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Tausūg people
1 1265889834 the-last-tribes-of-mindanao-the-tausug.jpg
Total population
approx. 1.3 million
Regions with significant populations
Philippines.png Philippines
(Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Palawan, Manila, Cebu)
Malaysia.png Malaysia
(Sabah, Kuala Lumpur)
Indonesia.png Indonesia
(North Kalimantan)

Tausūg, Zamboangueño Chavacano, Filipino, Cebuano, English, Malay, Indonesian, Arabic


Islam.png Predominantly Islam

Related ethnic groups

Other Moro groups
Malay people
other Filipinos
other Austronesian group

The Tausūg people (Tausūg: Sūg, Jawi: سولوق, Malay: Suluk) are an Austronesian ethnic group native to the Sulu region of maritime Southeast Asia which would include the areas in the far-southern Philippines, such as the Sulu Archipelago, Palawan and the Zamboanga Peninsula, coastal parts of the Malaysian state of Sabah, where they are known as Suluks. They also inhabit areas that were historically part of the Sultanate of Sulu, these would include the north-eastern parts of Borneo where the Malaysian state of Sabah and the Indonesian province of North Kalimantan is located.

The Tausūgs make up one of the indigenous Muslim minority ethnic groups in the Philippines, known as Moros and one of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, known as Bumiputra.


The term Tausūg originates from tao (people in Filipino) and sūg. (current).

A village in Sulu

This literally means "people of the current" all together since the Tausūg are indigenous to the Sulu Archipelago.[1] In Malaysia, the Tausūgs are officially called Suluks and are of the non-Malay part of the Bumiputra, the collection of native groups within Malaysia.[2] They are part of the Moro ethnic group, the term Moro was the Spanish reference to the Iberian Muslims or the Moors. When they arrived in the Philippines, they used the same moniker, although the Philippine Moros and Iberian Moors have no cultural connection, albeit practicing Islam.


The Tausūg people, like many of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines and the rest of the Malay Archipelago were Animists and Hindus. Arab traders and Chinese Muslims converted the populations to Islam through Malacca. Tausūg people are descended from the Visayan ethnic groups, and are closely related to the Cebuano people. However, they do not consider themselves Visayan, let alone rejecting a Filipino ethnicity as the associate the two terms with the Christianized population.

Majapahit Empire[]

The Sulu Archipelago, along with many other regions of the Philippines during the Classical Era, was under the sphere of influence of the Javanese Majapahit Empire, the regional power of Maritime Southeast Asia at the time duing the rule of king Hayam Wuruk, Majapahit's fourth ruler. This is evident through the cultures of the Sulu Archipelago, such as the kris sword (known as kalis), which is of Javanese origin. It is also documented in the Nagarakretagama, an eulogy to Hayam Wuruk, which mentions several states in the modern-day Philippines that was under Majapahit administration. Sulu (known as Solot or Sulut), along with Manila and Tondo were among some of the areas under the Majapahit sphere of influence.

Bruneian Empire 1405-1578[]

With the decline of the Majapahit Empire, the kings of Brunei siezed the oppurtunity to gain power and emerge as the new regional power. The Bruneian Empire's history is told mostly through legends and tales. In the 15th century, the Bruenian Empire became a Muslim state when its King converted to Islam, via the presence of Arab and Indian Muslim traders to the region. By the reign of its fifth sultan Bolkiah, the Sulu Archipelago came under the jurisdiction of the Bruneian Empire, and the Sulu polity existed as a vassal state of the Bruneian Empire. Other parts of the Philippines, such as Manila and Palawan also became under Bruneian rule. 

Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo 1405-1915[]

In 1380, an Arab trader named Karim al-Makhdum arrived in the Sulu Archipelago and converted the natives to Islam. The pillars to the mosque that he established, located in Siminul, still stand today. Another Arab trader, a Malaysian-born Arab by the name of Sayyid Abu Bakr Abirin followed and establushed the Sulu Sultanate (Jawi: سلطنة سولو دار الإسلام, Arabic: سلطنة سولو). At this era, Maritime Southeast Asia had undergone period of rapid Islamization. Like other Muslims, the sultans of Sulu claimed to be descendants of Muhammad. Islam spread further into the archipelago and allowed the rise of sultanates in the Philippines. At its greatest extent, the Sultanate of Sulu covered the entire Sulu Archipelago itself, Palawan, parts of the Zamboanga Peninsula and northeastern Borneo. 

