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Tausug Tribe of Sulu: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Mindanao Indigenous People | Philippines Ethnic Group]

Tausug Tribe of Sulu: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Mindanao Indigenous People | Philippines Ethnic Group]

Tausug” derives from tau, meaning “man,” and sug, meaning “current,” and thus translates into “people of the current.” It refers to the majority Islamized group in the Sulu archipelago, their language, and culture. The 2000 government census reports the Tausug population in Mindanao at 894,207. They are found in significant numbers in three of the five provinces of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which consists of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. They compose the majority in Sulu province, particularly its northern part: Jolo Island and the neighboring islands of Pata, Marunggas, Tapul, and Lugus, and to a lesser extent in Siasi and Pangutaran. In this province alone, they number half a million, or 528,299, making up 85.27% of its total population. The two other provinces of the ARMM with a Tausug population are Tawi-Tawi, where they number 114,842, or 35.63% of its total population; and Basilan, where they number 76,366, or 23%. Other ethnolinguistic groups in Sulu include the Samal, the Yakan, the Sama Dilaut, and the Jama Mapun. Outside of the ARMM, the Tausug are also in Zamboanga City, where there are 98,334, or 16.4% of the city’s total population.

The name “Sulu,” which is an archipelagic province, derives its name from sulug or sug which in Tausug means “ocean current.” Measuring 2,699 square kilometers, it is comprised of some 2,600 islands and islets at the southernmost tip of the Philippines. These islands and islets are grouped into seven: Jolo, Tawi-Tawi, Samales, Tapul, Pangutaran, Sibutu, and Cagayan de Sulu. The climate is warm and humid throughout the year, and is conducive to various agricultural pursuits.

Jolo, the capital and main island group, is mountainous and of volcanic origin. Standing 870 meters above sea level, Mountain Tumantangis is the highest mountain in the island group. Other mountains in Jolo are Mountain Sinumaan, 830 meters; Mountain Daho, 705 meters; and Mountain Bagsak, 680 meters. The name “Jolo” is the Spanish corruption of Sulu.

The Tausug speak bahasa sug, a Malaya-Polynesian language related to the Visayan variety spoken in Surigao, and write in a Malayo-Arabic script known as jawi or sulat sug. The government census reports that the Tausug speakers in the whole island of Mindanao number 747,530, which is 146,804 Tausug persons less than the reported total Tausug population. Thus, the number of Tausug speakers is not necessarily equal to the number of persons reporting their ethnic identity as Tausug.

History of the Tausug Tribe

The first inhabitants of Sulu were the Buranun or Budanun (hill people), who were probably descendants of the Dayak of Borneo. They were followed by the Tagimaha, Baklaya (Malay), and much later, the Sama Badjao of Johore (Amilbangsa 1983, 9; Tan 2003, 12). In pre-Islamic Sulu, the Tausug aborigines were ruled by Raja Sipad the Older, who was succeeded by Raja Sipad the Younger (Asain 1993, 27-28).

Decorated Tausug boats in Jolo
Decorated Tausug boats in Jolo (Philippine Picture Postcards 1900-1920 by Jonathan Best. The Bookmark, Inc., 1994.)

Many believe that Islam from the Indo-Malay world came to Sulu in 1280 CE with the arrival of Tuan Mashaika (Tan 2003, 14; Rodil 2003, 7; Santos 2001, 185). A century later, Karim ul-Makdum arrived and introduced the Islamic faith and settled in Sibutu until his death. The mosque at Tubig-Indangan which he built still stands. In 1390, Raja Baguinda landed at Buansa and extended the missionary work of Makdum. The Muslim Arabian scholar Abu Bakr arrived in 1450, married Paramisuli, Baguinda’s daughter and, after Baguinda’s death, became sultan, thereby introducing the sultanate as a political system.

Later, political districts were created in Parang, Pansul, Lati, Gitung, and Luuk, each headed by a panglima or district leader. After Abu Bakr’s death, the sultanate system became well-established in Sulu. Even before the coming of the Spaniards, the ethnic groups in Sulu—the Tausug, Samal, Yakan, and Sama Dilaut—were already in varying degrees united under the Sulu Sultanate, considered the most centralized political system in the Philippines (Orosa 1970, 20-21).

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 till 1898 between the Spanish colonial government and the Muslims of Mindanao. In 1578, an expedition sent by Governor Francisco de Sande and headed by Captain Rodriguez de Figueroa began the 300-year warfare between the Tausug and the Spanish authorities. In 1579, the Spanish government gave 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 were repulsed by Spanish and Visayan forces (Angeles 1974, 27-28; Saber 1976, 13; Orosa 1970, 21).

In the early 17th century, the largest alliance composed of the Maranao, Maguindanaon, Tausug, and other Muslim groups was formed by Sultan Kudarat or Cachil Corralat of Maguindanao, whose domain extended from the Davao Gulf to Dapitan on the Zamboanga peninsula. Several expeditions sent by the Spanish authorities suffered defeat. 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 Hurtado de Corcuera personally led an expedition against Kudarat and triumphed over his forces at Lamitan and Ilian. On 1 January 1638, de Corcuera, with 80 vessels and 2,000 soldiers, defeated the Tausug and occupied Jolo. A peace treaty was forged. The victory did not establish Spanish sovereignty over Sulu as the Tausug abrogated the treaty as soon as the Spaniards left in 1646 (Miravite 1976, 40; Angeles 1974, 28; Saber 1975, 23; Orosa 1970, 22).

In 1737, Sultan Alimud Din I entered into a “permanent” peace treaty with Governor-General F. Valdes y Tamon and in 1746 befriended the Jesuits sent to Jolo by King Philip V. In 1748, he was forcibly removed by the forces of Bantilan, son of an earlier sultan. Alimud Din was charged as being “too friendly”’ with the Christians, whereupon he left for Manila in 1749. He was received well by Governor-General Arrechderra and was baptized on 29 April 1750. He was humiliated in 1753, when after being reinstated as sultan, he was arrested on his way back to Sulu, under the orders of Governor-General Zacarias. The Tausug retaliated by raiding northern coasts. In 1763, he was released by the British forces that had occupied Manila. He returned to Sulu as sultan and, in 1769, ordered the invasion of Manila Bay (Orosa 1970, 22-25).

Sultan riding his horse with his retinue behind him, Sulu
Sultan riding his horse with his retinue behind him, Sulu, early 20th century (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

The Sulu sultanate declined after 1848 when the colonial authorities began the use of steamboats. Piracy was effectively halted, and in 1851, General Urbiztondo led an expedition that defeated the Tausug. But Sulu was only occupied and made into a protectorate in 1876 when Governor-General Malcampo, using naval artillery, succeeded in destroying the kota (fort) of Jolo and prevented the smuggle of ammunition to the besieged forces. A garrison was set up in Jolo commanded by Captain P. Cervera. Tausug attempts to recover the city were not successful.

In 1658 the Sultan of Brunei rewarded Sabah (then called North Borneo) to the Sultan of Sulu for having helped to quell the bloody rebellions in Brunei. In January 1878, Sultan Jamalul A’lam of Sulu leased North Borneo to the British North Borneo Company. A “Confirmatory Deed of 1903,” signed by the son of the sultan’s son, Sultan Amirul Kiram, is one of the Philippines’s proofs for laying claim to Sabah as part of Sulu and, as such, part of its territory.

In 1893, amid succession controversies, Amirul Kiram became Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, the title being officially recognized by the Spanish authorities. In 1899, after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War, Colonel Luis Huerta, the last governor of Sulu, relinquished the Jolo garrison to the Americans.

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 Brigadier 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 non-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. The idea that they were part of the Philippines had never occurred to them until then. Although the Bates Agreement had “pacified,” to a certain extent, the Sulu sultanate, resistance continued. In 1901, panglima Hassan and his followers fought the Americans, believing that acceptance of American sovereignty would affect the panglima’s authority (Che Man 1990, 46-47).

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 or head tax; the migration of Christians to Muslim lands encouraged by the colonial government; and the abolition of slavery. These and other factors contributed to Muslim resistance that took 10 years “to pacify” (Che Man 1990, 23, 47-48).

The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Moro province on 15 December 1913. A “policy of attraction” was introduced, ushering in reforms to encourage Muslim integration into Philippine society. In 1916, after the passage of the Jones Law, which transferred legislative power to a Philippine Senate and House of Representatives, polygyny was made illegal. 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. The act also granted the state the right to confer land ownership. It was thought that the Muslims would “learn” from the “more advanced” Christianized Filipinos and would integrate more easily into mainstream Philippine society (Che Man 1990, 23-24, 51-52; Isidro 1976, 64-65).

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. Petitions were sent by Muslim leaders between 1921 and 1924 requesting that Mindanao and Sulu be administered directly by the United States. These petitions were not granted (Che Man 1990, 52-53).

Realizing the futility of armed resistance, some Muslims sought to make the best of the situation. In 1934, Arolas Tulawi of Sulu, Datu Manandang Piang 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 (Che Man 1990, 55-56).

The Muslims are generally adverse to anything that threatens Islam and their way of life. Che Man (1990) believes that they were neither anti-American nor anti-Filipino but simply against any form of foreign encroachment into their traditional way of life. During World War II, the Muslims in general supported the fight against the Japanese, who were less tolerant and harsher to them.

After independence, efforts to integrate the Muslims into the new political order met with stiff resistance. It was unlikely that the Muslims, who have had a longer cultural history as Muslims than the Filipinos as Christians, would surrender their identity. In 1951, Kamlun, a devout and wealthy native of Tandu Panuan, took up arms against the government for a number of reasons. For one, he was not on good terms with other local leaders, some of whom he killed. There were also problems with land titling which Kamlun refused to undertake since, to him, ownership of land is not evident by means of a piece of paper. Fearing government persecution, he went to the hills. In July 1952, the first negotiation for his surrender was held between Alibon, Kamlun’s brother, and Secretary of Defense Ramon Magsaysay. However, a week later, Kamlun resumed his fight, accusing the government of bad faith. “Operation Durian” was launched to capture him. He surrendered on 10 November 1952 but on 2 December was granted parole. In 1953, he went back to the hills until his surrender on 24 September 1955. On “death row,” he was finally pardoned by President Marcos on 11 September 1968 (Che Man 1990, 56-62; Tan 1977, 114-117).

