Cultural Diversity Among the Bangsamoro in Mindanao: A Survey of their Traditional Arts

The historical roots of people in Mindanao can be traced and understood through their genealogy and the cultural groups they belong to. These different groups are further classified under different ethnic affiliations and identified through their cultures and traditional arts. The culture of the group to which an individual is born into is what identifies him as to his ethnicity or what cultural group he belongs to.

Difference in culture becomes evident as we notice one’s clothing, mannerism, language, beliefs, arts, taste for food or food preferences, ways of doing things, among others. The characteristics, which contrast sharply with one’s way of life, show differences in people. Culture consists of material things, such as arts, tools, weapon, dwelling units, utensils, machinery, clothing and others. Such material culture includes physical objects or artifacts, which are easy to observe and are often impressive. Culture also has non-material aspects which include the general beliefs and patterns of behaviour common to a group of people. These types of culture persist through tradition that characterizes a human group (Panopio and Raymundo, 2004).

The Islamized people in the South, in contrast with the different groups in the North, call themselves Bangsa Muslims. When the Spaniards colonized the North in 1565, the people in the South became more entrenched in their own nationhood. As a result, there arose two lines of historical development: First, the Islamic-Malay orientation which sustains the Bangsa Muslim sense of nationhood; and the second, the Western- Christian orientation which propels the Filipino sense of nationhood. Over time, the Bangsa Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu have developed their own culture, their political institution which is the sultanate, and have since pursued a different political and economic way of life. It was due to the Muslim sense of identity that what used to be called Bangsa Muslims was later called “Moros” or “Bangsa Moro” (Bara, 2009).

The Bangsamoro ethnic groups in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) are distributed all over Mindanao. According to the ARMM Regional Physical Framework plan 2000-2030, there were twelve major ethnic groups identified in the region in 1995. Of these groups, the most dominant are Maguindanaon, Iranun, Meranaw, Tausug and Samal. In that Framework Plan, it also presents the ethnic composition in each province/ area in recent years, including the dominant ethnic groups. In the mainland, Maguindanaon, Iranun, and Meranaw, who constitute the Lanao del Sur areas, are the dominant ethnic groups in that province. In the island provinces of Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi, the dominant ethnic groups are Yakan, Tausug, Sama, and Badjaos (ARMM Regional Development Plan, 2017-2022).

The unity and diversity of these people can be gleaned from the kind of life that they practice, their modes of dressing, though the majority has adopted the modern trends now, their language, religious beliefs and practices, ways of doing things, and the kind of arts and artifacts the people have. Their material and non-material culture is what distinguishes one group from the others.

Today, the Islamized peoples of Mindanao, generally called Muslims, belong to the so called Bangsamoro by virtue of Republic Act 9054 or the Organic Act for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM, recognizing the term “Bangsamoro people” as the cultural identity of the Muslims in the South. Article X, Section 3, states that, as used in this Organic Act, “the phrase indigenous cultural community refers to Filipino citizens residing in the autonomous region who are tribal and the Bangsamoro people.” In Section 3, Subsection B, the Bangsamoro people are referred to as “citizens who are believers in Islam and who have retained some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.”

The Dominant Groups and Their Traditional Arts

The Maguindanaon

Maguindanaon, the biggest Muslim ethnic group, live mostly as agriculturist in the seasonally flooded valley of the Pulangi River in Cotabato. Thus they are also known as the “people of the flood plain.” Fishing is also a major livelihood. Rice, corn and mongo beans are their dominant crops. Some Maguindanaon engage in brass making, mat weaving, nipa roof making, basketry and loom weaving.

Known for their metal craftsmanship, the Maguindanaon produce brassware which is considered some of the best in the country. Among the Maguindanaon brassware are the kalanda (cake container), gadur (rice container), talam (tray), talagadan (metal server) and embamanan (betel leaf-areca nut container).

The richness of Maguindanaon art is manifested in their clothing, tools, house types, brassware, weaponry and musical instruments. A relative simplicity highlighted by the use of geometric patterns distinguishes the Maguindanaon art.

