Shariff Kabunsuan Festival Highlights Bangsamoro Heritage

The reenactment of Shariff Kabunsuan’s arrival at Rio Grande de Mindanao marks the festival’s grand finale.

In the Philippines’s Central Mindanao Peninsula, long before Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Philippines in 1521, Shariff Kabunsuan’s great works already made a significant development in the lives of its cultural communities since 1475.

For the first time in history, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the City Government of Cotabato recently conducted a joint commemoration of the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival through a week-long staging of activities in reverence to the Great Work of the Shariff Mohammad Kabunsuan in propagating Islam in Central Mindanao. These festivities were held in Cotabato City and nearby municipalities. The essence of the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival is its religious element combining traditions and rich cultural heritage in one big celebration. The event also gave opportunities to locals and tourists to discover their culture, history, and traditions. The focus is inclusivity, peace and togetherness where Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous Peoples co-exist in harmony.

Street dance pays tribute to Shariff Kabunsuan’s arrival in Central Mindanao. Champions of Kuyog Streetdance Competition from Tulunan, Cotabato are all smiles in a huddle.

Dubbed as the “Commemoration of Shariff Kabunsuan Day,” its primary initiative is to converge the regional ministries, the local government units, and the business sector leveraging on the local economic benefits of tourism, giving highlights on cultural solidarity with the Bangsamoro government. Its long-term goal is to thrive on meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE), Trade and Tourism. Its economic benefit and incentives will greatly be enjoyed by the region and its peoples.

“May we be reminded that other than faith, it is the message of peace and unity among us is what this festival wants us to share and remember,” said Cotabato City Mayor Mohammad Ali “Bruce” D. Matabalao. “And that Cotabato City, being the crown jewel of BARMM, is truly para sa lahat [for all],” he added.

The Agri-trade fair showcases local products and souvenirs. Local chefs prepare local dishes at the culinary showcase.

Opening Day

With the theme “One heritage, One culture, Endless possibilities,” the opening ceremonies of the colorful Shariff Kabunsuan Festival in Cotabato City depict the early years of the Arab missionary with participants including students from various colleges and universities in Maguindanao, Cotabato City and nearby municipalities. The Kuyog street-dancing and competition brings out the youth’s creativity and love of their own culture, by recreating Shariff Kabunsuan’s arrival in Central Mindanao by way of traditional dances, colorful costumes, music, and skits.

Agri-Trade Fair

The Agri-trade fair showcases the rich agricultural products of Maguindanao and Cotabato City. This activity pooled together local producers across the region focusing on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Inawl fashion piece by designer Cely Nicolas and Inawl outfit by designer Wilfred Yee.

Culinary Showcase

In conjunction with the Longest Dulang which represents the food offertory for the coming of the Sharrif Kabunsuan, it was also a thanksgiving for the significance of his mission: the islamization of the tribal communities. A culinary showcase was held at the BARMM compound covered court that was participated by at least 15 local chefs from different backgrounds across central Mindanao. “Pagana,” or a hearty meal, is also a salo-salo dining in Moro tradition. The colorfully laid out cuisine reveals their articulate taste. Moro cooking has coconut milk with chicken or beef. No pork, please.  Pastries from different parts of Mindanao were also served. It’s true that food brings us all together.

Inawl Fashion Show

Celebrating Moro heritage by way of fashion dates back hundreds of years ago. The Inawl Fashion Show preserves its important tradition of creativity, uplifting the weavers of Mindanao, and is transformed by local designers of today. The featured designers were: Wilfred Yee, Cely Nicolas, Israel Ungkakay, Marc Gernan, Melissa Ajaddi Chin, Akmad Kari, Jr., and Pepe Quitco.

This project is initiated and chaired by former Maguindanao 1st District Congresswoman Bai Sandra Sema, who is currently the chairperson of the City Tourism Council.

The traditional Pagana meal is a Moro dining tradition. Guinakit Fluvial Parade shows off a convoy of traditional boats.

“The Inawl Fashion show started in 2003,” Sema revealed. “There were just a few weavers at that time, and it was dying tradition. Now, we are launching inawl, which originates from our ancestors, and it’s the best fabric in the Philippines,” she added. 

Inawl, or “inaul” is a Maguindanaoan traditional handwoven fabric renowned for its colors and elegance. “Weavers use cotton or silk, and today at the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival, we witness a new generation of Moros joining together in the peace process through fashion, and very importantly, this first tandem with BARMM and the national government that shows we are moving in the same direction for our future.”

The Guinakit Fluvial Parade

The grand finalé is the ceremonial Guinakit Fluvial Parade, a reenactment of Shariff Kabunsuan’s entry to the Philippines from Malaysia 500 years ago, introducing Islam to pagans, even before Ferdinand Magellan landed on our shores.

The popular Rio Grande de Mindanao came to life with the fluvial parade composed of 85 boats at the Tamontaka River to Baiwalk Kalanganan. The fluvial parade is designed to depict the re-enactment of the coming of the Shariff Kabunsuan in grand fashion during its time. The BARMM and Cotabato City Government provided a guinakit boat mimicking the Shariff Kabunsuan persona. The guinaikit boats of Maguindanao province, the ARMM Government, and various LGU’s of Maguindanao especially along coastal and river lines formed part of the whole entourage of the voyage of Shariff and his men. The boats are decorated with buntings and flaglets with gongs and music instruments to sound off the coming of the Shariff.

Places of Interest

Aside from the main festivities of the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival, it was also an opportunity to visit the many places of interests in Cotabato City. First on the list was the Grand Mosque, which is a 20-minute drive from Cotabato City. The Grand Mosque is the second largest in the Philippines and the third largest in Southeast Asia. A gift from a Sultan of Brunei, the structure was finished in 2011.

The People’s Palace is the name of the Cotabato City’s Municipal Hall. The kind mayor named it as such as a symbol of peace, welcoming anyone who would want to enter the grounds.

The Bangsamoro Museum is worth visiting as it has documented the history of Islam, its peace process, and the Muslims’ struggle for independence from all kinds of attempted colonization, starting from the Spanish era to present times. Writings on the walls, artifacts, music instruments, traditional clothing are just some of the beautiful exhibitions on display.

Preserving ancient traditions, and respecting one’s heritage is what the festival is all about. Truly, achieving economic stability, and a thriving tourism starts with peace.

Image credits: Arabelle Jimenez


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