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Philippine Islands

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Island Group Mindanao
Region Autonomous Region in Muslim
Capital Bongao
Area 3,626.55 km²
Cities 0
Municipalities 11
- Total 450,346
- Density/km² 124.18
Income class 3
Location in the Philippines:


Tawi-Tawi is an island province of the Philippines, consisting of 107 islands and islets, located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). It is the southernmost province of the country and has been traditionally referred to as Philippines’ back door sharing sea borders with the Malaysian State of Sabah and the Indonesian Kalimantan province. Tawi-Tawi is subdivided into 11 municipalities with the municipality of Bongao as the provincial capital.

The name Tawi-Tawi is believed to be derived from the Malay term jaui, which means far. Prehistoric travelers called the province as “Jaui-jaui” to denote a very far place because of its distance from mainland Asia. Tawi-Tawi was previously part of the province of Sulu but pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 32, the province was officially created, separate from Sulu on September 11, 1973.

Tawi-Tawi is the home of the Samals and Badjaos commonly known as “Sea Gypsies” among the Western people. They are part of the Sama ethnic group whose culture is closely linked to the sea. Samals build their houses on silts over shallow seas and their sustenance is largely associated with marine resources with cassava as the staple. The Badjaos, on the other hand, are born and live on their houseboats – the lepa. The lepa is one of the most beautiful of traditional boats, possessing an ancient type of boat architecture. Their population, however, is diminishing due to diseases and migration to other areas in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The prevailing language in the province is the indigenous Bahasa Sama which is widely used in varied tones and accents. The Bajau-Sama language is also spoken, as well as English and Tagalog. Many locals and barter traders can speak Malay and Indonesian. Chavacano is also spoken by Christian and Muslim locals who maintain contacts and trade with mainland Zamboanga Peninsula and Basilan.

Rich Malay influences as well as tribal arts and crafts are very much visible in the province. It is not uncommon to see folks dressed in colorful malongs and its women are adorned in beads and brass and gold trinkets.

Tawi-Tawi, known as the “Seaweed Capital of the Philippines” is the major producer of agar (powdered seaweed extract) in the country. Agriculture and fishing are also the leading source of livelihood for the people of the province. Quite a number of the population also engaged in barter trade business. Copra is the top agricultural product of the province, followed by root crops, fruits and vegetables.

Tawi-Tawi, called as the southernmost pearl of the Philippines, is fast becoming a tourist destination. Sure the security in the province is a major concern, but given enough support, it has huge tourism potential. Its beautiful and unspoiled beaches, virgin forest and friendly people are among its attraction. Tourists can experience various underwater activities like scuba diving, deep sea swimming and snorkeling at white sand beaches.

The most populous cities and municipalities in Tawi-tawi are:

City/Municipality City class Area
in km²
Urbanisation Population
Total Density/km²
Bongao Municipality 365.95 2 partly urban 95,055 259.75
Languyan Municipality 581.20 1 partly urban 51,377 88.40
Panglima Sugala (Balimbing) Municipality 416.66 3 partly urban 50,504 121.21
Sitangkai Municipality 792.00 1 partly urban 40,641 51.31
Simunul Municipality 167.25 4 partly urban 38,239 228.63
Sapa-sapa Municipality 235.61 3 partly urban 37,135 157.61
Sibutu Municipality 0.00 0 partly urban 35,377 0.00
Tandubas Municipality 552.05 2 partly urban 33,037 59.84
South Ubian Municipality 272.04 3 partly urban 32,986 121.25
Mapun (Cagayan De Tawi-tawi) Municipality 181.29 4 partly urban 29,801 164.38

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