the epic. It is a reenactment of Prince Bantugen’s preparation for battle. This particular episode, “Kailid a Dempas,” describes in minute detail all the movements of the warrior. The manner of holding the kampilan (cutlass) and the logistics of warfare are all depicted.

First, the hero takes his kapasti (headdress with embedded mirrors). He then puts on his clothes, which have the colors of the rainbow. He takes his klong (shield), made of the hardest wood and from which small bells hang. Finally, he gets his shining kampilan, which is as blinding as the sun when it glitters. Very slowly, he moves to the left, then to the right, then moves around very gracefully. Each step and movement he makes is accompanied by a recitation invoking the guidance and support of the unseen benevolent spirits. When the hero removes his kampilan halfway from its scabbard, half of his enemies are killed. At the height of the war, the hero is not able to see his enemies; hence, he depends only on the sound of the rattling shields.

In the reenactment dance, karatong, three dancers interact with one another. One dancer beats the karatong as the other holds it. Depending solely on the sound of the drum, the third dancer, armed with shield and sword, pursues the first two dancers. Sadoratan is a reenactment of an episode from the epic, the “Paramata Gandingan.” Here, the princess Paramata Gandingan is abducted and asked to walk in the middle of two strings laid out parallel to each other, to test whether she belongs to the nobility.

The dance kapemalomalong was popularized in modern times by the Mindanao State University Darangan Cultural Dance Troupe. The dance, which illustrates the various uses of the malong, became an integral part of the dance repertoire of the Maranao.

Singkil, the most famous Maranao dance depicting a scene from the epic Darangen, where a prince rescues a princess in the midst of an earthquake
Singkil, the most famous Maranao dance depicting a scene from the epic Darangen, where a prince rescues a princess in the midst of an earthquake (CCP Collections)

Video: SINGKIL - Bayanihan Alumni Association

One very popular dance whose origin is unclear is the royal bamboo dance called singkil. Some claim that the dance is derived from one of the episodes of the Darangen. In the “Natangkopan a Ragat” (Enchantment of Prince Bantugen), the prince must walk between two crushing rocks while hopping between the stones. In the singkil dance, the clashing shields represent the rocks, and the clapping bamboos represent the stones. The use of the umbrella held over the dancing princess is a modern innovation. In the most common version of the dance, four bamboos are placed in a crisscross position and the pasisingkil (dancer) steps between clapping bamboos. The point is to dance in and out from between these bamboos without being caught between them. The rhythmic clapping of the bamboos speeds up as the dancers keep up with all the grace and agility that they can muster.

On the seventh day after the death of a Maranao, four to six padidikir (chanters) are called to perform the kadaolat sa miatai (invitation to the dead). Four dancers form two lines that lead to the dead person’s grave. They are garbed in Maranao finery, complete with kerchief and tobao (a turban tied around the head) with one end pointing stiffly upwards. On top or in front of the grave is a chair bedecked with colorful Maranao textile. The lead performer starts chanting the dikir (dirge song) and, upon reaching a high note, stops for the next person’s turn. This is done until all four chanters have performed. Later, believing that the soul of the dead person has accepted the invitation, the chanters carry the chair to the bereaved family’s house. The relatives bid farewell to the soul about to enter heaven or hell.

Maranao theater can be classified into those dances that are either reenactments or adaptations of specific episodes of the epic or from the narrative Raja Indarapatra. These include the kaganat sa darangen, the sagayan (war dance), the sadoratan, and singkil.

The kashawing or rice ritual can be traced to the narrative. The hero, Raja Indarapatra, has two sons by Karibang, a water nymph. One son reveals himself and becomes the ancestor of the Maranao. The other does not reveal himself and becomes the ancestor of all unseen spirits that the Maranao invoke. Both brothers make a covenant to protect each other; the seen or living ancestor is asked to care for itotoro, a white-feathered totem bird with yellow beak and feet. In the ritual proper, there is a reenactment of the meeting between the two brothers, symbolized by red and yellow flags. This ritual, performed just before dawn, seeks a bountiful harvest from the benevolent spirits.

Another ritual related to the kashawing is the kazeriringan, which is dedicated to the spirits the community invokes to ensure the protection of both people and crops from illness and pestilence. The ritual involves various rites similar to those found in the kashawing.

A specific episode in the epic that is about public speaking is the kaplomna, derived from the name of a son of the hero Bantugen. This son is sent at an early age to another kingdom to propose marriage in behalf of his father. His tales, travails, and prowess in composition and public speaking are well-recounted. During public gatherings where these episodes are reenacted, the public is enjoined to exchange poetic verses.

The word “kambayoka” derives from bayok (love song) and refers to the repertoire where two or more onor engage in a poetical joust. The theme of the bayok depends on the occasion or event, including weddings, diaga-an (towards the end of a vigil), and kalilang (festivity). Once the theme has been decided, the singers interpret their own compositions, aided by irmas (literary embellishments) and accompanied by bodily movements.

Other theater forms like the diabro and onta revolve around the combat between the devil and a good spirit near the seashore. The onta is similar to the Chinese dragon dance but involves a camel instead (Madale 1976, 54).

