Identification. The Maguindanao speak the language of the same name, Maguindanao, live mainly on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, and are the largest ethnic group of Muslim Filipinos. The names of both the people and the island on which they live refer to a large inland body of water. The ethnic designation "Maguindanao" has been translated as "people of the flood plain."
Location. The south-central part of Mindanao, where most Maguindanao live, is located between 6° and 8° N and 124° and 126° E. This region has been known historically as Cotabato. The name is derived from the Malay for "stone fort" and apparently refers to a fort that once stood at the mouth of the Pulangi River, the main access to the interior of the Cotabato Valley. The valley is nearly surrounded by mountains, except to the west. The river, now called the Mindanao River, is a confluence of several tributaries that flow down from the mountains and snake across the valley floor before converging and emptying into the Moro Gulf on the western coast. Much of the valley floor is a vast marshland. During periods of heavy rain and flooding it resembles a large, shallow lake. Rainfall is abundant and fairly uniform throughout the year, but the wettest period is generally between May and October.
Demography. Before this century the Cotabato Valley appears to have been only sparsely inhabited despite its large area and evident fertility. By the turn of the century there may have been 100,000 or more Maguindanao living there. The 1948 census found 155,000 Muslims in Cotabato, nearly all of whom would have been Maguindanao. Population figures from the 1980 census are not categorized by ethnicity or religion. Those figures show that Maguindanao was the primary language spoken in 85,964 "households." Maguindanao households often include extended families and/or multiple families, so even a minimum figure of six persons per household would yield a total Maguindanao population of over 500,000. Based on field observation and previous estimates, the actual figure is probably substantially higher.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Maguindanao language is in the Malayo-Polynesian Family. It is clearly related to many other Philippine languages including Tagalog, the predominant national language. The closest cognate language is Maranao, spoken by a Muslim group of that name living just north of Cotabato, with whom the Maguindanao have a strong cultural affinity.