The southwestern Mindanao highlands range to about 4,000 feet and face the Celebes Sea. The Tiruray, one of the ethnic groups that live in this area, have retained much of their own religion in spite of their proximity to the Magindanao of the Cotabato Valley. They live in the territory bounded by the Tamontaca River to the north, and the Tran River to the south, the coast to the west and the Cotabato Valley on the east.

       There are three subgroups depending on their orientation—riverine, coastal, and mountain—each with variations in dialect. The people also use ceremonial and ritual languages. The houses are generally situated near the upland fields, grouped more or less in the vicinity of the house of the group leader, forming a grouping called an inged. The traditional economy is based on dry cultivation supplemented by food gathering, hunting, and fishing. The principal food is glutinous rice and corn. Other crops cultivated include corn, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, cassava, taro, and tobacco. A lunar calendar and another based on stars are used in determining agricultural seasons. There are also institutionalized trading pacts with the Magindanao. Their traditional baskets with black trimmings are exceptionally beautiful.

       This southern ethnic group (Tiruray, Teduray, Teguray, Tidulay) may be found in the province of Magindanao, with concentrations in the municipalities of Upi (13,535), South Upi (10,240), Dinaig (3,255), and Ampatuan (1,300) (NSO 1980). The population ranges nationally to 76,883 (NM 1994), with about 30,000 in Magindanao alone. There are about 12,000 in Sultan Kudarat and 695 in North Cotabato. The Tiruray are in constant interaction with the neighboring Magindanao.

       As a people, the Tiruray are distinctive in terms of ethnic art and craft. Their basketry are among the most intricately woven in the country, often profusely covered with characteristic design motifs. Their horse-hair ornaments—earrings, pendants, neck pieces—are clearly representative of the material culture.

Distribution of Ethnic Groups by Provinces
(Arrangement: Population count)
Total National Population 76,883
Bukidnon 730 (NM 1991)
Maguindanao 58,759 (NM 1993)
N. Cotabato 894 (NM 1991)
S. Kudarat 16,500 (NM 1993)