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       The Maguindanao or “people of the flood plains” occupy the basin of the Pulangi River popularly known as Rio Grande de Mindanao among the Spaniards.  Known to be the longest river in Mindanao, it has become the chief avenue for transporting people and products from one end of the coast to another.

In the past, the Maguindanao settled along the banks and in the valley regions of the river.  Today, they are found in several provinces particularly in Maguindanao province which accounts for 76% of the total Maguindanao population, in North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato (Peralta 1988).  They are also found in the different towns of Sarangani Province including General Santos City.

This geographic break was paralleled by a political division: the down stream of lower valley (sa-ilud) nearest the sea was under the Sultanate of Maguindanao (also called Sultanate of Mindanao), while the upstream or upper valley (sa-raya) inland was under the control of the Sultanate of Buayan (Bowing 1979).  Coastal Maguindanao are fishermen and traders while the valley dwellers are rice farmers.

The word “Maguindanao” means “to be inundated”, and is derived from the fact that the Pulangi River used to overflow its banks periodically, flooding the whole vast countryside and giving the impression that the whole region was one big lake or “danao“. (Darangan 1980).


The Maguindanao language is part of a subgroup of languages called the “Danao languages”.  The subgroup includes Maranao, spoken in the Lanao provinces; Ilanun (also Ilanum or Iranun) spoken by a group of sea-based people between Lanao and Maguindanao, spoken in Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat (McFarland 1983:96).  Some other groups speak various dialects that are closely related as to be mutually intelligible.


The name “Mindanao” evokes wealth of images (Turner 1922:1).  Some are complementary, others paradoxical.  Some are based on scholarship and personal experiences, others reflect fear and ignorance, perhaps even puzzlement.  For many, its dominant image has been that of a “land of promise”.

It has been the place where dreams of he poor settlers can be fulfilled.  There is an abundance of natural wealth – vast agricultural lands, huge mineral deposits, extensive forests and teeming fisheries.  But that vision has frequently been overlaid with the image of exploitation.  Resources are monopolized by the few and squandered for short-term gain.  The settlers’ dream remain unfulfilled with millions living in conditions of poverty, insecurity and deprivation (Turner 1922:1).

Labeling Mindanao as the land of promise lay in its potential for offering a rich store of natural resources, especially land to a rapidly expanding Philippines population.   The prospect of acquiring some parts of these vast tracts of unused land has lured millions of migrants to the region during the 20th century.  A marked trend for lands to be converted from forest or pastoral uses to farming provided further impetus towards the goal of increased agricultural productivity.

Being very sparsely inhabited, Sulu archipelago and neighboring portions of Mindanao such as Davao, Bukidnon, Southern Agusan and much of Cotabato served as the most inviting destination for the waves of in-migrants (Costello 1992:33).

The annual rate of demographic expansion was generally largest in Southern Mindanao subregion consisting of the three Davao provinces, Surigao del Sur, and South Cotabato. (Costello 1992:33-34).

The frontier provinces in Mindanao have ranked among the fastest growing in the country for many years.

Mindanao’s population has been characterized by increased proportion of young persons and of males which maybe attributed to high rates of fertility in the region and the continued importance of its agricultural sector.

A great number of Christian Filipinos who have migrated into the Cotabato region, both before and since World War II, have made the Maguindanao a minority in their own homeland. This has resulted in marked changes in their economic, political and social life, often accompanied by severe hardship and consequent breakdown in peace and order (Gowing, 1979).

The people of the region have shown remarkable ability to adapt to the rapidly changing world in which they find themselves (Costello 1992:39-40).


In the early 15th century, Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan, an Arab Malay preacher from the Royal house of Malacca, arrived in what is now Malabang where he introduced Islamic faith and customs, settled down with a local princess, and laid the foundations of the Maguindanao Sultanate.

Spanish chronicles revealed that Buayan (not Cotabato) was the most important settlement in Mindanao at that time.  The Maguindanao-Cotabato power rose when Cotabato (derived from the word kota or stone fort) had become a coastal power in 1630’s (Ileto 1971:5).

