The inhabitants are Moros, a Malayan people who were converted when Islam spread from Malaya and Borneo in the 14th and 15th cent. Formerly notorious as pirates, the Muslim Moros resisted Spanish rule until the 19th cent. The Sultanate of Sulu (est. in the 16th cent. and also including Sabah in what is now Malaysia) passed to U.S. control in 1899 and continued to flourish under a mutually advantageous treaty with the United States.
In 1940 the sultanate was abolished and Sulu became part of the Philippine Commonwealth, although most Moros rejected Manila's authority. In 1976 the government reached a cease-fire agreement with Moros rebels, calling for the creation of an autonomous region including the Sulu Archipelago. However, such a region was not established until 1990. In 2019, following a referendum, the islands, except for Isabela City on Basilan, became part of the autonomous region of Bangsamoro, replaced the existing autonomous region. Some separatist militants in the area have continued to press for an independent Islamic state.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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