Who Are the Yakan?

Much has been written about the Manobo, the Tausug, the Badjao, and the other tribes of Mindanao, but almost nobody has heard of the Yakan. There are more than 13 tribes in Mindanao, all with their own identity and culture, and the Yakan deserves to have their own stories and way of life told.

A Yakan boy dancing during the Tumahik Festival.

As opposed to the Badjao whose way of life is tied to the sea, the Yakan are mountain dwellers. They were originally from the island of Basilan, but due to the decades-long conflict in the area, their people have been dispersed. Most of them have now settled in Zamboanga.

The Yakan Land

The Yakan had their individual lands but they had no titles to it, only basing their partitions from custom. They are now getting legal land titles to their traditional lands, owing to some bitter lessons from some people taking advantage of the situation.

They plant crops like rice, sweet potato, and cassava. Rice is so tied up with their culture that they tend to personify it. They perform quasi-religious ceremonies during harvesting and planting, making sure that the rice spirit is satisfied.



A young Yakan girl playing a bamboo xylophone.

The Yakan identify as Muslim, although traces of animism and old religious beliefs persist. This syncretism is not unusual in the Philippine setting, though. Filipino Catholics also do this with their Sto. Niño anting-antings and others. For the Yakan, the center of the community is a langgal, and a langgal is headed by an Imam. The Imam performs not just religious functions, but also assists in rice ceremonies.

Their own identity

You would be a fortunate bystander if you happened to witness a Yakan wedding. The bride and groom’s faces would be painted with white distinctive patterns. The patterns do not have any symbolic meaning, but are instead put on for aesthetic purposes. They would also be decked out in their customary woven clothing. Due to the westernization of much of the tribes of the Philippines, traditional clothing is usually only donned during important occasions, like weddings.

Most of the tribes in the Philippines are recognizable due to their distinctive woven clothing. From the Kankanaey of Mountain Province, to the Moro of Mindanao. It is the same with the Yakan. Their weaving tradition have been handed down from generation to generation. A simple design can take a couple of days, with the motif incorporated in the weaving process. What sets the Yakan apart is the intricacy of their composition, as well as the draping of their clothing when worn. The handwoven fabrics that the Yakan produce is so well-made, that this is now primarily what they are known for.IMG_2749.JPG

The Yakan culture deserve to be showcased. I would not be able to give justice to their way of life with just a simple article. I hope that this blog will light a fire in you to find out more about our culture. The Philippines is rich, not just with our natural resources, but with our people as well.


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