The largest alliance was formed in the 17th century, but the weakening of the Maguindanao sultanate was apparent as it struggle with civil war and internal disunity (Miravite 1976:40; Darangen 1980:43-45).

Cotabato power then became dependent on Spanish support.  This deepening compromise with Spain led Cotabato to its downfall (Ileto 1971:11-15).

During the Philippine-American War, the Americans adopted a policy of non-interference in the Muslim areas under the Bates Agreement of 1899.  It was a mutual nonaggression pact which obligated the Americans to recognize the authority of the Sultan of Jolo and other chiefs who, in turn, agreed to fight piracy and crimes against Christians.

The Americans established direct rule over the newly formed Moro Province which consisted of five districts after the war.  It was replaced by the Department of Mindanao and Sulu on December 15, 1913 which introduced a policy of attraction to encourage Muslim  integration into Philippine Society.

In February 1920, Act 2878 of the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives abolished the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and transferred its responsibilities to the Bureau of of Nonchristian Tribes under the Department of Interior.  As power shifted to the Christianized Filipinos, Muslim dissatisfaction increased.  There was an attempt to incite a jihad (holy war) against the Americans and Christianized Filipinos, but it did not materialize (Che Man 1990:52-53).

Realizing the futility of the situation, Muslims sought to make the best when the three of them were elected to the1935 Constitutional Convention and two at the National Assembly of the same year.

The Commonwealth years ended the privileges they had been enjoying under the earlier American administration.  The Office of the Commissioner for Mindanao whose main objective was to tap the full economic potentials of Mindanao replaced the Bureau of Nonchristian tribes.  Various armed uprisings in Lanao showed discontentment. The Muslims are generally adverse to anything that threatens Islam and their way of life (Che Mann 1990:55-56).

During the World War II, they supported the fight against the Japanese, but after independence, efforts to integrate them into the new political order met with  stiff resistance.  It was unlikely for them to surrender their identity. The conflict was aggravated in 1965 with the “Jabidah Massacre” in which Muslim soldiers were allegedly eliminated for refusal to invade Sabah.  This incident contributed to the rise of various separatist movements such as Muslim Independent Movement (MIM), the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) being founded by a group of educated young Muslims and others (CheMan 1990:77-78; Tan 1977:18-22).

In  1976, negotiations between the Philippine government and MNLF in Tripoli resulted in the Tripoli Agreement which provided for an autonomous region in Mindanao.

When Corazon C. Aquino became president, a new constitution providing for the creation of autonomous region in Mindanao and the Cordilleras was ratified on August 1, 1989.   Republic Act 6734 or the Organic Act for Mindanao created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which encompasses Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-tawi.

The overthrow of Marcos in 1986 brought hopes in some quarters for a fundamental change of regime.

Finally, a chance for Mindanao to have attained peace and order came with the creation of Southern Philippines Council for Peace and Development or SPCPD.


The social and religious life of the Maguindanao is reflected in the customs and rites attending their life cycle.

a. Birth
During delivery, a piece of sharpened bacayawan bamboo is employed to cut the umbilical cord.

Before disposing the inayanan (placenta) the walian (priestess) fills it with cold water and then empties it; this is believed to fill the child’s life with success.

On the seventh day, the local imam (priest) baptizes the child in a ceremony calledpedtabungawan which includes the dyeing of the baby’s hair and dipping it in a basin filled with water (Glang, et. al., 1978:27).


b. Marriage
Visiting a girl when alone is prohibited and is punishable (Glang, et. al., 1978:29).

