The peaceful advent of Islam around 1138 through merchants and traders had a distinct influence on Southeast Asia. The coming of Arabs,Persians and other Muslims paved the way for the arrival of religious missionaries, traders, scholars and travelers to Sulu and Mindanao in the 12th century.
A landmark born of the social process was the founding of the Sultanate of Sulu. Year 1380 CE, Karim-ul Makhdumcame to Sulu and introduced Islam to the Philippines. Year 1450 CE, a Johore-born Arab adventurer, Sayyid Abubakar Abirin came to Sulu and lived with Rajah Baguinda Ali, eventually marrying his daughter Dayang-dayang Paramisuli and eventually inheriting Rajah Baguinda's polity (which was aprincipality before) and turning it into asultanate. Sayyid Abubakar eventually inherited the rule of Rajah Baguinda, established the Sultanate of Sulu and became its first Sultan. To consolidate his rule, Sayyid Abubakar united the local political units under the umbrella of the Sultanate. He brought Sulu, Zamboanga Peninsula, Palawan and Basilan under its aegis.
The navigational error that landed Ferdinand Magellan in Limasawabrought awareness of Europe to the Philippines and opened the door toSpanish colonial incursion. The Spaniards introduced Christianity and a political system of church-state dichotomy, which encountered fierce resistance in the devastating Moro wars from 1578 to 1899.
After Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States, American forces came to Jolo and ended the 23 years of Spanish military occupation (1876 to 1899). On August 20, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II and Brig. Gen John C. Bates signed the Bates Agreement that continued the gradual emasculation of the Sultanate started by Spain (Treaty of 1878) until March 1915 when the Sultan abdicated his temporal powers in the Carpenter Agreement. The Agreement eliminated opposition to the civilian government of Gov. Clinton Solidum.
The Department of Mindanao and Sulu under Gov. Carpenter was created by Philippine Commission Act 2309 (1914) and ended on February 5, 1920 by Act of Philippine Legislature No. 2878. The Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes was organized and briefly headed by Teofisto Guingona, Sr. With the enactment by the US Congress of the Jones Law(Philippine Autonomy Law) in 1916, ultimate Philippine independence was guaranteed and the Filipinization of public administration began. Sulu, however, had an appointed American governor until 1935 and the Governor General in Manila had a say in Sulu affairs. At any rate, the essence of local governance forged by Rajah Baguinda continued to permeate the ethos of Sulu politics despite centuries of colonial presence. History points to a local government in Sulu that antedates other similar systems in the country. Today, Sulu has a locally constituted government and is part of the ARMM.
The province of Sulu is predominantly agricultural with farming and fishing as its main livelihood activities. Its fertile soil and ideal climate can grow a variety of crops such as abaca, coconuts, oranges, and lanzones as well as exotic fruits seldom found elsewhere in the country such as durian and mangosteen.
Fishing is the most important industry since the Sulu Sea is one of the richest fishing grounds in the country. The province also have an extensive pearl industry. Pearls are extensively gathered and a pearl farm is established at Marungas Island. The backs of sea turtles are made into beautiful trays and combs. During breaks from fishing, the people build boats and weave mats. Other industries include coffee processing and fruit preservation.
The handicrafts of Sulu have both Islamic and Malay influences. Skilled artisans make boats, bladed weapons, bronze and brassware, pis cloth, embroidered textiles, shellcraft, traditional house carvings, and carved wooden grave markers.