Carla Michaela E. Escueta
Project Officer, Intangible Cultural Heritage Unit, National Commission for Culture and the Arts

The Maranao of Lanao del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines has a vibrant culture that is evident in their way of living. It is as colorful as the malong1 they wear and as elaborate as the okir2 designs on their architectural structures. One of the more intricate pieces making up Maranao culture cannot be touched but heard through the epic singing of the Darangen.

The Darangen is an ancient folk epic of the Maranao, predating Islamization in the Philippines. It originates from the Maranao term, darang, meaning to narrate in the form of song or chant. Unlike other epics, the Darangen demands that it be sung rather than read. It is composed of an archaic Maranao vocabulary and possibly with Sanskrit origins due to the phonological and semantic similarities.

There is no single author of the Darangen. Rather, the people believe that it was passed down by their forebears from Bembran, the principal locale of the story.

Dr. Mamitua Saber highlights,

The Kingdom of Bembran is not a mere village or town but a real city of remarkable grandeur. Since the people believed that the realm was home to their forebears, the reason why it no longer exists is that the kingdom sank to the bottom of the sea. All its people, animals, and treasures lost with it.

It may sound fantastic but through the epic, the “Lost City” becomes a fairyland, comparably as splendid as cities from similar eastern tales of the Malays, Hindus, and Arabs.3

Like other epics, the Darangen is a prolonged verse narrative with numerous themes. It is 8 volumes long, composed of 17 cycles with 72,000 lines in the iambic tetrameter or catalectic trochaic tetrameter. Each cycle represents a single story but is connected in a sequential progression.

Despite its technical complexities, chanters can easily memorize the material and move from one event to another effortlessly. It has become a common source material for Maranao singers, orators, performers, and many others in the creative arts. It can be sung during various events such as kawing (wedding ceremony), or large gatherings like a sultanate enthronement or even as a lullaby to cradle a child to sleep.

The epic is filled with stories of fantastic adventures about powerful ayonans,4 majestic kingdoms and mystical tonongs.5 The heroes and heroines who are of royal personalities are as sensational as the adventures they go through. They can fly and control the sun and seas by calling on different tonongs, and they possess great strength to fight battles for days. In the process, these heroes gain the respect of their people and win their sweetheart’s hand in marriage. Exemplar characters bring life to the epic stories, creating entertainment while incorporating moral lessons.

These stories are not mere fairy tales but literary exemplifications of Maranao values and customary laws. They reiterate themes about family, courtship, warfare, and death through symbolism, metaphor, irony, and satire. The epic has a depth of meaning that remains true to the ideologies of Maranao society.

Unfortunately, these values are gradually disappearing along with its practitioners because of several factors. First of all, some claim that the epic literature conflicts with the current Islamic belief of the Maranao. Second, the recent siege at Marawi has also displaced the Maranao living here and further endangered their intangible cultural heritage. Others just find no interest in the oral literature because it has no place in the highly urbanized Filipino lifestyle. This is not to say that the Darangen itself is no longer relevant to the modern-day Maranao, but it clearly identifies the challenges for safeguarding.

With the help of modern means and the persistence of cultural experts, the ancient narrative has been immortalized in writing. Eight volumes of the text were published, consisting of three to four stories per volume. The team from the Folklore Division of Mindanao State University Research Center (today, the Mamitua Saber Research Center) took on the massive task of collecting, translating, and studying the entire narrative from Maranao elders and from the kirim6 collected from various Maranao villages.

The Darangen was declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines by the National Museum and a Provincial Treasure by Lanao del Sur Province in 2002. It was also included in the Proclamation of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005. After the establishment of the 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage, it was incorporated into the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.


Cadar, Usopay Hamdag. 1980. Context and Style in the Vocal Music of the Maranao in Mindanao. Marawi City: Mindanao State University.

Convocar, Manuel M. and Badron, Paladan. 1978. Maranao. Quezon City: Philippine Center for Advance Studies Museum.

Coronel, Sr. Ma. Delia, comp. 1995. Darangen. Vol. 1. Marawi City: Mamitua Saber Research Center.

Coronel, Sr. Ma. Delia, comp. 1995. Darangen. Vol. 8. Marawi City: Mamitua Saber Research Center.

McKaughan, Howard P. comp. 1995. Stories from the Darangen. Manila: De La Salle University Press, Inc.

Saber, Mamitua and Madale, Abdullah T. 1975. The Maranao. Manila: Solidaridad Publishing House.

Saber, Mamitua. 1961. “Darangen: The Epic of the Maranaws.” Philippine Sociological Society. 9, nos. 1-2 (January-April): 42-46. Accessed February 8, 2018.


1. A fine tube-shaped garment worn by both Maranao men and women
2. A stylized motif, usually based on an elaborate leaf and vine pattern
3. Mamitua Saber. 1961. “The Epic of the Maranaws.” Philippine Sociological Society. 9, nos. 1-2: 43.
4. Meaning “king” in Maranao
5. Meaning “spirit” in Maranao
6. Handwritten Maranao songbooks recorded in Arabic and preserved as heirlooms