A traditional courtship aims to establish a good relationship with girl’s family.  The boy visists the girl and does chores for her family.  The boy’s intentions are declared by his family and arrangements are explored for the possibility of marriage in a meeting called  salanggoni.   After the salanggoni, the kawa (approximately 10% of the sunggod (bride price) is given to all mediators of the marriage as tokens of gratitude.  After this agreement the girl is considered engaged, her consent not withstanding.  The enggulania (wedding) then takes place.  On the wedding day, in order to enter the bride’s house, the groom has to pay the lenan (dowry) to the persons assigned to collect it.   The marriage ceremony is called kagkawing. 

c. Burial Ceremony

When a member of the family dies, not much weeping is done.  The corpse is cleaned and wrapped in a white cloth.  It is then buried in a tarking (grave) about 1.8 meters deep which is then covered with soil because of the belief in the resurrection, the top is not cemented.   Pouring of water over the grave completes the burial.  Pandiaga or activities related to consoling the bereaved family is done after the burial; these are made on following days after death: 3 days, 7 days, 20 days, 40 days, 50 days, 100 days and on the death anniversary (Glang, et. al. 1978:32-33).

d. Religious Beliefs and Practices

The Maguindanao believe in the six articles of the Islamic faith:

(1) belief in the oneness of Allah;

(2) belief in the angels of Allah;
(3) belief in the books of Allah;
(4) belief in all the prophets of Allah;
(5) belief in the judgment day; and
(6) belief that the power of good deeds comes from Allah alone

The five Pillars of Islam are faith in one God and the four obligations of praying, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one’s lifetime.

e. Architecture

The traditional Maguindanaon houses are usually made of nipa and galvanized sheet roofing with bamboo wood for wallings and floors.  Interesting features include the okir (carved) decorations, the steep and graceful roofs, the solid construction, the indigenous ornaments, the concern for ventilation, and the concept of space.

Prominent contemporary structures in Cotabato are the Legislative Assembly Session Hall and the mosque.  The white Cotabato mosque is topped by an onion shaped dome, which also crowns a tower rising at the back of the building.

f. Performing Arts


The Maguindanao has many types of musical instruments: the kudyapi or boat lute, the suling or bamboo flutes, the kubing or jew’s harp, bamboo zithers and bamboo scrapers, the most important, the kulintangan ensemble.  The kulintang is arranged horizontally from largest to (lowest in pitch) to the smallest (highest in pitch), and laid over an antangan (wooden frame).  These are played by striking the knob of the gongs with  a pair of basal(light wooden sticks).

The agong, played exclusively by men, is a large kettle – shaped gong.  The agong is also used to announce an emergency to mark the time of day.  Moreover, the sound of agong is believed to possess supernatural powers.


The Maguindanao dance is a part of various ritual dance performances.  These rituals include several forms of movements: leaping, prancing, mock attacks, singing, yelling, poetic incantations, and carrying a tray of embers.

One of the most important Maguindanao ritual dance performances is the sagayan, a warrior dance depicting the exploits of bantugan, a mythological hero-prince (Orosa- Goquingco 1980:178).

g. Food
The Maguindanao prize a dish they call “pizinena”, a goat meat in coconut oil with spices.

h. Dress
Both Maguindanao and Maranao have the same traditional dress, most prominent article of clothing called malong.   The well-dressed woman wears her malong with an abirta, a blouse of velvet cloth made with a V-neck and three quarter length sleeves.  It is decorated with gold coins and gold buttons, and the lady also wears rings, bracelets and earrings of gold.  Traditional women wrap their heads in a turban-like Kombong made of colored muslin (white if they had been to Mecca) oven which thin, filmly lace is draped.

Traditional head wear for men is a multi-colored turban, or a kerchief folded and wound around the head.  The Maguindanao and Maranao call the turban tobao and it is made of embroidered or tie-and-dye material.

i. Uniqueness
Communal assistance is widely practiced among the Maguindanaos and Maranaos.  By custom and tradition they are expected to help their relatives by putting in money to finance such activities as marriages, funerals, pilgrimages to Mecca and many others.

About the Author:
Lourdes C. Manzano obtained her degree in M.A. English at the Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro City. She now heads the Admission Office of the Mindanao State University, Tambler Campus, General Santos City.