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The Yakan are a cultural group in the Philippines, mostly found in the interior of Basilan Island. They speak a dialect of Sama language (Sinama or Siama) and have some cultural influences from the Tausug. They are land bound agricultural, cultivating upland rice, corn and other crops. They do not normally live in compact villages; their houses are just out of sight of each other, scattered among their plots of farmland.

The word "yakan" denotes "Dayak origin". Various Yakan folk stories indicate that they descended from migrating Dayak from Northeast Borneo and Sama from Johore a long time ago. Some Yakans today identify themselves as Sama-Yakan, thus acknowledging their Sama and Dayak origin.

The prominent person of each community of Yakan is the Imam who combines birth religion and socio-political leadership.

Religious beliefs and practices

"Folk Islam" -- a combination of Islamic principles and traditional beliefs -- best describes the Yakan belief system. The belief in saytan, the various spirits in heaven and in the natural environment, indicates the lingering influence of pre-Islamic religious beliefs. Yakan pre-Islamic practices are also combined with Islamic rituals, for example, in the planting rituals, death rituals, spirit worship, and ancestral offerings. As Muslims, the Yakan believe in the five pillars of Islam: the sahada, which says that there is no other God but Allah and that Muhammad is his prophet; the salat or prayer; puasse or fasting during the month of Ramadan; pitla or charity to the poor; zacat or tithes to Muslim religious leaders; and the maghadji or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

For the Muslim Yakan, the world is divided into two: Dar-ul-Islam, the abode of Islam, and Dar-ul-Harb, the abode of the unbelievers. Jihad is the holy war waged by Muslims to protect Dar-ul-Islam from foreign invasion and against those who seek to harm their religion, people, and properties. Magsabil (jurementado in Spanish) is a small-scale jihad aimed at protecting personal property and family. The magsabil kills anybody who comes his way, exposing himself to death by reprisal. The belief is that whoever kills more during the magsabil will have more servants in heaven. But unless the act is justifiable and the person is a firm believer of Islam, the magsabil will not go to heaven. Every believer has a strong faith in Allah, in his messenger and angels, and in the judgment day and destiny.

Heaven for the Yakan is a place where the soul can find happiness, joy, and peace. Heaven has eight classes and the eighth is God's dimension, which cannot be reached unless one works hard for it on earth.

The Quran is the divine revelation of Allah addressed to all people regardless of belief or race. Islamic doctrines are learned through the madrasa schools or merely by listening to the khutba or sermon during Friday prayer. Male believers are required to attend Friday prayers while women may not be as religious in their attendance. Women who attend the prayers are separated from the males and, except for their faces, are fully covered. Only a few Yakan, however, observe the five-times-a-day daily prayer.

Visual arts and crafts

Designs and motifs

The pussuk labbung is a sawtooth design used for cloth baskets and the native sword called kris. The bunga sama, used for table runners, monuments for the dead and on trunks, is a symmetrical design made of rectangular-shaped figures. The kabban buddi is a set of triangles, squares, and other geometric shapes used for cushions, pillows, casings, mats, and hats. The baggang kettan combines incised triangles and rectangles, and is used to decorate the kris. The ukil lagbas consists of a combination of various lines - wavy, crossed-wavy, and straight - used on shirts, windows of houses, and boats.


The punnyal is a small knife, which can be hidden within one's clothing. The barong is carried with pride since it is a symbol of strength and is also acceptable as bride wealth. The taming is the traditional shield used along with two types of spears, the budjak and the sankil, now used only in war dances. The bangkung is another type of bolo seldom used nowadays. The pira is a traditional weapon used by little boys when going on a long journey. The barong and the kris, although popular, are less valuable or admired among the Yakan.

Utensils and household implements

Metal ware includes the talam, a beautifully decorated bronze tray, and the sanduk or ladle used for special occasions. Yakan basketry is both colorful and functional. The tutop is a food cover made of bamboo leaves. The peliyuk is a clay jar with cover used for cooking. The baling is a decorative clay jar treasured as an heirloom. The kombo is a lidded container for rice storage. The lakal is a bamboo frame used to hold the cooking gadget when placed on the ground. The tempipih is a big basket carried on the back. A conical basket called the saan is used as a liquid strainer.

