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       The Muslim cultural communities may be classified into thirteen (13) major ethno-linguistic groups. These are the: Jama Mapuns of Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi; the Iranons of Cotabato; the Kaagans of Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental; the Kalibugans of Zamboanga; the Maguindanaos of Maguindanao; the Maranaos of Marawi; the Palawanons and Molbogs of Palawan; the Samas of Tawi-Tawi; the Sangils of Sarangani; the Tausugs of Sulu; the Yakans of Basilan, and the Bangingis of Tongkil and Zamboanga.

       The Iranon, Kaagan, Kalibugan, Maranao and Maguindanao live in mainland Mindanao. The rest of the Muslim cultural communities such as the Jama Mapun, Palawanon, Molbog, Sama, Sangil, Tausug, and the Yakan reside in the island provinces, except for the Bangingis, who can be found both in mainland Mindanao, that is, in Zamboanga and in Tongkil, which is an island municipality of the province of Sulu.

       Each Muslim cultural community has its own inventory of folk literature, which, in more ways than one, displays unique and peculiar traits, features, and qualities. These distinctions distinguish one Muslim cultural community from another. Yet, all these communities are unified by their Islamic faith, which has already pervaded many aspects of their folk literature since Islam is a way of life. Regardless of cultural community, all Filipino Muslims belong to one Ummah Muslimah.

       In general, the folk literature of Muslim cultural communities in Mindanao, the Philippines, may be in prose or in verse. But the style and form of expression may vary from one Muslim cultural community to another, what with the various languages that the people speak. These oral literary forms may be didactic, hortatory, entertaining, instructive, or informative.

       Folk literature in Mindanao Muslim cultural communities as in other Filipino groups follow the oral tradition in that folktales, myths, legends, epics, poems, riddles and proverbs are handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. Moreover, as is true of folk literature of other people, folk literature in the Muslim cultural communities has a participatory audience. The audience listens, reacts, and retells what he or she hears to another audience, thereby ensuring the transmission of the folk literary material to others. Authorship is not individual; it is collective. Apparently, what the Muslim cultural communities must build and develop eventually is a body of written literature just like other Filipinos.

       Folk literary genres in Muslim cultural communities may include folktales, myths, legends, fables, ballads, poems, riddles, proverbs, and epics. Basically, the problem that easily comes to mind is the lack of access to the textual materials of these oral genres, if not their absence. Most have yet to be collected and documented. Some literary scholars and researchers have started doing so, but their efforts come far between. Worse, many of these scholars hail from foreign lands. For the efforts to be sustainable, the Filipino Muslims themselves must spearhead the move to protect and preserve their folk literature, which is an integral part of the Filipino national literary heritage.

       The people themselves are not seemingly aware that their cultural products are fast vanishing. Literary preservation and development have seemingly taken the back seat. At present, what seemingly preoccupy the people are mundane considerations such as politics and economics. While these are indeed important, the Filipino Muslim cultural communities must realize the significance of their literature in their lives in that it helps preserve the richness and uniqueness of their respective cultural identities.

       Another sad reality is the difficulty in locating literary cultural bearers. Many are getting older each day; others have moved out of their original cultural communities for one reason or another. Others are dead. The earlier the indigenous peoples realize this, the better.

The Folktales

       The various Muslim cultural communities are indeed proud of their cultural heritage. Each one of them has a number of cultural products such as the folktales, which are on every raconteur’s lips. From Marawi to Tawi-Tawi, every Muslim Filipino has a story to tell, which has been transmitted to him or her by word of mouth across generations. It can be a fairy tale, an animal tale, an anecdote, or a trickster’s tale.

       Every Muslim cultural community has a number of raconteurs bearing two or three or more folktales. You can find them in the rural Muslim cultural communities or in even urban centers. Their stories have been transmitted to them by older members of their respective families, friends, and acquaintances, some of whom have already died. Raconteurs can be young and old, men or women.

       Besides their entertainment value, the folktales serve other purposes. They preach and prescribe. To researchers of antiquity, they may shed light on the changes that their creators have seen, learned, and experienced in their cultural milieu through time. This is so because the tales are of multiple existence and authorship, and contain the cultural elements, features, or traits prevalent during which they have been told and retold across generations even as raconteurs belonging to another time or milieu integrate cultural features prevalent in their own age or epoch.

       Folktales of the Muslim cultural communities are indeed dynamic – a far cry from their written counterparts, that is, the modern short stories, which are dormant, whose contents remain fixed once recorded or published. Moreover, short stories are read in the privacy of the readers’ rooms. Conversely, the folktales are told to a lively audience, who reacts and asks questions in the process of telling or retelling.

