Ethno-Linguisitic Grouping in Mindanao

wpe1D9.jpg (12386 bytes)
Image from Traveler's Companion: Philippines

Five Major Groups in Mindano
(Muslim or Moros)

  1. Tausug
  2. Maranao
  3. Maguindanao
  4. Samal
  5. Badjao

Other ethinic groups:

  1. Yakan
  2. Tiruray
  3. T'Boli
  4. Bagobo
  5. Subanon
  6. Bukidnon
  7. Manobo


Tausug (people of the current) were the fisrt tribe in the archipelago to be converted to Islam. They are historically, the ruling people of the ancient Sultanate of Jolo, and regard   themselves supeiror to other Philippine Muslims. They generally live a combative, "very mascular" life, where violence is often an expression of the social process. They are traders, fishermen and artisans of fine Muslim textiles and metal works.    

Tausug Wisdom - To the Tausug, a proverb is masaalla, a word of Arabic origin. Some are pittuwa, or advice about life. Proverbs are part of daman or symbolic speech, which includes riddles and courtship dialogue.

Some proverbs follow:

Tausug: In lasa iban uba di hikatapuk.

Tagalog:  Ang pag-ibig at ubo ay hindi maitatago.
English: Love and a cough cannot be hidden.

Tausug: In ulang natutuy mada sin sug.
Tagalog: Ang natutulog na alimango ay matatangay ng agaos.

English: A sleeping crab will be carried by the current.

Tausug: Wayruun asu bang way kayu.
Tagalog: Kung walang usok, wala ring apoy.

English: There is no smoke where there is no fire.

Tausug: Atay nagduruwaruwa wayruun kasungan niya.
Tagalog: Kung ang isa ay hindi makapag disisyon, siya ay walang kinabukasan.

English: One who cannot decide will have no future.

Tausug: Ayaw mangaku daug salugay buhi.
Tagalog: (1) Huwag aaminin ang pagkatalo haggang ikaw ay nabubuhay.  or   (2) Hanggang maybuhay, may pag asa.

English: Never admit defeat as long as you live.

Sources: Insight Guides: Philippines and Filway's Philippine Almanac Centennial Edition

back to top


Maranao are the graceful "people of the lake", living on the northern edge of Lake Lanao. They are Mindanao's last group to be converted to Islam.

wpe1D7.jpg (26184 bytes) wpe1D8.jpg (54779 bytes)


Maranao Art

Okir or okkil refers to the ranfe of folk motifs, usually of plants and geometric forms, that are prominent in Maranao art work.

The oldest proof of okir's flowering is the torogan, the ancestral  home of the highest titleholder in a Maranao village. The torongan is a symbol of rank abd prestige and is reserved for important celebrations and political events. It stands out architecturally in the community because if its panolong - a carved beam that protrudes in the front of the house and is adorned with okir motif.

Aside from plan and vegetable forms, the panalong has come to be dominated by the nafa or sepent motif. The malong, woven Maranao cloth, also bears various okir designs.In fact, the geometric and plant designs on the vertical strips of the malong indicate the wearer's village of origin. Brass and metal works, from the fuctional betel-nut boxes to musical instruments, always carry these designs as well. A more distinctive variation is the sarimanok, a chickenlike figure that carries a fish in its beak.

Insight Guides: Philippines and 
Filway's Philippine Almanac Centennial Edition

wpe1DE.jpg (10411 bytes)
Images from Traveler's Companion: Philippines

back to top


Maguindanao are the "people of the flood plain," inhibiting an unappealing area of Cotabato Province, where land is periodically flooded by overflowing rivers. They are the largest grounp of Muslim. They are a hardy clan, surviving on agriculture, fishing and weaving fine mats and baskets.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

back to top


The Samal are the poorest and least independent of the major Muslim groups. They serve as the "loyal commoners" in the hierarchy of Muslim minorities. Their lives are literally over the sea, where the villages stand on stilts above the coastal waters.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

wpe1CD.jpg (30671 bytes)
Image from Traveler's Companion: Philippines

back to top


Badjao are the "sea gypsies," the true wanderers of the Sulu seas. They are born on the water, live upon their tiny crafts for a lifetime - turning tawny and blode in the sun and salt - and set foot on the land only to die. The Badjao are a superficially Islam tribe numbering some 20,000.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

back to top


Yakan is another unique cultural group of Sulu living on Basilan Island south of Zamboanga. They are gentle people of partial Polynesian origin, with mixed Muslim and animalist beliefs. They are the most superb textile weavers of the southern archipelago. On backstrap looms they turn fine cotton and silks into remarkable geometric work of art.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

wpe1DA.jpg (16288 bytes) wpe13.jpg (38519 bytes) wpe12.jpg (21325 bytes)
Images from Insight Guides: Philippines (1)   and Traveler's Companion: Philippines (2 and 3)

back to top


The Tiruray are of Malay stock. They are a hores-riding hill people occupying the mountains of southwest Mindanao.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

Images from

back to top


T'Boli tribe of Lake Sebu in Cotabato have a wealth of crafts, elaborate ethnic costumes, and vivaciousdances and music. They are also admired for their handsome brasswork, which finds its way into figure statuary, heavy belts, chains and noisy anklets by much-beaded and broidery-bedecked tribal women.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

wpe1DC.jpg (43830 bytes)

wpe1DD.jpg (45486 bytes)

Images from Traveler's Companion: Philippines


T'Boli Orthodontics

For T'Boli, pearly white teeth make humans no better than animals. To enhance their appearance. T'Boli women grind and blacken their teeth. Men do the same to gain power over animals. This practice is called tamblang. it consist of two steps. First, the nihik, when the theeth are filed into regular shapes. Then, the silob or olit, when the teeth are blackened with the sap of a tree. Sometimes, women cover their teeth with gold as a sign of affluence. Only datus and their kin can have gold teeth. T'Bolis claim this custom comes from the Muslims.

Source: Filway's Philippine Almanac Centennial Edition

back to top


The heavily ornamented Bagobo live along the desolate eastern coast of the Gulf of Davao. In imitating the metal art works of the Moros (Muslim Warriors), the tribe has produced an ornate tradition in weaponry, and inlaid, bell-jangled metal boxes. The Bagobo also weave abaca cloths of ruddy earth tones, and weave baskets.

Source: Insight Guides: Philppines

Image from

back to top


The Subanon of western Lanao originated one of the country's highest tradition of pottery. The 50,000 Bukidnon of east Lanao are a tribe of fiercely independent highland dwellers.

Source: Insight Guides: Philippines

wpe15.jpg (6242 bytes)
Image from

back to top


The 50,000 Bukidnon of East Lanao are a tribe of fiercely independent gighland dwellers.

wpe1E7.jpg (7492 bytes)

Source image and text: Insight Guides: Philippines

back to top


"Manobo" is the hispanicized form of "Manuvu," which, of course, means "people." The Manobo appear to be a remnant of the very first Austronesian invasion from Taiwan, predating peoples like the Ifugao of Luzon. The general orientation is now predominantly upland, as they were chased from the valleys by invading Visayans and Spaniards. But the Manobo have an adaptation to virtually every ecological niche, from rugged highland to coast, and are found from Sarangani Island to Agusan del Sur, the Davao provinces, Bukidnon, and North and South Cotabato. The distinctive ethnic costumes have mostly given way to commercial clothing, with ethnic materials being sold commercially as antiques.


Manobo mother and child     Manobo warrior
Images  from

back to top