The Maranaos primarily live in the provinces of Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte, and many are settlers in Zamboanga del Sur, Bukidnon, Cotabato, Maguindanao, and in many southern Philippine islands from Basilan exending to Tawi-Tawi. Small communities of Maranaos, mostly traders, can be found in all major towns of the Philippines.
Maranaos number about 1,142,000. They are the descendants of Muslim Malays who came to the Philippines. Their royals have varied influsions of Arabic, Malayan, Indonesian, as well as Chinese blood. The Maranaos also are one of the ethnic groups in the Philippines who are fair-skinned, probably attributable to Arab and Chinese admixtures. The language of the Maranao people is also called Maranao. It is a language spoken by approximately 800,000 people living in areas near Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte. The language can be traced from the Southern Philippine sub-branch of the Western Austronesian language family, and is closely related to the Ilanun language spoken in Sabah and Malaysia. It is also close to Maguindanaon, the language spoken in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Zamboanga del Sur provinces. The vast majority of Maranaos are Muslims. A few, especially those living in the hills around Lake Lanaopractice Islam diluted with traces of pre-Islamic traditions.
The native Maranao have a fascinating culture that revolves around kulintang music, a specific type of gong music, found among both Muslim and non-Muslim groups of the Southern Philippines. In 2005, the Darangen Epic of the Maranao people of Lake Lanao was selected by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Previous to the occupation of the Philippines by Spanish, and later American and Japanese, the Maranaos had their own kingdom with a Sultan ruler due to the influence of Muslim missionaries.