Philippines' southernmost pearl
Wild cattle, wild hogs, and monkeys of the brown and white variety are just some of the many exotic fauna that abound in the forests of mainland Tawi-Tawi. Lying at the southwestern tip of the Philippines, accessible in only a matter of hours from Sabah in Malaysia, Tawi-Tawi is a province to visit for its natural zoos and a world all its own.
At Sibutu, wild hogs come in rampaging bands of black, reddish brown, white, and spotted black and white. A hunter's paradise, Sibutu also boasts of the sleek and rare "labuyo" or wild rooster, birds of the edible variety the balud, tabon, kingfisher, orioles, dandunay of the peacock variety, and more as well as pet birds such as green, gold, and white parrots, canaries, lovebirds, and so much more.
Seagulls, known to the natives as tallah-tallah, have settled by the thousands at Gusong Reef in Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi to lay their eggs there. Gusong Reef is a top producer of the delicious turtle eggs, ranking second to the Turtle Islands. Bongao Peak is a veritable monkey sanctuary, which also provides a view of the expanse of sea and the necklace of islands for miles around.
Tawi-Tawi can easily transport one to a whole other world. Eye-catching Sitangkai is considered the Venice of Tawi-Tawi. The Royal "Kupunga" rises straight out of an Arabian setting. The Malay influences as well as tribal arts and crafts are very much visible in the province. Here, it is not uncommon to see folks dressed in colorful malongs, the women adorned in beads and brass trinkets.
Bongao, the provincial capital, is the only place in the province where simple amenities can be availed of. Lodging is spartan. Bazaars and small cafes crowd the commercial center. At the marketplace, foodstalls serve seafare and native delicacies like the "tapa" or cured boar's meat.
When the Filipino-American Forces landed in Leyte on October 20,1944, a civil government was established all over the Philippines. Tawi-Tawi was then still a part of the province of Sulu.
On September 11, 1973, pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 302, the new province of Tawi-Tawi was officially created, separate from the province of Sulu. This was a significant milestone, and had given the people hope of active participation and development. The provincial administration of outlying island-municipalities became more expedient and efficient. The seat of the provincial government was immediately established in the premier town of Bongao.
Tawi-Tawi is a projection of the Malay word jaui" meaning "far." Prehistoric travelers from the Asian mainland would repeat the word as jaui-jaui to mean far away because of the distance of the islands from the continent of Asia. The word Tawi-Tawi was picked up to later become the official name of the province.
Tawi-Tawi lies at the southwestern tip of the country. Irregular in shape, with splashes of white sandy beaches and rock-bound coasts, the province has 107 islands and islets with a combined land area of 462 square miles.
The province is composed of ten municipalities: Balimbing, Bongao, Cagayan de Tawi- Tawi, Simunul, Sitangkai, South Ubian, Tandubas, Turtle Island, Languyan and Sapa-Sapa. There are from ten to more than thirty barangays in each municipality. Each barangay is administered by a Barangay Captain.
Tawi-Tawi has two seasons: dry and wet The climate is generally moderate. The wettest months are from August to November. The other months of the year are generally dry with occasional rain showers.
Language / Dialect
The prevailing dialect is Samal, which is widely used in varied tones and accents. The Tausug dialect is also spoken, as are English and Filipino (Tagalog). Many local traders can speak Malay and Indonesian.
Agriculture, fishing, and agar-agar farming are the leading source of livelihood of the people of Tawi- Tawi, with quite a number engaged in the barter trade business. Copra is the top agricultural produce, followed by root crops, fruits, and vegetables.
How to Get There
Tawi-Tawi is only hours away by motorized "kumpit" from Sabah, Malaysia. Bongao, the capital town, is an hour and ten minutes away from Zamboanga City by plane. By ship, it takes approximately 26 hours travel time, passing through Jolo, Sulu.
The geographical conditions of Tawi-Tawis 107 islands and islets make navigation difficult because of extensive reefs. Only light seacraft can pass through some of these "sea trails." However, in some areas, like the capital town of Bongao, the deep harbor is perfectly calm and breathtaking. Inter-island vessels and naval boats dock in this harbor. Batu-Batu in Balimbing has a good deep port and a landlocked harbor in the area where the Philippine Navy has its station.