The conflict between Muslims and Christian Filipinos was exacerbated in 1965 with the Jabidah Massacre. The massacre allegedly eliminated Muslim soldiers who refused to invade Sabah, also known as North Borneo, which the Philippine government believes is a part of Sulu but is now under the independent Federation of Malaysia. This incident contributed to the rise of various separatist movements—the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), Ansar El-Islam, and Union of Islamic Forces and Organizations (Che Man 1990, 74-75).

In 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was founded on the concept of a Bangsa Moro 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 internal disunity (Tan 1977, 118-22; Che Man 1990, 77-78).

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 (Che Man 1990, 146-147).

In 1977, the group of Hashim Salamat broke away from the MNLF due to differences in ideological orientation, political strategy, and ethnic allegiances. They formed another group, now known as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

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, Republic Act 6734 or the Organic Act for Mindanao created a mandate to provide an autonomous region in Mindanao. A plebiscite was held on November 1989 to determine the provinces that would comprise the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). These were Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

From October 1993 to August 1996, four formal peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the MNLF were conducted in Jakarta, with the participation of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) (Santos 2001, 187). This led to the signing by the MNLF and the GRP of the Final Peace Agreement and the creation of the Special Zone of Peace and Development (SZOPAD) and the Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development (SPCPD), envisioned as the transition authority toward a more independent regional government (ARMM 2014). On 9 September 1996, by virtue of the political alliance of the MNLF and the Ramos administration’s ruling party LAKAS, Nur Misuari was elected as ARMM governor (Santos 2001, 187).

A few years after, for reasons similar to those of the MILF’s, another group broke away from the MNLF in 2001. The group called themselves MNLF Executive Council 15 (MNLF-15EC). The group was led by 15 MNLF leaders who turned against Nur Misuari.

In 2001, under the Arroyo administration, a plebiscite for the ratification of Republic Act 9054, which provided for the expansion of the area covered by ARMM, was overwhelmingly endorsed. The provinces that comprised the ARMM now included Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, and the Islamic City of Marawi (ARMM 2014).

During the administration of Benigno Aquino III, the GRP and the MNLF continued to solve the pending issues in the continuing conflict in southern Philippines, consistent with the 1976 Tripoli Agreement and the 1996 Final Peace Agreement. When the peace talks were nearing the final stages of negotiation, Nur Misuari declared in August 2013 the establishment of the United Federated States of Bangsamoro Republik (UFSBR), a breakaway state that would encompass the islands of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan, and North Borneo (Sabah). On 9 September 2013, forces of MNLF-Nur Misuari faction laid siege to Zamboanga City and engaged the Philippine Navy’s Special Operations Group in firefights. The 20-day siege resulted in the displacement of 100,000 civilians, many deaths and injuries, as well as ruined homes and properties (Medina 2013).

In spite of the Zamboanga siege, the peace talks continued and, on 27 March 2014, the GRP and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), an agreement that aims to create a Bangsamoro autonomous political entity that would replace the current ARMM. However, several factions in the MNLF were dismayed that the GRP signed another peace pact even if the existing MNLF-OIC-GRP 1996 Final Peace Agreement was still being implemented (Sambalud 2014).

Livelihood of the Tausug People

Farming, fishing, and trading are the principal economic activities of the Tausug, who can be divided into two groups: the parianon (people of the landing) and the guimbahanon (hill people). The parianon are fishermen, goldsmiths, and sailors residing along the seacoasts. The guimbahanon are farmers of the interior. Rice, fruits such as mangosteen, durian, jackfruit, lanzones, and mangoes, and root crops such as ube, cassava, and gabi are extensively cultivated. Coffee is also grown, as well as nonfood crops like tobacco and abaca. These farming produce are taken to town centers, where these are sold to palilitu (intermediaries) often at very low prices (Plagata and Aquino 1976, 77; Bruno 1973, 35-38).

More than fishers, the parianon are also traders, whose products are bartered for silk, amber, porcelain, cigarettes, perfumes, and other consumer goods. This barter trade system extends to Southeast Asian countries such as Borneo and Indonesia, and is exercised with little government supervision. As fishers, the Tausug use pressure lamps called kulayt at night to attract sardines, squids, and piyatay (a small kind of fish). During the day, they gather sharks, tuna, and ray fish. Some Tausug employ explosives and poison to maximize their catch. Some of the parianon work as employees in different government offices (Abdulla 1989, 32). As with the guimbahanon, the parianon utilize merchants to sell their produce (Plagata and Aquino 1976, 77-78; Bruno 1973, 40-42).

Additional sources of income include mat weaving, done by both married and unmarried women; basket making, and bamboo craft by men (Bruno 1973, 43-44). The Tausug also practice pagsanda, an indigenous act of offering a piece of property as butang (collateral) in order to secure cash loans. Derived from the word sanda, a Bahasa Malayo term which means “pledge,” pagsanda was practiced by the Tausug even before the coming of Islam (Kamlian 1999, 155).

Political System of the Tausug People

The raja institution was one of the earliest political institutions in pre-Islamic Sulu. The other indigenous political institutions in Sulu’s political hierarchy were the timuay, tuan, datu, and ulangkaya or orangkaya (Tan 2003, 5, 9-14).

Sultan of Sulu and his court receiving two French travelers
Sultan of Sulu and his court receiving two French travelers (Le Tour du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages by Edouard Charton. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1884)

Before the founding of the sultanate of Sulu, the Tausug were organized into various independent banwa (communities) similar to the Tagalog barangay. They had already developed a sociopolitical system under the leadership of the datu or chief. Because of this, the Sulu sultanate, when it came to being, had to compromise. The datu and the first sultan had an agreement called taritib, which limited the political power of the sultan over the datu (Gomez 2000, 26).

The Sultanate of Sulu was in fact the result of the process of Islamization that began in Tuan Mashaika’s time, about two centuries before the Sultanate’s actual establishment in 1450 CE. In the sultanate era, the spread of Islam was reinforced through madrasa, sharia, and the integration of the datu institution, whose ethno-kinship-determined independence would eventually be limited by the Sultanate with its centralizing administrative system (Tan 2003, 12-15).

The sultanate was divided into districts administered by the panglima, equivalent to the present-day mayor. Each district was in turn sub-administered by barrio captains variously called maharaja, orangkaya, and parukka. The sultan represented the highest civil and religious authority. He was assisted by the ruma bichara (advisory state council), the members of which included the datu raja muda (crown prince), datu maharaja adenduk (palace commander), datu ladja laut (admiral), datu maharaja layla (commissioner of customs), datu amir bahar (speaker of the ruma bichara), datu tumangong (executive secretary), datu juhan (secretary of information), datu muluk bandarasa (secretary of commerce), datu sawajaan (secretary of interior), datu bandahala (secretary of finance), mamaneho (inspector general), datu sakandal (sultan’s personal envoy), datu nay (ordinance or weapon commander), and wazil (prime minister). Except for the datu raja muda who had two votes, the other members of the ruma bichara each had one vote. The sultan exercised two votes. The traditional rights of the sultan were to execute his legal functions; to appoint and regulate religious officials; to administer land and people; to enter into treaties; to levy taxes, tributes, and fees; and to manage the economy. In religious matters, the sultan was advised by the qadi or kadi; at the district level, each panglima was assisted by the religious ulama or pandita. Other religious leaders were the imam, hatib or khatib, and bilal. The imam leads the prayers, the hatib gives the khutbah (sermon), and the bilal calls the people to prayer (Bruno 1973, 140-142; Kiefer 1972, l10).

Mohammed Jamalul Alam, Sultan of Sulu
Mohammed Jamalul Alam, Sultan of Sulu (Le Tour du Monde, Nouveau Journal des Voyages by Edouard Charton. Librairie de L. Hachette et Cie, 1884.)

The decline of the sultanate beginning in 1750, due to intensified Spanish military activities in Jolo and other principal towns in Sulu, contributed greatly to the independence of the local datu and strengthened their hold once more over their respective territories (Tan 2003, 14; Gomez 2000, 30).

During the American colonial period and after the suppression of several Tausug rebellions, the Tausug provinces fell under the structures established by the Americans, specifically under the Department of Mindanao and Sulu. In 1920, this Department was replaced by the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, which in turn gave way to the Office of the Commissioner for Mindanao and Sulu in 1935. After 1946, the Tausug followed the structures of the Republic of the Philippines. They elected their own representatives, governors and provincial councils, mayors and municipal councilors, and barangay chiefs.

Today, Sulu province is administered by a governor, a vice governor, and members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. At the municipal level, there are the mayors, vice mayors, and Sangguniang Bayan members. Barrios elect their own leaders such as the barangay captain and the barangay councilors. The traditional political power of the sultan has been greatly reduced, although he still holds great social and religious influence.

The national legal system combines with their agama (religious) courts, the existence of which depends on various laws and rules. The sara kuraan (Quranic law) is based on the Quran; the sara agama (legal corpus) is maintained by the sultan in his capacity as a religious leader. The distinction between sara kuraan and sara agama is important. The sara adat (custom law) is unwritten, based on customs and traditions, and is administered by the local chieftain or community head. It is indigenous and deals with offenses that include murder, theft, debt repayment, and so forth. The Tausug see their world as reflecting unity in sara (law), agama (religion), and adat (customs). Thus, the various types of rules and prescriptions, divine or secular, are a means of social and religious control (Arce 1963, 15-16; Bruno 1973, 140-146; Kiefer 1972, 88-90).

Tausug Tribe Culture, Customs and Traditions

Blood and kinship form the basis of Tausug social relationships. The concept of usbawaris, from usb areferring to “the kin of the father,” and waris, “the mother’s kin,” defines the mutual role and obligations of close relations. The concept of kampung, on the other hand, covers one’s duties toward kin of the second and third degrees of consanguinity (Bruno 1973).

