Faith, Tradition and Place: Bangsamoro Art from the National Ethnographic Collection

Faith, Tradition and Place: Bangsamoro Art from the National Ethnographic Collection is a visual exploration – a feast for the eyes – of the rich material cultural heritage of the Islamic cultures in southern Philippines. It features the material culture of the region known for their ornate decorations and embellishments that are not only manifested in objects regarded meaningful or significant within various social, economic, political, or ritual contexts, but are also remarkably evident in the mundane and utilitarian. While the Bangsamoro cultures are bound together by their common adherence to the Islamic faith, they maintain their distinct ethnic cultures and identities. This exhibition examines these cultural interactions through the exploration of the material culture of the region. Particular technological and artistic elements of these objects not only express indigenous traditions but also manifest cultural connections and influences among these ethnically diverse groups especially in relation to the Islamic and Southeast Asian cultural traditions. It emphasizes on objects as part of feasts, playing valuable and varied roles among Bangsamoro culture. This includes creating and keeping social identities and memories, as well as developing, consolidating and negotiating political power. Moreover, the exhibition is meant to articulate exchange systems, such as gifts, barter and trade. Complex relationships accentuated by the festivals are also featured here: accomplishing work, developing prestige technologies, fostering artistic traditions, and providing connections to the supernatural as well as to the ancestral world. The exhibition was launched in October 2014, in collaboration with the Magbassa Kita Foundation Inc., as part of the Eid’l Adha celebration.

Koran/Qu’ran of Bayang

The inscribed Arabic calligraphy pertain to Allah, the Supreme God, and Mohammad, His Messenger.

Wall décor: Tiyataan-a-tuladan

The inscribed Arabic calligraphy pertain to Allah, the Supreme God, and Mohammad, His Messenger.

Borak / Burraq

The borak/buraq is half-human and half-horse. As told in the Islam miʿrāj or the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad into heaven, the winged creature borak carried him in his journey from the sacred place of worship Mecca to Jerusalem then to heaven which explains how he completed travelling between the cities in a single night. The borak is also described as a white animal, half-mule or half-donkey, with wings on its sides which replaced the ladder as Muhammad’s means of access into heaven. While there is no reference as to the sex and human qualities of the borak in hadith or record of traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, the Maranao sometimes portrays it with a face of a woman. The Maranao borak in the National Ethnographic Collection are made of carved wood or a combination of wood and ivory, embellished with multi-colored paint, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, or decorated with brass plates/sheets, bells and hair.


The sarimanok is an example of the carving tradition called okir/ukkil, which refers to a particular curvilinear design pattern predominantly and distinctly used by the Muslim groups in southern Philippines. This pattern specifically consists of a combination of stylized scrolls, plant-like design such as leaves, vines and ferns, bird-like designs, naga (serpent/dragon) designs and various geometric shapes.

Drum: Tabo / Dabu-dabu

Tabo is a signaling instrument horizontally suspended in front of mosques. A standard rhythm calls people to prayer on Fridays, while a more intricate tempo is played during Ramadan (Otto 1976 and 1985). 

The azhan is the call marking the waktu, time for the salat (prayers) which begin at subuh (early dawn), at luhul (noon), asar (around three in the afternoon), magalib (after sunset) and aysa (early evening). In rural areas, the waktu is signaled by the beating of drums or gongs (Rixhon 1974).

Flag: Panji / Pandi

Panji/Pandi is the collective term for flag in the southern Philippines. There are however, other terms used based on size, shape, and function such as the sambolayang, the highest ranking flag symbolizing the power of the sultan with three trailing streamers and erected at the center; pasandalan, the second ranking flag which stands for Lake Lanao and the Maranao group erected on the right of the sambolayang; payong, the third ranking flag, either single or tiered and placed on the left of the sambolayang; pamanai, the fourth ranking flag, smallest and most numerous denoting the people under the authority of a sultan or datu thus surrounds the bigger flags; dopo, the fifth ranking flag and usually displayed during maritime trade and gada-gada, a pair of triangular flags positioned at the foot of the pasandalan. Flags are displayed during parades, weddings, coronations, mourning ceremonies, rice rituals, birth of a child and when a couple moves to a new home. A white flags or a group of flags with Qur’anic line, “May Allah Bless the Soul of the Dead” hangs in front of the house of the bereaved family. Small bunting on sticks or strings are placed along the road or path leading to the ceremonial house during gatherings or celebrations. Wedding flags are hung inside the house or mounted on the mast of the ceremonial boat. 

A significant aspect of the flag are the symbolic designs usually done in applique. The barong (bolo), turtle, cannon, kris and naga are male symbols while floral motifs and the comb are female symbols.

