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
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).
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.
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).
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.
There are three types of Mëranaw houses: the lawig (small house), mala-a-wali (large house), and the torogan or ancestral house of the datu. Some Mëranaw houses have posts which rest on the rounded boulders; these “floating foundations” prevent the structures from collapsing during earthquakes (Peralta, 1975: 28-31).
The mala-a-walai is a single-room and partition- less structure. It stands thirty to 220 centimeters above the ground, resting on nine to twelve bamboo or wooden poles. A fenced porch serves as the front of the house; the kitchen, which is fifty centimeters lower than the structures, is at the back. The main body houses the sleeping area, which doubles as a living and working area in the morning. Storage space can be found underneath the main house and the kitchen. The widowed line flooring of the house is of split bamboo tied with rattan.
Carved chests, headboards, or mosquito screens divide the interior into the sleeping and non- sleeping areas. Covered with a riyara woven mat, rice-stalk bundles serve as bed mattresses, the head and foot of which are laid out with pillows. Over and beside the bed are the taritib canopy and the curtains respectively. The roof of the mala-a-walai is made of thick cogon grass secured on bamboo frames by rattan. Notched bamboo poles server as the stairs, which are placed at the front and back of the house (Alarcon, 1991: 65-66).
The finest example of Mëranaw architecture is the torogan, which showcases the best of Mëranaw okir (literally, “carving”). On the façade, there are panolong or wing-like house beams with a pakorabong (fern) or naga (serpent) motif. Inside, there are carved panels and the tinai a walai, the “intestines” of the house or central beam (Peralta, 1975: 29). A traditional way of testing the torogan’s durability was to have two carabaos fight inside the structure. If it collapsed, it was not deemed worthy to be occupied.
The torogan is a partition-less structure housing many families. Each is a given a “sleeping space,” provided with mats and sleeping pads, and separated from one other by cloth partition. Each sleeping space also serves as the family’s living room, working space, and dining room. Visitors are not allowed into the gibon or paga, the room for the datu’s daughter, and the bilik, a hiding place at the back of the sultan’s headboard. The torogan may also have the lamin, a tower-like structure serving as a hideaway for the sultan’s daughter. The flooring of the house is of barimbingan wood; the walls of gisuk wooden panels, profuse with okir; and the roof of cogon grass secured on bamboo frames by rattan (Alarcon, 1991: 65-66).
Mëranaw architecture also includes the masjid (mosque) inspired by West Asian architecture. There are two types of mosque. The first is the ranggar, a small Muslim house of prayer and worship made to accommodate a few individuals for the daily prayers, built in the rural areas of the Muslim masses, and more similar in design to Southeast Asian prayer houses (Tan, 1985: 14). The second is the masjid, a bigger, permanent structure which comes in various architectural designs, most of which are simple and decorated with okir.
One outstanding example is the pagoda-like, three-tiered mosque in Taraka, Lanao del Sur. The interior of the mosque is laid out according to the nature of salat (Islamic prayer), which is announced from tall minarets. The direction of Mecca, which the congregation faces, is marked by a mihrab or niche/recess in the wall. Sermons are said by the preacher standing on the mimbar (staired pulpit), which is of okir-carved wood. Wudu or places of ablutions are located near the mosque (Majul, 1977: 80-784).
Very little is known of the early architectural designs of the Mëranaw mosque, because (1) many of the earlier mosques used temporary materials like wood, bamboo, and cogon; (2) the remaining earlier types were either demolished, destroyed by fire or earthquake, or remodelled according to West Asian designs; (3) the yearly sojourn to Mecca influenced and eventually changed all earlier types; and (4) very little has been written on the subject (A. Madale, 1977: 13).
Mëranaw visual arts include weaving (mats, textiles, baskets), carving (wood, stone, bamboo, horn, and ivory), and casting (brass and iron, silver, gold). One underlying feature of Mëranaw visual art—be it brass, silver, textile, wood—is the okir. The term refers to both the technique of carving and types of motif found in the art of Lanao and Sulu.
