Nabeelah T. Abdulwahab
Information System Researcher, National Commission for Culture and the Arts

The Maranao are a southern Philippine ethno-linguistic group living along the fringes of Lake Lanao in the Lanao provinces of Mindanao. The Maranao are best known for their love of beauty as shown in their ukil art, poetry—the epic Darangen, inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List—and the torogan, the grandest type of Philippine architecture.

This penchant for beauty and ostentation is reflected in the warmth of their hospitality shown in their prestige feast, pagana. Pagana (also kapagana) is a verb meaning to treat guests (ana) and very important guests (banto) with the highest form of hospitality. Pagana symbolizes the host’s pangkatan a kathiardi or level of civility and indicates the degree of the host’s refinement. Pagana is afforded to a guest during special occasions—enthronements, weddings (kawing), graduations, engagements (dialaga), merrymaking (kapapakaradiyaan), and homecomings of people who had gone to the Hajj—and during the two religious feasts, Eid ul Adha and Eid ul Fitr. In a grand pagana, guests are lavishly welcomed with an extravagant banquet, marked with vibrant native attire, traditional dances, and pleasant company.

A traditional pagana dining set consists of pindulangan or dulang, an arrangement of native cuisines showcased on brass food trays (tabak) where four to six guests sit on cushions or mats. The food trays are covered with tray cloths (ampas). Also included in the dulang are a water container for drinking water (kararao), a ladle and brassware for washing hands (duda’i). Utensils, plates, and glasses are put upside down to indicate sanitation. The whole display is decorated with accents of gold or silver, symbolizing the colors of prestige and nobility.

Sitting around the pindulangan © Joshua M. Paquingan, MSU-IIT Cultural Development Office

The banquet of native cuisine served to the guests features a unique blend of flavors and spices. Since the majority of Maranao are Muslims, food should be Halal or permissible by Islamic law, and pork is strictly prohibited in their diet. The characteristic yellow tint of Maranao cuisine, which can be seen in many dishes including kuning or yellow rice, comes from the use of turmeric powder (kalawag), which they believe has medicinal properties that keeps them healthy. Some of the main dishes (panenedaan) served include carp, mudfish, water buffalo meat, chicken, fowl (usually wild duck but occasionally domesticated duck), deer, and goat. These foods are cooked and served as piphaparan (a dish with coconut shavings as the main ingredient), pisawawan (with soup), inisombo sa lana (fried), litha (with vegetables), and other ways. One popular spice included in the Maranao dish is palapa, which is made from shallots, ginger, and chili peppers simmered in coconut oil; it closely resembles Japanese wasabi but has a unique taste exclusive to the Maranao. Unlike in other parts of the world where dessert is served as the last course of a meal, the Maranao serve the mamis (sweet desserts) with the main course.

As mentioned, a grand pagana is a lavish affair. Guests are entertained with traditional performances like the kasagayan (a war dance), kapamalongmalong (a dance showing different ways of wearing a malong, a tubular piece of cloth), and singkil (a dance where dancers step through clashing bamboo poles in gracious and intricate moves accompanied by the music of the kulintang, a brass gong ensemble).

The spirit of hospitality is highly valued by the Maranao seeing that it fosters a sense of belongingness, unity, and harmony in their society. The pagana remains a signature of the timeless beauty of Maranao culture. To appreciate Maranao culture, one must experience pagana.