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  Summarized from Peter G. Gowing's Muslim Filipinos - Heritage and Horizon, New Day Publishers www.newdaypublishers.com
  Sociopolitical Life  

The introduction of Islam gave way to a social and political order not completely different from the existing structure known to the early settlers of southern Philippines. It produced an “Islamic variant” of the barangay where the pre-Islamic timuways evolved into datus of Muslim Filipinos.  On the other hand, datus of large barangays became sultans.
Under Islam, the datu was ordained as God’s viceregent or deputy whose power was sacred. He was assisted by the pandita (one learned in religious matters), and he administered justice according to the law of Islam and adat.

Foreign Muslim missionaries like Sharif Abu Bakr in Sulu and Sharif Kabungsuwan in Mindanao became leaders of communities they Islamized. They eventually married local women and adapted to the exisiting social order. With more coordination and skill than the native datus, they increased their power, which enabled their descendants to control a large following in an extensive territory. Thus, the emergence of the early Muslim Filipino sultanates.

In the present-day Moro society, sultans still have considerable influence and social prestige.

  Courtship and Marriage  

Muslim Filipinos observe traditional courtship and marriage practices just like other Filipino groups. Because marriage is considered an alliance of families, relatives on both sides have a say on the union. Major Moro groups expect the man to court and marry a woman who comes from the same status of his family. Arranged marriage is mainly due to prestige and the parents’ wish to enable their children to enjoy a better social and economic life.

A bride-gift is an essential part of any proposed union. It is meant to compensate the bride’s family for the loss of a woman-member and to reimburse the cost of her upbringing.
  Child Rearing  

A ceremonial preparation of the child for adulthood called pag-islam (meaning, what Islam has required) or circumcision follows Islamic rites. It may be a simple or elaborate ceremony done by an imam or another religious personality who performs prayers and chants.

Today’s modern medical facilities, however, make it easier for families to have their son’s circumcision done by a doctor at a hospital. Prayers are done at home and the boy is taught his responsibilities as a member of the family and the Islamic community. Islam regards an uncircumcised male adult as infidel.

Another ceremony marking a boy’s intellectual initiation is called pag-tammat  (referring to “ending” study of the Qur’an). This is an occasion which is disappearing because most parents send their children to madaris (religious schools).

Each Moro group has its own distinct dishes. For the Tausugs, tiyula sug is beef cooked in water with roasted coconut wheat and a mixture of salt, garlic and flavoring herbs called pamapa. The Maguindanaoans have pizinena which is goat meat fried in coconut oil and spices.

For the Maranaos, the well-known kiyoning or yellow rice is made by mixing rice, coconut milk and powdered kalawag (turmeric). They are proud of two kinds of Maranao desserts. Tiyateg is made of rice flour, coconut oil and brown sugar. It is strained for thinness, dropped in hot oil and rolled or folded. It is eaten with the fingers. Tiyateg looks like shredded wheat of the Westerners.  Another dessert is doldol, a thick pudding made of coconut milk, rice flour and dark sugar cooked for three hours. It is served cut into small pieces.

Food is generally eaten with bare hands while sitting on the floor. On special occasions, the floor is covered with woven colorful mats, and food is served on brass trays called talam or tabak.

The most prominent traditional wear is the malong, a large, colorful woven cloth wrapped around the body. One common way women wear it is around the waist with its folds draped over the left arm. Men wrap it around the waist like a skirt.

The malong has many uses depending on the need of the wearer. It can be used as a cape, coat, blanket or umbrella. Maranao or Maguindanao women wear the malong over a blouse called arbita. Also, they wear a turban called kombong made of muslin fabric. White is used as kombong when the wearer has been to Mecca.

In Sulu, patadyong is the people’s version of malong. It is smaller and resembles a sarong worn by people in Indonesia and Malaysia. Sawal or kantyu is loose baggy pants made of soft cloth and worn by both men and women.  Men wear the sawal with a polo shirt, while women wear it with a sambra, a collarless, V-neck blouse with short sleeves. Women also wear it with a sablay, a long-sleeved blouse that reaches the hips.

Tausug women also wear a biyatawi which is a blouse with a tight-fitting bodice that flares at the waist. It has a deep neckline that usually goes with a pendant. A dressy biyatawi has gold buttons on the sleeves, neckline and the front opening.

