Moro (ethnic group)

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Abdulwahid Bidin
Abdulwahid Bidin
Total population
5 million
(2006 estimate; 6% of the Philippine population)
Regions with significant populations
Flag of the Philippines Philippines
(Bangsamoro, Manila, Cebu)
Flag of MalaysiaMalaysia
(Sabah, Kuala Lumpur)
Template:Country data INDIndonesia
Template:Country data BRUBrunei
Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug,
other Moro languages,
Chabacano, Cebuano, Filipino, English, Malay
Predominantly Islam
Related ethnic groups
Lumad, Visayan,
other Filipino peoples,
other Austronesian peoples

The Moro are a multilingual ethnic group and the largest mainly non-Christian<ref></ref> ethnic group in the Philippines, comprising about 5% of the total Philippine population as of 2005,<ref></ref> making them the sixth largest ethnic group in the country. Their name originated from the Spanish word Moor, and they mostly live in a region dubbed as Bangsamoro in the southern Philippines. Due to migration, Moro communities have also begun to appear in major cities like Manila, Cebu and Baguio.



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Muslims and Christians have generally remained distinct societies.

Longstanding grievances stemming from resentment due to mainsteam prejudice against them, years of governmental neglect as well as impoverishment have contributed to the roots of the Moro struggle in recent decades.

A significant change of government policy led to the 1990 creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which gave Moros in the region control over certain aspects of government, but not their security and foreign affairs.

Social factors in the early 1990s contributed against the political autonomy sought by Muslim leaders. Industrial development and increased migration outside the region brought new educational demands and new roles for women. These changes in turn led to greater assimilation and, including intermarriage.



Bangsamoro territory under Moro control
Historical extent
Main article: Bangsamoro

The "homeland" of the Moro is Bangsamoro, the word comes from the Malay word bangsa, meaning nation or people, and the word Moro.

Bangsamoro covers the provinces of Basilan, Cotabato, Davao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Palawan, Sarangani, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, and Zamboanga Sibugay. It also includes the cities of Cotabato, Dapitan, Dipolog, General Santos, Iligan, Marawi, Pagadian, Puerto Princesa, and Zamboanga.



The Moros have traditionally been led by either a sultan or by datu.

The concept of the sultan was brought to the Philippines through Islamization. The presence of Islam, began the creation of sultanates like that of Maguindanao and that of Sulu

Meanwhile, the datu was the traditional ruler in Filipino societies. Their function was similar to the duke. In return for tribute and labor, the datu provides aid in emergencies and mediates disputes with other communities through the agamat. They may also have four wives if they wish. In the past, datus have led raids on other villages in order to seek revenge ('maratabat) for the death of a follower or the injury of his honor.

Datus currently act as the community leaders in Moro societies and administer the Shari'ah (Muslim governing law) through the agama or under the tenet of Islam. The datu essentially heads government programs in Moro communities, which tend to be hierarchial in rural areas.


The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is headed by a Regional Governor. The Regional Governor, along with the Regional-Vice Governor, act as the executive branch.

The ARMM has a unicameral Regional Assembly headed by a Speaker. This act as the legislative of the region and is responsible for regional ordinances. It is composed of three members for every congressional district. The current membership is twenty-four.


Islam has been the most dominant influence on the Moro culture. Polygamy under Islam is permitted but is rarely practised. Pork is not eaten since it considered taboo under the Qu'ran. Another practice is circumcision (tuli). This pratice is done by most Filipino males, whether Christian or Muslim.


The culture of the Moro revolves around the music of the kulintang, a specific type of gong instrument, found in the Southern Philippines. This music includes original styles called the Tagonggo and the Kapanirong.


Dominant Moro subgroups.

There are at least ten ethnic subgroups within the Moro ethnic group, all descended from the same prehistoric Austronesian migrations from Taiwan that populated the rest of the Philippines and Maritime South-east Asia. These could be identified on the basis of language. Three of these groups make up the majority of the Moro. They are the Maguindanaons of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao provinces; the Maranao of the two Lanao provinces; and the Tausug of the Sulu Archipelago. Smaller groups include the Banguingui, Samal and the Bajau of the Sulu Archipelago; the Yakan of Basilan and Zamboanga del Sur; the Ilanons and Sangirs of Davao; the Melabugnans of southern Palawan; and the Jama Mapuns of Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi Island.

Moros are not closely knit and they lack solidarity.<ref>Nick Joaquin, Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (Pasig: Anvil Publishing, 2004), 226.</ref> Each group is proud of their culture, identity and language, including their variation of Islam. Endemic conflict has persisted for centuries. Internal differences among the Moros existed in the 1980s, however, these were outweighed by cultural, social, and traditional aspects as well as shared historical experiences vis-à-vis non-Muslims.