Tausug women in Jolo
Tausug women in Jolo, circa 1930 (A Philippine Album, American Era Photographs 1900-1930 by Jonathan Best. The Bookmark, Inc., 1998.)

Magtalianak is the relationship between parents and their children, and is defined by respect and deference of the younger to the older generation. People of the same generation are magtaymanghud or in a relation based on mutual assistance and respect. A relationship between alternate generations, for example, grandparents and grandchildren, is described as magtaliapu —one built on love and respect. Tausug terms to refer to their kin are the following: ama (father), ina (mother), apu (grandparent or grandchild), taymang-hud (sibling), magulang (older sibling), manghud (younger sibling), amaun (male of father’s generation), inaun (female of father’s generation), pagtunghud (cousin), anak (child), anakun (kin of child’s generation), bana (husband), asawa (wife), ugangan (father-, mother-, son-, or daughter-in-law), and ipag (brother- or sister-in-law) (Bruno 1973, 58).

Tausug datu wearing official sash and medal of rank
Tausug datu wearing official sash and medal of rank, 1915 (A Philippine Album, American Era Photographs 1900-1930 by Jonathan Best. The Bookmark, Inc., 1998.)

The Tausug believe that family ties should be passionately respected and defended, like the land they owned, against threats of any kind (Rixhon 2014, 309). In Sulu, the traditional term for interfamily or clan revenge is called mamahuli, which means “to take revenge.” Some Tausug use the generic term pagbanta, which means “to fight or oppose.” The usual causes of clan conflict are land dispute, political rivalry, possession of firearms, martabbat (honor), and disagreements or misunderstandings (Durante, Gomez, et al 2007, 99). In each pagpamahuli, clans need to reclaim their malatabat (pride) by removing kasipugan (shame) (Husin 2007, 347).

Before the abolition of slavery, Tausug society comprised three classes: the nobility, the commoners or free people, and the slaves. Titles of nobility were inherited and conferred much privilege to the ones holding them. The commoners, although not titled, participated in important government and religious positions, such as those of the panglima and imam. They were able to own land and actively engaged in commerce and trade. Slaves were either war captives, sold into that state, or children of slaves. Marriage with influential commoners or aristocrats released them from bondage. Today, class distinctions are still based on the nobility-commoner divide but are more fluid and take into account economic and professional status. The wealthy and the professional class have become part of the elite (Bruno 1973, 146-147).

Through symptoms, the Tausug wife allows her pregnancy to be found out; she does not normally tell anyone about it. Extra concern and understanding, especially on the part of the husband, are shown to her, and although her diet is carefully regulated, she is granted her every desire for food. During labor, a panday (midwife) assists in the delivery, during which everyone present is to stay awake and help remove nails and unlock trunks and other containers. After childbirth, a portion of the umbilical cord, its length measured by pulling it from the toes of the bagu piyaganak (newborn) to the forehead, is cut by the panday. Taking care not to wet the remaining cord, the panday cleans the baby in a warm bath scented with guava leaves. Breastfeeding is not allowed until after the child’s first defecation, which is induced by giving the newborn a concoction prepared from the leaves of the bitter melon called paliya (Bruno 1973, 72-81).

Simple or elaborate, the paggunting (baptism) traces its origin to the prophet Muhammad, who was said to have cried for seven nights until after his hair was cut, and to the Arabic prayer asarakal sung. In the ceremony, the child is dressed in finery and taken to a group of imam, each of whom cuts off a few locks of the newborn’s hair. These are then dipped into tubig butung (coconut water). Grains of white sugar are then placed around the child’s mouth, after which a lit candle is extinguished by a young man and woman carefully chosen by the baby’s parents (Bruno 1973, 97-98).

Formal schooling begins when the child is five, six, or seven years old. Before the public school system, education consisted mainly of Quranic studies taught by the guro (Quranic teacher). Even today, parents opt to send their children to madrasa (religious schools) than to the state-sponsored public schools. The studies include the phonetics and orthography of Arabic to enable the child to read and memorize the Quran. The semantics come later. Two or three years is the normal length of schooling, after which the child is graduated in a celebration called pagtammat, where he or she is required to recite phrases from the holy book (Bruno 1973, 102-6).

Informal schooling includes basic housekeeping skills, like magannam baluy (mat weaving), maglukis iban bulda (embroidery), magtahi (sewing), and mag-lutu (cooking), for the girls, and economic skills, like farming and fishing, for the boys (Bruno 1973, 107).

Pagsunnat and pag-islam are the terms for female and male circumcision, respectively. Pagsunnat is usually performed when the girl is six or seven years old by the panday who assisted in the childbirth. Pag-islam occurs when the boy is 15 or 16 years old and in the past was performed by the imam. Today it is done in hospitals, but the accompanying rites and prayers take place at home (Bruno 1973, 109-112).

The period of puberty for a girl is called da-ga and is characterized by various physical and social changes. Among these are the growth of acne, freckles, and pimples, the development of duru (breasts), the structuring of sex roles, and menstruation. The last is attended by a ritual called lumayag, from layag meaning “to sail away,” which is believed to lengthen her non-menstruation period. She is asked to skip or go over a lusung (mortar) or hagdan (stairs) three times. To prevent pimples and other skin problems, the girl should wash her tindaw (menstrual blood) on her sañawa (panty) herself and use it to clean her face. Puberty leads to sumangput (adolescence) when the pubescents become fully grown. Social roles become clearly defined among the budjang (young woman) and the subul (young man): the former is expected to assist in domestic chores; the latter, to supplement the family income. Both are expected to check their behavior, especially in public (Bruno 1973, 112-14).

The Tausug consider marriage an important social and personal event. Marriage functions as a celebration in the kauman as well as an honor to the usbawaris of the couple’s families. It strengthens family ties and kinship relations (Kamlian 1999, 139).

Men usually marry at 18, women at 16 or 18. Marriage by negotiation is an agreement between the parents of the groom and bride. Traditionally, it consists of six stages. During the tingugg-taingah, literally “ear sound” or “listening by ear,” the young man tells his parents about the woman he wishes to marry. The parents then seek information about the woman and her family, the dowry required, broken engagements, if any, and their causes. This is done very discreetly and is usually undertaken by an elderly and respected woman known by both families. During the magpahingita, the female members of the young man’s family try to see the young woman, who is usually kept in mezzanine-like private rooms called angkap. They try to remember her features, which are then described to the man’s family. If acceptable, they proceed to the mag-pasihil or the informal asking of the ungsud, literally “that which is given as payment,” also known as dowry. The task is usually given to an elderly woman or a group of elders, which may include the community imam. The event is also held to resolve any differences the families may have had regarding the match. If all goes well, the pagpangasawa or formal marriage proposal is made. The usba and waris of both families are present. The wedding expenses are set by a representative from the young woman’s family, and as a sign of sincerity, the man’s family leaves behind a token of goodwill consisting of jewelry or its equivalent cash, also called as tapil-dila. Tapil-dila means sincerity in whatever the tongue will utter. It derives from tapil, meaning support, and dila, meaning tongue (Abdulla 1989, 85). If there is an agreement, the tapil-dila is returned; if not, it is considered a gift to the woman’s family. Mutual agreement is celebrated in the pagturul-taymah, literally “to go and to accept,” where the amount of the dowry and the wedding date are announced to the public. The pagtiyaun (wedding) follows soon, but one day before it, the entire bride wealth must be delivered; otherwise, the engagement may still be broken. Preparations are done days in advance both at the bride’s and the groom’s houses. By late afternoon on the wedding day, the groom is taken to the bride’s house. Festivities abound: the sound of kulintang (gong ensemble) and other musical instruments, colorful clothes, and a carnival atmosphere. The wedding is capped by the pagkawin (solemnizing ritual) officiated by the imam, who leads the groom to the bride and guides his thumb to her forehead. The celebration continues (Bruno 1973, 118-127).

Other forms of negotiated marriages are the mag-pasumbayi, where the young man, unable to gather the necessary bride wealth, brings a kris or barung (Tausug bladed weapons) to the woman’s house, whereupon he asks that he be killed should the woman’s parents refuse him; and the magsarahakan-tugul, where personal dislike for the young man is overcome by offerings of a bride wealth far in excess of tradition. The former used to be an acceptable practice. Today, refusal need not mean death (Bruno 1973, 128-130). Non-negotiated marriages include elopement and abduction.

Islam allows a man to have as many as four wives, if he can support them. However, this is no longer practiced by the majority. Divorce is frowned upon as the Tausug take seriously the Quranic passage that says, “Of all things permitted by law, divorce is the most hateful in the sight of God.” Moreover, the relationship between father-in-law and son-in-law is very much emphasized in Tausug society (Bruno 1973, 130).

Tausug death and burial rituals are also a blending of native and Islamic practices where the native elements are dominant. These rituals are practiced with the intentions of helping the dead in his or her journey to the Kingdom of God, as well as in honoring the bereaved family. Like marriage, these rituals also strengthen family ties and kinship relationships (Kamlian 1999, 149-50).

Four steps attend the burial rites of the Tausug. The sutchihun involves the ritual cleaning or panubigan of the corpse with cold water. No prayers can be said before this step. In the saputun, the corpse, now referred to as mayat, is wrapped in three pieces of white cloth tied firmly on both ends and is laid in a darahan, which is similar to a coffin but without a lid. In the past, every male adult attending the funeral recites the prayer; today, only the ones requested by the family do so. The mayat’s head faces north, its feet south. After the sambayangun, the hikubil or burial proper requires that a grave, proportionate in length to the mayat and 1.8 to 2.7 meters deep, is dug. In the same north-south direction, the grave houses on its west side a paliyangan or 60-centimeter-wide chamber where a religious person says the tulkin or prayer for the dead. The mayat is then placed in the paliyangan, the white shroud covering it loosened and untied. The chamber is then sealed with dingding hali, 5-centimeter-thick boards. The grave, now filled with soil, is marked by a sunduk (grave marker) at its head. Prayers end the funeral (Bruno 1973, 132-134).