Sword: Kris

List of materials from which the object is made: Steel, wood, rattan

Sword: Kris

Kris/keris/kalis, a double-edged sword or dagger which may be kalis siko (wavy) or kalis tulid (straight), is probably the most popular Bangsamoro weapon having variations in every Muslim group. Some blades were engraved with Arabic scripts and plant motifs. Its wavy blade is also suggestive of the undulating body of the naga/niaga (mythical serpent). Kris is also a shared heritage among our Southeast Asian neighbors like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, and Thailand.

Sword: Kampilan

Kampilan was mentioned in Philippine epics including the Iloko Biag ni Lam-Ang from Northern Luzon; Hiligaynon Hinilawod from the Visayas; and Maranao Darangen of Mindanao. It is also used in depicting a scene from the Darangen while performing the Maranao and Maguindanao traditional war dance called sagayan. The kampilan is a single-edged bicuspid (having two points) sword that has an ornate handle made of wood, brass, and ivory. Its V-shaped handle is symbolic of an open-mouthed naga/niaga with eye-like spots and tufts ornamentation of human hair resembling a mane.

Bolo: Barong

Barong is a preferred weapon among the Tausug, Sama, and Yakan of the Sulu Archipelago. Its sophisticated handle made of ivory, carabao horn, or hardwood compensates for the rather plain-looking single-edged, leaf-shaped blade. The pommel or the base part of the handle is often carved in the shape of a cockatoo or parrot’s head with a tuft or crest. Among the Tausug, kris and barong are a significant part of their traditional attire. Without these weapons, their attire is considered incomplete. However, this custom led to many unfortunate conflicts since latter colonial invaders tried to disarm them.

Dagger: Gonong

Gunong/gonong is a double-edged dagger usually placed at the back of the waist sash and carried by both sexes. Considered as a smaller version of the kris, it is mostly used as a utility knife and as a last defense during combat.

Window screen or wall décor Boras

Boras are placed on the wall of the sleeping area (bilik) to regulate the entry of sea breeze. It is also used as floor mats on ceremonial occasions, while the smaller ones are used as prayer mats in mosques. Since World War II, boras were painted with geometric designs, and then later variations developed such as those with a dominant center design. More recently, scenes from the Middle East, such as pictures of Mecca and Medina, were combined with geometric, floral and architectural motifs.

Boras perhaps is the only artistic product of Sulu which has a clear sex-based labor division; men make the mats while the women paint them.

Yellow tubular cloth Malong landap a beninang

List of materials from which the object is made: Silk, cotton and commercial dyes

Tubular cloth Malong

List of materials from which the object is made: Cotton, commercial dyes and threads

Tubular cloth Malong / Tadjung / Patadjung

List of materials from which the object is made: Cotton and dyes

Tubular skirt for women Inalaman / Malong

Tubular skirt or malong for the Maranao and Maguindanao is similar to the tajong of the Tausug and Sama, patajong/patadyong of Luzon and Visayas areas, sarong of the Indonesian and Malaysian, ponong of the Thais, lounge of Myanmar and sinh to Laotians. In Sulu, Lanao and Cotabato, the tubular cloth is used by both males and females.

Canopy or ceiling cover Luhul

This particular piece showing the Tree of Life, is used during festive occasions, such as weddings.

Betel chew containers Salapa/Mamaan/Lotoan

Betel boxes come in sets of four or have four compartments to accommodate the four ingredients of the betel chew (pembamaan): areca nut (bunga), fresh pepper leaves (buyo), lime powder (apug) and damp tobacco leaves. Betel boxes can be carried like cigarette cases or kept in the house for serving visitors. In the past, a particular lady in the torogan is assigned to fill up the betel chew boxes with pembamaan for visitors.

Food or plate cover Tutup

Provenance Location: Jolo, Sulu

Food or plate cover Tutup

Tutup are large hemispherical plate/food covers made by both men and women. Large plate covers are used to keep food warm while smaller pieces called turung dulang riki-riki are used as wall decór. These are made up of two layers, coconut leaves inside and silal/buri leaves outside. Dyed and folded pandan leaves are sewn with magi fiber at the exterior to serve as decoration (Szanton 1963; Tiongson 1994).

Gravemarker Sundok

List of materials from which the object is made: Corals

Gravemarker Duyong-duyong

Szanton (1963) conducted a survey of “gravemarkers” in Sulu defined as sign placed on or in the ground to indicate a burial or burials in the soil below. Grave mounds of extremely important religious or political figures are called tampat and separated/isolated from the other burials. The common gravemarkers are grave-frame often called kubal/kubul, an upright piece of two- or three-dimensional form called sundok/sunduk and the base on which the upright stands.