Reenactments of the lives of religious personages are part of Maranao theater. Two favorite examples are the Nabiola Ibrahim (Story of the Prophet Abraham) and the Maulud-en-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet Muhammad). In Nabiola Ibrahim, the Prophet Abraham dreams that he sacrifices his son Ismael in order to build the house of God called Kaaba. The childless Abraham has made a vow that, should he have a son, he would sacrifice the child to God. Ismael is born to him. One day, Satan warns Ismael to stay away from his father, for he would be sacrificed. Ismael does not believe the devil. Satan then warns Ismael’s mother, but nothing comes of that either. When Abraham is about to kill his son, the angel Gabriel appears, and instantly a sacrificial lamb is substituted. This event is reenacted as one of the rites performed during the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.

On Eid-el-Adha (day of sacrifice), every pilgrim who can afford it must sacrifice an animal to reenact the event. Three stones must be thrown at a specific place where Satan is believed to have stayed. The Maulud-en-Nabi is celebrated on Rabi-al-Aw-wal, the 12th night of the third lunar calendar. In the Philippines, the celebration falls on the same day as the Morad a datu, a feast hosted by the local datu in his community. During the festivities, the imam recounts the life of the Prophet: his boyhood, the sacrifices he made, how he was able to spread Islam to neighboring countries, the battles he fought, his return to Mecca, and his last pilgrimage. In the celebration, the “Maulud” is sung.

A modern adaptation of the Darangen is the Philippine Ballet Theater’s Darangen ni Bantugen. It was performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in May 2008 for the Filipino Heritage Month, the theme of which was the Filipino epic. The episode focuses on Bantugan’s death and subsequent resurrection. Choreographer Gener Caringal adapted the traditional Maranao dance movements, such as the pangalay (the swaying of arms) and the asik (slave dance), into classical ballet movements. The melodic lines of Maranao traditional music and chants were modernized by music arranger Jesse Lucas by synthesizing them with other sounds. The kulintang, for instance,was added to the in-house orchestra instruments. The traditional Maranao garments were stylized by costume and stage designer Salvador Bernal to complement the geometrical lines of his stage design (Manipon 2008).

A resident theater company of MSU-Marawi is the multi-awarded Sining Kambayoka that received in 1997 the Gawad CCP para sa Sining for their cultural contributions to the region. “Sining” is the Tagalog word for “art,” and “kambayoka” is the Maranao poetical joust. Its primary objective when it was founded in 1974 was “the inclusion of Mindanao theater traditions in mainstream consciousness” and its concerns were national in scope (Rivera 1994, 401). Hence, its plays are in Filipino, that is, Tagalog and Bisaya or Cebuano, with a few Maranao interjections. It is a multiethnic group, with Maranao students making up 20% of its membership, which includes the Tausug and Maguindanao, besides Christian settlers from Luzon and the Visayas. Foremost of this group’s productions that are derived from Maranao literature are plays in Tagalog: Pilandok, 1974; Mga Kuwentong Maranao (Maranao Tales), 1975; and Maharadia Lawana, 1977. Halik sa Kampilan (Kiss on the Sword), 1978, is Frank G. Rivera’s original play depicting the Mindanao people’s displacement and struggle for land. MSU-Marawi is also host to the dance group Darangan Cultural Dance Troupe founded by dancer, trainer, and professor Henrietta Ele in 1966. The group’s mission is to preserve indigenous dance, music, and rituals in the so-called MINSUPALA (Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan) region ( 2021; Villaruz 2021; Lao 2020).

Maranao People as Featured in Media

There are at least seven radio stations that are based in Marawi City, although most are currently inactive most likely because of the Marawi siege. AM stations are Philippine Broadcasting Service’s DXSO-AM Radyo Pilipinas based in the MSU Campus, Muslim Mindanao Development Multipurpose Cooperative’s DXAD-AM Radio Ranao in Marcos Boulevard, Mindanao Broadcasting Company Inc’s DXSA-AM Radio Punto Marawi in Campo Ranao Road, and Ranao Radio Broadcasting and TV System Corp’s DXSK-AM Radio Ranaw in Pangarungan Village. Ranao Radio Broadcasting and TV System Corp’s DXSK-FM Coll 95.5, Pacific Broadcasting System / Manila Broadcasting System’s DXEM-FM Radyo Natin, and Philippine Broadcasting Service’s DXSO-FM Radyo Pilipinas comprise the FM stations ( 2021).

Maranao culture and its kulintang music have been documented in the films Maranao Culture at Home and in Diaspora, 34 minutes, and Kulintang Gong Music from Mindanao Philippines, 22 minutes. Yoshitaka Terada of the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan, and Maranao scholar Usopay Cadar filmed these two documentaries in 2008, in villages around Lake Lanao and in Baguio, where a Maranao migrant community resides (Terada 2013, 95). The turbulent conditions of Lanao del Sur prevented the two documentaries from being shown for the first time in the Mindanao villages where these had been filmed. In 2013, however, a community film screening was held in Barangay 647 in Quiapo, Manila, where most of the residents are Maranao. Asked for their opinion on the films, the Maranao audience stated their preference for a culture that was collectively Muslim Filipino, or Bangsamoro, rather than what was specifically Maranao (Terada 2013, 100). Screenings of the two films were also held for scholars and students of Philippine indigenous music, at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the University of the Philippines Baguio (Terada 2013, 102-105).

