Indigenous People of the Philippines


The Philippines consist of a large number of upland ethnic groups living in the country. The highland tribes have co-existed with the lowland Austronesian tribes for thousands of years in the Philippine archipelago. The primary difference is that they were not absorbed by centuries of Spanish and United States colonization of the Philippines, and in the process have retained their customs and traditions. This is mainly due to the rugged inaccessibility of the mountains, which discouraged Spanish and American colonizers from coming into contact with the highlanders.

These groups ranged from various Igorot tribes, a group that includes the Bontoc, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Isneg, Kalinga, Kankana-ey and Tinguian, who built the Rice Terraces. They also covered a wide spectrum in terms of their integration and acculturation with lowland Christian and Muslim Filipinos. Native groups such as the Bukidnon in Mindanao, had intermarried with lowlanders for almost a century. Other groups such as the Kalinga in Luzon have remained isolated from lowland influence.

A trio of Aetas performing on stage at a show in SM City Clark in Angeles City, Pampanga.

There were several upland groups living in the Cordillera Central of Luzon in 1990. At one time it was employed by lowland Filipinos in a pejorative sense, but in recent years it came to be used with pride by native groups in the mountain region as a positive expression of their ethnic identity. The Ifugaos of Ifugao province, the Bontocs, Kalinga, Tinguian, the Kankana-ey and Ibaloi were all farmers who constructed the rice terraces for many centuries.

Other mountain peoples of Luzon are the Isnags of the province of Apayao, the Gaddangs of the border between Kalinga, and Isabela provinces and the Ilongots of Nueva Vizcaya province and Caraballo Mountains all developed hunting and gathering, farming cultivation and headhunting. Other groups such as the Negritos formerly dominated the highlands throughout the islands for thousands of years, but have been reduced to a small population, living in widely scattered locations, primarily along the eastern ranges of the mountains.

In the southern Philippines, upland and lowland tribal groups were concentrated on Mindanao and western Visayas, although there are several upland groups such as the Mangyan living in Mindoro. Among the most important groups found on Mindanao are collectively called the Lumad, and includes the Manobo which is a bigger ethnographic group such as the Ata-Manobo and the Matigsalug found in Davao City, Davao del Norte and Bukidnon Province; the Langilan-Manobo in Davao del Norte; the Agusan-Manobo in Agusan del Sur and southern parts of Agusan del Norte; the Pulanguiyon-Manobo of Bukidnon Province; the Ubo-Manobo in southwestern parts of Davao City, and northern parts of North Cotabato Province that is also to include the Arumanen-Manobo of Carmen (N. Cotabato); the Dulangan-Manobo in the Province of Sultan Kudarat; the Talaandig, Higaonon and Bukidnon of Bukidnon province, Bagobo, Mandaya, Mansaka, Tagakaulo in Davao region who inhabited the mountains bordering the Davao Gulf; the Kalagan lives particularly in lowland areas and seashores of Davao del Norte, Compostella Valley, Davao Oriental and some seashores in Davao Del Sur, the Subanon of upland areas in Zamboanga; the Mamanua in the Agusan-Surigao border region; the B’laan, Teduray and Tboli in the region of the Cotabato province, and the Samal. Samal is synonymous with Luwa’an. Yakan is the indigenous tribe in the hinterlands of Basilan Province. In the lowland lives the Sama Banguingui tribe while in coastal areas there leave the nomadic Luwa’an. Sulu lowland areas are also home of the Sama Banguingui. The Sama or the Sinama and the Jama Mapun are the indigenous tribes in the province of Tawi-Tawi.

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