Baskets are also used to measure and weigh. The gantang is bigger than the government ganta. The batil measures nine gantang. The laga is 10 gantang. The ilug is 30 gantang. The lukung is equivalent to 100 gantang. An example of Yakan pottery is the poga, a covered clay jar used as water container.

Fabric and adornments

Yakan women are excellent weavers, and are famous for their beautifully woven traditional costumes of cotton and pineapple cloth. The basic garment for men and women consists of a tight-fitting upper garment with tight-fitting trousers called sawal. The shirt is open in front from the lapel down to the waist, using up to 40 sequined or golden buttons. To close the shirt, a long string is crisscrossed from one button to the other so that when tightly drawn, the shirt closes from top to bottom. Usually the shirt remains open since the string is often lost. Over the shirt, male and female wear a tight-fitting jacket which is exquisitely embroidered in front and back, with cuffs decorated with multicolored sequins.

The difference in male and female apparel lies in accessories. Men wear a hand woven pis (head cloth) and a 15m-long kandit (belt or sash) made of red cloth called gilim. The pis serves as "protection" from spears and knives during combat, and may be fastened around the trousers. The women wear a short skirt over the trousers, around which a rectangular, hand woven cloth is tied. This cloth is the most expensive part of their costume because it is woven in a tedious process. Men and women wear the saruk, the Yakan hat worn to make one look more attractive and elegant. Some wear the hat over the turban and use it as a purse for betel nuts, tobacco, and money. Yakan warriors wear a bullet proof shirt prepared by hadjis and imams who write Arabic script all over the shirt.

Ornaments such as necklaces may be worn as charms. A crocodile tooth polished with a hole at the base is believed to bring good luck when worn as a necklace. The Yakan also wear amulets against bullets. These contain unreadable symbols, are wrapped in black cloth, sewn in triangular form, and tied around the neck. Belts made of snake bones are strung together to protect against bodily pain. They may also wear various charms to guard against sickness inflicted by evil spirits. One such charm is the manik tegiyas - a necklace or bracelet made of the fruits of a flower beaded together. Another is the manik sembulan, made of a bamboo stem cut into short pieces and strung together either as a necklace or bracelet. To gain more strength against evil spirits, men and women wear the anting-anting. This consists of a string with a piece of cloth containing beads as pendant.

The Yakan also wear functional gadgets. The pegupaan is a bamboo container for all the paraphernalia for chewing betel nut. The lutuan, a small bronze box with engravings carried at the waist, has a similar function.

A unique form of visual arts is the facial make-up done on brides and grooms. After creating a foundation of white powder, the make-up artists proceed to paint dots and lines in various patterns on the faces, creating the effect of formal and elaborate masks which match the ornate costumes of the celebrants.

Performing arts

The Yakan have a rich musical tradition, which may be broadly divided into instrumental and vocal. Yakan musical instruments are made of bamboo, wood, and metal. Their musical instruments also demonstrate the influence of the traditional cycle of rice production in their lives. Several instruments are used in each stage of rice production. The daluppak is a digging stick with a bamboo clapper. The kopak-kopak is a bamboo clapper on a stick. The kulintangan (kwintangan) kayu is percussion instrument consisting of wooden beams laid after the planting season, to enhance plant growth. The wooden tuntungan is a percussion plank with jar resonators, also played during the harvest season for thanksgiving.

The gabbang is a bamboo split into five, and arranged like a xylophone. Small children in the fields played it in order to guard the crops against prying animals. The kwintangan batakan is an earlier form of gabbang which has six, seven, or nine bamboo pieces. The suling is a bamboo mouth flute used by men in courting women. Another bamboo instrument used by men in expressing love or admiration is the kulaing. The kulintangan or kwintangan consists of several bronze gongs arranged according to size and used during celebrations such as weddings and graduations. Individuals play it in the home and after work, for self-expression and relaxation. The agong is a percussion instrument used to announce marriage or for tolling the dead. The jabujabu (djabu-djabu) is a type of drum that summons the people to prayer.



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