Class distinctions are followed even in burial rites. A Tausug noble is bathed with water brought in a kawayan (bamboo) tube. His funeral procession consists of a kuddaman (palanquin) carried by four men, and various payung (funeral umbrellas) to shade the sunduk, the deceased noble, and the other attending nobles (Bruno 1973, 134-137).

After the burial, a vigil by the grave is held for seven days. Another vigil, at the bereaved family’s home, is done for seven or even 100 days. During this time, prayers are continuously said. The dead is remembered with feasts on the following days: the hinang pitu or seventh, the hinang kawhaan or 20th, the hinang kapatan or 40th, the hinang hanggatus or l00th, and the hinang hangibu or l000th. Hinang patahunan or yearly prayers are also said. The Tausug believe that on the 14th of the Shaaban month, the ruh (soul) of the departed return to their families. Hence, the yasin or prayer for the journey of the soul is recited. They also believe that the ruh visits the jassal (dead body) the following day; hence they bless the soul by sprinkling the grave with water. Native delicacies are served in the nispu celebration that follows (Bruno 1973, 137-139).

Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Tausug

The Tausug follow standard Islamic beliefs and practices. The Quran is considered by all Muslims as the words of Allah (God), revealed to the Prophet Muhammad through archangel Gabriel, and the source of all Islamic law, principles, and values. Aside from the Quran and the Sunnah and Haddith, literally “a way, rule, or manner of acting,” other Islamic sources of law include Ijtihad (independent judgment) and Qiyas (analogy). The Five Pillars of Islam are the declaration of beheb in the oneness of God and the prophethood of Muhammad, and the four obligations of praying, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime.

Tausug elder teaching a young boy how to read the Quran
Tausug elder teaching a young boy how to read the Quran, 2014 (Kurt Zion V. Pala)

Classical Muslim jurists divide the world into Dar-al-Islam (Land of Islam) or those territories where the Law of Islam prevails; Dar-al-Harb (Land of War), which includes those countries where Muslim Law is not in force; Dar-al-Ahd (Land of the Covenant), considered as a temporary and often intermediate territory between Dar-al-Islam and Dar-al-Harb; and Dar-al-Sulk (House of Truce) or territories not conquered by Muslim troops, where peace is attained by the payment of tribute which guarantees a truce or armistice. In general, the Tausug consider themselves as part of the umma, one of the Islamic solidarity that transcends race and gender (Rixhon 2014, 318).

Prior to the 1950s, Islamic education in the Muslim Philippines took place at the home of the local guru, with the goal of reading and memorizing the Quran rather than translating or interpreting it. Later, Muslim students were taught to understand the Arabic of the Quran, Islamic history, exegesis (tafsir), and Traditions of the Prophet (hadith) in the Islamic schools called madrasa. Due to some religious funding, Middle East graduates, referred to as ustadzes rather than gurus, opened madrasa without relying on the patronage of the traditional leaders. These madrasa would later play a significant role in the cultural education in the Muslim Philippines (McKenna and Abdulla 2009, 233).

Masjid Tulay in downtown Jolo, Sulu
Masjid Tulay in downtown Jolo, Sulu, 2016 (Alfadzni Sadjail Haddimah)

A concept often misunderstood is parang sabil or holy war. The term derives from the Malay words perang, meaning “war,” and sabil, from the Arabic fi sabil Allah, meaning “in the path of God.” It refers to a jihad (holy war) against those who threaten the sanctity of Islam. It is resorted to when all forms of organized resistance fail. Those who die in the struggle are pronounced shahid (martyrs) and automatically gain a place in sulga (heaven). Failing to understand this religious dimension, the Spaniards and the Americans have reduced the concept into a psychological disorder and have referred to the shahid as “juramentados” and “amock,” respectively.

Indigenous beliefs persist. Aside from Allah or Tuhan, the Tausug are also concerned with spirits who inhabit nature, especially rocks and trees, and who are believed to be the cause of human suffering. Among these are the saytan (evil spirits) and jinn (unseen creatures). Some saytan have names, like the balbaian (manananggal), a flying creature that enjoys the liver of corpses. The Christian devil finds its counterpart in iblis, who tempts people into evil. The Tausug also believe in the four composites of the human soul: the transcendental soul, the life-soul associated with the blood, the breath or life essence, and the spirit-soul who travels during dreams and who causes the human shadow. The Tausug concept of religious merit also differs from that of the orthodox Muslims. Unjustified killing transfers the merits of the offender to the victim and the demerits of the victim to the offender. The terms sulga and narka (hell) do not denote places but states of being, and they are interchangeable with the concepts of karayawan (state of goodness) and kasiksaan (state of suffering), respectively (Kiefer 1972, 112-114, 128-130).

Indigenous healing practices are assumed by the mangugubat (curer) who have direct access to the spirit world. They are not considered religious officials, as in the case of the agama priests, although their services are utilized when certain spirits need to be appeased. However, an illness that has been successfully diagnosed is not attributed to supernatural causes. Native medicine include raw squash mixed with coconut milk for meningitis, egg white applied topically for burns, and lagundi leaves for malaria. Traditional practices which were “medical” in intent included the sacrifice of a hen near a balete tree. Incantations were said, and a rooster was set free near the same tree. The object was to soothe the anger of the saytan believed to be the cause of the illness (Kiefer 1972, 114-115; Orosa 1970, 106-107).

Traditional Houses and Community of the Tausug People

Tausug community in the coastal barangay of Ipil in Maimbung, Sulu
Tausug community in the coastal barangay of Ipil in Maimbung, Sulu, 2015 (Department of Agriculture - Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources)

In general, the Tausug do not live in tiny communities. An example is Barangay Luas in the municipality of Parang, Sulu. In 1972, the barangay’s population was 290, grouped into 28 houses, of which 17 were dispersed. The remaining 11 were concentrated near the beach. Most residents of the settlement were related by consanguinity or affinity. Household composition ranged from three to 30 (Jainal et al 1972, 81-84).

Tower at Jolo, taken in 1909
Tower at Jolo, taken in 1909 (Philippine Picture Postcards 1900-1920 by Jonathan Best, The Bookmark, Inc., 1994)

The bay sug or house of the Tausug is usually a one-room partitionless structure. The nine posts of the Tausug home correspond to various parts of the human anatomy: the center post, the pipul (navel); the southeast and southwest corners, the pigi (hip); the northeast and northwest corners, the agata (shoulder); the eastern and western sides of the center post, the gusuk (ribs); the north post, the liug (neck); and the south post, the hita (groin) (Perez et al. 1989, 239). All the eight non-center posts support the roof, which is given form by the ridge beam and is made from sari, nipa, sago palm, or plaud (coconut palms from the marang tree). Other roofing styles are the sungan, which is well ventilated by a hole formed by having only two (out of four) slopes meeting at the apex; and the libut, which is square. Crowning the rooftop of Tausug houses is the tadjuk pasung or carved wood design, which may either be a manuk-manuk (bird) with ukkil designs or a naga (dragon design bird). Instead of ceilings, the Tausug decorate the bilik (room) with a large luhul or rectangular cloth to catch leaves, dust, and pests. Depending on their finances, the Tausug use plywood, split bamboo, or woven coconut palm for walling. Except for woven coconut palm, the walling usually has a window of various styles attached to it. Ventilation is provided by holed jalajala panels situated between the walls and the roof. In the past, the Tausug only had wall slits as windows to conceal their unmarried women inside. The flooring is usually of bamboo (240-242).

Usually on flatland or on a westward slope, the Tausug house is entered through the sala (porch), a roofless platform attached to the side or sides of the structure. The kitchen, which may be accessed through the porch, is small. Lower than the main bilik by around 31.5 centimeters, the kitchen houses the bamboo and wooden stove, the cooking utensils, and other kitchenware. In the past, a lungag or hole in one of the house corners served as toilet (Perez et al. 1989, 234, 242-243).

Various practices attend to the building of a Tausug house. A site must first be pronounced “lucky” by the local imam, who calculates the “flow of strength” of the land and determines an auspicious date for beginning the construction. A panday bay (carpenter) builds the house helped by two assistants. They bring with them eight commonly used tools: katam (ordinary plane), utak pira (round-ended bolo), utak janap (sharp-ended bolo), kat-kat (saw), tukul (hammer), kukumung (posthole digger), barina (drill), and patuk (chisel with adjustable blade). After construction but before the family moves in, good luck is ensured by hanging gantung or two glass jars, one containing palay (rice), the other tubig (water), at the center. An imam recites a duaa salamat (thanksgiving prayer) on the day the family moves in (Jainal et al 1972, 88-89, 92-94, 118).

Religious architecture is represented in two types of buildings. The masjid or community mosque is a permanent structure made of bamboo and stone. It must be large enough to fit a congregation and far enough from other mosques. Generally, Tausug mosques are similar to those in Mindanao. An exception is the Middle-Eastern-inspired “old” mosque in Maimbung, Jolo, which has Arabian style minarets. Semipermanent, the langgal or hamlet chapel is built for convenience to attract people to afternoon prayers, who otherwise may have to walk long distances (Kiefer 1972, 117; Szanton 1973, 56).

Tausug Arts and Crafts

Tausug visual arts are represented by carvings, metalworks, woodworks, tapestry and embroidery, mat making and basketry, textile and fashion, pottery, and other minor arts (Szanton 1963). In general, Tausug visual arts follow the Islamic prohibition of representing human or animal forms. Consequently, Mindanao and Sulu have developed ukkil or abstract motifs, which are carved, printed, or painted onto various media. These motifs are suggestive of leaves, vines, flowers, fruits, and various geometric shapes.