Basic okir motifs are the (1) birdo, the motif of growing vines or raling plants, often etched on a horizontal rectangular panel, but also
on the vertical or oblique; (2) magoyada, the motif dominated by the naga or serpent figure, and complemented by other leaf motifs; (3) pakorabong, the motif of a fern growing in an upward direction, usually from a central point where all other designs emanate; (4) niaga, the motif dominated by the naga plus leaves, vines, and flowers; (5) armalis, the motif combining designs of fern, leaf and the bud; (6) obid-obid or (7) tiali-tali, the coiled rope-like motif; (8) matilak, the circle motif; (9) dapal, the leaf motif; (10) todi, the flower motif; (11) saragonting, the cross-like motif ; (12) binitoon, the star-like motif; (13) pinatola, the adjacent squares motif; (14) biangon, the rectangle motif; (15) pinagapat, the motif consisting of any four-sided design in series; (16) olan-olan, the artificial moon motif; (17) pialang, the square motif; and (18) katiambang, the diamond motif. What is discernible in the okir is that the work of women is generally more geometric, while that of the men, more floral (Saber and Orellana, 1963)
The visual arts of the Mëranaw are also exemplified by the elusive bird of art, the sarimanok or, literally, “artificial bird” or the papanok, its female counterpart.
The Islamic dislike for realistic representations of human or animal forms resulted in nature being abstracted into sophisticated symbolic forms. Exceptions include the burrak (literally, “the bright one”), the horse with a human face on which the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to Heaven. The burrak appears on carpets, paintings, and sequined cloth panels.
Mëranaw mat weaving designs are purely geometric, and motifs have specific names: binitoon (star-like), onsod (pyramid), matilak (circle), saragonting (cross-like) and others. The mats are woven from local tikug called sesed, which is gathered, dried under the sun, cooked and dyed with different colors called atar. It is re-dried and flattened, after which it is ready for weaving.
The size of the mat is determined by the number of da-ir (panels) which, in turn, are determined by the length of the sesed. Weaving is usually done in flat areas, as these make the process easier. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to weave, as the cooler temperature not only provides for the personal comfort of the weavers, but also avoids making the sesed brittle. It takes approximately two to three weeks to weave a mat, which is then taken to the market and bought by a comprador. The price is determined by the size, workmanship, and patterns used. The finer the patterns and the more subdued the colors, the higher the price.
Mëranaw textiles can be classified into landap, andon, and karangkali. The most innovative malong makes use of the sewing machine. The landap type of malong is a lakban (vertical women strip) sewn into the entire length of the body of the malong. Ranging from ten to 17.5 centimeters in length, the vertical strip comes in alizarine red base in woven with multi-colored motifs ranging from the strictly geometric and the curvilinear to the leaf and vine. Crisscrossing the strip at two points are two horizontal strips which are smaller and simpler in design. These horizontal strips are called tubiran; all three strips are collectively referred to as langkit. Additional designs called borda, adapted from traditional okir motifs, are embroidered on the malong.
The andon type of malong is made by applying the tie-dye process on the thread. The undyed portion results in the motif. Andon subtypes include the katiambang or complete tie- dye design; the sinalapa or enclosed designs; and patola or vertical and geometric designs (Baradas, 1977a: 672).
The karankali type of malong is an assortment of patterns which can be combined with tie-dye patterns. These include plaids, stripes and checks. Mixed with tie-dye type patterns, the type is called babalodan (Baradas, 1977a: 672).
Muslim basketry consists of small hands baskets, carrying baskets, storage baskets, trays and fishing baskets. Materials include bamboo, rattan, bust, pandanus and others. Motifs are produced in various ways, e.g. weaving black over white or “one-square-over-another.” Cylindrical baskets are made with the radial arrangement of the spokes. Square baskets, e.g. fish baskets, are done with the “over-one, under-one, parallel-open-weave” method (De los Reyes, 1977: 215-217)
Kapangokir or carving can be found in different media, such as wood, stone, bamboo, horn and ivory. The best examples of wood carving are done for the panolong (house beam), arko (arches), musical instruments such as the kutyapi (lute), lansa (motor outboards), house tools, kitchen utensils, agricultural implements, and grave markers. The Mëranaw tinai a walai or central beam is also intricately carved with okir designs. The kaban (chest) may be carved or inlaid with bone or mother-of-pearl.
