The Magindanao (Magindanaw, Maguindanaw, Maguindanaon, Magindanaoan, Mindanao) are one of the larger ethnic groups of the country with a total population of over 1,649,882 (NM 1994), with about 469,216 of this number found in the province of Maguindanao. The concentrations are in the municipalities of Dinaig (35,851), Datu Piang (51,970), Maganoy (46,006), and Buluan (52,242)(NSO 1990). The Maguindanaon, or Maguindanaw for some, inhabit North Cotobato, South Cotobato, Sultan Kudurat, Zamboanga del Sur, and Maguindanao; the latter having the largest concentration. Maguindanaon means “people of the flood plain” for they primarily inhabit the broad Pulangi River valley and delta which occasionally flood. The Pulangi River had its origins in the mountains from the Liguasan Marsh and Lake Buluan. Since the authority and influence of Maguindanaon rulers once extended over a wide territory from Sibugay Bay in the west to the coasts of Davao in the east, the name ‘Mindanao’ was applied to the second largest island of the Philippines. They are found predominantly in four provinces: Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, thus forming the Cotabato region. As a people, they practice Islam which significantly influences their way of life and social structure. At one point in history, the Maguindanao sultanate asserted ritual influence over southwestern Mindanao. Their socio-political system and hierarchical organization are related to the Sulu sultanate, with three royal houses: Maguindanaon in Sultan Kudarat, Buayan in Datu Piang, and Kabuntalan in Tumbao; all of which trace their ancestry to Sharif Kabunsuan who was one of the first Muslim missionaries and Sultan Kudarat. The paluwaran code includes provisions on every aspect of life. Celebrated for their exquisite handwoven fabric Inaul, interlaced with multiple colors, as well as, gold and silver threads. The colors of the fabric and depicted symbolic-motifs reflected the splendor of Muslim culture.
The Maguindanaon are divided into two principal groups, each with its own dialect and traditional location: The Tau-sa Ilud (people of the lower valley) and the Tau-sa Laya (people of the upper valley). The Tau-sa Ilud are concentrated in the areas around Cotabato City and extend to South Dinaig. Traditionally, they constituted the Sultanate of Maguindanao based near present day Cotabato City. Their dialect is characterized by more rapid, “harder” consonant intonations, with preference for using “d” rather than “r” and variations on the use of “l” and “r”. They’re renowned as sedentary wet-rice agriculturalists.
The Tau-sa Laya, on the other hand, are concentrated in the areas of Datu Piang and extend south to areas which include Buluan. As a group, they constituted the Rajahship of Buayan based near present-day town of Datu Piang. Their dialect is distinguished by a slower cadence, a drawl, with frequent omission of the consonants between vowels and a preference for using “l” rather than “r”, periodic variations of “r” for “d” and some differentiated vocabulary. Their primary means of livelihood is a semi-sedentary agriculture and grow corn and upland rice.
Constant contact by the Spaniards with this group led to the naming of the entire island after the Magindanao during historical times. The Magindanao practice Islam; their culture, social structure and organization are influenced by this religion, without which the group would not have been able to resist the incursions of the Spanish conquistadores. One of the three Philippine sultanates is among the Magindanao. The Magindanao sultanate at one period in history could claim ritual authority over southwestern Mindanao. Their sociopolitical system and the hierarchical structure of social positions are complex and similar to that of the Sulu sultanate. There are three royal houses: Maguindanaon in Sultan Kudarat, Buayan in Datu Piang, and Kabuntalan in Tumbao, all of which trace their lineage to Sharif Kabunsuan—one of the earliest Muslim missionaries—and Sultan Kudarat. Customary law (adat) is adhered to, embodied in oral traditions and in accordance with the Paluwaran code which contains provisions on every aspect of life.
The culture is characteristically lowland with a special adaptation to marshland. Wet rice, the staple, is produced. Arts and crafts are well-developed, exhibiting sophistication in weaving and metalworking, with very characteristic design motifs that show affinity with the rest of Southeast Asia, yet retaining a distinctive ethnic character.