Saruk, hat made of nito and rattan strips
Saruk, hat made of nito and rattan strips (Amilbangsa 2005)

Tausug carving is best exemplified by the sunduk or grave marker. Although not as stylized as those of the Samal, the Tausug sunduk are wood or stone carvings of geometric or floral forms. Women’s grave markers are flatter, with carved geometric designs; those of the men are more floral. Sakayan or outriggers present yet another media for Tausug carving. Adornments are usually made on the prow and sometimes on the sambili or strips across the hull. The carvings are done either on the boat itself or on a separate piece of wood that is then attached to the vessel. Abstract manuk-manuk (bird) motifs are the most common. Ajong-ajong or sula-sula are carved tips supporting the wrapped sail; the hidjuk (dark cord) on the sangpad (prow-plate) also serve as decoration. Carved saam or crosspieces supporting the outriggers are called the mata (eyes) of the boat. Colors used on the finished carvings are yellow, red, green, white, and blue (Szanton 1973, 33-47).

Sunduk, Metropolitan Museum of Manila (Photo from CCP Collections)

Tausug mananasal (blacksmiths) produce bolo, kalis, and barong (bladed weapons). Fishing implements are also made, such as the sangkil (single-pointed spear) and the sapang (three-pronged spear). The more expensively fashioned blades have floral and geometric incisions; the ganja or metal strips which lock the handle and the blade are decorative as well as functional. Bronze casting is not as well developed as it is in Lanao. Among the several functional pieces produced were the batunjang (standing trays) and the talam (flat trays). Gold and silversmithing for jewelry remain lucrative. Items produced by the local goldsmiths include the singsing (ring), gallang (bracelet), gantung liug (necklace), bang (stud earring), aritis (dangling earring), pin (brooch), and gold teeth. In the past, tambuku (buttons) made of gold or silver decorated the traditional male and female costumes and were made with exquisite designs, often inlaid with palmata (semiprecious stones or gems). Among the favorite palmata are mussah (pearl), intan (diamond), and kumalah (ruby) (Szanton 1973, 47-51; Amilbangsa 1983, 142-157).

Kalis or kris and taguban or scabbard
Kalis or kris and taguban or scabbard (Joselito Tito M. Fraginal)

An example of Tausug woodwork is the puhan (wooden handle) of bladed weapons, which may be simple or decorated with gold or silver wires, strings, and rings. For the barong, the handle is wrapped in cord and metal at the far end, and carved and polished at the upper part. At the end of the grip is a protrusion carved with ukkil designs. The handle of the kalis, which the Tausug terms as daganan kalis, can also be profusely decorated, sometimes with mother-of-pearl. Taguban (scabbards) are beautifully carved and are covered with budbud (fine rattan). Other woodworks include kitchen utensils and furniture items like beds, chests, and wardrobes (Szanton 1973, 51-54).

Function and simplicity define Tausug pottery. Decorations are limited to simple geometric lines as the emphasis has always been on the quantity not quality of the product. Examples include pots, vases, jugs, and various pieces of kitchenware (Szanton 1973, 61-63).

Tutup or plate covers are made by Tausug men and women; smaller pieces are called turung dulang riki-riki, and are used as wall adornment. Tutup measure about 75 centimeter in diameter and are made of coconut leaves inside, and silal or buri leaves outside. Colored pandan leaves are sewn on the exterior and serve as decoration (Szanton 1973, 64).

Calligraphy is found printed or carved on doors and gates, as well as on tapestries. Musical instruments, especially the gabbang (native xylophone), are also decorated by the Tausug (Szanton 1973, 65).

There are two types of tapestries that the Tausug use to hang as house decoration: the luhul (canopy) that hangs from the ceiling, and the kikitil or buras (wall tapestry). The ukkil design used for both is first traced on a starched white cloth which is then cut and sewn over a red, green, yellow, or blue background material. The ukkil design of the luhul, for example, is in the form of a tree with spreading leaves, vines, flowers, and branches. About one meter wide, the kikitil is a smaller version of the luhul and is hung on the wall. The size of the room determines the length of the kikitil, which is divided into various units corresponding to individualized panels. The ukkil design may be similar in all units.

Habul tiyahian
Habul tiyahian (CCP Collections)

Embroidery, another Tausug visual art form, is used to ornament tablecloth, pillow cases, bed spreads, and the habul tiyahian (embroidered tube). The brightest silk thread is often used for the habul to underscore the design, which follows the ukkil pattern.

Pis siabit
Pis siabit (Amilbangsa 2005)

Used as bedding or underbed, baluy (mats) are usually made from pandanus (screw pine). Double layering provides decoration and color; a simple base mat is sewn under a colored panel that has been dyed with one or more colors. The designs the Tausug usually adopt are the geometric patterns found on the pis siabit (male headgear) or the plaid known as baluy palang. Mat designs are memorized and passed on to the next generation.

The Tausug male hat called saruk is made by weaving nito (a type of climbing fern) with bamboo strips over nipa leaves. Thus, it is three-layered and woven in a sawali (woven split-bamboo mats) pattern. Structure and form are provided by the nipa leaves and the light bamboo frame, while texture and feel are supplied by the nito strips. The open-weave layer assures ventilation inside. Another example of Tausug basketry is the small nito container, 18 to 20 centimeters in diameter, used either as a coin or as a personal basket. If used as a personal basket, it comes with cover and handle. As a coin basket, it is supplied with a loop to allow it to be carried on a finger. A slit serves as the coin slot. Aniline dyes—magenta, blue, violet, and green—color the nito strips (Lane 1986, 193-194).

Traditional Tausug arts have become the inspiration for several contemporary artists. Foremost of these is Abdulmari Asia Imao, a Tausug visual artist who has articulated thought-provoking art pieces inspired by the Moro artistic tradition. The form of the Maranao mystical bird called sarimanok withthe fish in its beak has become the major motif of Imao’s paintings and sculptures. The indigenous curvilinear patterns and designs of okir or ukkil, and naga have also defined the aesthetics of his creations (National Commission for Culture and the Arts 2014). He has done sculptures of historical figures like Antonio Pigafetta and President Elpidio Quirino, and local heroes like the Sulu warriors Panglima Unaid and Captain Abdurahim Imao (Canete 2012, 142-145). In 2006, he was named National Artist of the Philippines for Sculpture, the first Moro artist to receive the country’s highest award for artists.

Traditional Attire of the Tausug People

Hablun or textile weaving is a well-known art form among the Tausug. The most popular woven material is the pis siabit or male headgear, which is about one square meter in size and distinct for its geometric designs. Because of its intricacy, one pis takes about three to four weeks of work. Only women weave the pis and other materials such as the kambut (sash) and kandit (loincloth and sash), which unfortunately have completely disappeared (Szanton 1973, 64-65). The wefts used for the pis siabit and kandit are usually of fine threads (Amilbangsa 2005, 92). Hablun embroidery is called tiyahian.

The female biyatawi is a blouse made of plain material like satin and is ornamented with tambuku (gold or silver buttons) on the breast, shoulders, and cuffs. It is usually worn with sawwal (loose trousers) of silk or brocade. A habul tiyahian is either slung across the shoulder or allowed to hang on one arm (Amilbangsa 1983, 76-113).

The patadjung is an all-purpose skirt worn by both men and women. It has various other uses: as a turung or headcover, sash or waistband, blanket, hammock, and others. Resembling a big pillow case, the cloth for a patadjung has designs which are variously inspired: batik prints from Indonesia and Malaysia; checks and stripes from India; dunggala or stylized geometrical and floral patterns from Sarawak, Indonesia, or Malaysia; and calligraphic motifs from the Middle East (Amilbangsa 1983, 82).

Tausug men wear the sawwal kuput or sawwal kantiyu (tight and loose trousers, respectively), and match this with the badju lapi, a collarless, short, tailored jacket similar to the biyatawi. The sleeves of the badju lapi are either long or “three-fourths,” with slits at the wrists. The badju lapi is likewise ornamented with tambuku on the breast, shoulders, and cuffs. The legs of the sawwal kaput are skin-tight down to the ankles, and have 22.5 centimeters slits on each side, which are also decorated with buttons. A kandit tied around the waist serves to keep the sawwal kuput in place. A pis siabit is either tied around the head or left to hang on the shoulder (Amilbangsa 1983, 114-130).

Today, the sawwal kuput or sawwal kantiyu and badju lapi are worn only for special occasions. Some Tausug men wear kantiyu only at night and in going to the mosque. For everyday clothes, the young and older sets of Tausug prefer shirts and pants (Asain 1993, 47). The badju lapi is sometimes matched with Western pants while the sawwal kuput is matched with T-shirts (Asain 1993, 168-169).

Tausug Literary Arts

Tausug literature includes poetry and prose, and narrative and nonnarrative forms. The content of these forms belongs to either of two traditions: folk, which is more closely related with indigenous culture; or Islamic, which is based on the Quran and the Hadith (sayings) and Sunna (traditions and practices) of the prophet Muhammad.

Folk nonnarrative poetry includes tigum-tigum or tukud-tukud (riddles), masaalaa (proverbs), daman (poetic dialogue or advice), pituwa (maxims), malikata (word inversions), tilik (love spells), and tarasul (poems) (Tuban 1977, 101).

Tausug tigum-tigum are either asked in casual conversation or sung during celebrations; but in both cases, the answer is volunteered as soon as the audience has given up guessing. They may be in quatrain form when sung, in rhymed couplet, or in prose. Common subjects include flora and fauna, household items, climate, topography, celestial bodies, human anatomy, food, games, and religious practices (Tuban 1977, 101, 108, 111-112). Riddling in Tausug society functions mainly as a form of entertainment, especially during weddings, wakes, and the month of Ramadan, when it becomes a duel of wit and wisdom. It also serves a pedagogical value by training children to think and be aware of nature and the objects around them. Here are some examples (Tuban 1977, 121-122):

Piyasud piyasling
Pasura paslinga
Pasa usugaringa. (Makina pagtatahi)

(It was entered inside and taken outside
It was zigzagged
Let it enter, take it out
Let it zigzag. [Sewing machine])

Pay ku hangka uhayuhay
Nalatag in laum bay. (Palitaan)

(My grain of palay is like a little leaf
But it was able to fill the whole house. [Lamplight])

Dag kapa bud datag in labayan. (Laud)

(You climb a mountain but its path is plain. [Sea])

As with other ethnolinguistic groups, Tausug masaalaa represent a worldview and a perspective on life, and are often quoted at various times during celebrations, in moments of joy, sadness, or disappointments. It is a traditional expression that features a “topic and a comment on the topic” (Rixhon 1974, 119). Symbolisms are usually used to hide the advice (Rixhon 2010, 408). Proverbs also serve an educational purpose, teaching the young the mores of Tausug society (Tuban 1977, 140). Tausug proverbs often reveal dominant ethnic characteristics. For instance:

Gam muti in bukug,
ayaw in tikud-tikud.