       It seems that close geographical proximity and closely related ancestral past manifest in the way cultural communities identify their folktales. The Jama Mapun and Sama, for example, call their tales as kana-kana – a slight difference from how the Tausug call theirs, which is katakata. As to who imitated whom or as to who dominated whom in the past thereby commanding the influence cannot be easily established without getting into some prejudiced trap. Hence, it is enough to say that the Jama Mapun, Sama, and the Tausug used to belong to the same province until former President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 302 on September 27, 1973, segregating Sulu (where the Tausug live) and Tawi-Tawi (where the Jama Mapun and Sama come from) as separate provinces.

       How the Maranao, Maguindanao and Iranon call their tales is parallel to the Tausug, Sama, and Jama Mapun experience. The Maranao call their tales as totol; the Iranon, tudtol; the Maguindanao, tudtolan. It is improper to say which group dominates. But in the field of politics and education, the Maranao seem to have the upper hand. The Kaagan of Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur and Davao del Norte call their tales as oman-oman. Note that the term is reduplicated – similar to the kata-kata of the Tausugs and the kana-kana of the Jama Mapuns and Samas. Any links? It is interesting to discover that some Kaagans have roots in Sulu.

       The most common folktales among the Tausug are those revolving around the lives of the people’s sultan. A tale about one sultan, for example, has many variants or versions in different parts of the province of Sulu. One version found in the municipality of Indanan is entitled Manuk-manuk Bulawan. Other versions of this folktale are entitled Agta’ and Datu’ Dakula’. Other municipalities have, likewise, produced new versions.

       For the Maranao, the agamaniyog folktales are quite popular among the people. These tales are, to a large extent, about their sultans and their families and their relationships with their subjects. Their way of life, their customs and traditions, and other cultural features found in the Maranao cultural inventory are reflected in theagamaniyog folktales.

       The trickster’s tales are also common in practically all Muslim cultural communities. In Sulu, these are identified as the Posong or Pusung tales. In the Tausug trickster’s tale, the key character Pusung always deceives the sultan and gets away with it. He also succeeds in tricking other members of the royal family including the sultan’s wives and his beautiful daughters. Apparently, trickster’s tales in the Tausug community are meant to entertain by making the audience laugh. Some local analysts, however, say that this is one way to get even on the part of the commoners, considering the immensity of the sultan’s powers and the grandeur of his position and person.

Myths and Legends

If folktales are purely secular in nature, myths and legends as far as the Muslim cultural communities are concerned, have religious overtones. The people identify myths and legends as cut out of the same cloth. Some would even subsume them as folktales. How they are called differs, however, from one cultural community to the other.

       Again, Muslim cultural communities having close interaction, whether social, political or economic, make use of the terms used in a cultural community, which is fairly dominant in number. Those who live quite far-off from the major Muslim groups have evolved their own literary terminology. The Kaagan of Davao and Sangil of Sarangani are obvious examples. They are rather influenced by other groups, which are geographically accessible. For instance, the Kaagan call their legends as kapunopuno or kasugod sugod, which sounds Bisaya. Myths to them are oman-oman or gugudanun. The Sama of Tawi-Tawi adopt the Tausug terminology. The Jama Mapun call their legends as uduhan, the term having a slight resemblance to the Tausug’s usulan.

       Striking similarity is observed among the three mainland Mindanao Muslim groups, which are geographically proximate: the Iranon, Maguindanao and Maranao. They do not seemingly have a distinction between myths and legends. Some Maranao would call myths and legends as toltol as they do with folktales. In terms of legends, the Maranao call these as totolan. The Maguindanao and Iranon have evolved a slightly different name for legends; they call these as tudtolan. Why the Iranon use the Maguindanao word and not the Maranao word, perhaps requires some explaining to do, which could be in the realm of cross-cultural linguistics.

       The Tausug, Maranao, and Yakan consider important landmarks in their provinces as source of legends. They may be their highest peaks, lakes, or their very own provinces.

       The Tausug call themselves as the people of the current. Tau means people and Sug means sea current. Their favorite legend is the “kaawn of Bud Tumantangis.” Bud Tumantangis or Mount Tumantangis is the highest peak in the province. It stands above sea level by 853 meters. Tumantangis comes from the root word tangis,which means to cry in English, and bud means mountain. Many Tausugs say that Mount Tumantangis is called as such because sailors almost always cry when they lose sight of it as the ship sails away; or when they return, upon seeing even just its silhouette from afar.

