Maguindanao is composed of 36 provinces, which are further subdivided into 492 municipalities. Cotabato is considered the largest city of Maguindanao. The capital is Maganoy. The terrain is mostly flat and devoted to agriculture, with corn and rice being grown. Coconuts are an important export. The Maguindanao, literally, "people of the flood plains", occupy the basin of the Pulangi River. The southern fork of the river flows towards Illana Bay. In the past the Maguindanao settled along the banks and in the valley regions of the river.
The Maguindanao language is part of a subgroup of languages called the "Danao languages". The subgroup includes Maranao, spoken in the Lanao provinces; Ilanun (also Ilanum or Iranun), spoken by a group of sea-based people between Lanao and Maguindanao; and Maguindanao.
As Sunnah lowlanders, the Maguindanao, possess a strong weaving and carving tradition. As with all other Sunnah groups, the Maguindanao are prohibited from representing animal or human forms in art. This has led to the development of an abstract form of artistic representation in Maguindanao carvings and textiles. These designs are also carved on the weaponry and musical instruments of the Maguindanao. For example the birdo (vine) motif usually embellishes the musical instrument called kudyapi.
A typical Maguindanao blade is the kampilan, usually handled with both hands, and used for cutting off heads or splitting the body from top to toe. The handle of the kampilan features the naga ("S"-shaped abstraction of a mythical serpent) in the form of a gaping mouth. The head above the mouth is usually adorned with reddish fibers, turning the handle into a manelike figure.
Oulan (weaving) is traditionally done on a very simple backstrap loom. The process involves the methodical interlacing of warp and weft threads. The warp yarns or "verticals" are spread between two bars, one of which — the cloth bar — is fastened to the waist of the weaver by a string. The other bar — the warp bar — is affixed to a small tree, a post, or a wall. To apply tension on the warp, the weaver leans against the backstrap as she generates pressure against a piece of wood in front of her outstretched legs. The weft threads or "horizontals" are rolled inside a shuttle, which is passed, back and forth, through the warp openings. Additional decorations are made through supplementary warps and wefts inlaid over the basic matrix. The Maguindanao batek (color) and design process is basically resist-dyeing, the assumption being that uncontrolled color spread can be resisted by binding, knotting, stitching, or applying wax or paste to the parts of the yarn. The technique produces the desired pattern, design, or motif.