''This article is about the people name Tausūg. For their language, see Tausug language.

Suluk redirects here. For the Islamic or Sufi term, see Sulook.
The Tausūg or Suluk people are an ethnic group of the Philippines and Malaysia. The term Tausūg was derived from two words tau and sūg (or suluk) meaning "people of the current", referring to their homelands in the Sulu Archipelago. Sūg and suluk both mean the same thing, with the former being the phonetic evolution in the Philippines of the latter (the L being dropped and thus the two short U's merging into one long U). The Tausūg people in Sabah refer to themselves as Tausūg but refers to their race as Suluk as documented in official documents such as birth certificates in Sabah, Malaysia. The Tausūg are part of the wider Moro ethnic group, who constitute the sixth largest Filipino ethnic group. They originally had an independent state known as the Sulu Sultanate, which once exercised sovereignty over the present day provinces of Basilan, Palawan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and the eastern part of the Malaysian state of Sabah (formerly North Borneo).


The Tausūg presently populate the province of Sulu as a majority, and the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Cebu and Manila as minorities. There is a large population of Tausūgs in all parts of Sabah, Malaysia, who mainly work as construction laborers with a substantial number as skilled workers. The Tausūg workers tend to be confused with the more numerous Bajau workers in Sabah that are less skilled.

In Sabah, there are groups of Tausūg that had settled in the areas to the east of Sabah, from Kudat town to the north, to Sempurna, to the south east, since the Sulu Sultanate rule over the eastern part of Sabah. However most had interbred with other races in Sabah, especially the Bajaus, that what remained is only their Suluk race as documented in birth certificates.

The etymology of the conjugated word "Tausug" comes from the word "Tau" which means man and "Sug" which means current. Basically, they are the people of the current.


The Tausūg currently number about 953,000 in the Philippines. They are related to the Visayan and the Tausug language is a Visayan language. The Tausūg however do not consider themselves as Visayan, using the term only to refer to Christian Bisaya-language speakers, given that the vast majority of Tausūgs are Muslims. In Malaysia, they number around 300,000. The recent migrants also speak Chavacano or another Visayan language - Cebuano - , and Tagalog in the Philippines; Malay in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia; and English in both Malaysia and Philippines as second languages.

Malaysian Tausūg, descendants of those resident when the Sulu Sultanate ruled the eastern part of Sabah, speak or understand the Sabahan dialect of Suluk, Bahasa Malaysia, and some English or Simunul, and those who are in contact with Bajau, those Bajau dialects. By the year 2000, most of the Tausūg children in Sabah, especially in towns of the west side of Sabah, were no longer speaking Tausūg; instead they speak the Sabahan dialect of Malay and English.


Tausūgs are experienced sailors and are known for their colorful boats or vintas. They are also superb warriors and craftsmen. They are also famous for the Pangalay dance (also known as Daling-Daling in Sabah), in which female dancers wear artificial elongated fingernails made from brass or silver known as janggay, and perform motions based on the Vidhyadhari (Bahasa Sūg: Bidadali) of pre-Islamic Buddhist legend.

Traditional Governance

Prior to modern times, the Sultanate of Sulu for Tausūg was the head of the Tausūg people. The system is a patrilineal system, consisting of the title of Sultan as the sole sovereign of the Sultinate, (In Tausūg language: Lupah Sug, literally: "Land of the Current"), followed by various Maharajah and Rajah titled subdivisional princes. Further down the line are the numerous Panglima or local chiefs, similar in function to the Philippine political post of Baranggay Kapitan in the Baranggay system.

In Sabah, the Sulu Sultan must have appointed and sent as his representatives to Sabah with the Datuk titles, to govern over the local population as well as accompanying Bajau tribes that are given the Panglima titles. Many of the Datuks are close relatives of the Sultan of Sulu that many are just as eligible to succeed as the Sultan of Sulu as many of the contenders in the Philippines. Their wives got the title Dayang. Of significance are the Sarip(Shariff) and their wives, Sharifah, who are descendents of Arabic royalty, well revered as religious leaders but many took up administrative posts as leaders of Society alongside the Datuks.

Conflict and Debate on existence of Sulu Sultanate

This is a high point of contention in the foreign policy of the countries now in possession of the Tausug Sulu Sultanate: namely those of the Philippines and Malaysia, as both these governments do not officially recognise the sovereignty of the Sultanate of Sulu. The Malaysian reasons state that the Sultinate was under the leadership of that of the Bruneian and Malay royal dynasties, and hence could not be classified as fully sovereign, while the Philippine governmental reasons state that the signing of the Bates Treaty between US occupiers and the Sultan on August 20, 1899, had deemed the Sultanate to lawfully convert sovereignty to that of Philippine governmental rule. Both reasons are highly disputed by the Tausug, who state that, in response to the Malaysian debate, the Sultanate had there is evidence in historic sources that the Sulu Sultanate coexisted with that of the Bruneian and Malay one, due to intermarriage and trade, as well as the view among the Tausug that the division of the Sultanate between US (who occupied the Philippines) and British (who occupied Malaya) occupiers was fully coerced, and hence must by International Law be deemed to be fully sovereign, and in response to the Philippine debate, that the Sultan was coerced by General J.C. Bates to sign the treaty in the hope that the Sultanate would remain sovereign and exist alongside the Philippines, only to be put under US control, and hence entering the Philippines without the consent of either the Sultan or the Tausug people.