The men’s traditional headwear is called tobao by the Maguindanao and Maranao. In Tausug, it is called ppis. This headwear is a cloth with geometric or floral designs or Arabic calligraphy. Another common headgear is called kopiya, which is similar to the songkok used in Indonesia and Malaysia. Men who have gone to Mecca wear a white cap called kadi.
  Amusement and Leisure Activities  

Color, excitement and various activities mark the Maranao festival called kalilang. It is usually held to welcome Mecca pilgrims home or to celebrate the coronation of a new sultan. It can go on the whole day or last for several days. Now a rare event, kalilang begins with the parade of dignitaries and their retinue and  members of royalty with their  colorful and bejeweled parasols (payong-a-diyakatan). They walk to the beat of drums and gongs. The event is marked with fireworks and games such as kang-galawanga (patintero), kapeso (horse racing) and sipa-salama (kicking a rattan ball with the right foot).

Moro literature embraces the whole range of oral and written expression of Moro culture, including religious and ritual literature, folk literature such as legends, myths, epics and folktales, and the symbolic speech of courtship, proverbs, and riddles. Poems, songs, and ballads are also included.

Islamic religious and ritual literature includes the adhan (call to prayer), salat (ritual prayer), and du’a (supplicatory prayer) which are universal in Islam. It also includes handbooks on prayer, basic beliefs, khutbah (sermons), tafsir (Qur’anic exegesis), and tasawwuf (literature focusing on the Prophet Mohammad).  Hadis is Tausug religious oral literature on locally produced commentaries on specific items of Muslim tradition and jurisprudence.

(epic poetry) may be the best known poetic narrative of the Maranao. It consists of 25 episodes about Prince Bantugen, a godlike hero embodying physical prowess, beauty and intelligence.
Tarsila (also called salsila, sarsila or salasila, meaning “link”) is a written genealogy of an aristocratic family who claims to have descended from sultans and datus from the time of Prophet Muhammad. Although its scope is limited, the tarsila is considered the principal source of information on the early history of the Moros.

Stories and symbolic speeches such as riddles, proverbs, courtship dialogues and love spells are part of the literary expression of some Moro groups. Stories, like “The Red Star of Islam,” seek to edify Muslims as they remember fellow Muslims suffering in communist Russia. Proverbs and other symbolic speeches are used in the instruction of children, formal negotiations for marriage, and courtship, among others.

A notable Muslim Filipino fiction writer is Ibrahim Jubaira who has been respected and admired in the national and international communities. His stories have provided Christians a look into the lives, hearts and dreams of Mulsim Filipinos.


Music is another important part of the culture. However, it should be noted that there is a distinction between music for rituals, which is basically vocal without instruments, and music for entertainment.

(brass gongs), kagandang (war drums), ceremonial dances and kambaioka (singers or chanters of improvised poetic compositions) are played on various occasions.  The gabbang is similar to a xylophone, while suling and saunay are wind instruments. The biyula is a string instrument, and the kulintangan is an ensemble of gongs and drums. The kudyapi is a two-stringed lute plucked to make beautiful sounds. The kubing  (jew’s harp) is made of bamboo and believed to make words and tell stories, if the audience could understand the language of music.

Moro musicality is also seen in songs and dances. For the Tausug, there are songs called kissa which tell about the love of datus and princesses, while heroic songs are contained in parang sibil. The Maranao kandidiagao is a melodious lament over the dead.

There are five major types of songs for the Maranao. The kambaiok is the free rhythmic rendering of the baiok, which is improvised poetry. Kandarangen is accompanied by a gong or other similar instruments. Kadikir is sung by singers in slow, free rhythm and speaks of verses from the Qur’an and Maranao compositions with topics on Islam, morals, life, and death. Kandomana is a combination of styles of Kandarangen and Kadikir. Lastly, kapranon is a song of private sentimentality sung softly

Most Moro dances relate to pre-Islamic history. Pagipat (7 days) and pangubad (3 days) are animistic rituals for healing, while sagaian is a war dance. The most popular dance common to the Maguindanao and Maranao is singkil which has been interpreted by dance troupes over time.

The Maranao version of singkil is a female dance solo, as Maranao custom does not allow men and women to dance together. The dance speaks of a princess trying to escape from an earthquake by running and leaping on shaking stones and trying not to get her feet caught. The Maguindanao version shows a prince and princess in a contest in relation to his proposal for marriage.

Other dances are kapagasik, a graceful dance of beautiful maidens; kaganat sa darangen, a song and dance that shows ways of wearing the malong; and kapiil sa musala, a handkerchief dance usually performed by girls.

  Decorative and Industrial Arts  
  • Ukir (Maranao) or ukkil (Tausug) means to carve or engrave
  • Moro artistry is applied to woodworking, from decorative carving to boat-building to house architecture and construction
  • Skill and artistry in metalwork is applied to tools, weapons, jewelry, and brassware
  • Clothweaving and matweaving are important crafts for Moros.

  Source: Gowing, P. G. (1979). Muslim Filipinos -- Heritage and Horizon. Quezon City: New Day Publishers (www.newdaypublishers.com)
Used with permission by the publisher.
  Copyright 2011 Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication