These describe the Muslim language groups through art traditions specific to each. These groups are the Maranao, Iranun, Maguindanao, Kagan, Tausug, and the Sama people, which includes the Sama Yakan. The traditions highlighted thus are those made steely and elaborate by the sheer difficulty of survival.


The Maranao word okír (ukkíl in Tausug, cognate of the Tagalog ukit) refers to the curvilinear repertoire of relief-carved figures executed on wood beams and flanges of traditional houses; and as cast, inlaid, or repousséd silver and brass for myriad vessels. Noteworthy are the elaborate lotoán, betel chew boxes. Okír is Maranao complementary (male) art to weaving (female). The continuous curvilinears are manifestly arabesque, of Middle Eastern derivation, incorporated into the local system of meaning. The okír tradition is striking because of a motif nomenclature consisting of deliberate if abstracted representations of nature—notably, pako rabong, ferns, and naga, mythical serpent—allowing ancient Austronesian culture to indigenize the foreign. Hassen D. Maliawao of Tugaya, Lanao del Sur, and his assistant and patron Abdulrahman Mincol, carved the newly commissioned okír on wood installed in the museum. Gafa Panumpang Deca painted the okír baseboard in the inner room.


Ranau, the Austronesian root word of the language and the ethnolinguistic group Maranao, signifies “body of water” in multiple registers: lake, floodplain, sea. Me- is “to be,”  inflecting thus Maranao with a notion of becoming vis à vis a water-dominated environment. The particular reference is the lake called “lake”—Ranau the rift lake, among the 15 archaic lakes in the world, cupping water in an elevated region of north central Mindanao. The language Mëranau has no known dialect and is 87% intelligible with the language Iranun; 25% with the language Maguindanao. Together, these three languages comprise a linguistic sub-group, the Danau languages. In isolation in a tropical rainforest ecosystem surrounding a lake with a substantial number of endemic fish, the Islamicized Mëranau developed a material culture distinguished by virtuosity in ikat and tapestry on silk and okir arabesques in wood, brass, and silver.


The Maranao pre-Islamic epic Darangen —17 cycles in 72,000 lines in iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter —is inscribed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization among the world’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It centers on the warrior Bantugan, brother of the the ruler of Bumbaran, whose name is Madali. Handsome and courageous, Bantugan inspired Madali’s jealousy; the younger man driven to depart Bumbaran by force. Wandering, Bantugan falls ill and dies at the gate of The-Land-Between-Two-Seas. Identifying Bantugan, an oracle parrot informs Madali, who asks the gods to restore his brother to life. Enroute home, Bumbaran is attacked and Bantugan comes to its defense before he could live happily ever after. The motif of resurrection interweaves with the motif of effective warfare—seemingly echoing the narratives of the Muslim warriors of Mindanao in historical time.


The kulintáng is a set of 5 to 9 (although usually 8) suspended bossed gongs. Its music is the sound of celebration and ceremony among the Maranao, Iranun and Maguindanao peoples of Central Mindanao. In recent decades, the kulintáng is played by the Maranao styled as showy performances of a distinct Maranao repertoire — with the beaters twirled in the air. These performances are evolving as are the people themselves, who are today predisposed towards pageantry. This recent history however connects with other histories: notably, the emergence of the Maranao-speaking peoples residing around Lake Lanao, from separate polities, the pangampóng, into a modern Maranao community possessed of a singular identity. At the same time, the kulintáng links the Maranao with a set of far-flung communities where kulintáng-type instruments are played: Nusa Tenggara Timor, Maluku, Sulawesi, Sabah, and Malaysia. This extensive map remains largely unknown.


Jawi is Arabic script deployed to write a number of Southeast Asian languages, firstly Malay, the lingua franca of the ports of the region at the time of contact with the West; and subsequently, the Philippine languages Tausug, Maranao, Iranun, and Maguindanao. The embrace of Islam in southern Philippines, from the 13th C onwards, involved the embrace of literacy in Arabic: reading the Qur’an was fundamental to the faith. Jawi pre-dates the adoption of the Roman alphabet to write all Philippine languages, but emerged centuries later than scripts like the Tagalog baybayin, which was inspired by South Asian cultural sources. It is jawi, however, that quickly produced a politics of identity—having helped create an Islamic sphere in Southeast Asia, a “place” bigger in the imagination than the villages led by datu figures. Significantly, this early literacy was shared by elite and commoner alike.



While kulintáng music-making enjoys a robust life among the Danao language speakers, the art of casting the brass gongs has declined precipitously. Intermittent combat playing out in Central Mindanao circumscribed the spaces of tranquility where smiths try to persevere with the cire perdu (lost wax) process to create the resonant gongs. Particularly, in that specific muds are required for the clay moulds, troubles passing through the Pulangi River thwart the tradition. These kulintáng gongs were made by the Iranun Mariga family (Kalaganan Brassware) of Simuay; smiths who, for lack of beeswax, would scour Christian cemeteries for melted candles. They also turn ammunition shells into kulintáng. During the 2000 anti MILF “all-out war,” bullet casings could be had by the sackful. And those bereft of any noble materials, knock tin into kulintang, and from sheer gusto for the music, compel the lowly metal to resound.


Linguists classify Iranun as a distinct Danau language despite its high cognacy with the language Maranao. Iranun speakers can vanish nearly tracelessly into Maranao communities; and can be absorbed with little linguistic modification among Maguindanao speakers. With the Maranao and Maguindanao peoples, they share kulintáng music, related epic traditions, and exquisite textile techniques that have long used silk imported from China. Yet the Iranun people have a cultural, political, and economic history all their own. Other than the Sama Balangingi, the Iranun were for centuries the most wide-ranging seaborne traffickers and armies in Southeast Asia. As recently as 200 years ago, Iranun parties sailed 90- to 100-foot long prahus festooned with swivel cannons cast in bronze, rowed by more 100 slaves, to raid communities from Papua New Guinea to the Moluccas to mainland Southeast Asia: inspiring the reputation, the Vikings of the East.


The word tagunggo is well worth observing, beneath the mass of information on the Muslim peoples of the Philippines. It is a widely shared and very old world among Austronesian speakers, appearing with myriad but related meanings. Among the Iranun, the tagunggo is a specific melodic piece that is performed only for healing rituals, and may involve spirit possession. Marites Maguinda performs the tagunggu, dance to music, in the photograph. The Maguindanao likewise perform the tagunggo with the proper accoutrements of ritual—cultural imperatives followed up to today. Yakan mention of tagunggo calls up the ensemble of instruments comprising the 5 gong kwintang, the bamboo gandang and 3 agung. The Sama instead refer to a titik tagunggu, a specific melody played with only 3 gongs, usually on boats. And the Bagobo use tagunggu to refer to an ensemble of 8 large suspended gongs.


It has never mattered whether the communities were consumed by hostilities or were exhaling deeply into peace —the banners flew. Life passages, Eid’l Fitr, Eid Mubarak, Eid Adha, fluvial processions, military successes, and now, secular festivals, continue to be greeted with flag symbology: a considerable lexicon in banner design and orientation. The displays have accommodated change. The old palette of red, gold, and green has now allowed for additional chromatic registers. The technique of making has likewise changed. For the banner installation in this room, Amerodin T. Maguindanaon, a young man, fabricated the banners of his Maguindanao culture community by a cut-and-paste method that simulates the traditional appliqué technique. Deploying new method to mimic the form of the old, he executes change with the same panache as kulintáng makers who have shifted from brass to tin gongs, to persist with the music.


The identity known as “Maguindanao” refers to the speakers of 1 of 3 Danau languages. But unlike the other 2 (Maranau and Iranun), Maguindanao evolved several dialects: Laya, Ilud, Biwangan, Sibugay, and Tagakawanan. The dialectical variations supports historical records showing that “Maguindanao” amalgamated several ethnicities —the consequence of power consolidated more than 300 years ago through alliances, entrepot status, and the deft out-maneuvering of Europeans. The historian Ruurjie Laarhoven writes of that period of consolidation under Sultan Qudarat and his immediate line of descent, regarding “…the maintenance of a state in the form of a sultanate. However, it seems that trade and certain social mechanisms designed to attract people and absorb them were the main ingredients for the successful consolidation of the sultanate started in 1645…” adding that “None of these new demographic elements were European.” Unity in diversity emerged early among the Maguindanao.


The continuous, deliberately unsegmented, sinuous lines forming a vertically symmetrical tree is  known to art everywhere as the “tree of life.” The antique models for this Tausug burrás involved virtuoso continuous cutwork of the elaborate tree, which was then fastidiously sewn onto a seamless ground. The same arboreal motif appears to be an archetype universally shared by all human beings. However, its materialization in Tausug material culture has a clear historical context: the immense flow of people, goods, and ideas through the Sulu Archipelago involving South Asian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Southeast Asian, and indeed Philippine maritime travelers. This multi-directional, translocal flows were intensifying around in the midpoint of the last millennium when Tausug speakers consolidated power under its sultanate based in Sulu. The tree belongs to an iconographic repertoire employed in Tausug textiles that exhibit an early globalized sense of place.


Archaic Austronesian musical instruments survive in Basilan among the Yakan. These are the wooden percussion kwintangan kayu and the beater assembly called tungtungan—both arriving at the 21st C from deep time when Yakan speakers had not yet encountered Hindus, Muslims, or Christians from beyond their island home. Presumably, these instruments were much more pervasive in the Philippine and Indonesian archipelagos during the many millenia before world religions and global cultures were incorporated by Austronesian speakers into their local realities. Their disappearance in the Philippines and Indonesia—except in obscure villages like those in Basilan—followed in the wake of overlapping globalizations. The sharp, percussive ostinato, played on either instrument by Yakan musicians — so adept in this profoundly old tradition that they have produced a laureate of the Living National Treasure recognition —is verily the sound of the music of the ancestors of the Austronesian-speaking peoples.


The island of Basilan is home to the language group Yakan, a sub-group of the Sama or Samalan languages which, according to consensus within the linguistic community, “diversified and first differentiated within the Sulu archipelago and then spread outward from there to Borneo, eastern Indonesia, and to one island in the central Philippines.” The Yakan therefore became Yakan in situ, or moved to Basilan from one of the nearby Sulu islands. A 17th C chronicler wrote them into the historical record as “sameaca,” that is, Sama Yakan. The Yakan cultivated an agricultural, inland-oriented version of Sama culture that nevertheless worked well with the sea-oriented other Sama and Tausug living along the Basilan shores. Yakan houses remained dispersed until the 20th C; community life not lived in dense clusters. In these homes, the anthropological literature observed an emphasis on discussion as refined, highly deliberate undertakings.


These 21 limestone burial urns in the care of the Bureau of Cultural Heritage of ARMM constitute a substantial cache of these rare materials extracted by archeaologists working with Silliman and San Carlos Universities, from April to June 1963, from caves at the Kulaman Plateau of what was a single Cotabato Province. Both universities hold the greater number of these objects, as do private collectors who, like the scientists, have long been in awe of their aesthetic refinement. The urns have been carbon-dated to 2,000 years before the present. That little else is known about them and their makers owes to the succeeding turn of events. The caves are in the vicinity of the municipalities of Lebak and Tran, object of weeks-long bombardment of an MNLF stronghold by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 1973. The reverberations of war prevented scholarship.