Maranaos | Indigenous People in Focus
The Maranaos are always among us—in shopping malls, restaurants, theme parks, schools & offices. They’re the people that we easily refer to as Muslims.
We clearly recognize them in their veils, tunics, skullcaps & sometimes in their distinct accents when they speak to us. You see them in Greenhills behind the strings of pearls or in front of bags, shoes, clothes & what-have-yous.
Their stalls dominate the sidestreets of Quiapo & Recto. You hear them hustling “di-bi-di, di-bi-di”!
But you’ll also spot them shopping in Greenbelt & Rockwell. Many of them live in posh condos & drive sports cars. Some even go to expensive schools like Ateneo & La Salle.
They’re traders & peddlers but they’re also students, doctors, lawyers & congressmen.
Yes, they’re Maranaos. They’re Muslims. And they’re Filipinos too.
Not all Muslims are Maranaos but all Maranaos are Muslims.
While we recognize their presence around us, let’s admit that many still feel indifferent to them. Many sense queerness & danger when they’re around.
I cannot blame you for feeling that way because this is how our schools, media & the society molded our consciousness about the Muslim people.
Our fear & prejudices are all because of our failure to know the real Muslim Filipinos—their history & culture, their strife & aspirations.
Who are the Maranaos?
The Maranaos are among the 13 Muslim groups in the Philippines. They are regarded as indigenous people whose way of life follows their distinct Islamic & pre-Islamic heritage.
Some scholars debate over the origins of its name. But they are commonly defined as the “people living around the lake”.
This refers to Lake Lanao, one of the ancient lakes in the world. It is the major power generator in Mindanao & a biodiversity habitat in the region.
While the Maranaos may be all around the country, they call Lanao del Sur & parts of Lanao del Norte as home.
Understanding Muslim history in the Philippines is never complete without knowing Islamic developments.
Islam came earlier than Christianity from the Malayan world in the 14th century. From Sulu, Islam spread to Lanao through Sharif Kabunsuan. Soon, Islam became the biggest monotheistic religion in the country.
The Baab Ur-Rahman mosque in Taraka is the first mosque in Lanao. Built around the 16th century, it still stands to this day as a living testament to the Islamization of the Maranaos.
Had it not been for the episodes of Spanish colonization, Islam would have charted the nation to a different course.
The Maranao is a royal-heavy community replete with sultans, datus & bae labis. This came about when Islam was introduced to Lanao & has survived through colonization.
The sultanate system remains a significant part of the Maranao society to this day. It symbolizes royal authority & stands in its domestic affairs like armoring its culture & heritage, patching family disputes & chronicling the legitimacy of royal bloodlines through the “salsila”.
They are very clannish too. It is their way to protect family heritage & properties.
Culture & Traditions
Adat is a very important characteristic of the Maranao culture. It is the totality of their metaphysical interpretations of Islam infused with their pre-Islamic culture.
Just like in any Muslim customs, eating pork & exposing flesh are strictly prohibited. They pray 5 times a day facing the Kaaba in Mecca. While they’re very patriarchal, Maranao women are also well protected.
Maranao art is rich & deep. It traces its roots back to its pre-Islamic kingdoms that were heavily influenced by Indic culture.
Among its greatest prides is being the keeper of the Darangen, an ancient epic hailed by UNESCO as a world masterpiece for oral & intangible heritage of humanity.
The Maranaos are skilled artisans too. Among its distinct artforms are the okir designs carved on wood, etched on metals & sewn on tapestries. If you want to see the artists at work, head over to Tugaya, a serene lakeside art town.
Backstrap loom weaving is also one of its precious handiworks & none comes closer to exquisiteness than the women weavers of Pualas.
You’ve probably seen the “singkil” that most people call as “Muslim dance”. In fact, it is a Maranao dance & secular in nature.
Another classic symbol of the Maranaos is the Sarimanok. It is a colorful mythical bird believed to be the medium to the spirit world.
The Bangsa Moro is a very touchy matter, let alone the term “moro” that has taken on a different meaning in various social contexts. But it is good to know that the Muslims were way ahead of their times in terms of political history.
The Maranaos were among the indigenous groups that resisted the Christian movement & other colonial ambitions. Many came—the Spanish conquistadores, the American “liberators” & the Japanese fighters but none stayed long.
The Maranaos along with other Muslim groups have fought a lot of battles since the olden times. These are all in the name of protecting the Bangsa Moro, both the place & the identity.
I finished my university degree at the Mindanao State University where a lot of the country’s leaders, artists, educators & scientists are from.
Here, we have a course called History of the Muslim Filipinos & the Lumad that I hope all the universities in the Philippines will also teach. This way, we learn more about our indigenous people because they’re not just part of our nationhood but a great part of our humanity.
We must go beyond the semantics of our ethnicities; rather let us celebrate our oneness as Filipinos.
Check out this short video about the Maranaos in Lanao del Sur.