(It is better to die
than run away from trouble.)

On the other hand, another proverb warns against intemperate and hasty acts, thus:

In isug ha way akkal’ way guna’.

(Courage without discretion is useless.)

Tausug proverbs also present a worldview, an attitude toward life (Hassan et al 1974):

In tau nagbubuluk bihasa mahumu marayaw in
parasahan niya.

(A person who works hard often has a
comfortable life.)

In halli’ subay wajib
mangadjang ha di’
patumu’ in ulan.

(One must always be
prepared to have a roof
ready before the rain falls.)

Belief and faith in God is also enduring among the Tausug as in this proverb:

Tuhan in paunahun,
ha unu-unu hinangun,
minsan kaw malaung,
maluhay kaw maapun.

(God must be first
before you do anything else,
even if you make a mistake,
you will be easily forgiven.)

Sometimes Tausug proverbs have universal appeal (Tuban 1977, 144):

In manussiya magparuparu,
sagawa in Tuhan in magbaya.

(Man plans but God decides.)

Kitbita in pais mu;
bang masakit kaymu,
masakit da isab ha kaibanan mu.

(Pinch your own skin;
if it is painful to you,
it is also painful when done to your fellows.)

Daman are poetic dialogues or advice used in courtship as well as in rites accompanying marriage. The language used is archaic, and hence, difficult to understand. Through a daman, a suitor can present his feelings in a polite and metaphorical way (Rixhon 1974, 41-44). The daman are usually cast in “deep Tausug,” deviating from the colloquial language. It uses symbolisms that create less direct statements (Rixhon 2010, 406). Here is a daman used in courtship when the father of the young woman discovers a young man loitering around the vicinity of the house. He says (Rixhon 1974, 41-44):

Unu bagun gikus,
unu lubid us’usan?

(What [kind of] rope are [you] twining,
what [kind of] rope are [you] coiling?)

The young man answers:

Mana’ta lupu
Kimita’ pagtanuman
Bang awn na katanaman
duun na magjambangan.

([I’m] surveying the field
In search of a place to plant
If [I] can find a pleasant place
There [I’ll] make my garden.)

When the subject of discussion is delicate, one which carries a sexual connotation, the daman is usually preferred to avoid giving offense. For example (Rixhon 1974, 45-46):

In bawgan’ pana’ mu
Yanda ka kaymu?
Bang kaw biya’ siyumu
Bihun ta kaymu.

(Your arrow container
Is it still with you?
If you are tired of using it
I’ll buy it from you.)
The response may be:
Mayta’ mu subay andagan?
Bihun paandigan
Bang kaw biya’ sukuran
Kalu mu mabawgan.

(Why do you have to ask for the price?
And buy it insinuatingly?
If you are lucky
You might have the bow for free.)

Less symbolic, archaic as the daman but more direct than the proverb, Tausug pituwa are sayings that express wisdom and truth (Rixhon 1974, 45; Rixhon 2010, 409):

Suppak bata malangug, mahumu’ kasakitan.

(The retribution for a naughty child is pain.)

Dunya ini pinjaman
Hapitan panayaman
Ayaw maghamanhaman
Mahuli kananaman.

(The world goes on and on
A stop-over for games
Do not waste time
For at the end comes repentance.)

Malikata are coded devices by which one conceals jokes or one’s feelings for another in a playful and protective mood. Specifically, they are sentences with word inversions and mixtures that are decipherable according to a code. Malikata are usually used in courtship and in political situations (Rixhon 2010, 410).

Kaina bang in anu matinab init makatina’
kay manubu’ bahal panadu?
Deciphered: Mayta’ bang tau mabuta di’

(Why can’t blind men see?)

Ha’ yangad maka-iyul-iyul sinanniyu’
binhi’ bang aniya’ sinaha’ aniyu ni
pagkawakawalan, aniyu’ higan, aniyu janni.
Deciphered: Makaluuyluuy biya’ kattu’ ini
bang way usahd ta, way gadgi, way pangadji’.

(It is a pity for people like us not to have a
job nor to earn a salary, nor to have an

Tilik are employed by Tausug men principally to win a woman’s heart, but other uses abound such as to make oneself appear attractive, to soothe angry feelings, to weaken an enemy, and to attract customers. Tilik are considered sacred and should not be revealed. The example below is recited so that the angels and the prophet will appear in the beloved woman’s dream. The incantation is accompanied by three taps on the corner of a pillow, which is then inverted (Tuban 1977, 105-06):

Kaddim alua hi dua
Magsailu kita alua
Alua mumari kaku’!
Alua ku mattun kaymu,
Bang adlaw aku in ha atay mu
Bang dum aku in ha mata mu
Iya Mikail, iya Sarapil, iya Gibrail, iya Muhammad
Pasabisabilra niyu aku
Katua niyu kaku’ hi (ngan sin babae). Pukawa!
Barakat Laillahailqulla
Barakat duwa Muhammad Razurulla.

(Our two souls are chained
Let’s exchange our souls
Your soul will come to me;
My soul will go to you.
At daytime I’m in your heart,
At night time I’m in your eyes.
O Michael, O Raphael, O Gabriel,
O Muhammad
I am inviting you
To go to [name of woman]. Wake her up?
God’s blessings!
Blessings of Muhammad!)

Tarasul are both entertaining and pedagogical. Although part of oral tradition, they are also written down. Topics of the tarasul are various—nature, cooking, love, among others (Hassan et al 1974, ll6, 118, 123, 126):

In ulan iban suga
Kagunahan ha dunya
U! Apu’ Banuwa
In jambangan tulunga.

(The rain and sun
Are essential on earth,
Oh, Apu’ Banuwa [Grandfather Chief or Angel Michael]
Help the garden.)

Manggis iban buwahan
Kasusuban sin katan;
In marang iban duyan
Bungangkahuy manaman.

(The mangosteen and the lanzones
Are the delight of everybody;
The marang and the durian
Fruits are tasty.)

Tarasul ini iban daman
Ganti’ pamintangan
Ha pasal ina’ subay kalasahan
Di ha dunya ganti’ patuhanan.

(This tarasul and daman
Serves as a lesson
Concerning the obligation to love
one’s mother
Since she is God’s representative
on earth.)

Mabugtang agun in baran ku
Pasal sin raybal ku.
Hangkan na aku di’ na magkadtu
Sabab landu’ susa in atay ku.

(My whole being seems paralyzed
[Thinking] of my rival.
The reason I no longer pay [her] a visit
Is that my heart is grieving much.)

Tausug Folktales

Tausug folk narratives include kissa and kata-kata. Kissa are sacred stories with known historical and religious characters. Usually sung and recited, they aim to educate and entertain. On the other hand, kata-kata are folk tales and narratives that feature nonhistorical characters who perform magical and supernatural powers (Rixhon 2010, 410-13).

The Tausug kissa include the salsila (ethnohistorical narratives), kissa sin kaawn (creation stories), and kissa sin usulan (origin stories). The salsila are basically genealogical accounts that trace noble descent. They tell of great ancestors, valiant feats, and important happenings; some salsila even invest their protagonists with superhuman capabilities. A portion of a salsila narrated by Datu Salip Raja Bassal Pulalun, who traces his ancestry to Sultan Salahuddin Karamat, 1648-1666, is typical:

Sultan Karamat’s son Sultan Bararuddin I has four children: the twins Datu Alimuddin Han, who is handsome, and Datu Salikala, who is ugly, abnormal, and looks like a monkey; Datu Nasaruddin; and Dayangdayang Putli’ Agtah Lana. Bararuddin gives away Salikala to Datu Maharaja Dindah Bantilan. Salikala grows up strong and rescues Bararuddin from the invading Spaniards. Bantilan reveals the truth and the family is united. Salikala and his twin brother Alimuddin receive word from Sultan Muhuddin of Brunei, requesting for military assistance. The brothers oblige, but in battle, Salikala is seriously wounded. He and his men later burn themselves. A monument is built for them, and north Borneo is given as a price to the Tausug (Tuban 1977, 44-46).

The theme of creation is told in various stories known as kissa sin kaawn. They are very lengthy kissa that dramatize God’s intervention in the creation of man and the source of natural phenomena (Rixhon 2010, 411). An example is “Apu’ Adam Than Apu’ Hawa” (Grandfather Adam and Grandmother Eve) which tells of our first parents and their forced exile from paradise.

Tausug Adam and Eve
The Tausug Adam and Eve (Illustration by Benedict Reyna)

God decides to create man and sends his angels to collect dust from the earth’s four corners. After overcoming the devils, the angels put the soil together into a lifeless form. Water, fire, and air are added to give life. Adam is lonely and God gives him a woman, who is formed from his rib. Four children are born to them—a white man, a white woman, a black man, and a black woman. Intermarriages in later generations result in the various races of the world. Eve eats the forbidden fruit and pours its juice into Adam’s mouth. After defecating in paradise, they are sent out by God (Tuban 1977, 50-51).

The history of Sulu and its people, the origins of Tausug customs and institutions, and the lives of Tausug culture heroes are told in the kissa sin usulan. “In Usulan sin Katantan Bungang Kahuy iban Binatang Halal” (The Origin of Edible Fruits and Animals) narrates how Adam’s circumcised skin becomes a tree, from which the edible animals—carabao, cow, goat, chicken, pigeon, horse, and so forth—have their origin. The tree, which has become an obstruction to heaven’s gate, is ordered cut, but it continues to grow and bears 99 fruit varieties (Tuban 1977, 59).

