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The Maguindanao are part of the wider Moro ethnic group, who constitute the sixth largest Filipino ethnic group. Their name means “people of the plains”.



In the early 15th century, Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan, an Arab-Malay preacher from the royal house of Malaccamarker, arrived in what is now Malabangmarker, introduced Islamic faith and customs, settled down with a local princess, and founded a sultanate whose capital was Cotabato. The other center of power in the area, Buayan, has an even longer history dating back to early Arab missionaries, who, although not able to implant the Islamic faith, introduced a more sophisticated political system. In Buayan, the transition to Islam took a longer time. Spanish chronicles reveal that Buayan, and not Cotabato, was the most important settlement in Mindanao at that time.

Spanish times

In 1579, an expedition sent by Governor Francisco de Sande failed to conquer the Maguindanao. In 1596, the Spanish government gave Captain Estevan Rodriguez de Figueroa the sole right to colonize Mindanao. He met defeat in Buayan, and later, was killed in an ambush by a Buhahayen named Ubal. His forces retreated to an anchorage near Zamboanga. The rise of the Maguindanao-Cotabato power came after the defeat of Datu Sirongan of Buayan in 1606. From 1607 to 1635, new military alliances were formed, this time with Cotabato. By the 1630s, Cotabato had become a coastal power. In the early 17th century, the largest alliance composed of the Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug, and other Muslim groups was formed by Sultan Kudarat or Cachel Corralat of Maguindanao, whose domain extended from the Davao Gulf to Dapitanmarker on the Zamboanga Peninsulamarker. Several expeditions sent by the Spanish authorities suffered defeat. In 1635, Captain Juan de Chaves occupied Zamboanga and erected a fort. This led to the defeat of Kudarat's feared admiral, Datu Tagal, who had raided pueblos in the Visayas. In 1637, Governor General Hurtado de Corcuera personally led an expedition against Kudarat, and triumphed over his forces at Lamitan and Ilian. Spanish presence was withdrawn in 1663, providing an opportunity for Kudarat to re consolidate his forces.

From 1663 to 1718, Maguindanao influence extended as far as Zamboanga in the west, Cagayan de Oro in the north, Sarangani in the south, and Davao in the east. In 1719, the Spaniards reestablished control with the building of the strategic Fort Pilar in Zamboanga (Miravite 1976:40; Angeles 1974:28; Darangen 1980:42-45). The 1730s saw the weakening of the Maguindanao sultanate, as it struggled with civil war and internal disunity. Spanish help was sought by the besieged rajah mudah (crown prince), further destroying the prestige of the sultanate. Thus, Cotabato power became increasingly dependent on Spanish support. This deepening compromise with Spain led Cotabato to its downfall. Fearing Buayan's reemerging power, Sultan Kudaratmarker II finally ceded Cotabato to Spain in return for an annual pension of 1,000 pesos for him, and 800 pesos for his son. Buayan, under Datu Uto, had, by the 1860s, become the power of Maguindanao. In 1887, General Emilio Terrero led an expedition against Uto; although, he was able to destroy the kota (forts) in Cotabato, he was unable to enforce Spanish sovereignty (Miravite 1976:42; Ileto 1971:16-29). In 1891, Governor General Valeriano Weyler personally led a campaign against the Maguindanao and Maranao. In the next few months, Weyler erected a fort in Parang-Parang, between Pulangi and the Ilanun coast. This effectively stopped the shipment of arms to Uto, who died a defeated man in 1902.

American times

During the Philippine-American War, the Americans adopted a policy of noninterference in the Muslim areas, as spelled out in the Bates Agreement of 1899 signed by Brig. General John Bates and Sultan Jamalul Kiram II of Jolo. The agreement was a mutual non-aggression pact which obligated the Americans to recognize the authority of the Sultan and other chiefs who, in turn, agreed to fight piracy and crimes against Christians. However, the Muslims did not know that the Treaty of Paris, which had ceded the Philippine archipelago to the Americans, included their land as well. After the Philippine-American War, the Americans established direct rule over the newly formed "Moro Province", which then consisted of five district--Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, Davao, and Sulu. Political, social, and economic changes were introduced. These included the creation of provincial and district institutions; the introduction of the public school system and American-inspired judicial system; the imposition of the cedula; the migration of Christians to Muslim lands encouraged by the colonial government; and the abolition of slavery. Datu Ali of Kudarangan, Cotabato refused to comply with the antislavery legislation, and revolted against the Americans. In October 1905, he and his men were killed. The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Moro province on 15 December 1913. A "policy of attraction" was introduced, ushering in reforms to encourage Muslim integration into Philippine society.

