A 19th century illustration of an Iranun pirate.
Regions with significant populations
 Philippines 333,454 (2020)[1]
(Bangsamoro, Soccsksargen, Northern Mindanao, Zamboanga Peninsula, Manila, Cebu)
 Malaysia 20,000–30,000 (2006)
Maguindanaon • Maranao • Cebuano • Chavacano • Filipino • Philippine English (Filipino Iranun)
 • Sabah Malay • Malaysian Standard Malay • Malaysian English (Malaysian Iranun)
Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Maranao, Maguindanaon,
Sama-Bajau, other Moro peoples, other Austronesian peoples

The Iranun are an Austronesian ethnic group native to southwestern Mindanao, Philippines. They are ethnically and culturally closely related to the Maranao, and Maguindanaon, all three groups being denoted as speaking Danao languages and giving name to the island of Mindanao. The Iranun were traditionally sailors and were renowned for their ship-building skills. Iranun communities can also be found in Malaysia and Philippines.


A traditional Iranun house in the Heritage Village of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

The origin of the name "Iranun" remains contested.[2] The "Iranun" (archaic "Iranaoan") may have been the original endonym of the ancestral group which later split into the Iranun, Maranao, and Maguindanao people. The Iranun and Maranao still speak the language closest to the ancient Proto-Danaw among all of the Danao languages spoken by these groups.[3]



The Iranun are native to the southwestern regions of Mindanao. Iranun are found Maguindanao del Norte (Barira, Buldon, Parang, Matanog, Sultan Mastura, and Sultan Kudarat), North Cotabato (Alamada, Banisilan, Carmen, Libungan, and Pigcawayan); Lanao del Norte (Kauswagan and Kolambugan); Lanao del Sur (Balabagan, Kapatagan, Bumbaran, and Picong); Bukidnon (Kalilangan); and Zamboanga del Sur (Pagadian City, San Pablo, Dumalinao, Dimataling and Tukuran). The Iranun have also migrated to the other parts of the Philippines, especially in urban areas.

Iranun have also migrated to the west coast of Sabah, Malaysia (in which they are found in 25 villages around the Kota Belud and Lahad Datu districts). They have also settled in Kudat and Likas, Kota Kinabalu, in which they assimilated with the Sama-Bajau, owing to their shared naval history as well as their common religious beliefs and same ancestral roots in the Bangsamoro region of the Southern Philippines.


1890 illustration by Rafael Monleón of a late 18th-century Iranun lanong warship

Establishment of the Sultanate of Maguindanao


In the 15th or 16th century, after Shariff Kabungsuwan landed in Mindanao, he first landed in an Iranun kingdom known as T'bok, where he founded a sultanate now known as the Sultanate of Maguindanao. For the duration of the 16th century, the Iranuns and Samal mercenaries were the initial core elements of the sultanate.[4]

The Sultanate of Maguindanao traces its ancestry to Iranun roots. For several centuries, the Iranuns in the Philippines formed part of the Sultanate of Maguindanao. In the past, the seat of the Maguindanao Sultanate was situated at Lamitan (within modern-day Picong, Lanao del Sur) and T'bok, both of which were strongholds of the Iranun society.[4]

Colonial Period (1565-1946)


After the Spanish attack on the sultanate's capital in Lamitan, Sultan Kudarat transferred his capital to Simuay. Eventually, the capital would be transferred away from the Iranun territories and into Maguindanaon territory when the capital was transferred to Selangan in 1701 and eventually Tamontaka in 1711, solidifying the dominance of Maguindanaons within the sultanate. This assertion of dominance was also supported by the fact that the Maguindanaons were the predominant ethnic group within the sultanate.[5][6][7]

For centuries, the Iranun were involved in pirate-related occupations in Southeast Asia. Originally from the Sultanate of Maguindanao, in southern Mindanao, Iranun colonies spread throughout Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, the north and east coast of Borneo, and the South China Sea, among others.[8] Most Iranuns are Muslim. Their language is part of the Austronesian family and is most closely related to the language of the Maranao people of Lanao. Historically, the Iranun were given the exonym Ilanun (also spelled variously as Illanun, Illanoan, Illanoon, Ilanoon, etc.) during the British colonial era. The Malay term Lanun (which came to mean "pirate") originated from the exonym.

In the case of inter-marriages of an Iranun woman and an outsider man, the cultural influences of the woman's family will be more dominant that the outsider man would be considered as an Iranun man; although in a lot of cases this does not happen.[9]

Iranuns fought the Western invaders under the flag of the Maguindanao Sultanate. They formed part of the Moro resistance against the American occupation of the Philippines from 1899 to 1913.[10] The Iranun were excellent in maritime activity as they are traditionally sailors and pirates.[10] They used to ply the route connecting the South China Sea, Sulu Sea, Moro Gulf to Celebes Sea, and raided the Spanish held territories along the way. They also extensively mapped the waters of Southeast Asia, and possess notable material culture, such as the historically important Carta Indigena Filipina map, which shows their geographical knowledge and control over many of the region's seas and coasts.[8]

See also



  1. ^ "Ethnicity in the Philippines (2020 Census of Population and Housing)". Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  2. ^ Hamilton, Roy W. (1998). From the rainbow's varied hue: textiles of the southern Philippines. UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. p. 135. ISBN 9780930741648.
  3. ^ Lobel, Jason William; Riwarung, Labi Hadji Sarip (2009). "Maranao Revisited: An Overlooked Consonant Contrast and its Implications for Lexicography and Grammar". Oceanic Linguistics. 48 (2): 403–438. doi:10.1353/ol.0.0040. JSTOR 40783537. S2CID 145549504.
  4. ^ a b Saleeby, Najeeb M. (3 January 2013). Studies in Moro History, Law, and Religion. Manila: Manila Bureau of Public Printing (published 1905).
  5. ^ Limos, Mario Alvaro (3 July 2019). "Sultan Kudarat: The Philippines' Most Powerful Sultan". Esquire.((cite news)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  6. ^ Cesar Adib Majul (1971). Muslims in the Philippines. Asian Center.
  7. ^ Laarhoven, Ruurdje (1 March 1986). "WE ARE MANY NATIONS: THE EMERGENCE OF A MULTI-ETHNIC MAGUINDANAO SULTANATE". Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 14 (1): 32–53 – via JSTOR.
  8. ^ a b "Existing historical evidence from the Iranun reveals West Philippine Sea part of Philippines". Retrieved 21 December 2023.
  9. ^ Bandira Datu Alang (1992). Iranun: sejarah dan adat tradisi. Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia. p. 80. ISBN 98-362-2600-1.
  10. ^ a b Kenneth Hite & Kennon Bauman (2016). The Cthulhu Wars: The United States' Battles Against the Mythos. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-14-728-0789-2.