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The name Tawi-Tawi is believed to be derived from the Malay term “jaui”, which means far. Prehistoric travelers called the province as “Jaui-jaui” to denote a very far place because of its distance from mainland Asia. The province was originally part of the Sulu province.


Tawi-Tawi has the distinction of being the earliest home of Islam in the Philippines when an Arab missionary, Sheikh Makhdum, established the first mosque in the island of Simunul. From the time of the Sulu Sultanate’s inception in the 14th century, Tawi-Tawi had traditionally been part of its realm. During most of the Spanish period in the Philippines, the now province of Tawi-Tawi remained free of western intervention. In 1882, the Spaniards made their first attempt to control the island group by establishing a garrison. They withdrew from the islands at the close of the century as a result of the Philippine Revolution.


Americans established control over the islands and incorporated Tawi-Tawi into the province of Sulu in 1914. Parts of the Tawi-Tawi islands were repurchased from Spain as a consequence of omissions in the Treaty of Paris. Sibutu and Mapun (Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi) were bought for an additional $100,000. In 1948, when the Turtle Islands were returned to the Philippines by Great Britain, they were constituted as part of the island group. The islands remained part of the Sulu province until 1973 when the Province of Tawi-Tawi was created through Presidential Decree No. 302.


Tawi-Tawi was incorporated into an autonomous regional government for Western Mindanao in 1979 following agreements with the Moro Secessionist Movement. In 1989, the province voted overwhelmingly to become part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.


Tawi-Tawi province is composed of 11 municipalities namely: Bongao, Panglima Sugala, Sitangkai, Sibutu, Simunul, Mapun, Turtle Islands, Languyan, Tandubas, Sapa-Sapa, and South Ubian.


Introduction of Islam in 13th Century. An Arab missionary, who was a 22nd generation descendant of Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.), introduced Islam in the Philippines in Tubig Indnagan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi. The first mosque in the entire country was built there of which only the four original pillars stand today inside its re-structured building. The Sheikh Makhdum Day is celebrated annually every November 7 and the mosque is one of the Philippines Historical Landmarks.

Tawi-Tawi culture is basically lowland Southeast Asian with features of both marine orientation and rice and cassava cultivation. Cassava is the preferred staple. Copra is also produced. There are affinities with the coastal groups of north Borneo. Trade is an important feature of the culture and in certain areas shipbuilding is a well-developed industry especially in the island of Sibutu.

Houses are usually built on high stilts over shallow waters in sheltered areas, with the boats of many kinds usually moored alongside.







The Sama (AA Sama, Jama Mapun, Bangingi, Pangutaran) are a highly variable group with the populations concentrated in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. The core areas are in Siasi, Tandubas, and Sitangkai, and Pangutaran. The people group themselves consistent with the dialects they speak and are identified by their home islands. With these as bases, they distinguish at least 20 subgroupings among themselves. The group is Islamic in religion. Some are nominally Muslim. Still others are referred to as totally non-Islamic. In terms of adaptation they group themselves into two: Sama Dilaut (mistakenly called Badjao, Palao, or Samal) and the Sama Diliya. The former is commonly associated with marine orientation and still retain much of the indigenous religion; the latter is usually landed and highly influenced by Islam.


The Tausugs also has a big population in the province, mostly migrants from the Sulu province. However, considering that Tawi-Tawi was a part of the Sulu province, the sultanate and the whole archipelago, Tausugs are also considered to be natives/locals in Tawi-Tawi. Most of them occupy the mainland Tawi-Tawi specifically in the municipalities of Bongao, Panglima Sugala, and Languyan.

Christian settlers like the Bisaya, Chavacano, and Bicolano, are another minority group that can be found in the province who mostly reside in the Bongao and Panglima Sugala municipalities.




Sinama – is the widely used language in the province by the Sama groups though it may vary in the places of origin of a certain group. Sama Simunul, Sama Tabawan (and Banaran), Sama Sibutu (and Sitangkai), Sama Tandubas, and Sama Ubian (and Tabawan). Tausug group residing in the province learned the Sinama Language.


Jama Mapun – is the specific language of the Jama Mapuns (of the Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi) which is almost similar with the Sinama.


Sinug – Language spoken by the Tausug.


Bisaya – can be heard in the the town of Bongao and Panglima Sugala municipalities from the Christian settlers.