Mindanao Beyond Chaos: Discovering The Colorful Mindanao Culture

T'boli mindanao culture

Mindanao is often depicted as a place of danger, hate, division, politics, and chaos. But to really see its beauty, one must experience the Mindanao culture brimming with life and colors.

And once you’ve experienced the culture of Mindanao, you will love the Land of Promise as much as you love other regions in the Philippines.

What’s inside this blog?

Read this blog to learn more about the Mindanao culture and tradition, Mindanao folk dances, and more!

Language in Mindanao

mindanao culture

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

We can already see how rich the culture of Mindanao is through its languages. In Mindanao, there are dozens of languages spoken, among the most widely spoken are Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Surigaonon, Tausug, Maranao, Maguindanao, and Chavacano. 

Languages in Mindanao

  • Cebuano (Bisaya): Northern Mindanao (except the southern parts of Lanao del Norte), the Davao region, the western half of the Caraga region (as well as the city of Bislig and the municipalities surrounding it in Surigao del Sur), the entirety of the Zamboanga Peninsula (with the exception of Zamboanga City), and southern Soccsksargen. 
  • Hiligaynon: Soccsksargen
  • Surigaonon: Eastern half of the Caraga region, mainly by the eponymous Surigaonons
  • Tausug: Western territories of the BARMM, specifically the Sulu Archipelago (Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi)
  • Maguindanao and Maranao: Eastern territories of the BARMM, respectively, with the former being spoken in Lanao del Sur and the southern areas of Lanao del Norte; the latter in the eponymous province of Maguindanao and also in adjacent areas which are part of Soccsksargen
  • Chavacano: Zamboanga City, Basilan, southernmost fringes of Zamboanga Sibugay, Cotabato City and Davao City

Food in Mindanao

durian mindanao culture

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Experiencing the culture of Maguindanao, the Caraga Region culture and tradition, or the culture of Mindanao in general is not complete without tasting the rich flavors of the region.  Mindanao cuisine is very recognizable in terms of flavor compared to the rest of the Philippines. Spanish and Malay flavors of nearby Southeast Asian countries largely influenced how the locals cook as dishes in Mindanao are known for their use of coconut milk and spices like chili, onion, and ginger.

Must-try food in Mindanao

  1. Piyanggang Manok (Grilled Chicken in Burnt Coconut, Tausug)
  2. Tiyulah Itum (Slow Cooked Beef/Chicken in Burnt Coconut Broth)
  3. Piyalam (Stewed Fish, Tausug)
  4. Piyaren Udang (Prawn with Sautéed Coconut, Lanao)
  5. Piassak (Cow Liver in Burnt Coconut)
  6. Riyandang Kambing (Mutton with Coconut and Spices, Lanao)
  7. Kulma Baka (Beef Stewed in Coconut Milk, Tausug)
  8. Kiyuning (Golden Rice)
  9. Kagikit Manok (Spicy Chicken Flakes)
  10. Kagikit na Isda (Spicy Fish Flakes)
  11. Curacha (Deep-sea Crab)
  12. Sinuglaw (Sugba + Kinilaw)
  13. Durian

Mindanao Culture and Arts

T'nalak weaver mindanao culture

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Weaving is culture, an identity, and a way of life for some of the most indigenous communities in the Philippines. Some people might think that these are just another colorful fabric you’d see elsewhere but it’s not. It’s carefully handcrafted by the creative Mindanao people, each has its own meaning for different uses. There’s something special about the Mindanao culture and arts that involve weaving. For the people of the south, weaving is a huge part of their Mindanao culture and tradition that distinguishes them from the rest. 

Famous Mindanao Textiles

  1. Ikat (Made by Mandaya people of Davao Oriental, Bagobo and B’laan)
  2. Inaul (Made by Maguindanaon)
  3. Malong (Made by Maranao people)
  4. Bunga Sama (Made by the Yakan tribe)
  5. Sinaluan (Made by the Yakan tribe)
  6. Pussuk Labbung (Made by the Yakan tribe)
  7. Kabban Budi (Made by the Yakan tribe)
  8. T’Nalak (Made by the T’Boli tribe)
  9. Habul Tiyahian (Made by Tausug people)
  10. Inabal (Made by Bagobo tribe)

Mindanao Folk Dances

singkil mindanao culture

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

We may be living in a digital age right now but some parts of the Philippines are working hard to preserve its rich cultural heritage for the world to see and experience. The culture and tradition of Mindanao is like no other. The Mindanao folk dances is just one among the many things that make the cultural practices in Mindanao stand out. 

One notable folk dance in Mindanao is Pangalay. It is a tradition in Mindanao performed usually during weddings of the affluent families. Pangalay folk dance may last for several days or even weeks depending on the financial status and agreement of both families. 

Mindanao Folk Dances

  1. Singkil
  2. Pangalay
  3. Dugso
  4. Itik-itik
  5. Sagayan
  6. Karasaguyon
  7. Asik
  8. Udol
  9. Maglangka
  10. Bangkakaw
  11. Madal Tahaw

Religion in Mindanao

According to Philippine Statistics Authority, Christianity is the dominant religion in Mindanao. The two religions most widely spread are Roman Catholic and Islam. 

