On the “Moro” Suite

The term “Moro” is frequently used in Filipinx Cultural Shows or Pilipino Cultural Nights to refer to the dances and music of Muslim Filipinos such as the Maranao, Magindanao, Tausug, and cultural communities of the Sulu archipelago.

However…few students know that the term has been used in a derogatory way for 300 years.

The term “Moro” was used by the Spanish for 300 years to denigrate Muslims in the Philippines and cast them as savages in order to legitimate wars that aimed to take over their lands and resources. Using the term, like other derogatory stereotypes, normalizes violent action and reduces the targets of stereotypes into unequal relationships with the dominating group. Think of the differences between labeling people as “ladrones” (thieves) by the U.S. colonial government vs. Filipino revolutionaries fighting for independence during the Philippine-American war.

While the term “Moro” was re-appropriated by Muslim Filipinos in the 1970s to unite them in opposition to the Marcos regime, which aimed also to subjugate Mindanaons, it is an internally used political identity, not one that should be used by outsiders. There are similar debates about the reappropriation/redeployment of the N-word in recent decades in popular culture or the use of “Redskins” and “Indian” mascots in sports.

Asian Americans would not appreciate being referred to as “Orientals” because it is an outdated term with a loaded history of exclusion. Terminology referring to identity changes over time with each new generation like today’s Latinx and Filipinx. We invite you to rethink and discuss the use of the term “Moro” by Filipino Americans. When referring to a variety of dances from Mindanao, “Mindanao Suite” may be used. When referring to a specific ethnolinguistic group, reference to name is suggested (Maranao, Magindanao, Tausug, etc.).

Below are some sources about the representation of Muslim Filipinos in Philippine and Filipino American cultural shows, but there are many more in the library and online!


“The Moro dance suite in the PCN was particularly striking because of its remarkable Orientalist flavor—something I was surprised to witness coming from an otherwise progressive and activist Filipino American student body. Instead of reinforcing their progressive goal, the PCN’s Muslim dance suite reminded me very intensely of Edward Said’s concept of Orientalism, a practice whereby so-called European “experts” of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries distorted in particularly oppressive, imperialistic ways Islamic and other Asian societies and cultures.”

“In line with their theme of empowerment, the students’ stated rationale for the inclusion of the Moro suite in the PCN was the claim that Moros have never been conquered, and so represent a kind of “golden age” of Philippine independence on which Filipinos everywhere can look back with pride.” (p. 254)

“The suite proceeded with the students performing four dances presumably for the sultan’s entertainment, culminating with the dramatic pole dance, Singkil. The visual and printed imagery of this dance presentation was totally different from anything I had ever witnessed during the two years I lived in Mindanao’s Lanao province, home of the Maranao, one of the three major Philippine Muslim groups. But the representation was remarkably similar to performances of the highly stylized folkloric format of the
Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company based in Manila.”

“However, while purporting to embody an ancient Filipino heritage, the Bayanihan’s image of innocent, happy villagers or proud sultans and princesses was a cultural artifact of a different type. The Bayanihan’s primary purpose over the past forty years has been to represent the Philippine nation-state to foreigners both in Manila and abroad. In fact the Bayanihan has been an important source of international prominence for the Philippine state.”

Barbara S. Gaerlan, “In the Court of the Sultan: Orientalism, Nationalism, and Modernity in Philippine and Filipino American Dance”

Further Reading:

Inquirer, “Who are the Moro People?

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