Pre-Hispanic era

During 1380, the arrival of Arab missionaries, including Makhdum Karim, in Tawi-Tawi initiated the conversion of the native population into Islam. Subsequent trade between Malays also helped establish the Islamic faith.

Starting in 1457, the introduction of Islam led to the creation of many sultanates. This included the sultanates of Buayan, Maguindanao and Sulu, which is considered the largest and longest-lasting Muslim state in the country until its annexation into the Philippines in 1898.

Many of the inhabitants of the pre-Hispanic Philippines are said to be Muslims. Rajah Sulayman, a chieftain of Manila at the time of the Spanish conquest, is one example.

Hispanic era

An 1858 German map of the Far East showing the limits of "Spanish Posessions" (Spanische Besitzungen) in the Philippines.

The Spanish arrived in 1565. This caused most of the Philippines to end up under the Spanish rule. The sultanates, however, maintained their independence, which enabled them to develop their own culture and identity.

With the colonial intentions, the Spanish held incursions within Moro territory. They also began erecting military stations and garrisons with pockets of civilian settlements. The most notable of these are Zamboanga and Cotabato.

Feeling threathened by these actions, Moros decided to challenge Spanish authority. They began conducting raids on Christian coastal towns.

Bankruptcy due to the ongoing raids caused the Spanish crown to recognize Moro sovereignty. However, only the Sultanate of Sulu benefited since it was the only sultanate left standing.<ref> Mindanao Peace Process by Fr. Eliseo R. Mercado, Jr., OMI. [1]</ref>

American period

Main article: Moro Rebellion

Post-Philippine Independence

Controversial government policies

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The government policies instituted immediately after independence threatened the Moro society.

The creation of the now abolished the Bureau for Non-Christian Tribes and the encouragement of migration by non-Muslim Filipinos, led to the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Visayan, Tagalog, Ilocano, and others inside the Bangsamoro provinces in the 1950s. Their influx inflamed Moro hostility.

The problem began when Christian migrants complained that the ownership of the land which they bought was not recognized by the Moros. Moros claimed that Christians only entitle land through government agencies, which were unknown and therefore unrecognized by the Moros. Another contributing factor was the public school system, which was regarded by most Moros as an agency for the propagation of Christian teachings.

Internal divisions

Divisions along clans are existent among Moros since the 1960s.

Many young Moros, dissatisfied with the old system, have asserted that datu and sultans were unnecessary in the modern Moro society. Among themselves, these young reformers are divided between the moderates, those who work within the system, and the militants, those who engage in guerrilla-style warfare.

Moro reformers, on the otherhand, have achieved to establish unity within the community through religious adherence. This bond is strengthened by the continued expansion of Christians and by the prolonged presence of army troops within Bangsamoro.

Struggle for freedom

The strugle has been in existence for centuries, starting from the struggle against the Spanish up to the Moro rebellion in the American period until the current Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines.

The history of the Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines began shortly after independence. The Philippine government envisioned a united country in which Christians and Muslims would be assimilated into the dominant culture. This vision, however, was generally rejected by Muslims, who feared that it was just a euphemistic equivalent of assimilation. Because of this, the government realised that there was a need for a specialized agency to deal with the Muslim community so they set up the Commission for National Integration in 1957, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities.

Concessions were made to Moros after the creation of these agencies, with Moros receiving exemptions from national laws prohibiting polygamy and divorce. In 1977, the government attempted move a step further by harmonizing Muslim customary law with the national law.

Unfortunately, most of these achievements were superficial. The Moros, dissatisfied with the government, established the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari with the intention of creating their own homeland. This initiated the Islamic Insurgency in the Philippines in the late 1960's, which is still ongoing up to the present and has since created a fracture between Muslims and Christians.

By the 1970's, a Christan terrorist organization called the Ilagas (Rats) began operating in Cotabato. In retaliation, Muslim armed bands, like the Blackshirts of Cotabato and the Barracudas of Lanao began to appear and fight the Ilagas. The Armed Forces of the Philippines were deployed to install peace, however their presence only created more violence.

In 1981, internal divisions within the MNLF caused the establishment of a conservative organization called the MILF. The group proved to be more effective than the MNLF in continuing the insurgency.


After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, President Corazon Aquino decided to reach out to the Moro community.

In the year 1987, peace talks with the MNLF began with the intention of establishing an auotonomous region for Moros. On August 1, 1989, through Republic Act No. 6734, otherwise known as the Organic Act, a plebiscite was held in the provinces within the Bangsamoro. This was to determine if the residents would want to be part of an Autonomous Moro Region. This led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Current situation

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Currently, the Philippines is under threat due to the presence of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the breakaway faction of the MNLF), the Abu Sayyaf (an offshoot of the terror groups), and by Jemaah Islamiyah. While the government is currently under peace talks with both the MILF and the MNLF, the violence is still far from over.


See also



External links

Moro Organization links