The Maguindanaon, or Maguindanaw for some, inhabit North Cotobato, South Cotobato, Sultan Kudurat, Cotobato del Sur, and Maguindanao; the latter having the largest concentration. Maguindanaon means “people of the flood plain” for they primarily inhabit the broad Pulangi River valley and delta which occasionally flood. The Pulangi River had its origins in the mountains from the Liguasan Marsh and Lake Buluan. Since the authority and influence of Maguindanaon rulers once extended over a wide territory from Sibugay Bay in the west to the coasts of Davao in the east, the name 'Mindanao' was applied to the second largest island of the Philippines. They are found predominantly in four provinces: Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, thus forming the Cotabato region. As a people, they practice Islam which significantly influences their way of life and social structure. At one point in history, the Maguindanao sultanate asserted ritual influence over southwestern Mindanao. Their socio-political system and hierarchical organization are related to the Sulu sultanate, with three royal houses: Maguindanaon in Sultan Kudarat, Buayan in Datu Piang, and Kabuntalan in Tumbao; all of which trace their ancestry to Sharif Kabunsuan who was one of the first Muslim missionaries and Sultan Kudarat. The paluwaran code includes provisions on every aspect of life. Celebrated for their exquisite handwoven fabric Inaul, interlaced with multiple colors, as well as, gold and silver threads. The colors of the fabric and depicted symbolic-motifs reflected the splendor of Muslim culture.
The Maguindanaon are divided into two principal groups, each with its own dialect and traditional location: The Tau-sa Ilud (people of the lower valley) and the Tau-sa Laya (people of the upper valley). The Tau-sa Ilud are concentrated in the areas around Cotabato City and extend to South Dinaig. Traditionally, they constituted the Sultanate of Maguindanao based near present day Cotabato City. Their dialect is characterized by more rapid, “harder” consonant intonations, with preference for using “d” rather than “r” and variations on the use of “l” and “r”. They're renowned as sedentary wet-rice agriculturalists.
The Tau-sa Laya, on the other hand, are concentrated in the areas of Datu Piang and extend south to areas which include Buluan. As a group, they constituted the Rajahship of Buayan based near present-day town of Datu Piang. Their dialect is distinguished by a slower cadence, a drawl, with frequent omission of the consonants between vowels and a preference for using “l” rather than “r”, periodic variations of “r” for “d” and some differentiated vocabulary. Their primary means of livelihood is a semi-sedentary agriculture and grow corn and upland rice.