The Culture and Society of the Moro People

Islam was introduced to the southern Philippines during the pre-colonial era through trade networks that linked several sultanates and ethnolinguistic groupings. The inhabitants of this area were eventually referred to as Moros and the area as Bangsamoro. At the present time, the Moro people represent the largest Muslim and non-Christian population in the Philippines.

However, due to the Islamic faith of the Moros, they have remained outside the mainstream of Philippine life and have been the object of popular prejudice and national neglect. Moro’s conflict with the ruling powers has a centuries-long history. From the 16th to the 19th century, they resisted Roman Catholic Spanish colonialists who attempted to uproot their deviation. Also, in the first decade of the 20th century, the Moro people battled against the United States military with the hope of establishing a separate sovereignty. They have also laid insurgencies against the independent Philippine government from the late 1960s on.

But even with the many conflicts they have faced, the Moro people are still a vibrant and diverse community living in the southern regions of the Philippines. They have a culture steeped in history, tradition, and deep-rooted beliefs. With a lineage that can be traced back centuries, they have nurtured a distinct identity shaped by their unique historical experiences, Islamic faith, and interaction with different cultural influences. That is why in this article, we are going to discuss the culture and society of the Moro people.

Historical Background of the Moro People

Before we talk about the culture and society of the Moro people, let us first understand their roots and historical background. Learning about these can also help us get insights into their origins, cultural development, and the challenges they have faced.

Early History of the Moro People

In the 13th century, Muslim missionaries arrived in Makhdum Karim in Tawi-Tawi, Philippines. They were the ones who initiated the conversion of the native population in that area to Islam. Trade between other sultanates in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei helped start and engrain the Islamic region in the southern Philippines.

The introduction of Islam in 1457 caused the creation of the Sultanates. These involved Rajah Buayan, the Sultanate of Maguindanao, and the Sultanate of Sulu. This was the oldest Muslim government in the region until its annexation in 1898 by the United States.

Chinese Muslims, Persians, and Arab traders were the ones who introduced Islam to Sulu and other Muslim sultanates in the Philippines. Chinese Muslims engaged in local trade, and the Sultanate maintained diplomatic ties with Ming China.  These immigrants built villages and settled down throughout time, mostly in the southern areas like Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan.

Influence of Islam and Arab Culture

The Moro people’s devotion to Islam is one of their defining traits. The spread of Islam among the native populations was significantly aided by the advent of Arab preachers and traders in the 14th century. The Moro people’s worldview, beliefs, and customs were shaped by Islam, which became firmly interwoven in their social, cultural, and religious fabric.

Interaction with Indigenous Cultures in the Philippines

When the Moro people migrated and settled in the Philippines, they interacted and assimilated with the native civilizations that already existed there. As a result of this connection, indigenous beliefs, habits, and practices were incorporated into the Moro way of life, creating a fusion of cultural aspects. Additionally, it helped the Moro community’s linguistic and ethnic diversity.

Spanish Colonization and Resistance

A critical turning point in the history of the Moro people was the arrival of Spanish conquerors in the Philippines in the 16th century. The Moro regions vehemently opposed Spanish colonization, even though much of the northern section of the archipelago came under Spanish control. The Moro sultanates, like the Sultanate of Sulu, used armed resistance and diplomatic tactics to defend their lands and maintain their independence.

The Impact of American Colonization on the Moro People

The Philippines came under American rule after the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Moro regions saw unprecedented political, economic, and social changes as a result of American colonization. With this, the Moro Rebellion began, which was the Moro resistance against American rule. It lasted until the early 20th century. The introduction of American institutions and policies had a tremendous impact on the traditional structures and way of life of the Moro people.

The Religion and Beliefs of the Moro People

reading Quran

The religious beliefs of the Moro people are a central part of their culture. These have greatly influenced their social, political, and everyday lives. In the Moro society, Islam holds a significant place as it serves as a guiding framework for their beliefs, values, and moral code. The Moro people practice Sunni Islam, albeit distinct communities may have slightly different rituals and views. Families, government, and interpersonal relationships are all influenced by Islamic beliefs and principles.

Their religious leaders are referred to as Imams, and they play an important role in the Moro community. It’s because they serve as spiritual guides, teachers, and sources of religious authority. They are the ones who lead prayers, give religious instruction, and resolve issues based on Islamic teachings. Mosques serve as their centers for worship, community gathering, and the propagation of religious knowledge.

The Moro people take part in a variety of religious ceremonies and traditions that strengthen their ties to Islam. The Five Pillars of Islam, which include daily Islamic prayer times (Salat), Ramadan fasting (Sawm), almsgiving (Zakat), Mecca pilgrimage (Hajj), and the profession of faith (Shahada), are among them. Additionally, prayers, feasts, and charitable deeds are performed to mark important dates and religious holidays like Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Education also plays a vital role in the spread of Islamic knowledge and values within the Moro community. Islamic schools, or madrasahs, teach secular and religious courses simultaneously, where children learn Arabic, Quranic recitation, and the teachings of Islam.

The Moro people’s commitment to Islam influences their moral code, interpersonal relationships, and sense of self. Islamic principles are upheld and spread by religious authorities and organizations, which promotes a sense of harmony, morality, and civic duty. We can learn more about the Moro people’s cultural values and the role that Islam played in forming their shared identity by examining their religious beliefs and practices.

The Social Structure and Relationship of the Moro People

inside a Moro house

The Moro people’s complex web of ties, roles, and hierarchies is reflected in their social structure and kinship system. They have a strong emphasis on kinship ties and family relationships. The mother’s and father’s sides of the family are commonly recognized by their bilateral kinship system. Clans or “kaum,” which are large extended families, are the cornerstone of their social structure. These clans, which are made up of numerous houses with a common ancestor, frequently live near one another, fostering a strong sense of collective identification and support.

