Tausug - Orientation

Identification. The Tausug ("people of the current"— tau, "people"; sug, "sea current") are the numerically dominant group in the Sulu Archipelago of the southern Philippines. Jolo Island, strategically located near the heart of the archipelago, constitutes the cultural and political center of Tausug society. Major concentrations of Tausug are also present on Pata, Tapul, Lugus, and Siasi islands, on the north and eastern coasts of Basilan, and in the Mindanao provinces of Zamboanga del Sur and Cotabato. Additional populations are found in eastern Sabah (Malaysia), from Labuk-Sugut southward to Tawau. In Sulu the Tausug typically occupy the larger high islands, suitable for intensive agriculture, leaving the low coraline islands to the more maritime Samal. The Tausug are a culturally unified group, and regional differentiation is minimal. On Jolo Island, coastal-dwelling Tausug refer to themselves as "Tau Higad" ( higad, "seacoast") and to inland dwellers as "Tau Gimnba" ( gimba, "hinterland"), whereas both groups refer to Tausug living on islands other than Jolo as "Tau Pu" ( pu, "island"). In Sabah the Tausug are known officially and in the ethnographic literature as "Suluk."

Location. The 400 or so islands of the Sulu Archipelago, bounded on the west by the Sulu Sea and on the east and south by the Celebes Sea, lie between 4°30′ and 6°50′ N and 119°10′ and 122°25′ E. Jolo, the largest of the group, is a rugged, high island, 59 kilometers long by 16 kilometers wide. Fertile volcanic soils make possible intensive dry-field cultivation over approximately one-half of its area; the rest is either unarable mountain land, remnant forest, or former farmland turned to imperata grass. Rainfall is abundant, 178 to 254 centimeters annually, but erratic, particularly during the northeast monsoon (November-March). Jolo Island is surrounded by coral reefs and fringed with sand beaches and mangrove swamps.

Demography. The Tausug population of the Philippines was estimated at 325,000 in 1970, of which 190,000 lived on Jolo Island. Following the destruction of Jolo town in 1974 in fighting between Muslim separatists and Christian soldiers, this latter figure has probably declined, as considerable numbers of Tausug were evacuated or fled, many to Basilan, Zamboanga, and Sabah. In Sabah locally born Tausug numbered 10,900 in 1970. Current estimates of their number, together with recent refugees, run from 20,000 to as high as 100,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Tausug language belongs to the East Mindanao Subgroup of Central Philippine languages. Its closest affiliation is with Butuanun, spoken at the mouth of the Agusan River (northeast Mindanao), from which it is believed to have separated some 900 years ago. It also exhibits extensive linguistic convergence with Sama-Bajau, indicating a long and close association. Tausug shows little dialectal variation and served historically as the lingua franca of the Sulu sultanate. A Malay-Arabic script is used for religious and other writings.

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