One outstanding example of Mëranaw wood carving is found in the galingan (spinning wheel), whose base is a solid wood block and whose sides are carved in the magoyada motif. From the base rise two lengths of wood from either side, intricately carved in the armalis motif.
The arko also displays different okir motifs. Some of the most significant show the burrak and naga. In big weddings, the kulintang, a musical instrument consisting of eight graduated gongs laid horizontally on a stand called langkongan, is played on top of an arko. The lansa also has the naga in the prow and stern, and the birdo on both panels.
The most common stone carvings include hollow blocks using okir motifs for house décor, and grave markers which are not as elaborately carved as those of Sulu.
An example of bamboo carving is found in the kubing or jew’s harp, a musical instrument used traditionally for courtship and ordinary communication. The lakub (tobacco container) is another fine example of bamboo craft. The complicated lakub dye technique includes covering portions of the container while dipping the others in dye. Bold primary and secondary colors are used—violet, yellow, dull red, and dull green (Baradas, 1977: 1046; Imao, 1977: 862).
A medium used by the Mëranaw for carving is the horn. Commonly fashioned items include the horn sarimanok, which is smaller than the usual sarimanok, and the gukum or mortar-shaped wax container. From the ivory, the Mëranaw carve dagger or kris handles into mythical creatures, snakes, or leaves (A. Madale, 1976: 43-44).
The Mëranaw and the Maguindanaon are famous for their brassware. The reason is that yellow and gold, the colors of nobility, are approximated by this alloy. Mëranaw brassware includes the talam (tray with stand), panalogadan (vase with stand or holders), sakdo (ladle), pangolain (sieve), salapa (betel leaf-areca nut box), lotoan (silver inlaid betel leaf-areca nut box), pots such as the batidor and kandi, lantaka (canon), and ceremonial and decorative vessels such as the gador, niana, langguay, baong, and kabo.
One outstanding example of Mëranaw metalwork is silver-inlaid brass sarimanok piece of Taraka. The piece, which is used as a wax container, uses silver coins. To date, this is the only known sarimanok piece made from the silver inlaid process.
There are three methods of brass making: the batak or hammering process, garaoang/kapanabas or cut-out process, and the kapanowang or casting process. The first process is composed of two sub-processes: pamokpok or plain hammering, and the stamping process, where the embossed designs are hammered into the article. The first two processes are simpler and take less time.
The Mëranaw employ a modified wax-mold method for kapanowang or brass casting. Okir designs are done with the strip method. To form a waxy substance, paraffin is mixed with almaciga and beeswax. The shape is formed by pressing the substance around a wooden model, after which the mold is removed. Small spaghetti-like strips of wax are made separately, formed into various okir designs and laid together with the mold. The encasement is then made by applying a mixture of bamboo charcoal and muddy soil on and inside the wax mold. Melted wax is poured out and molten brass paired in. The finishing process is done by professionals like engravers, silver inlayers, and polishers (Imao, 1977a: 679-682)
Kakelaya-layang or kite making is an activity enjoyed when the wind is strong and the weather fine. Other occasions for kite making include the sprouting of palay grains and the bearing of fruits from the local nonang tree, the fruits of which are used as paste in kite making. On a bamboo frame work, Manila paper and papel de japon are pasted to create the kite’s “wings.” Tied to the head of the kite is a nipa leaf which vibrates and produces romeging, a sound similar to the drone of an airplane. The kite-making completes when it comes to the size, color, and stability of their kites.
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).
The Tausug have elaborated a material culture visible in the design of their houses, furniture, attire, interior decoration and jewelry. A typical Tausug bay or house is rectangular and consists of two or three bilik or rooms. It is partitioned by buras or painted rattan mat. The size is about twenty-four feet wide and thirty-six feet long. The height of the posts from the ground is eight to ten feet. Usually, the jati tree is common lumber used for posts, while the floor is made of slabs of the bahi tree. Tiyadtad or split bamboo is the material used for the wall. The roof is made of nipa leaves. The top edge of the roof is decorated with the tadjukpasung, a wooden carving of a dragon or bird.
The ukkil design is also placed at the top edge of the door jamb; the windows are in the shape of interconnected leaves. Luhul, a piece of cloth with a tree motif used as a ceiling for the house, serves as a net to prevent insects from falling and makes the house colorful. In fact, a kikitilan, a long piece of cloth about two feet wide and embroidered with a horizon tree, is usually hung and attached to the four sides of the luhul.
