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Tausug Society: Male Dominion Over Society and Everyday Life

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The Tausug of Southern Mindanao are the subject of anthropologist Thomas M. Keifer’s book, The Tausug: Violence and Law in a Philippine Moslem Society. “Chapter 3: The Values of the Male: Bravery, Friendship, and Violence” effectively illustrates their openly patriarchal society, which is systematically regulated by male violence and, thus, where the quality of daily life is determined by the Tausug men in their absolute control over violent events. Kiefer’s account of the Tausug men, their valued concepts and the activities that embody these imply a sheltered life for women whose activities may most likely be governed by male veneration, service, and command over their labor. Where the persons in authority are always male, the Tausug women rely on the males for the protection of their sexual honor and physical wellbeing.[1] In most likelihood, the women are held in a typically feudal arrangement of the family, where they render nurturance, maintenance, and reproductive work in the domestic sphere in exchange for their safety.

His investigation of Tausug conceptions and justifications for violence demonstrates embodied actions for maintaining reputations based in bravery and honor, two important Tausug concepts which are central to masculinity. This preservation of honor legitimizes and perpetuates the logic and morality of violence which Tausug society awards an individual: “The purposes of violence determine its good or evil character, not the fact of violence as such.”[2]

Tausug Male Principles Governing Violence

Bravery, honor and shame are three important intertwining Tausug masculine concepts that are expressed, achieved or rectified respectively through violence. An aspect of a Tausug male’s everyday life, violence is “necessary to sustain his self-image as a brave man.”[3] Characterized as being quick to anger (“hot-livered”[4]), a Tausug will respond in violence to things ranging from a simple insult to a death of a kin or friend that must be avenged.

One interesting principle is that of violence making him bad in the sight of God vs. a refusal to take revenge making him bad in the sight of man. In nearly most of such situations a Tausug will prioritize his shame and reputation. The restoration of honor through violence is not seen as a bullish act but instead as a “sensible form of retaliation”[5], resulting in frequent blood killings justified by a Tausug’s essence of being a fighter.

The Tausug’s “private sense of justice in which an individual provides the physical force necessary to redress his own grievance”[6], or “self-help”[7] as anthropologists put it, is another interesting principle. It is actually a legal procedure which lies on the border between law and feud”[8] because it is assumed that “each man will have to defend his own rights through violence from time to time.”[9] Private justice is sanctioned by their society and regulates Tausug behavior while also being punishable when brought to the attention of their legal system.

A third interesting principle is the Tausug view that it is unethical for a man to direct his anger at anyone other than the person who had committed a personal offense against him. Ilongots kill during headhunts in order to vent their anger and the matter of the hunted man not having anything to do with their personal circumstances does not enter into their system of moral ethics. The Tausug, however, do not indiscriminately kill unless they are part of an alliance feuding with another. This is also the reason why the Tausug feel they have nothing to fear as long as they have done no one wrong – they cannot be targeted in revenge for a wrong they did not personally commit, unless in the context of feuding alliances. This is why the Tausug always make efforts to locate responsibility for killings and find out precisely who killed whom.[10]

When confronted with dispute, the Tausug see no other way of settling this with another other than by direct confrontation through legal action or through violence. They subject their conflicts to public discussion, which they prefer over keeping it secret. Their preference for justice over all else is expressed in their choice to “consistently opt for justice rather than order when it is not possible to achieve both at the same time”.[11] Compromise is a concept alien to them that they do not even have a word for it.[12]

Major reasons for conflicts ending in violence (in most cases a killing) include: vengeance against a man who had killed a kinsman or a friend; theft; defense of the sexual honor of their female kin; and “public insult or affront to self-esteem”[13]. Others are: “breach of contract, failure of a guarantor to live up to his guarantee, disagreement over the respective shares in a joint business venture, ownership of animals or boats where more than one person has rights in the property, transactions involving firearms, or disagreements over the terms of the return of pawned property.”[14]

According to Al-Sadr Tammang, a Tausug whose parents are ARMM politicians, women are exempt from these acts of aggression, though he clarifies that he cannot speak for domestic violence. There are no known instances of attacks of this sort on women and, even in cases of marital infidelity, it is the man whom the husbands target for killing. Women also do not participate in the killings but have often been the cause of such acts.

Key Values in Tausug Social Organization of Violence

The nature of Tausug violence requires dependence on others, which is why friendship and enmity are vitally important concepts in their social organization. In a society where each man has to and is expected to defend his rights, maintain or restore his reputation, or avenge the death of someone dear, the prevalent violence necessitates a clear definition and delineation of kinship and friends.

They define “friend” in two ways – in opposition to “enemy” and in terms of mutual help where he may be relied on as one would on a kinsman and where the obligation to help is moral, “sanctioned by the highest religious and ritual foundations of their society.”[15] Keifer details the varying degrees of friendship in their society, including “close friend”, “casual friend”, and “neutral” as well as “enemy”. A fascinating principle of friendship and enmity the Tausug have is the fluidity and movement between given degrees of friendship, wherein one can become more of a friend or more of an enemy but cannot decrease the level of relationships. This fluidity exists because of the importance they give to personal loyalty between friends, and between leaders and followers, and not to ideals nor to institutions, offices, or alliances they represent.[16] Because personal loyalty is key, groups of loyal followers disband after the death of their leader, causing the nature of Tausug political and military alliances to be temporary factions and not stable groups.[17]

The same principle of fluidity applies to reciprocity, where the level or intensity of the help given increases in repayment, but cannot be decreased, whether it be a “debt of gratitude” or a “quasicontractual responsibility”.[18] Vengeance is considered “a special form of negative reciprocity in which men exchange hostile feelings that drive them apart instead of bringing them together.”[19] Defined as “a debt which must be demanded but cannot be repaid”[20], an act of vengeance transfers responsibility to the enemy, who is in turn expect to do more in retaliation. Shame, a concept of self-awareness of the Tausug male in relation to society, is of two aspects: that of being dishonored and that of “shame as the capacity of a virtuous man.”[21] The supreme importance given to shame as a justification for violence can be seen in the Tausug expectation that in-laws understand if their son-in-law is compelled to seek private justice against their son if he had caused the other shame.

