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The Tausug of the Philippines

[IMAGE] A number of different people groups, known collectively as the South Philippine Muslims, live on the Sulu Archipelago, an island chain between the Philippines and the island of Borneo. By far, the Tausug are the most dominant of all the South Philippine Muslim groups. Most of the Tausug reside on the island of Jolo, but some live scattered throughout the other islands.

The name Tausug means "people of the sea current." The Tausug probably came to the Sulu Archipelago from northeastern Mindanao as a result of the expansion of Chinese trade in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

The exact time Islam was introduced to the Tausug is not known. However, it may have occurred as early as the tenth century A.D. when Arab trade was active with southern China via the islands. Since their conversion to Islam, the Tausug have remained staunch Muslims. They have also shown great determination in their fight for independence from Filipino control.

What are their lives like?
The livelihood of the Tausug is based primarily on agriculture and fishing, but some cattle, chickens, ducks are also raised. The major cash crops are coconuts, coffee, and fruit. Fishermen, whether part- or full-time, use motorized boats in offshore coastal waters. Nets, hook and line, and various types of bamboo traps are used.

Except in the town of Jolo and the few coastal villages, most Tausug live in dispersed communities near their fields. Among the Tausug, the household is the smallest territorial unit. The next largest unit is the lungan (village settlement), which often includes related family members. Still larger is the kauman (community), which has a common name and a single headman. Because a real sense of community is weak among the Tausug, the solidarity of the kauman depends on several factors: the amount of intermarriage among its residents, the effective authority of the headman, and the attendance at a common mosque.

The typical Tausug home is a timber and bamboo-walled rectangular room, raised six to eight feet above the ground on stilts, with a thatched roof. The house is surrounded by a series of elevated porches leading to a separate kitchen. Usually a fence is built around the house for protection.

The ideal marriage among the Tausug is still one arranged by the parents. However, today, courting may occur and the young people may select their own mates. First and second cousins are favored as spouses.

Children sometimes study the Koran with private tutors. Public ceremonies are held when the children are ready to recite the scriptures. A son is circumcised in his early teens, and it has been reported that daughters are also circumcised when they are six or seven. Young girls help their mothers with household duties, while the boys help their fathers in the fields or with fishing.

What are their beliefs?
The Tausug are Sunni (Orthodox) Muslims belonging to the Shafiite branch of Islam. However, like many other Asian Muslims, they have retained many pre-Islamic religious beliefs and rituals. Their world is full of environmental spirits that are believed to cause sickness or good fortune. Their concept of life after death is a mixture of Islamic and traditional beliefs. For example, they believe that a person has four souls that leave the body after death. It is thought that the body then goes to hell, where his length of punishment is determined by his misconduct while living on earth. Eventually, however, they believe that all Tausug reach heaven.

What are their needs?
The Tausug, along with the other Muslim minority groups, are a relatively small outpost of radical Islam in a sea of Christianity. During the Marcos regime in the Philippines, these various groups waged a protracted and very bloody armed struggle against the central government. This long-standing conflict has left deep hurts and bitterness that are difficult to overcome. Sensitive Christian workers are needed to minister the love of Jesus to those who have emotionally scars from the past. Evangelical tools such as the Jesus film need to be translated into the Tausug language.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to the six missions agencies that are currently targeting the Tausug of the Philippines.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Tausug through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will use the Tausug believers as bold witnesses to their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Tausug bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin interceding for the Tausug.
  • Pray that Christian radio broadcasts, the Jesus film, and the rest of the Bible will be made available to the Tausug.
  • Ask the Lord to save key leaders in the Philippines who will boldly declare the Gospel.
  • Ask Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to heal the wounded hearts of the Tausug of the Philippines.

See also the following related groups:
of Indonesia, the Bajau and Joloano Sulu;
of Malaysia, the Bisaya, Northern Sinama, Southern Sama, and Tausug;
of the Philippines, the Bajau, Bajau Kagayan, Central Sama, Kalagan, Magindanaw, Northern Sinama, Pangutaran Sama, Southern Sama, and Yakan.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Tausug
  • Country: Philippines
  • Their language: Tausug (Sulu)
  • Population: (1990) 471,200
    (1995) 523,900
    (2000) 578,200
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Shafiite) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 524
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 6
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 142,000 (28%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 26,700 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 115,300 (22%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 381,900 (72%)
  • Country: Philippines
  • Population: (1990) 60,779,000
    (1995) 67,581,300
    (2000) 74,575,400
  • Major peoples in size order: Tagalog 20.5%
    Visayan 19%
    Ilocano 11.1%
    Hilgaynon 9.3%
    Waray-Waray 4.6%
  • Major religions: Christian (all types) (92.2%)
    Muslim 6%
    Ethnic religionist 0.6%
  • Number of denominations: 151

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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