Another kissa sin usulan is “In Tau Nakauna” (The First People of Sulu). A war near the Sulu archipelago leaves five male survivors, who settle in one of the islands. They meet five women survivors of another war, whom they marry. Children are born to them. One day, two men, a tall and a short one, set out to search for other populated areas. They meet a woman named Putli’ Indal Suga who comes from heaven. She marries the tall man and gives birth to seven boys. Sulu becomes popular in time and later begins to attract Arab missionaries (Tuban 1977, 59-60).

While kissa are instructive, kata-kata are stories that are not historical. There are generally three types of kata-kata: one which resembles the legend, the marchen, and the trickster tale.

An example of a kata-kata legend is “In Duwa Bud” (The Two Mountains). A man and a woman who have died become two mountains, which today are believed to be enchanted. Resting between the sea of Sulu and Zamboanga, the two mountains must not be referred to by travellers.

Tausug Hangdangaw and his friends
Hangdangaw and his friends (Illustration by Benedict Reyna)

Marchen, a German term referring to narrative tales that present fantastic and humorous stories, are sometimes called fairytales although they do not involve fairies (Rixhon 2010, 413). An example of this is the Tausug version of “Tom Thumb” folktales and is called “Hangdangaw,” literally “a span high.” Despite his size, Hangdangaw is a voracious eater and grows up with exceptional strength. He leaves his parents and meets four powerful men who become his friends: Marnuk Bunga, Turnibik Batu, Surnagpih Ipil, and Rurnatag Bud. One day, Hangdangaw catches a big fish but discovers that he needs fire to cook it. He sends the four to get fire, but they are captured and imprisoned by a human-eating giant. Hangdangaw rescues them, and they finally get to eat the fish. After the meal, Hangdangaw throws away the fish bone, which unfortunately lands in the maharaja’s well. Hangdangaw helps the maharajah by throwing the fish bone a second time; it lands in the water hole of a panglima. This is repeated two more times in the wells of the imam and the crown prince. As a reward, the daughters of the maharajah, panglima, imam, and crown prince are married off to Hangdangaw’s four friends. From the crown prince’s well, the fish bone lands in the sultan’s. Hangdangaw intervenes again and ends up marrying the sultan’s sister (Tuban 1977, 63-68).

More popular among the Tausug are the trickster tales which involve Pusong and Abunnawas and which belong to the “clever lad” genre. In these tales, Pusong and Abunnawas always get away with the tricks they play on the sultan. The popularity of these tales and the irreverence they show toward the sultan betray the egalitarian attitude of the Tausug (Rixhon 1974, 34, 73).

Other kata-kata deal with agassi (giants) like the “Baguinda Than Hinda Apu” (Baguinda and Grandfather Agassi). There are also stories where handsome anak datu (royal princes) or beautiful putli (royal princesses) are turned into ugly creatures only to be returned to their true selves after undergoing various trials. “Putli Pugut” and “Manik Buwangsi” are good examples of this type of kata-kata.

Pilanduk, the trickster mouse deer
Pilanduk, the trickster mouse deer (Illustration by Benedict Reyna)

Animal tales such as that of pilanduk, a kind of mousedeer, are also types of the katakata. Pilanduk has evolved into a human trickster as wily as Pusong and Abunnawas (Tuban 1977, 93-94). Other examples of animal tales include the stories of “The Rabbit and the Lion,” “The Tukling and the Crow,” and “There was a King” (Eugenio 1989, 5-6, 38-39, 229-232).

Islamic Literature of the Tausug People

Islamic literature finds expression in the inspired Arabic texts, the hadith or hadis, and khutba or Friday sermon.

The azhan is the call marking the waktu (time) for the salat (prayers), which begin at subuh (early dawn), then at luhul (noon), asar (around three in the afternoon), magalib (after sunset), and aysa (early evening). In rural areas, the waktu for prayers is signaled by the beating of drums or gongs while the azhan is called (Rixhon 1974, 6-14).

There are also duwaa (devotional prayers) made in addition to the daily salat, especially when an individual, family, or community experiences extraordinary difficulties or joy. Prayers known as duwaa salamat (thanksgiving prayers) are performed whenever these crises are successfully resolved. Another duwaa called magtaubat is offered as a prayer of repentance; it asks Allah for the forgiveness of taubat (sins). Other types of prayers are duwaa arowa or those intended to commemorate death anniversaries, and duwaa ulan, which is for the alleviation of drought. These prayers are often accompanied by a jamu (feast).

Another prayer is the jhiker, or the recitation of the 99 names of Allah guided by the tasbih (prayer beads). This is done in private or as part of the daily salat. Meanwhile, pangadji or the reading or recitation of the Quran is practiced by the Muslims as a manifestation of their faith and love for Allah. The recitation is either done in the masjid as part of duwaa, as an opening in a public program, or as a personal expression of abiding devotion to Allah. Pangadji is also done when there is death in the family. For seven nights, starting from the first night of death, the Quran is recited by young men and women taking turns until the whole book is read. The practice is meant to insure the deceased a safe journey to the next world.

The hadith or hadis are the sayings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad, collected, compiled, and authenticated by Islamic scholars. Hadis constitute one of the sources for Islamic law and jurisprudence. They are didactic ballads that usually narrate marriage, divorce, and religious instructions on the pillars of Islam. Parts of hadis are also used as curing spells (Rixhon 2010, 411). They are also used to explain and clarify certain points in the Quran. The language used is Arabic.

Tausug hadis are expressed in the form of tarasul or kissa, and are commentaries on some points of Islamic law. The hadis tarasul are sung in the lugu (unaccompanied) tradition. They are also performed to inspire the people to fulfill their religious obligations (Rixhon 1974, 16-18).

Kissa sin hadis are also sung and are usually accompanied by musical instruments such as the gabbang and biyula (native violin). One example, the “Kissa sin Hadis sin Duwa Magtiyaun” (The Story of the Tradition of Marriage), narrates the duties and responsibilities of husbands and wives (Rixhon 1974, 16).

The khutba is the Friday sermon given during congregational prayers and is delivered by the khatib from the mimbar (platform). Generally, the khutba deals with religious topics and their applications to contemporary life. Usually supplemented with readings from the Quran, the khutba must contain at least the five rukun (essentials) to be considered valid. These are reciting a prayer or praise to Allah; extolling the virtues of Prophet Muhammad; advising those present to remain God-conscious; reciting verses from the Quran; and praying for the faithful. The local language is usually used for the khutba, although the Quranic verses and the prayers of praise for Allah and the Prophet are read in Arabic.

One Tausug oral tradition whose category has been shrouded in controversy is the parang sabil, a narrative song that narrates the heroism of people who “fight in the way of God.” The sabil institution among the Tausug translates into a personal and religious obligation to defend Islam and to protect the community from invasion. The act of committing parang sabil is celebrated in songs known as kissa parang sabil or liangkit parang sabil. These are usually sung in the liangkit tradition accompanied by the gabbang. As a literary form, they are considered ballads dealing with the exploits of Muslims killed by Christians in warfare. Some parang sabil have been printed. The “Liangkit Parang Sabil kan Apud” narrates the exploits of five young Tausug men namely Apud, Jumah, Mukarram, Pisingan, and Isnain who refuse to be inducted as trainees in the militia. They become outlaws and are eventually killed in a continuous battle that lasts for about three weeks (Kiefer 1970). The “Parang Sabil hi Baddon” tells the story of Baddon who is insulted by a datu. Baddon ambushes the nobleman, after which he is declared an outlaw. A military operation is launched against him. Fighting begins between the relatives of Baddon and the datu (Mercado 1963). The “Parang Sabil of Abdulla and Putli’ Isara in Spanish Times” tells the tragedy of two lovers in the hands of Spanish colonizers. By the river one day, a Spanish soldier accosts Putli’ Isara and touches her. The event led to three parang sabil: that of Putli’ Isara and Abdulla; that of Matagpis, the mother of Putli’ Isara; and that of Putli’ Isara’s younger brother (Rixhon 2010, 281-310).

Tausug Musical Instruments and Folk Songs

Various musical instruments, played solo or as an ensemble, provide the Tausug with music. Most notable is the kulintangan ensemble consisting of two gandang (drums), a tungallan (large gong), a duwahan (set of two-paired gongs), and the kulintangan (a graduated series of eight to 11 small gongs). At least five players are needed to play the ensemble, which is used to accompany dances or provide music during celebrations (Kiefer 1970, 2).

Pangalay ha patong performed by members of the Ingat Kapandayan Artist Center of Notre Dame of Jolo College
Pangalay ha patong performed by members of the Ingat Kapandayan Artist Center of Notre Dame of Jolo College, 2013 (Pinoy Adventurista)

Other popular instruments are the gabbang and the biyula. With 14 to 24 keys divided into seven-note scales, the gabbang has become the most popular musical instrument in Sulu. It is used to accompany Tausug vocal music such as the sindil (sung verbal jousts). The tune produced when the gabbang is played solo by a man or woman is called tahtah.

The biyula is similar to but larger than the Western violin. It consists of four strings played by a bow made of horsehair. Traditionally played by men, the biyula, with the gabbang, accompany the sindil (Kiefer 1970, 2).

Flute music is associated with peace and travel. It is represented by the following less popular instruments: the saunay (reed flute), suling (bamboo flute), and kulaing (mouth harp). The saunay is essentially a six-holed slender bamboo, 1.5 millimeter in diameter, capped by a sampung simud (mouth guard). A resonating chamber made of palm leaves is housed in the mouth guard. The suling is a larger version of the saunay. It is a 60-centimeter-long bamboo with a two-centimeter diameter. Like the saunay, it has six finger holes (Kiefer 1970, 4).

The repertoire for Tausug instrumental music include the gabbang tahtah (gabbang with biyula accompaniment); the kasi-lasa, lugu, and tahtah (biyula songs); the sinug kiadtu-kari (kulintangan); the tiawag kasi (saunay music); and the tahtah (suling music) (Kiefer 1970).