The poor Tausug family house is made of light material such as bamboo and sayrap (woven coconut palm leaves). Bamboo is used in Sulu for house posts, thrust, beams, wall and floor. Typical among the Tausug is the bilik or room with a number of color pillows placed over the tilam (cushion) made of kapok. Like the luhul, pillows are embroidered with the flowers or sometimes with the name of person.
The salas is another feature of a Tausug house, the main room to which are attached the two sides of the house. Guests are often entertained in the salas, which also serves as relaxation area for the household. It is a little lower than the floor of the main house. The common decorations placed on the wall are a picture of the burrak (a heavenly animal with the face of a beautiful woman and the body of a horse), the picture of the Ka’bah (the black stone which serves as the direction of the Muslim prayer) and a mirror.
At the back of the house is the pantan or porch that connects to the kusina or kitchen. It is roofless and without walls, and serves as the washing or bathing area; it also serves as a storage area for farm produce, kibut (water pot) and dagtung (long bamboo used as water container). The kitchen, on the other hand, is a separate structure from the house. Among the most important things found in the kitchen are food containers such as bingki, bugsuk, bakul, ambung; water containers like dagtung, undam, kibut, baung, gayung and sukki; cabinet or lamari; and kitchen utensils such as luwag, kkukuhal, ligu, liisan, kugutan, kawali, tungkanganglit and pipisan.
In sum, according to Dr. Abraham Sakili, “the principal space of the ordinary Tausug house is the sleeping area (bilik). Next in importance are the porch and the kitchen.” (2003: 118)
The expression of Tausug artistry can be seen in their visual arts, music and literature. Tausug visual arts includes the creation of such objects as the ukkil (curvilinear motif), Tausug attire and house decorations. Ukkil is applied on the tadjukpasung (wood curving placed on the opposing ends of the roof), grave, headboard, door, certain furniture, and handle of a bladed weapon and scabbard. It follows different designs, mostly the tree motif, floral leaves and sometimes Arabic calligraphy. Tausug ukkil is similar to other Islamic arts in emphasizing the Oneness of Allah and His Eternity. For instance, in ukkil, the floral motif has no beginning and no end, a sign indicating the majesty and omnipotence of Allah, the Lord of the worlds.
The attire of the Tausug is also another form of artistic expression. Batawi, the female dress, and lapi, the male attire, are heavily decorated with silver buttons to show that the Tausug society once attained prosperity, especially during the height of the Sulu Sultanate’s power. These were the standard attire of the datu and the ulangkaya (the rich people). But today batawi and lapi are worn only by the bride and the groom respectively during a marriage ceremony; they are also worn on special occasions like festivals and centennial celebrations.
The concept of Islamic monotheism is also found in the pis siyabit (Tausug kerchief), the usual design of which a big square in the center is surrounded by other successive squares, which occupy the whole space. The different squares are connected to one another and symbolize the Ka’bah, the single direction toward which the prayers of Muslims are directed. This noble item of attire is reserved for men only and is used as turban by the groom and by warriors during an armed battle.
Tausug music is founded on chanting the sifat (attributes) of the Prophet. Lugu (chant), langan (lullaby) and kissa (ballad) emphasize the glory of the Prophet and the Tausug warriors; they are played during a wedding ceremony, celebration of Idul Fitri and Idul Adha (the only festival of the Muslims), and as lullaby to put a child to sleep. Tausug ethnic songs contain religious lyrics.
The major musical instruments of the Tausug are the gabbang, biyul, agung, kulintang, gandang, suling, sawnay and kuwaing. Gabbang and biyula are used to accompany the kissa, lugu and tunis-tunis. Sometimes biyula and sulling are played together. The agung, gandang and kulintang are played to show that there is a wedding ceremony taking place in the community. They are also played while the groom and his entourage proceed by foot or vehicle to the house of the bride. In ancient times, the agung was used in the astana (palace) of the sultan as means of summoning the people.
Despite the differences in culture and traditions, and the diversity of their traditional arts, these different ethnic groups in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao live in harmony with one another, especially because they profess the same religion which is Islam. This common religion is what makes them united despite their diversity.