During special occasions such as weddings, a palabunibunian or native gong orchestra plays music several days before the event. Eight kulintang (native gongs), each sounding different note; one large gong; four gandingan (graduated gongs); and one debakan (drum) constitute the orchestra.

A babendil, which is the equivalent of a conductor-performer, keeps time for the orchestra by accompanying the kulintang music through beating any part of the kulintang ensemble with a light stick to the rhythm of the music.The types of music commonly played are the binalig (slowest beat) and the sinulog (slightly faster beat).

With their indigenous traditions and rich cultural heritage, the Maguindanaon have remained un-acculturated. Despite foreign cultural influences, they have generally kept intact their traditional life ways and social institutions.

Like all the other Muslim ethnic groups, the Maguindanaon practice the Islamic faith. Their values and attitudes are basically anchored on the principles and laws of the Holy Qur’an. The Holy Qur’an is the fundamental source of law that governs most of the Muslims’ daily conduct and behaviour.

Visual Arts and Crafts of the Maguindanaon. As Muslim lowlanders, the Maguindanaon possess a strong weaving and carving tradition (Casal et al., 1981). As with all other Muslim groups, the Maguindanaon are prohibited from representing animal or human forms in art. This led to the development of an abstract form of artistic representations in Maguindanaon carvings and textiles. These designs are also carved on their weaponry and musical instruments. For example the birdo (vine) motif usually embellishes the musical instrument called kutyapi (see logo of this article), which may be shaped like a mythical animal resembling a crocodile (Darangen 1980: 112-113).

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A typical Maguindanaon blade is the kampilan, usually handled with both hands, and used for cutting off heads or splitting the body from top to toe. The handle of kampilan features the naga (S-shaped abstraction of a mythical serpent) in the form of a gaping mouth. The head above the mouth is usually adorned with reddish fibers, turning the handle into a mane-like figure (Lane 1986:177). Oulan (weaving) is traditionally done on a very simple back-strap loom. The process involves the methodical interlacing of warp and weft threads. The warp yarns, or “verticals,” are spread between two bars, one of which—the cloth bar—is fastened to the waist of the weaver by a string. The other bar—the warp bar—is affixed to a small tree, a post, or a wall. To apply tension on the warp, the weaver leans against the back-strap as she generates pressure against a piece of wood in front of her outstretched legs. The weft threads or “horizontals” are rolled inside a shuttle, which is passed, back and forth, through the warps and wefts inlaid over the basic matrix. The Maguindanaon batek (color) and design process is basically resist-dyeing, the assumption being that uncontrolled color spread can be resisted by binding, knotting, stitching, or applying wax or paste to parts of the yarn. The technique produces the desired pattern, design, or motif (Casal et al., 1981: 130-132). The Maguindanaon malong (tubular skirt) displays more commonly the ikat (literally, “to tie”) design. Before weaving, the warp or weft or both yarns are secured with waxed threads. One common ikat design is the eight-pointed star, which is reminiscent of the “radiating core” motif (Casal et al., 1981: 132-134). Silver-inlaid lutuan (betel leaf-areca nut boxes), gadur (jar-like containers), and panalagudan (pot holders) epitomize Muslim brassware. Indicating wealth and status, these objects decorate the affluent Maguindanaon home. The gadur come in pairs and are dignified objects with minaret-like tops. They are profuse with silver-inlaid scrolls and various geometric shapes. Betel leaf-areca nut boxes come in sets of four or at least have four compartment to accommodate the four betel leaf-areca nut chew: bunga (areca nut), buyo (fresh pepper or betel leaves), apug (lime powder), and damp tobacco leaves. The brassware usually has either silver or white- metal inlay, and are ornamented with okir designs (Casa et al., 1981:155)

Other metal crafts adorned with okir motifs are the sundang (sword), the gulok (knife), the panabas (long knife), the dilek (spear), the badung, the kris and the bongalambot, the hair clip worn by female royalty (Glang et al., 1978: 15).