       The Maranao Lake is loved not only by Maranao but by other Filipinos as well because of its grandeur and grace. Looking at it from the Mindanao State University main campus, one is prone to think it is an open ocean. To the Maranao, it is a source not only of pride but also of their origin. They are called Maranao because they live around this great lake.

       On the other hand, it is somewhat difficult for the Iranon to associate their legend with their province. Their legends are closely related to those of the Maranao and Maguindanao. But as other Muslim cultural communities do have many legends about well known and favorite spots in their areas, so certainly do the Iranon.

       The Yakan call their legends, as usul, quite similar to the Tausug’s usulan. Yakan legends revolve around their province, which is Basilan and why they are called Yakan. One informant says that the word Basilan comes from basi’ meaning iron and lan meaning way or road, which is dan to the Tausugs.

       As for the Yakan, referring to the people of Basilan, many legends are being alluded to as why the Yakan are called as such. One informant says it is derived from Yakal, which refers to durable timber in Yakan and which abounds in Basilan. Another stresses that it originated from Spanish source, which relates a story about a Spaniard who met a Filipino soldier referring to a child nearby as “iyak ng iyak.” So, the Spaniards called the people as Yakan. This has produced the present motto that Yakans are no longer the crying tribe, but a rising tribe since the provincial leaders are now all Yakan.

Epics, Ballads, and Poetry

Many informants in the Muslim cultural communities would summarily call compositions in verse as instant compositions. This could be due to the fact these are already mastered by the chanters, reciters or singers, who can perform at the spur of the moment. Then, too, epics, ballads, and poems are interchangeably chanted, sung or recited, depending on what particular Muslim community the chanters, reciters or singers belong to.

       Epics in most Muslim cultural communities are yet to be found, collected, identified, and consequently documented. Apparently, this sad reality is spawned by the lack of informants or tellers. It could also be due to the absence of enterprising researchers. In other communities, epic bearers have died or have moved to another place as a result of the deterioration of peace and order and other reasons.

       As of the present, three major Muslim groups have identified their epics, through the help of enterprising researchers. The Maranao have their Bantugan; the Maguindanao, Indarapatra at Solayman; and the Tausug,Parang Sabil hi Abdulla iban hi Isara.

       Some literary personages, in the case of the Tausug epic, have refuted that Parang Sabil hi Abdulla iban hi Isara is an epic; to them, it is just a mere ballad. But we must bear in mind here that in some communities, ballads and epics could mean the same thing. Aliyanapiya could be a possible Tausug epic, too,but its text has yet to be found. The Parang Sabil hi Abdulla iban hi Isara could very well qualify as a Tausug epic because it is also sung and in verse.

       Ballads may be classified as folk songs, because they tell stories as they are sung. They, likewise, belong to the narrative genre. Ballads of other nations are oftentimes lyrical. Just like other folk literary genres, ballads are handed down by word of mouth. Ballads in the Muslim cultural communities rhyme. They are always solo and sung with gabbang, kulintang or biyula as simple accompaniment. In the Muslim cultural communities, ballads, more often than not, suggest a story. When we speak of ballads in the various Muslim cultural communities, we refer to the traditional ones, which are handed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth.

       Most ballads in Muslim cultural communities are more of the historical type than lyrical. These are usually sung and arranged in quatrains. Historical ballads usually feature important historical personalities, whose heroic deeds inspire the natives.

       Contemporary ballads as in the case of the Tausug ballads reflect recent and famous Tausugs, who have made history in their political and ideological struggles.

       It is a fact that particularly all facets of folk narratives have already been pervaded by the people’s Islamic faith. As such, there are many religious ballads as there are many historical ballads. These religious ballads tell of the virtues of Islam as a religion. If the ballad narrates a historical personality and his deeds, these are oftentimes in the defense of Islam and its propagation. Religious ballads in Muslim cultural communities are, therefore, hortatory or didactic.

       The fact that epics, ballads and other poems are in verse makes some Muslim cultural communities, if not all of them, call these by the same name. In the Tausug Muslim cultural community, the singers would usually reel off their performance by saying “Hi tarasul ta hi kissa, in manga waktu masa….” (let’s compose it in poems or ballads, a time long past…”) Maranao and Maguindanao informants, when asked by what name they would call their epics, would cite the names of their epic heroes such as Indarapatra at Sulayman or Bantugan instead of saying the equivalent of “epic” in their own tongues.