Kalangan or Tausug vocal music can be divided into narrative and lyric songs, and further into the luguh and the paggabang traditions. Narrative songs tell a story and include all the sung kissa like the parang sabil. Lyric songs express ideas and feelings and consist of the langan bata’ bata’ (children’s songs), the baat (occupational songs), the baat taallaw (funeral songs), pangantin (bridal songs), the tarasul, the sindil, the liangkit (from langkit, meaning “chained”), and the sangbay or song to accompany the dalling-dalling dance. The luguh tradition denotes unaccompanied religious songs, while the paggabang tradition applies to “more mundane” songs that are accompanied by the gabbang and biyula (Trimillos 1972).

Tausug girl chanting the luguh
Tausug girl chanting the luguh (Mindanao: A Portrait edited by René B. Javellana. The Bookmark, Inc., 1998)

The langan bata’ bata’ are more specifically lullabies. Here is an example (Tuban 1977, 210):

Dundang ba utu
tug na ba kaww
Liyalangan ta sa kaw
Bang bukun sabab ikaw
In maglangan mahukaw.

(Go to sleep
Now my son
I am singing to you
If not because of you
I would not even like to sing.)

Baat and kalangan are the same, the latter being the more general term to refer to singing. The baat taallaw has a melancholic melody. The following commemorates a dead sea captain (Rixhon 1974, 49):

Tuwan ku Tuwan Nahoda
Bati’ bati’ na ba kaw
Sin pu’pu’ Tahaw
Aturan hawhaw
Tubig pangdan malihaw
Hiubat langgang uhaw.

(My beloved, beloved Nahuda
Will you please wake up
Will you take a look
At the islet of Tahaw, it seems very far
But its clear water among the screw pines
Can quench one’s thirst.)

After a hard day’s work, the farmers and the fishers sing the following songs that have happy melodies:

Manok-manok lupad kaw
Sulat ini da kaw
Pagdatung mu sumba kaw
Siki lima siyum kaw.

(Little bird fly away
Bring this letter
When you arrive make an obeisance
And kiss [her] feet and hands.)

Saupama nagbangka-bangka
In alun Iandu’ dakula
Seesabroos nagkalalawa’
Hi rayang hadja
In ba laum dila’.

(Supposing I’ll go boating
The waves are very big
The Seesabroos was lost
My darling’s name was always on my tongue.)

The baat pangantin are also known as langan pangantin. With a soothing melody, they are used to reassure a bride and to console a friend (Rixhon 1974, 51):

Unu in hi langan
Sin hidlaw jam jungjungan
Ayir bajanggang
Sukkal banding di kapasangan
Hi ula katumbangan
Bang maisa kulangan
Dayang in pagnganan

(What can I sing
[To ease my] yearning for my beloved
[Her] incomparable presence
cannot be matched
[My] dear idolized lover
When lying in the chamber
Utters the name of his beloved.)

The sindil are performed by both sexes conducting an extemporaneous battle of wits. Teasing, jokes, and innuendos flow into the verses, the better ones applauded by the audience (Kiefer 1970, 10).

Arri ba dundangun
Aha pantun sila sing pindagun
A pantun sing pagpindangun
Arri andu arri ba hampil punungun
Ba lugay diq pagdanganun.

Nagsablay kaw manipis ba manga
Naganggil na ma kaw mga abris
Mga naganggil na mga abris
Arri bang kaw Nihma magkawa misis
Agun ta kaw hikapanguntis.

(Nihma [Woman]:
I sing as I am rocking a cradle
With patience,
Until I am exhausted
I have waited a long time
to be called “darling.”

Hussin [Man]:
You, wearing a sheer dress,
Resembling a precious stone,
Resembling a precious stone,
Nihma, when you finally call yourself “Mrs”
I may enter you in a beauty contest.)

The liangkit are long solo pieces accompanied by the gabbang and biyula. Unlike the sindil, they are not performed extemporaneously. The subject of the liangkit is wide—love, war, nature, and others. The Tausug lelling, adopted from the Samal, are part of the liangkit tradition, but are sung to the music provided by a guitar. They relate and comment on current events. One good example is the lelling narrating the entry of the Moro National Liberation Front forces into Jolo town in February 1974.

The art of singing to the dalling-dalling dance is called pagsangbay. The song usually dictates the movement that the dancers should follow.

The luguh or sail tradition is associated with religious rituals and rites of the life cycle such as weddings, births, paggunting (baptism), pagtammat, and funerals. It is characterized by dahig or jugjug (high vocal tension). The tempo is slow with long sustained and stressed tones. Although usually performed by women, the luguh can also be sung by men (Trimillos 1974):

Malam ismin piyag bata
Ama pilihan mahakuta
Nabiyulla nabi Muhammad
Panghu sa sin kanabihan.

It was Monday night
A child was born
Of Allah. He is Muhammad
To redeem the sins of man.)

Tausug Folk Dances

Tausug courtship dance performed by members of the Ingat Kapandayan Artist Center of Notre Dame of Jolo College
Tausug courtship dance performed by members of the Ingat Kapandayan Artist Center of Notre Dame of Jolo College, 2013 (Pinoy Adventurista)

The most well-known dance of the Tausug is the pangalay. It is the basic style from which the movements of various dances in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi are derived. 

Video: PANGALAY Folk Dance | Philippines Cultural Heritage [Filipino Muslim Tausug Tribal Music]

The pangalay is danced by either sex, alone or together, and is usually accompanied by the kulintangan ensemble. The movement of the pangalay is concentrated on the thighs, knees, ankles, toes, waist, shoulders, neck, elbows, wrists, and fingers. The torso is usually kept rigid, moving upward or downward as the flow of the dance demands. The feet are firmly planted on the ground and move in small shuffling steps (Amilbangsa 1983, 14, 62). The pangalay dances are distinctive in their use of the janggay (metal nail extenders) to underscore hand movements. The extended fingers are stiff and set apart from the thumbs.

Another well-known Tausug dance is the dalling-dalling, where handkerchiefs or fans are used. A singer usually accompanies the dance by describing the various movements of the dancer. The song is known as the sangbay and the singing, pagsangbay. Some of the songs used are “Lingisan/kinjung-kinjung” and “Dalling-dalling.” The development of the dalling-dalling is attributed to a native Tausug by the name of Albani, who became a famous proponent of the dance (Amilbangsa 1983, 42).

Tausug martial-art dances are performed by men and include the langka-silat and the langka-kuntaw. The langka-silat simulates a fight and is usually performed with two or three other dancers. The langka-kuntaw is a dance of self-defense, resembling the martial arts of China, Japan, and Burma (Amilbangsa 1983, 32-35). A Tausug occupational dance is the taute, which shows a fisher diving for the prickly catfish. Mimetic dances are the linggisan, which depicts a bird in flight, and the suwa-suwa, which shows dancers imitating the swaying of lemon trees (Amilbangsa 1983, 28).

To revive, stimulate, and sustain attention in the Sulu archipelago’s traditional dances, the Tambuli Cultural Troupe of Tawi-Tawi was founded by dance ethnographer and performer Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa at the Mindanao State University–Tawi-Tawi College of Technology and Oceanography in 1974. The group features and performs Tausug dances, music, and rituals.

Tausug People as Featured in Media

Various forms of media provide news, education, and entertainment to the Tausug. The Sulu Tawi-Tawi Broadcasting Foundation manages the radio stations DXMM 927 (Jolo) and DXGD 549 (Bongao). Both stations were established by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI). They air newscasts in Tausug. Mindalinaw, a program that is geared toward promoting a dialogue among the tri-people caught in conflict in Mindanao, airs as a block-timer in DXMM 927. In DXAS 1116 (Zamboanga), there used to be a radio program called Pamahun-Pahun sin Maghapun (Afternoon Snacks). It used to share Christian gospels in Tausug.

In the 1980s, the first and only Tausug-Filipino film production outfit, Sitti’s Film International, was founded by Hadji Usman Ummar and HJ Sitti Ummar. The film outfit produced six films from 1983 to 1985, none of which are about the Tausug. However, several Tausug actors were launched in the said films.

The rise of the Philippine New Wave Independent Film has paved the way for films from the regions. The Tausug and the Moro struggle in Mindanao have been featured in several of these films. Mindanawon artist Arnel Mardoquio is the first and the most eminent filmmaker who made such films. In Hunghong sa Yuta (Earth’s Whisper), 2008, Mardoquio shows the devastating war that has continuously plagued a small community consisting of Tausug (Muslim), Tagakaolo (lumad), and Visayan Christian migrants (Bisaya). The war’s most striking casualties are the children who are born deaf-mute. The film identifies the roots of the conflict in Mindanao such as government corruption, lack of access to basic social needs, devastation of indigenous resources by big businesses, and US intervention. The most notable aspects of the film are the aural and visual presentations of the pangalay dance and the Tausug kulintangan ensemble. Both of these soothe the terrors and ravages of war and promote a culture of peace.

In Sheika, 2010, Mardoquio tells the story of a Tausug woman and her two sons, who escape the war in Jolo to find urban comfort and peace in Davao City. On the boat to the city, Sheika instructs her sons to assume new personalities in order to belong among the city folk. She also warns one of her sons to avoid using his hands as if he is playing the kulintang. Unfortunately, violence, madness, and death continue to haunt them in the city.

Tausug Women around a table with lamp
Arnel Mardoquio’s Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim, 2012 (Photo courtesy of Arnel Mardoquio)

Mardoquio’s Ang Paglalakbay ng mga Bituin sa Gabing Madilim (The Journey of Stars Into the Dark Night), 2012, dramatizes the lives of three Tausug rebels and a nine-year-old Tausug boy amid the complexities and travails of the Bangsamoro struggle in Mindanao. The film offers a critical and rare view of a gay love story within the Muslim faith and tradition, and the resentment and dissatisfaction on the ideologies of the revolution. Perhaps, the title is a metaphoric take of Mardoquio on the conflict happening in Mindanao, the stars symbolizing all the people involved in the Bangsamoro revolution, and their journey a metaphor for the attempt to survive the dark night in anticipation of the sunrise.


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