The baluyan (carrying basket) found in Maguindanao is usually open plaited with a cover and a handle, and is generally made of bamboo with some into trims. Other basketry items include the salakot, an example of which is the tapisan hat made of finely split soft-strip bamboo over a coarser bamboo frame. Indigenous designs are added either by one-over-one weaving to extended twill patterns, or by introducing into trims or smoked bamboo a contrast to the natural. The tapisan hat is worn over a turban. Another type of hat is the binalonosalakot made of finely woven reed, which, sewn together with thread, is shaped into a dome. A coconut shell and a piece of carved wood top the hat. Like the tapisan, the binalonosalakot is worn over a turban.

The village would be closed to all visitors when a healing or mourning ritual is in progress, in case they are followed by bad spirits which could harm the villagers, especially the sick, when they enter. A sign would be placed at the access to the village to prevent outsiders from entering during this period, which usually takes place for seven days.

The Bidayuh tribe believe that there is a spirit living in everything, animate or not, called semangat. The absence of this spirit will cause illness, while the total departure of the spirit will cause death. Illnesses are the work of an evil spirit called the mundua. Members of the tribe who are sick and could not be cured by traditional medicine would stay in the panggah and given ritual treatment performed by the chieftain.

As per their belief in spirits, the mourning ritual is to invite the spirits of their close relatives to come and help bring the spirit of the dead with them to sidanah, a version of their purgatory where the adult souls would linger for four years before they considered entrance into their heaven, also known as sibayan. During this ceremony, the dead is presented with food and entertainment as prayers are offered to God for their forgiveness and so they would be allowed to go to heaven. In Annah Rais, however, this ritual is no longer practised as the villagers have all converted to Christianity. Of course, rituals that involve celebrating the headhunting warriors are also not a practice today just as headhunting is no longer a part of their livelihood.

As mentioned above, visitors are not allowed to enter into the village whenever a healing ritual is being held. But this wasn’t the only custom that involve visitors before. Years ago, any outsiders who wished to come into the village could not do so without the permission of the village chief or the head of the longhouse. This is because dropping by and crashing into another person’s home was viewed as an act of disrespect towards the entire community living in the village. Upon being allowed entrance into the village, the visitor could only step into the residence they intended to visit if the head of the house invited them in. And once a visitor became the guest of a household, the visiting rights would govern almost everything they did in the house, from they way they sat, the food served to them, and whether or not they were allowed to stay overnight. Only the village chief had the power to grand permission to the visitors to stay over at the longhouse, while the head of the household had the power to determine their stay within his family’s living space. All these customs were to be observed with respect by the guests towards the Bidayuh community they were visiting.

The Maguindanaon have recently developed their own mats, which are circular in shape and made from sea grass. Colors used are red, green and blue. These mats measure 180 centimeters in diameter. Other types of basketry items made form sea grass include colorful small containers—round or square—with covers and handles and fans (Lane, 1986: 183-187).

Maguindanaon kadyun (pottery or earthenware) include the kuden (cooking pot for rice and viands), the lakub (vessel covers), the paso (tub for washing rice and vegetable), the buyon (drinking water jar), the kararo (small drinking water jar), the tampad (jar for storing water or salt), the simpi (a covered bibingka or rice cake baking pan), the dapuran (elongated, floored stove), the sinokuran (steamer pot¬¬), the binangka (a buyon-like jar but with decorated shoulders), the pamu-mulan (flower pot), the torsion (coffee pot), the ititi (tobacco jar), the tutugan (square ember holder), and the lagan (cooking pot for fish) (Scheans, 1977: 74-74).

Maguindanaon pottery is made mainly through the “turn-modeling” technique, where a turntable, as well as a paddle, an anvil, and a broken arm are used to mold and shape the pottery (Jose-de la Cruz, 1982: 8-9).