       Ballads are called in Tausug as kissa. The Jama Mapun and the Sama adopt the Tausug term. The Kaagan call it the darangan or bayok. The Maguindanao and Iranon call their ballads as dayunday and sometimes bayok, too. The Palawanon call their ballads as toltol, the same name they would use for folktales. For poems, the Maranao call them bayok, and so do the Iranon. The Maguindanao call poems as bayokan. Tarasul is the Tausug term for poems, and the Jama Mapun and Sama use the same term to signify a body of compositions called poetry. The Kaagan call their poems as dawut by which the same name the epics go.

       Considering the various musical forms that they render, the Yakan could be considered as the music lovers among the Muslim cultural communities. The following are various Yakan songs: the katakata, which is a lackadaisical melody that reflects the pain and suffering of somebody who has lost a loved one; the lunsey, a top tune of sort that resembles the Tagalog harana; the sail, which relates a story and may be sung during weddings and burials, the subject matter suited to the nature of the affair; the nahana, which relates an ancestral story; the kissa, which is about royal families; and the jamiluddin, which is a person’s name in Tausug, is a song to the Yakan, usually sung in a game called magdarapanyu’. The katakata for the Tausug is an oral narrative, which is told to an audience. But to the Yakan, as indicated above, it is a song.

Proverbs and Riddles

Proverbs and riddles abound in the Muslim cultural communities. When asked how these are called in their communities, informants would be able to give answers without staring blankly at the sky. Proverbs and riddles in the Muslim cultural communities as are in other cultural groups are the simplest genres of folk literature. Both forms of oral literature strike a kind of intellectual exercise on the part of the audience. They are highly figurative in the use of language, and they possess an intense quality that stimulates the mind.

       The Kaagan of Davao, despite their distance from their fellow Muslims in Lanao, Maguindanao and Cotabato, use almost the same term for riddles. They call them antokanon. Note that the Maguindanao call their riddles asantoka. The Maranao have three different names for riddles: kapamagantoka, antoka, pasoalan, or limpangan.The Iranon call their riddles as kapagantoka, which is quite close to kapamagantoka of the Maranao. All these cultural communities live in mainland Mindanao.

       Living in the islands accessible to each other, the Jama Mapun, Sama, Tausug, Molbog, and the Palawanon of Palawan call their riddles by almost the same names, if not identical. The Palawanon call their riddles as igum. The Tausugs Samas, and Jama Mapun call theirs as tigum-tigum. There is another name for tigum-tigum in Sulu:tukud-tukud. Both the Sama and the Jama Mapun are, likewise, familiar with the term tukud-tukud. Knowing why the Palawanon have shortened the reduplicated tigum-tigum into just igum could be very interesting. Have they derived this from tigum-tigum, or is it the Tausug, who have reduplicated igum into tigum-tigum? The migration of Muslim from one community to the other may shed light on this development.

       Just like other Muslim Cultural Communities, the Yakan also have their folk speeches such as the proverbs and riddles. Proverbs are called saknahan or dalilan, quite different from the Tausug, who call proverbs asmasaalla or dalil akkal despite their geographical proximity. The Yakan call their riddles as untukan, which slightly resembles the Kaagan’s antokanon and Maguindanao’s antoka.

Below are examples of Yakan proverb and riddle:


Yakan Text

English Translation

Ini ini hinang nu
Whatever you do (in life)
Gai iyan muli tungan
It goes back to you.

Yakan Proverb

Aa magdimbuwa luma
There are two siblings
Gai migkitaluwi
Who do not see each other.

Yakan Riddle

Now, let us compare these with the Tausug proverb and riddle below:

Tausug Text

English Translation

In hinang sin baran
The act of the self
Muwi kan baran
Goes back to the self.

Tausug Proverb

Duwa magtaymanghud
(There are) two siblings
Di’ mag-kita-i
They do not see each other.

Tausug riddle

       It can be gleaned that the difference between the aforementioned examples of Yakan and Tausug proverbs and riddles lies only in the languages used. The meanings of the proverbs and riddles cited above are identical. To explain this similarity calls for taking into consideration the geographical proximity of the Yakan, who live in the province of Basilan and the Tausug, who live in the province of Sulu. Only a few miles separate the two provinces. Then, too, we must remember that there are many Tausug in Basilan, and Bahasa Sug is one of the languages spoken in the province. Historically speaking, we must likewise recall that Basilan used to be under the domain of the Sultanate of Sulu for a very long time.

About the Author:
Calbi A. Asain obtained his doctorate studies majoring in Philippine Studies at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. He is the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Mindanao State University-Sulu and is also its Director for Publication and Information.