Spanish-Moro Conflict[]

During the Age of Imperialism, Spain colonized the Philippines converting most of the populations to Roman Catholicism with active missionaries in Luzon, Visayas and Palawan. The Moros of Mindanao, inluding the Tausūgs themselves, resisted conversions and conducted raids against Spanish and Filipino Christian settlements in Mindanao. Spain tried three centuries of fierce attempts, by making many incursions into Moro territory and destroying Chinese trade with the Sulu Sultanate which proved to be vital, eventually reaching the Sulu Archipelago, thus taking full control and conquest of the Philippine islands. Even though Spain achieved its strategic goal, the conquistadors had to accept to the fact that the Moros would never convert to Roman Catholicism, and would rather die and fight to the last man rather than converting. As a result, many Moros resulted in the infamous piracy and militancy against Spanish occupation. In 1744, Sultan Azim ud-Din I recieved an order to allow Christian missionaries into the sultanate. Azim ud-Din I agreed to allow Christian missionaries into Sulu which gained high appraisal from the Spanish monarchs but his brother, Prince Bantilan was not pleased with such a decision and tried to overthrow Azim ud-Din I. In 1749, the sultan fled to Cavite and Manila where he converted to Christianity and was baptized under the name Don Fernando de Alimuddin or Fernando I. In 1762, after being spending ten years in prison as a result of an alleged treason, the British returned Alimuddin to his throne in Sulu as a result of their invasion of Manila before ceding Philippines back to Spain. Alimuddin reverted to Islam after Sultan Bantilan passed away and his son Azim ud-Din II took power and ceded the throne to Israel Alimuddin in 1773, Muhammad Alimuddin's son. After several more conflicts between Moro raiders and Spanish soldiers, Spain signed another treaty with Sultan Jamalul Kiram II allowed Spain to build forts in Mindanao but would let the Moros keep practicing Islam without Spanish interference.[3] The treaty had misunderstandings. The Tausūgs saw it as a protectorate system, but the Spanish understanding was that the Sulu Sultanate would cede sovereignty to the Philippines under Spanish rule. Eventually the Spanish gave up and stopped trying to convert the people of the Sulu Archipelago and Mindanao. Consequently the Tausūg and Maguindanaoan cultures remained untouched and the Moros retained a form of cultural independence, remaining followers of Islam. However, the presence of active Jesuit missionaries in the Sulu Archipelago were able to convert a small amount of Tausūgs and Yakan chiefs to Christianity, most of their descendants of today have reverted to Islam.


Under Philippine Administration[]

Mindanao had once been predominantly inhabited by the Moros and Lumads (the Christian and Animist natives of Mindanao). But during much of the mid through late twentieth century, this changed in a very barbaric manner as the Philippine government enacted resettlement programs and development tenures in Mindanao. This resulted in the mass migration of people from Luzon and Visayas, eventually outnumbering the natives of Mindanao. The Philippine Constabulary also helped set up settler militias (known as the Ilaga, Hiligaynon for "the rat"), who harrassed the native peoples of the southern Philippines and force them out of their native lands. These Catholic migrants also brought along the high Spanish influence, disrupting the peace between the Muslim and Christian natives of Mindanao. Much of the government leadership and and elite positions of power were wrestled away from Moro and Lumad datus, and transferred to the non-native and Hispanized Christian leaders. As a result, today, Mindanao is now predominantly inhabited by non-native Visayans and Roman Catholics. Even places where Muslims make the majority, such as Basilan, Christians still predominate the elite classes and positions of power. This mass influx of non-natives has caused anger and outrage amongst the Muslims of Mindanao, forming their own militant groups. The native Lumads fled to the mountains. Many Tausūgs also fled to the Malaysian province of Sabah to get a better life. However, because most of them settle as illegal immigrants, they have found initially nothing better and have suffered much harsh immigration policies from Malaysia's government.