Sultanate Era

The history of Sulu begins with Makdum, a Muslim missionary, who arrived in Sulu in 1380. He introduced the Islamic faith and settled in Tubig Indangan, Simunul until his death. The Mosque's pillars at Tubig-Indangan which he built still stand.

In 1390, Raja Baguinda landed at Buansa and extended the missionary work of Makdum. The Arabian scholar Abu Bakr arrived in 1450, married Baguinda's daughter, and after Baguinda's death, became Sultan, thereby introducing the sultanate as a political system. Political districts were created in Parang, Pansul, Lati, Gitung, and Luuk, each headed by a panglima or district leader.

After Abu Bakr's death, the sultanate system had already become well established in Sulu. Before the coming of the Spaniards, the ethnic groups in Sulu--the Tausug, Samal, Yakan, and Bajau--were in varying degrees united under the Sulu sultanate, considered the most centralized -political system in the Philippines. Called the "Moro Wars," these battles were waged intermittently from 1578 till 1898 between the Spanish colonial government and the Muslims of Mindanao.

In 1578, an expedition sent by Gov Francisco de Sande and headed by Capt Rodriguez de Figueroa began the 300-year warfare between the Tausūg and the Spanish authorities. In 1579, the Spanish government gave de Figueroa the sole right to colonize Mindanao. In retaliation, the Muslims raided Visayan towns in Panay, Negros, and Cebu. These were repulsed by Spanish and Visayan forces. In the early 17th century, the largest alliance composed of the Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausūg, other Muslim groups was formed by Sultan Kudarat or Cachil Corralat of Maguindanao, whose domain extended from the Davao Gulf to Dapitan on the Zamboanga peninsula. Several expeditions sent by the Spanish authorities suffered defeat. In 1635, Capt Juan de Chaves occupied Zamboanga and erected a fort. In 1637, Gov Gen Hurtado de Corcuera personally led an expedition against Kudarat, and triumphed over his forces at Lamitan and Ilian. On 1 January 1638, de Corcuera with 80 vessels and 2000 soldiers, defeated the Tausūg and occupied Jolo. A peace treaty was forged. The victory did not establish Spanish sovereignty over Sulu, as the Tausūg abrogated the treaty as soon Spaniards left in 1646.

In 1737, Sultan Alimud Din I entered into a "permanent" peace treaty with Gov Gen F. Valdes y Tamon; and in 1746, befriended the Jesuits sent to Jolo by King Philip. The "permission" of Sultan Azimuddin-I (*the first heir-apparent) allowed the Christians Jesuit enter Jolo was against by his young brother's Raja Muda Maharajah Adinda Datu Bantilan (*the second heir-apparent). Datu Bantilan did not want the Christian Jesuits disturbed or dishonored the Muslims faith in the Sulu Sultanate kingdom. The fought of these two brother, made Sultan Azimuddin-I leave Jolo to Zamboanga, then to Manila in 1948. Then Raja Muda Maharajah Adinda Datu Bantilan was proclaimed as sultan, taken the name as Sultan Bantilan Muizzuddin.

Sultan Bantilan Muizzuddin was a "Saviour" to the Sulu Sultanate kingdom. If he did not fought his brother Sultan Azimuddin-I (*Sultan Azimuddin-I was allowed the Christian Jesuits to entor Jolo and allowed them to spread the "Christians Doctrine" among the Muslims in Sulu), maybe since that time (1748), the Sulu Sultanate kingdom was already became "Christians Country" as what happened to Manila. Nowadays, the generation of Sultan Bantilan Muizzuddin (*the Maharajah Adinda Families) will try again to save the Sulu Sultanate for the second times. Which the Sulu Sultanate seems was demolished under the first heir-apparents management.

In 1893, amid succession controversies, Amirnul Kiram became Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, the title being officially recognized by the Spanish authorities. In 1899, after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War, Col Luis Huerta, the last governor of Sulu, relinquished his garrison to the Americans (Orosa 1970:25-30).

Fall of the Sultanate

During the Philippine-American War, the Americans adopted a policy of noninterference in the Muslim areas, as spelled out in the Bates Agreement of 1899 signed by Brig Gen John C. Bates and Sultan Jamalul Kiram II of Jolo. Although the Bates Agreement had "pacified," to a certain extent, the Sulu sultanate, resistance continued. In 1901, panglima (district chief) Hassan and his followers fought the Americans, believing that acceptance of American sovereignty would affect his own authority (Che Man l990:46-47).