The Maguindanaon have many types of musical instrument: the kyutapi or boat lute (See logo of this article); the suling or bamboo flutes; the kubing or jew’s harp; bamboo zithers and bamboo scrapers; and the most important, the kulintangan ensemble. The kulintangan ensemble consists of five instruments. These are the kulintang (a series of eight graduated gongs), agong (wide-rimmed gong), dabakan (goblet-shaped gong), gandingan (set of four thin-rimmed gongs), and babandir (small thin-rimmed gong). Taken as a whole, the ensemble is called palabunibunyan (an ensemble of loud sounding instruments). It is heard in various occasions like weddings, water baptism called paigosaragat, and curing rites called kapagipat (Butocan, 1987: 17).

In the kulintang, the gongs are arranged horizontally from largest (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. It displays a high busel (protrusion or knob) and a wide takilidan (rim) of approximately thirty centimeters. Other parts of the agong include the pakaw (collar), biyas (face), and bibir (mouth). It hangs from a horizontal pole or wooden frame and is played when the player holds the knob with his left hand, and strikes the gong with a mallet in his right. The agong is also used to announce an emergency and to mark the time of the day. Moreover, the sound of the agong is believed to possess supernatural powers.

The dabakan is a goblet-shaped drum with a single head covered with skins of goat, lizard or snake. The instrument is played by striking the head with two thin bamboo sticks, each fifty centimeters in length. Traditionally, the instrument is played by a woman sitting on a chair.

The gandingan is a series of four graduated gongs with a thin rim and a low central protrusion. They hang in pairs facing each other and are played by a woman who stands in between them. She uses two mallets, one for each pair, to strike at the knobs.

Finally, the babandir is a small gong with a thin rim and a low central protrusion. The instrument produces a metallic sound when struck with thin bamboo sticks. There are three ways of playing the babandir. The first way is by striking the suspended gong with a pair of sticks. The second way is by striking the gong’s rim with one stick while holding the rim with the left hand. The third way is by laying the instrument upside down and striking the gong’s rim with two sticks (Butocan, 1987: 19-24).

There are four types of musical pieces played in the palabunibunyan: binalig or sirong, sinulog, tidtu, and tagunggo. The first three are heard in various kinds of festive occasions. When a performer plays in mimma (traditional style), the first piece should be a binalig, then a sinulog, then a tidtu.

The tagunggo is used mainly in rituals, and is used to accompany the sagayan dance. Tidtu pieces are played fast to display one’s virtuosity and are often heard in musical competitions. Binalig pieces are played to express different emotions like anger, love, joy. Sinulog pieces, on the other hand, are played slowly in a flowing manner to express loneliness. It is said that sinulog pieces can make their listeners cry and are best played at night or early dawn (Butocan, 1987: 25-26).

The Mëranaw House

The Mëranaw

Mëranaw (Mëranaw: [‘mәranaw]; Filipino: Mëranaw, also spelled Meranao, Maranaw and Maranao) is the term used by the Philippine government to refer to the southern ethnic group who are the “people of the lake” (Ranao in the Iranaon language), a predominantly-Muslim region of the Philippine island of Mindanao. They are known for their artwork, weaving, wood and metal crafts and epic literature, the Darangen.

The Tausug

The Tausūg or Suluk people are an ethnic group of the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. The Tausūg are part of the wider political identity of Muslims of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. Most of the Tausugs have converted into the religion of Islam whose members are now more known as the Moro group, who constitute the third largest ethnic group of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan. The Muslim Tausugs originally had an independent state known as the Sulu Sultanate, which once exercised sovereignty over the present-day provinces of Basilan, Palawan, Sulu, Tawi- Tawi, the eastern part of the Malaysian state of Sabah (formerly North Borneo) and North Kalimantan in Indonesia.

The Tausug is a peace-loving people. They are kind to guests and foreigners and are hardworking. Their religious passion has helped them withstand the influence of Western colonization. Thus, throughout the Spanish period, the Tausug continued to develop their own culture from which they derive martabat (honor), the inner strength that inspire them to preserve and defend the freedom of their hula, bangsa and agama (country, nation and ideology).