North Borneo Issue[]

Claimant heirs to the Sultanate of Sulu claim that Sabah was only "rented" to the British. The 1878 treaty signed between the Sultan of Sulu and the British North Borneo Company was seen as a cession by the British, and by Malaysia but as a protectorate treaty by the Sulu people. The North Borneo issue had laid dormant for decades until then. The current claimants to the Sulu Sultanate claim that Malaysia is only renting Sabah from the Sulu Sultanate. There are several claimants as to who belongs on the throne of Sulu, although it is all only a matter of figures and void of any real civil power. Jamalul Kiram III, one of the claimants had led Moro incursions on the Malaysian state of Sabah, the worse occured between the proclaimed Royal Sulu Army and the Malaysian police in the town of Lahad Datu. Today, many Tausūg people in the Malaysian state of Sabah remain stateless and without legal citizenships, while those in the southern Philippines may contain Filipino citizenships.

Within Malaysia and Indonesia[]

The Tausūgs of Malaysia and Indonesia are known as "Suluks" and live in the coastal regions of northern Borneo. Malaysian Suluks do not share the desire of the Philippine Tausūgs, and prefer a Malaysian nationality over a Filipino nationality, or an independent state. The two groups are also treated very differently by the Malaysian government. The insurgencies and militant invasions in Sabah, perpetuated by Philippine Tausūgs has caused outrage to the native Suluk community of Malaysia. As a result, Suluks were subject to discrimination and often seen as terrorists. Malaysian Suluks form part of the non-Malay Bumiputra, and are considered local natives. Najib Razak, the Malaysian Prime Minister promised that Suluks would be protected. Philippines Tausūgs however, are not considered natives, and do not enjoy Bumiputra status.[4] The Suluks in Indonesia inhabit the province of North Kalimantan, the Indonesian section of northern Borneo. 


Tausūg people speak a melting pot of Austronesian languages and dialects, native to Philippines and Malaysia that range from their own native Tausūg language, as well as Malay, Indonesian, Cebuano, Filipino and Chavacano. Their main language, Tausūg, is a Central Philippine language of the Visayan group. It is called Bahasa Sūg in Tausūg and Bahasa Suluk in Malay. Though due to religious differences, the Tausūgs do not consider themselves Visayan, as that term, along with Filipino is synonymous with the Christianized and Hispanized peoples in the eyes of the Moros. Tausūg people also speak Malay and Indonesian, since Indonesian is the unifying lingua franca of Indonesia and standard Malay with Malaysia as well as the historical lingua franca of the Sulu Sultanate. A minority of the Tausūgs from the southern Philippines also speak Malay and Indonesian, both descendants of Malay-speaking families from the Moro sultanates or those who learn it as a second language. Many are also local merchants who can communicate in other languages. Since Tausūg people are Muslim, Arabic is also a minority language spoken by Tausūg people and like Malay, Arabic was the official language of the Sulu Sultanate although most Suluks only know it for liturgical uses.

During the reign of Sultan Mohammad Alimuddin, the Arabic language became the language of Sulu and of the royalty, and some Suluk people can still speak the Arabic language fluently. Because Tausūg is a Visayan dialect, the Philippine Tausūgs can also speak the Cebuano language in particular since it is closely related and the majority language spoken in Mindanao. Chavacano is a Spanish Creole spoken in many parts of Mindanao. Due to the exposure to Chavacano, many Tausūgs are also fluent in Chavacano, especially those living in southern Zamboanga, the Malaysian state of Sabah also contains Chavacano-speaking communities. Pilipino is the national language of the Philippines.

Malaysian Suluks and Indonesian Suluks who are descendants of Philippine Tausūg refugees however tend to slowly lose their proficiency, in both Tausūg and Filipino. Their knowledge of Filipino, and even Tausūg, is much limited to a few basic words and phrases as they become more linguistically assimilated into the Malay-speaking majority.


The Tausūg people are predominantly Muslim, and today still hold to their Islamic heritage since they actively resisted

A mosque in Isabela City, Sulu

Spanish rule and attempts to convert them to Roman Catholicism. They form one of the communities of Bangsamoro, the predominantly-Muslim parts of the southern Philippines, officially recognized as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao by the Philippine government. However, they mostly follow Folk Islam rather than the orthodox form known as Sunni Islam, since they incorporate many ancient Animist and Buddhist practices in their lives.

A Christian minority exists. During the colonial era when Jesuit missionaries converted some families and even entire clans to Christianity. Most assimilated Filipino celebrities and politicians of Tausūg descent follow the Christian religion of the majority, rather than the Islamic religion of their ancestors.