Emmanuel de la Cruz’s short film Gabon
Emmanuel de la Cruz’s short film Gabon, 2008 (Photo courtesy of Emmanuel de la Cruz)

Emmanuel de la Cruz’s Gabon (Cloud), 2007, 18 minutes, is a lyrical short film that begins with a Maranao girl carrying the odor of death as she enters her classroom. It is her soul that takes the exam, in fulfillment of her parents’ dream for her to finish her schooling. An elder sings a traditional lullaby, presumably to lay her to rest. Ensuing black and white footages imply that she is a casualty of the ongoing war in Mindanao. Gabon was filmed in Marawi City, with a cast that included grade school students and former members of the Sining Kambayoka Theater Group. The film received a Special Jury Prize at the 3rd Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival in 2007.

In 2011 the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) sponsored a Sineng Pambansa short-film competition with the theme “Peace.” Three Maranao students of the MSU-Marawi won the top awards: Doss Lucman Pacasum for Renek (To Be at Peace), Sittie Ayeesha Dicali for Pagari (Brothers), and Najib Alyhar Benito Zacaria for Margas (Rice). Margas, 10 minutes, begins with Karim saying his morning prayer as his wife prepares breakfast and listens to the news broadcast that a girl has been kidnapped. A tricycle driver, Karim spends the morning ferrying passengers, among them a Tagalog boy who, being new to the city, is constantly on alert. Karim assures him that Marawi, like any other place, has its good and bad elements. After he has bought rice for his family’s lunch, he picks up a passenger who holds a gun to him and drives away with his tricycle. The film ends with Karim’s tearful lament alternating with his prayer to Allah.

In 2012, the FDCP opened the Marawi Cinematheque in Pacasum Square, Marawi City. The Cinematheque screens independent films for local audiences, particularly those by Muslim filmmakers (San Diego 2012).

Tutob (Skullcap), 2012, is a day-in-the-life story of a Maranao man driving a motorcycle to fetch a package in the city. Set in a war-stricken place where the military is on red alert due to recent bombings, the Maranao man becomes a victim of stereotyping that Moro people always endure. The short film ends on an edifying footage about how prejudice and discrimination may lead to conflict and wars. Directed by MSU-IIT (Iligan Institute of Technology) alumna Krissza Mari Campano, the film received multiple awards from the 2012 MSU-IIT Institute for Peace Development in Mindanao (IPDM). In 2013, it swept major awards in the Student Category of the 5th Cinemagis Digital Short Film Festival at the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City, which was sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. It was also screened at the 2013 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival (Tutob 2012).

In 2020, Mindanawon filmmaker Jean Claire Dy and German artist Manuel Domes directed the documentary A House in Pieces. It follows the quotidian lives and direful conditions of evacuees displaced by the tormented siege of Marawi in 2017. The film also depicts how various sociopolitical institutions have failed to provide not just the rebuilding of material structures wrought by the war in Marawi City, but also the emotional and mental support that the evacuees need. A House in Pieces premiered at the DaangDokyu Film Festival in October 2020 and won the Golden Hercules Award from the Kasseler Dokfest in Germany (Veric 2020).


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    A more simplified literation on a [1975] piece
    Dayo, dayo capitan
    Dayo somon'ta sa ig
    Dayo di ako ron sung [zong]
    ana ikuluk akun - [ikhaL'k ak'n]
    A bubaruka a nipai - [ babar'ka / mbuburokos]
    Dingun, ding a diawa - [ ding'n ]
    Busalangka sa agong - [ basalangka]
    Ka an manug a datu - [ adn man'g o datu]
    A magogop a mamuntong - mam'n tong]
    A pud a panarakayo - [pd a phanarakayo]
    A pumbalain a barit - [ pm balayen]
    A walai a datu oto
    Ago giya bai aya.
    (Friend, friend, captain
    Playmate, to the river,
    Friend, I won’t go,
    For afraid am I
    Of multicolored snakes and striped crocodiles
    Beat, beat, oh drummer,
    Beat hard the gong
    To inform the datu
    Who will help cut bamboos
    And fell big trees
    For building a palace
    For the datu
    And his lady.)
    Note :
    It maybe the intention of the original writer to conceal something in this beautiful literary piece. He used u / e to denote an accented Maranao word for a purpose. But behind this thing, only authentic Maranaw fellow can properly pronounce it. that is the mystery of our language why it is very hard to learn by other local Filipinos.

  2. Wow, superb and comprehensive presentation of the History of Meranaw. a lot came to be known and rooted from their pre-coloniainl past and still lives to this day. a lot is similar to with other IP. kudos!


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