After the Philippine-American War, the Americans established direct rule over the newly formed "Moro province," which consisted of five districts-Zamboanga, Lanao, Cotabato, Davao, and Sulu. Political, social, and economic changes were introduced. These included the creation of provincial and district institutions; the introduction of the public school system and American-inspired judicial system the imposition of the cedula or head tax; the migration of Christians to Muslim lands encouraged by the colonial government; and the abolition of slavery. These and other factors contributed to Muslim resistance that took 10 years "to pacify”. The Department of Mindanao and Sulu replaced the Moro province on 15 December 1913.

With the ratification of the Carpenter Agreement in 1915 and the death of Sultan Jamalul-Kiram-II in 1936 without heir, the Sultanate of Sulu has been abolished. Furthermore, the non-recognition to "any" successor of the sultanate was implemented by President Manuel L.Quezon in Memorandum 20 September, 1937.

The British administrator in Sabah did not formally adopt a policy of non-recognition of the rights of the Sultan of Sulu and his descendents in Sabah. Attempts by some Datuks in Sabah to take up their succession case with the Sultan of Brunei had failed. To this day the Malaysian government secretly pays the lease to the heirs of the Sultan as decided by a U.S. judge but claimants from Sabah had never been considered.

Some historians claim that the title should have shifted to the second heir apparent.

  • The Carpenter Agreement in 1915 only reduces the authority of the Sultan, but does not abolish the Sultanate.
  • Following the Sulu Sultanate protocol system or "Tartib", upon the death of a Sultan with no heir to the throne, the title should shift to the second heir-apparent since that time.
  • The non-recognition to any "Successors" of Sultan Jamalul-Kiram II by President Manuel L.Quezon in "Memorandum 20 September, 1937", refers only to "The primary heir" of the Sulu Sultanate and does not mean abolishment of the Sulu Sultanate.

It is claimed that the Maharajah Adinda families are the rightful "heirs and successors" to the Sulu Sultanate kingdom as documented on "The 1878 North-Borneo Padjak Agreement".

That agreement never refer to the whole of Sabah, only to the eastern part of Sabah. This is reinforced by the fact that the Tausūgs only settle in the regions from Kudat to Semporna. The claims of the Philippines government over Sabah appears to ignore the descendents of the Sulu Sultan in Sabah who were administrating the region on behalf of the true Sultan and the democratic rights of the current inhabitants. What is worse, the claim is over areas that are clearly not part of the mortgage(pajak/Sanda) agreement.

Modern Era

A "policy of attraction" was introduced, ushering in reforms to encourage Muslim integration into Philippine society. "Proxy colonialism" was legalized by the Public Land Act of 1919, invalidating Tausūg pusaka (inherited property) laws based on the Islamic Shariah. The act also granted the state the right to confer land ownership. It was thought that the Muslims would "learn" from the "more advanced" Christianized Filipinos, and would integrate more easily into mainstream Philippine society.

In February 1920, the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives passed Act No 2878, which abolished the Department of Mindanao and Sulu and transferred its responsibilities to the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes under the Department of the Interior. Muslim dissatisfaction grew as power shifted to the Christianized Filipinos. Petitions were sent by Muslim leaders between 1921 and 1924 requesting that Mindanao and Sulu be administered directly by the United States. These petitions were not granted. Realizing the futility of armed resistance, some Muslims sought to make the best of the situation. In 1934, Arolas Tulawi of Sulu, Datu Manandang Piang and Datu Blah Sinsuat of Cotabato, and Sultan Alaoya Alonto of Lanao were elected to the 1935 Constitutional Convention. In 1935, two Muslims were elected to the National Assembly.

The Commonwealth years sought to end the privileges the Muslims had been enjoying under the earlier American administration. Muslim exemptions from some national laws, as expressed in the administrative code for Mindanao, and the Muslim right to use their traditional Islamic courts, as expressed in the Moro Board, were ended. It was unlikely that the Muslims, who have had a longer cultural history as Muslims than the Filipinos as Christians, would surrender their identity. Fearing government persecution, he went to the hills. On "death row," he was finally pardoned by Pres Marcos on 11 September 1968. This incident contributed to the rise of various separatist movements-the Muslim Independence Movement (MIM), Ansar El-Islam, and Union of Islamic Forces and Organizations (Che Man 1990:74-75). In 1969, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was founded on the concept of a Bangsa Moro Republic by a group of educated young Muslims. In 1976, negotiations between the Philippine government and the MNLF in Tripoli resulted in the Tripoli Agreement, which provided for an autonomous region in Mindanao. Nur Misuari was invited to chair the provisional government but he refused. The referendum was boycotted by the Muslims themselves. The talks collapsed, and fighting continued. On 1 August 1989, Republic Act 673 or the Organic Act for Mindanao created the Autonomous Region of Mindanao, which encompasses Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. Many leaders of the Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group operating in Mindanao, are of Tausūg descent.


Institute of Bangsamoro Studies 2005

Search another word or see Sultinateon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature