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Yakan refers to the majority Muslim group in Basilan, an island just south of Zamboanga province in Mindanao. The Spaniards called them Sameacas and considered them an aloof and sometimes hostile hill people (Wulff 1978:149; Haylaya 1980:13).

The Yakan have Malay features. They are small of frame, with brown skin, slanting eyes and black hair - characteristics similar to the Dayaks of North Borneo, leading to speculation that they originated from this race. They speak a language known as Bahasa Yakan, which is a variation of the Samal Sinama or Siama and the Tausug languages (Jundam 1983: 7-8). It is written in the Malayan Arabic script, with adaptations to sounds not present in Arabic (Sherfan 1976).