Art and Music[]

The kulintang, Malay, eastern Indonesian and southern Philippine-style gongs

The Tausūg people enjoy a very rich heritage of folk art and music, many of which predates the arrival of Islam in the southern Philippines. Tausūg music revolves around the kulintang, a gong-based instrument from eastern Indonesia and Malaysia, Brunei and the southern Philippines that is an essential component of southern Filipino culture, both Muslim and non-Muslim (known as Lumads). Bamboo sticks are used to play the gongs to create distinct music. The native people of the Sulu Archipelago play it cross-legged on the floor. The Tausūg people are also a seafaring group that has experienced a history of sailing. They create colorful boats

Panagalay dance

known as vintas.

Folk dances are very common among all ethnic groups of the Philippines and Malaysia. In the Philippines, these dance parades are known as fiestas, although because they often tend to reflect and honor Christian influence, the Tausūgs do not do fiesta but rather their own native folk dance known as the pangalay. This dance originated from Buddhist and pre-Islamic times in the Philippines and incorparates parts of martial arts into it. It is performed during big events and weddings.[5]


Tausūg/Suluk cuisine is a mix of the culinary traditions of Malaysia and the Philippines, but more often resembles the


spice-rich cuisine of Malaysia, Indonesia, South Asia and the Middle East and contains many ingredients that are not found elsewhere in the Philippines. Typical ingredients of Moro cuisine are coconut milk, coriander, lemongrass, chilis and curry. Satti is the Tausūg and Moro version of Malay satay or Filipino barbeque, which contains grilled meats (mostly beef, chicken or seafood) and vegetables on scewers, grilled and served with sweet sauce. Tiula itim is a black soup that is made of beef, chicken and ginger with burnt coconut meat. Nesi biryani is a popular Malay and Indian-influenced rice dish, of Indian origin that was introduced by Malay and Indian Muslim missionaries to Mindanao, although it is also found in Pampanga. Rendang is a spicy beef curry dish that was introduced from the Minangkabau people of Indonesia and the Turkish rice dish known as pilaf is eaten as kiyonig. Due to the poor conditions in Mindanao, these rice dishes are only eaten in big events and not day-to-day meals.  Since Tausūgs are Muslims, their cuisine is regulated by Islamic laws, known as Halal (Arabic: حلال), meaning that pork and alcohol are never part of Tausūg cuisine.[6] The absence of pork is what also what distances Tausūg cuisine from Philippine culinary traditions outside of Muslim Mindanao, which is highly Hispanized and contains lots of pork and alcohol.

Notable Tausūgs/Suluks Or people of Tausūg/Suluk Origin[]

Jamalul Kiram II

Jamalul kiram ii.png
The 32nd sultan of Sulu, the Spaniards were led eventually to deal with him as the Sultan of Sulu in spite of his repeated refusal to go to Manila on a state visit. Jamalul-Kiram II died on June 7, 1936. In 1915, he virtually surrendered his political powers to the United States government under the 1915 Carpenter Agreement. Jamalul Kiram II died without leaving any children.

Mustapha Harun Mustapha Harun.jpg

A Malaysian politcian, who served as the First Governer of the state of Sabah, he also served as the third Chief Minister of the state from 1967 to 1975, and was the president of the United Sabah National Organisation. He played a key role of Sabah's independance from Great Britain, and is considered a founding father of Sabah.

Nur Misuari

Nur Misaura.jpg
A Moro politician and nationalist from the Philippines who is the founder and leader of the Moro National Liberation Front, and also worked as a lecturer at the University of the Philippines

Juhar Mahiruddin

Juhar mahiruddin.jpg
A Malaysian politician who have been the Yang di-Pertuan Negari (governer) of the State of Sabah since 2011, he was aso a founding member of the United Malays National Organisation's branch in Sabah. He also served as the Debuty Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysian House of Representatives) from 1990 to 1999.

Esmail Kiram

Esmail Kiram.jpg
Due to different regional spellings, as can be found on government and newspaper sites, his name appears as Esmail, Esmael, Ismail or Ismael. Second son of Punjungan Kiram and younger brother of Jamalul Kiram III. Abdulah Kiram is his son and possible heir. He was crowned as " reigning sultan" by the elders of Sulu in 2001

Jamalul Kiram III

Kiram III.jpg
A Moro leader and also was a claimant to the throne of Sulu who claimed to be of the Kiram family, led armed standoffs against Malaysian police in Sabah