The Male-Female Dynamic in Tausug Society

Male-Oriented Ideology Dominant in Society. As with Renato Rosaldo’s piece, the women are not the focus of Kiefer’s chapter. However, his portrayal of the Tausug shows clearly that male values and practices comprise the dominant ideology of their society, dictating what is normal, natural and desirable in conformity with male interests and placing gender within the social and political conditions it produces. Because “the state [or in this case, Tausug society] and ideology are two interlocking structures that figure in the relations between women and men,”[22] the interests that drive their society, contextualize their written and unwritten policies, and inform their gender roles are fundamentally male.

Women are Framed in the Masculine Point of View. A social order created in a male ideology frames within the masculine point of view the women’s prescribed roles, duties, and experiences. This would imply that Tausug women’s lives, labor, behavior and sexuality are controlled by the men. “Rigid formulations of feminine nature”[23] would include moral values of the sexually unspoiled, the glory and nobility of wifehood and motherhood, nearly total confinement in the home, to name only a few. Households are most likely headed by men with the women’s main task being that of taking care of the husband and the children as well as maintaining the household. Their educational system, arts and literature, mass media and church would reproduce and reinforce this ideology through images, rules and institutionalized practices, and boundaries.

Islam Seals Women’s Oppression. Religion plays a crucial and central role too in crystallizing women’s place in the social hierarchy. According to Miles, Islam, along with the five major belief systems of Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Christianity, “by their very nature insisted o the inferiority of women and demanded their subjection to values and imperatives devised to promote the supremacy of men.”[24] With oppressive practices such as veiling, seclusion, and genital mutilation, women are clearly treated as property, their bodies at their men’s disposal.

Male Control Over Women’s Lives.  With the men in control of society and their values affecting the Tausug’s daily life, it is communicated to the woman that she is inferior, that she should know her rightful place beneath the male, and that her self-determination is subject to male policy and permission. Most women brought up in such an environment would accept their roles and internalize their subordination. They will have no control over anything beyond reproductive work, for family matters and all major decisions will be subject to male approval. Their manner of dress and movement outside of the home will be monitored and regulated, and there will always be a need for them to be escorted and protected by the males. The death of the males in her family will leave women fearful of their physical and sexual safety, and the solution to this would be an alignment with other males through marriage. Therefore a woman’s every move, thought, decision, and action in this society is made in consideration of the male, their values and their practices.


[1] Thomas Kiefer, Thomas M. “Chapter 3: The Values of the Male: Bravery, Friendship and Violence”, The Tausug: Violence and Law in a Philippine Moslem Society (1972), p57.

[2]Kiefer, p.53.

[3]Kiefer, p.53.

[4]Keifer, p.53.

[5]Kiefer, p.54.

[6]Kiefer, p.58.

[7] Kiefer, p.58.

[8] Kiefer, p.58.

[9] Kiefer, p.58.

[10]Kiefer, p.81.

[11] Kiefer, Thomas M. “Chapter 4: The Control of Violence”, The Tausug: Violence and Law in a Philippine Moslem

Society. 1972. p.87.

[12] Kiefer, p.87.

[13]Kiefer, p.57.

[14]Kiefer, p.59.

[15]Kiefer, p.60.

[16] Kiefer, p.75.

[17]Kiefer, p.71.

[18]Kiefer, p.65-66.

[19]Kiefer, p.67.

[20] Kiefer, p.67.

[21]Kiefer, p.68.

[22]Elizabeth Uy Eviota, The Political Economy of Gender: Women and the Sexual Division of Labour in the Philippines.

(London: Zed Books Ltd., 1992) p.25.

[23]Eviota, p.26.

[24] Miles, p.91.

“VIOLENCE AND SANCTION in the Male-Female Dynamic of the Ilongot, Tausug, and Teduray Societies: A Research Paper” written by Cindy Cruz-Cabrera | March 2008

Next: Teduray Society: Partnership and Mutual Help as a Way of Life

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Author: cindycatz: occasional pianist and coffee shop philosopher

fond of the sun, sky, sea, sand and starfish; passionate about literacy, education, media, feminisms, development, popular culture, counterculture, migration phenomenon, anthropology and the fourth world; fascinated with crochet, sushi-making, fiction, creative non-fiction, storytelling, some films and series | books and comics | anime and manga | music and videos | bands and groupies, Latin and Italian, mom-and-pop consumerism, tavern bards and cafe philosophers, trinkets and bric-a-bracs, and steampunk and lolita couture; and absolutely enamored with nail polish and bag charms, frappucinos and margaritas, conversations and moments, her 41 year-old piano, and - of course - CATS. credentials? visit about.me/cindycruzcabrera & ph.linkedin.com/in/cindycruzcabrera/

3 thoughts on “Tausug Society: Male Dominion Over Society and Everyday Life

  1. Pingback: Ilongot Society: The Sexual Division of Labor, Abilities and Emotions | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

  2. Pingback: Violence and Sanction in the Male-Female Dynamic of the Ilongot, Tausug, and Teduray Societies: Abstract and Blog Post List | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

  3. Pingback: Spiritual bravery, panic, and social pressure to conform (re gay marriage, diet, etc) | power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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