In addition to that, women also hold significant roles in the Moro society. There may be variations across different Moro groups, but women usually play vital roles, such as caretakers, educators, and sources of cultural traditions. Their contributions to the community, their involvement in decision-making processes, and their knowledge of ancestral customs are highly valued.

Honor and respect, known as “maratabat” in the Moro culture, are qualities that are highly valued. This incorporates values like honor, reliability, and reputation. Maintaining social unity and upholding the community’s collective honor entails upholding one’s maratabat. Aside from that, respect for elders, adherence to traditional customs, and fulfilling social obligations are also important to Moro societal norms.

Historically, traditional leadership structures played a big role in Moro society. The Moro people were governed by datus, or regional rulers, who served as the sultans of the sultanates over which they were established. These leaders regulated politics, acted as arbitrators, and protected their own regions. They function as a hierarchical organization with several administrative divisions and levels of authority.

Arts, Literature, and Music of the Moro People

Moro people playing musical instruments

The Moro people have a vibrant artistic history that includes many different types of expression. Their artistic traditions express their cultural identity and creativity in everything from music and dance to visual arts and literature. The Moro ethnic group is renowned for its fine workmanship and artistic arts. They are skilled in a variety of artistic mediums, including weaving, metalworking, pottery, and wood carving.

In addition to that, oral literature is also a significant aspect of the Moro culture in order to preserve their history, beliefs, and ancestral knowledge. They pass down their traditions and values from one generation to another through oral narratives, poems, myths, and folktales. Most of these stories are about heroes, supernatural beings, and moral lessons, which provide a deeper understanding of their cultural worldview and identity.

Music is also important in the culture of the Moro people. It serves as a means of expression, entertainment, and cultural preservation for them. Traditional Moro music is distinguished by a wide variety of rhythmic melodies, lyrical songs, and instruments. The Kulintang ensemble is a well-known traditional musical group. It consists of multiple small gongs that are played with sticks. They play it in different contexts, such as in rituals, celebrations, and social gatherings.

Aside from musical instruments, dance is also an integral part of Moro cultural expression. One of the popular traditional Moro dances is the Singkil dance, which is performed with bamboo poles and intricate choreography that portrays a princess escaping from danger.

The Moro people use their arts, literature, and music as platforms for self-expression, cultural preservation, and storytelling. The Moro people continue to honor their cultural past, spread their ideals, and amaze audiences with their artistic prowess through their visual arts, oral literature, traditional music, and dance. In addition to showcasing their talent, these artistic traditions also add to the Philippines’ rich cultural heritage as a whole.

Economy and Livelihood of the Moro People

The core of the Moro traditional economy is agriculture. A wide range of products, including rice, corn, fruits, and vegetables, are supported by the rich soils of Mindanao and adjacent Moro regions. Slash-and-burn agriculture (swidden agriculture) and terraced farming are used, indicating their close relationship with the soil and sustainable agricultural practices.

Fishing is also a key part of the Moro economy because of its close proximity to coastal regions and the wealth of marine resources. Both conventional methods, such as hand lines, fish traps, and nets, as well as more contemporary techniques, are used for fishing. Gathering of fish, shellfish, and seaweed provides coastal communities with a crucial source of food and cash.

The Moro people have a long history of artistic talent and craftsmanship. In addition to weaving, wood carving, brass and silversmithing, pottery manufacturing, and boat building, they also engage in other traditional crafts. These crafts, which frequently pass down through generations, show off their artistic talent. Trade of these traditional goods and handicrafts also functions as an economic activity, allowing communities to support themselves and promote cultural interchange.

In the past, the Moro people traded products and commodities with nearby towns using the barter system. Barter was an essential tool for enabling trade, building social cohesiveness, and bridging cultural divides. Traditional market structures, such as “tabuan” or local marketplaces, served as significant hubs for trade and intercultural communication where commodities and products were bought, sold, and traded.

Issues and Challenges of the Moro People

In the Philippine political system, the Moro people have long sought self-determination and autonomy. With discussions, peace accords, and the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the quest for self-governance has been a difficult and ongoing process. As the Moro people fight toward real representation and government in their native lands, the path toward political autonomy remains difficult.

For the Moro people, territorial wars and disputes over ancestral lands have been recurrent problems. Displacement and marginalization have been caused by historical land dispossession, disputed land claims, and encroachment by other communities and industries. The Moro people’s quest for land rights and the acknowledgment of indigenous territory continues to be a top priority since it affects their cultural legacy, way of life, and sense of community.

The Moro people still experience prejudice and social marginalization. Cultural presumptions, prejudice, and stereotypes all contribute to the lack of opportunity for growth and social marginalization. In order to achieve social justice and equality, it is crucial to promote inclusive policies, foster cultural understanding, and fight discrimination.


The Moro people’s history, religious convictions, social structure, artistic traditions, traditional economy, and current problems all have a significant impact on their culture and society. The Moro Rebellion occurred many years ago, but the Moro people are still fighting contemporary challenges today, such as political struggles for autonomy, land conflicts, cultural preservation in the face of globalization, economic disparities, and social marginalization, and addressing these challenges requires collaborative efforts, inclusive policies, and respect for their rights and cultural heritage.

By learning about the principles and culture of the Moro people, we can have greater cultural awareness and work towards a more equitable and harmonious society. We hope this article helped you learn more about the culture and society of the Moro people.