Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The Maguindanao grow a variety of crops, trap fish, and obtain wild foods and other materials from the marshes for their subsistence. Wet rice is grown in the lowlands, and dry rice and corn are farmed in upland areas. Tubers, including yams and sweet potatoes, are also among the staple crops. Vegetables such as tomatoes, squash, and beans are grown, and wild greens are harvested in abundance from marshlands. Coconuts abound and are gathered at an immature stage for their tender meat and water or to be made into coconut milk for cooking. Many kinds of fruit are common, including bananas, plantains, mangoes, guavas, and durians. Freshwater fish are the main source of protein in the interior, as are saltwater fish and shellfish along the coast. Goats are raised for meat and usually are consumed on ceremonial occasions. An aged or infirm water buffalo may also be slaughtered for such events. Chickens are raised for both eggs and meat. Even today the Maguindanao produce nearly all of their own food.
Industrial Arts. Many items are hand-crafted in households from wood, bamboo, rattan, thatch, and fiber. Most of these are produced for domestic use, but some weaving, mat making, and basketry is done on a limited basis for commercial sale. In the past, the Maguindanao were known for their production of ornate brass containers, ornaments, musical gongs, etc., but brass working has become a lost art in recent times. Steel-bladed tools and weapons are still produced on a small scale.
Trade. Before this century, the Maguindanao dominated trade with people of the interior of the island and exacted tribute from them. Commodities such as salt, metal goods, Chinese pottery, cloth, beads, and other manufactured items passed inland in exchange for rice, gold, and a variety of forest products. It appears slaves may have been taken and sold as well. Trade with other islands involved many of the same items, and some Maguindanao may have been involved in piracy, which has been reported in this area for centuries.
Division of Labor. Those of highest rank in this society tend to be removed from manual labor. Among the rest, the male/female division of labor is not very pronounced. Men do the plowing, harrowing, and other heavy work of farming. Women do most domestic work, often assisted by older children. Nearly all able-bodied adults and young people join in such tasks as planting, weeding, harvesting, and threshing.
Land Tenure. Until early in this century, all land was communally owned. A person could use land if he or she could demonstrate descent from an ancestor who had cleared or used that land. In the 1920s, the American colonial government conducted cadastral surveys to determine individual landholdings. It appears many datus took this opportunity to claim the land farmed by their followers as their own, and thus acquired title to large tracts of formerly communal lands. Today there is a mixture of titled small holdings, land of uncertain title farmed on the basis of traditional claims, and "estate" lands farmed by datus or their tenants.