Traditional Clothing in Mindanao

T'boli mindanao culture

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

Since there are many groups of indigenous peoples in Mindanao, expect that there are also various colorful and beautiful traditional clothing. Among the most famous are:

  1. Malong (Maranao and Maguindanao)
  2. Kegal T’boli (T’Boli)
  3. Semmek (Yakan)
  4. Pis (Tausug)
  5. Tadjung (Tausug)
  6. Kandit (Tausug)
  7. Sinulog (Manobo)
  8. Sempek (Manobo)

Celebrations in Mindanao

happy street dancers during the kadayawan festival

The Mindanao culture Filipino is surely among the most interesting things to learn about. And to be able to experience the Mindanao culture and tradition fully, you shouldn’t miss the exciting festivals featuring the different cultures of Mindanao where locals performs lively street and Mindanao folk dances to the beat of music of Mindanao.

  1. Kadayawan Festival (Davao City)
  2. Kalilangan Festival (General Santos City)
  3. Sibug-Sibug Festival (Zamboanga Sibugay)
  4. Higalaay Festival (Cagayan de Oro City)
  5. Kaamulan Festival (Bukidnon)
  6. Lanzones Festival (Camiguin)
  7. Inaul Festival (Maguindanao)
  8. Tuna Festival (General Santos City)
  9. Lugahait Festival (Misamis Oriental)
  10. Kap’yaan Festival (Davao del Sur)
  11. Panagtagbo Festival (Tagum City)
  12. Balangay Festival (Butuan City)

Places to Visit to Experience the Mindanao Culture

To fully absorb the beauty of the island, one must learn and experience the culture including the Mindanao music, arts and crafts of Mindanao, Mindanao folk dance, and traditions. Here are the places where you can visit for a meaningful trip.

Zamboanga Peninsula

vinta zamboanga philippine culture

Photo credits to City Government of Zamboanga

Zamboanga Peninsula is composed of four provinces: Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Sur. This region has the most colorful  Mindanao culture that makes every visitor elated. One thing that makes Zamboanga famous is the vinta which is a result of the creativity of the locals when it comes to their arts and crafts of Mindanao. These are the traditional outrigger boats of the Mindanaoans, with colorfully painted hulls and artistically sewn sails. 

Northern Mindanao

camiguin minadanao tourist spot

Northern Mindanao is the region where some of the most beautiful tourist attractions in Mindanao like Bukidnon, Cagayan de Oro City, and Camiguin. The Northern Mindanao culture is interesting to know about because of their tribal beliefs and customs that up to this day are still existing. One example is that they still believe in the existence of spirits and gods, and they have a god for each element. They also believe that they need to please the spirits so they will experience something good in return. 

Caraga Region

guyam island siargao

Among the popular culture of Caraga Region is the belief in the existence of Tahawan (a supreme being or god) of the Mamanwa Tribe. They do a Tahawan ritual where they give thanks and merry. Another Caraga Region culture is their burial practice. The dead were either laid on a platform built beside a tree or wrapped in a mat or bamboo slats and hung up on a tree. 

Davao Region

talikud island davao

An interesting tradition of Mindanao in Davao Region is about marriage or courtship. Visiting a girl when alone is prohibited and is punishable. The boy visits the girl and does chores for her family, and his intentions are declared by his family and arrangements are explored for the possibility of marriage in a meeting called  salanggoni. After the salanggoni, the kawa (approximately 10% of the sunggod (bride price) is given to all mediators of the marriage as tokens of gratitude. After this agreement, the girl is considered engaged, her consent notwithstanding. Then, the enggulania (wedding) takes place. On the wedding day, in order to enter the bride’s house, the groom has to pay the lenan (dowry) to the persons assigned to collect it. 

If you want to see the Davao Oriental culture and other cultural practices in Mindanao in one place, go to the Kadayawan Village. You can see the 11 tribes’ tribal houses and their musical instruments, colorful attires and trinkets, and even harvests from their own farms.


lake sebu tourist spot in mindanao

Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The name of the region, Soccsksargen, is an acronym that stands for the region’s four provinces and one of its cities: South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos. It’s a region with rich Mindanao culture and tradition.

Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

Tinago Falls tourist spot in mindanao

Photo credits to Jose Nicdao via Flickr

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is one of the Philippines’ vibrant tourist destinations with its rich Mindanao culture, heritage, colorful tradition, rich marine resources, among others. It is composed of the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, the cities of Cotabato, Marawi, Lamitan and North Cotabato.

Frequently Asked Questions About Mindanao Culture


Q: What is Mindanao known for?

A: Being the second largest island group next to Luzon, Mindanao has been dubbed the country’s “Land of Promise” because of its promising natural resources. It is also known worldwide for being home to the surf capital of the Philippines, a famous highly-urbanized city, and jaw-dropping beaches.

Q: What is the culture and tradition of Maranao?

A: Maranao is the largest of the Muslim cultural-linguistic groups of the Philippines. They live around Lake Lanao on the southern island of Mindanao, and rice farming is their main livelihood, along with metalworking and woodworking handicrafts.

Q: What is the dominant religion in Mindanao?

A: According to PSA, the dominant religion in Mindanao is Christianity followed by Islam.

Q: What makes Mindanao unique?

A: Mindanao is divided into six administrative regions: the Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, the Caraga region, the Davao region, Soccsksargen, and the autonomous region of Bangsamoro. What makes it unique is the culture and tradition in Mindanao.

Q: Why Mindanao is called the land of promise?

A: It is known as the land of promise because of its rich biodiversity and natural resources.

Q: What would be your ways to value and preserve the traditional Mindanao music?

A: To answer your question what would be your ways to value and preserve the traditional Mindanao music, we think the best way is by promoting it across the world with the help of social media. Talk about it more online and even in social gatherings so many people will be knowledgeable about the music of Mindanao and the arts and crafts of Mindanao.

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