In 1916, after the passage of the Jones Law, which transferred legislative power to a Philippine Senate and House of Representatives, polygamy was made illegal. However, the Muslims were granted time to comply with the new restrictions. "Proxy colonialism" was legalized by the Public Land Act of 1919, invalidating Muslim Pusaka (inherited property) laws. The act also granted the state the right to confer land ownership. It was thought that the Muslims would "learn" from the "more advanced" Christian Filipinos, and would integrate more easily into mainstream Philippine society.

In February 1920, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives passed Act No. 2878, which abolished the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and transferred its responsibilities to the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes under the Department of the Interior. Muslim dissatisfaction grew as power shifted to the Christianized Filipinos; it was one thing to be administered by the militarily superior Americans, another by their traditional enemies, the Christian Filipinos. Petitions were sent by Muslim leaders in 1921 and 1924 requesting that Mindanao and Sulu be administered directly by the United States. These petitions were not granted. Isolated cases of armed resistance were quickly crushed. In Cotabato, Datu Ambang of Kidapawan attempted to incite a jihad (holy war) against the Americans and the Christian Filipinos. This, however, did not take place when the governor of the province mobilized government forces.

Realizing the futility of armed resistance, some Muslims sought to make the best of the situation. In 1934, Arolas Tulawi of Sulu, Datu Menandang Pang and Datu Blah Sinsuat of Cotabato, and Sultan Alaoya Alonto of Lanao were elected to the 1935 Constitutional Convention. In 1935, only two Muslims were elected into the National Assembly.

The Commonwealth years sought to end the privileges the Muslims had been enjoying under the earlier American administration. Muslim exemptions from some national laws, as expressed in the Administrative Code for Mindanao, and the Muslim right to use their traditional Islamic courts, as expressed in the Moro board, were ended. The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes was replaced by the Office of the Commissioner for Mindanao and Sulu, whose main objective was to tap the full economic potentials of Mindanao not for the Muslims but for the Commonwealth. These "development" efforts resulted in discontent which found expression in the various armed uprisings, mostly in Lanao, from 1936 to 1941. The Muslims are generally adverse to anything that threatens Islam and their way of life. Che Man (1990:56) believes that they were neither anti-American nor anti-Filipino, but simply against any form of foreign encroachment into their traditional way of life. During World War II, the Muslims in general supported the fight against the Japanese, who were less tolerant and harsher to them than the American Commonwealth government.

Independent Philippines

After independence, efforts to integrate the Muslims into the new political order met with stiff resistance. It was unlikely that the Muslims, who have had longer cultural history as Muslims than the Christian Filipinos as Christian, would surrender their identity. The conflict was exacerberated in 1965 with the "Jabidah Massacre", in which Muslim soldiers were allegedly eliminated because they refused to invade Sabah. This incident contributed to the rise of various separatist movements--the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), Ansar el-Islam, and Union of Islamic Forces and Organizations. In 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was founded on the concept of a Bangsa Moro Republic by a group of educated young Muslims. The leader of this group, Nur Misuari, regarded the earlier movements as feudal and oppressive, and employed a Marxist framework to analyze the Muslim condition and the general Philippine situation. In 1976, negotiations between the Philippine government and the MNLF in Tripoli resulted in the Tripoli Agreement, which provided for an autonomous region in Mindanao. Negotiations resumed in 1977, and the following points were agreed upon: the proclamation of a Presidential Decree creating autonomy in 13 provinces; the creation of a provisional government; and the holding of a referendum in the autonomous areas to determine the administration of the government. Nur Misuari was invited to chair the provisional government, but he refused. The referendum was boycotted by the Muslims themselves. The talks collapsed, and fighting continued (Che Man 1988:146-147).

When Corazon C. Aquino became president, a new constitution, which provided for the creation of autonomous regions in Mindanao and the Cordilleras, was ratified. On 1 August 1989, Republic Act 673 or the Organic Act for Mindanao created the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which encompasses Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Musical Heritage

The native Maguindanaon have a fascinating culture that revolves around kulintang music, a specific type of gong music, found among both Muslim and non-Muslim groups of the Southern Philippines. They have a liking for singing.


They speak Maguindanao and second languages Cebuano and Tagalog and/or English.


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