Finding My Cultural Identity

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Posted March 4, 2019 from Philippines

There is a story behind my new profile photo. 

I am simply blown away by the way Sister Sophie wears her traditional/national clothing. I admire how artistically she wraps a cloth around her head and match it with an equally striking dress. Her beauty is enhanced by the way she represents her Cameroon. 

When I look at the photos of our World Pulse sisters, I am fascinated to see how you showcase your cultural dresses. In those moments, I ask myself, “How about me? What should I wear to represent my country?”.

As a Filipina, I am identified with our flag; however, I had been somewhat confused with my local identity. 

The Philippines is a culturally-diverse nation. In school, we were taught we have 7,107 islands. Recently, it was discovered we have 7,641! 2,000 of which are inhabited.

We have at least 150 languages and dialects with Indigenous People (IPs) belonging to 110 ethno-linguistic groups. 

We haven't factored in those who have mixed blood from foreign colonists (American, Spanish), invaders (Japanese), traders (Chinese, Malaysians, Indians, Arabs, etc.), and tourists.

Both of my parents traced their lineage from Cebu City, tagged as The Queen City of the South. But they claimed we have a mix of Spanish and Chinese from our ancestors. It is seen by our skin color, our huge body built, and our height being taller-than-an-average-Filipino.

It was a puzzle for me what traditional wear to use. Every tribal group has their own unique designs. Which one should I choose?

My biological sister suggested a Malong. 

Oh, how could I have forgotten! It was apt because it is a traditional clothing used by tribes in Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines

Being born and raised in Davao City, I consider myself a Mindanaoan, a unifying totality of all those tribes. A malong is commonly used across tribal and non-tribal groups; across Muslims and Christians, too. 

This tubular clothing is measured at least 165 x 165 cm. Women wear it as a dress, while men wear it as pants. Yes, it is genderless! #balanceforbetter

 A malong is considered as a versatile cloth because of its many uses. Try watching “100 Ways to Wear A Malong" ( to find out. For more info, click this link (

In Muslim communities, it is used across classes, from ethnic royalties to hardworking laborers. The Malong is also popular in neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. 

I’m happy to find my identity as a Mindanaoan. I now have a traditional wear  to showcase my country.

My cultural identity is now represented by a malong. Metaphorically, it advocates equality in gender, status, and class. It also bridges gaps and connects with Asian countries. 

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, I wear my malong with confidence for I am proud of my identity.

I am proud to be a Mindanaoan, a Filipina, and an Asian. 

 Above all, this vibrant, versatile material makes me raise my voice to say, “I am proud to be a woman!”

This story was submitted in response to Change Starts With a Story.

Comments 15

Log in or register to post comments
Corine Milano
Mar 04
Mar 04

Oh, I love this Karen! Beautiful. I always love how you use your stories to educate about your country, as well as to share your personal insights and experiences. Thanks for speaking out!

Aww. Thank you, Corine. Your feedback and kind words encourage me to keep writing. I love the work that you do for us, too. Thanks for your hard work and dedication!

Mar 04
Mar 04

Dear Karen,
Wow I love the first fabric on the pictures. Its almost resembles one of ours here call " Kente". These types are always durable and takes a time to wore out.

Lovely! So you are an entrepreneur now? Haha don't mind me. I hope you have a very nice day!
Kind regards

Hello, Sister Salifu,

I'm happy to know that we have almost similar fabrics. I've observed that, too. Yes, these malongs are durable, too.

Hahaha. I like that you're teasing me. Yes, one day I will be an entrepreneur. I'll learn to sew clothes so I can design and sell them.

Reading your feedback made my day nice!

Dawn Arteaga
Mar 05
Mar 05

Wow this is so beautiful Karen! Such a great story behind the clothing. Thank you for sharing the meaning - and most importantly, thank you for your beautiful spirit which shines through no matter what you wear.

Hello, Dawn,

Thank you for appreciating and for dropping an encouragement. So sweet of you. I know you've been working hard for IWD. I honor you for your dedication, Dawn. Thank you!

Jill Langhus
Mar 05
Mar 05

Hi Karen,

Thanks for sharing your video, background and the story behind how you chose what traditional attire to wear to represent your country. It's very interesting and you look very colorful and pretty, dear:-) I'm glad you chose to look into what to wear and that you decided to showcase a tribal design. I love ethnic clothing.

Hope you're having a great day!

Hello, Jill,

Thank you for reading and watching the video. Yes, I love the color of this malong. I love ethnic and tribal clothings, too. I secretly wish I belong to one of the tribes of our country. Oh, that's not a secret anymore.Ha.

Yes, thank you. Excited to meet Stella tomorrow. Yay!

Jill Langhus
Mar 07
Mar 07

Hello Karen:-)

You're welcome, dear! For real. I would love to belong to a tribe, too! Well, I suppose I could loosely say I'm a Viking, though, since I'm half Norwegian...ha:) I think I'll stick with that!!

Yes! That will be awesome. Let me know how it goes:-)

Oh, Viking! Now, that’s interesting to see you wear that attire. :)

Jill Langhus
Mar 12
Mar 12

It would be awesome, right?! :-)

I believe so. Please show me a photo when you find a viking attire. That would be sooo cool! :)

Jill Langhus
Mar 15
Mar 15

:-) I think Marie Antoinette is first in line...ha:-) And, yes, it would be!

Bring it on, Jill!:)

Jill Langhus
Mar 23
Mar 23