Palawan is the largest province in the Philippines and is home to several indigenous ethnolinguistic groups such as the Tagbanua, Palaw’an, Tao’t Bato, Molbog, Batak, Agutaynen, and Cuyonon. These groups of people live in remote villages throughout the province that are found in mountains and coastal areas. According to the province’s history, the ancestors of these indigents have occupied Palawan long before the Malay settlers from the Majapahit Empire of Indonesia arrived in the area during the 12th century.
In the year 1962, a team of anthropologists from the Philippine National Museum unearthed various fossils at the Lipuun Point which is now commonly known as the Tabon Cave in the municipality of Quezon in Palawan. The team which was led by Dr. Robert Fox was able to discover remains of Homo sapiens that are believed to be 22, 000 to 24, 000 years old during that time. The remains were then named “Tabon Man” and were, then, used for further study. The discovery of the Tabon Man and the fossils found in the cave gave way for Palawan to earn the title “The Cradle of Philippine Civilization”.
According to Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan, the remnant of Magellan’s fleet landed in Palawan after Magellan’s death. They were able to observe the way of life of the native people who were populating in Palawan at that time. In his writings, he highlighted how cultivated the fields are in the said province and that all the native people used weapons consisting of blowpipes, spears and bronze Lombard. Pigafetta also mentioned the experiences he had such as witnessing cockfighting and fistfighting. He also discovered that the natives had their own system of writing which is composed of 13 consonants and three vowels and that they had a dialect of 18 syllables. He also included that the local King in Palawan during that time has 10 scribes who wrote down the King’s dictation on the leaves.
These natives that were mentioned by Pigafetta were probably the Tabon Man that was discovered by Dr. Fox. According to research, it is very likely that the Tagbanuas and the Palaw’ans are descendants of the Tabon Cave’s inhabitants. It was further explained that these tribes have similarities when it comes to their language, farming methods, and a common belief in soul relatives.
At present, many groups of indigents have moved into Palawan, however, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples only acknowledge seven of these groups of people as true indigents of Palawan.
The Batak tribe is a group of indigenous people who reside in the rugged interiors of the northeast portion of the province of Palawan. These group of people lives close to nature and are extremely peaceful and shy, they believe in nature spirits with whom they communicate with through the aid of a “babaylan” or a shaman. At present, there are only about 500, or less, Batak people remaining in the Philippines.
The Bataks are also called Tinitianes and are considered by anthropologists to be closely related to the Aytas of Central Luzon, another Negrito tribe. They are described as people who tend to be small in stature and has a dark complexion, they also have short curly, mostly kinky, hair – traits that earned the “Negrito” groups of their name. However, there are still debates as to whether the Bataks are related to the other Negrito groups of the Philippines or to other physically similar groups in Indonesia or as far as the Andaman Islands.
For centuries, the Bataks have combined a hunting-gathering kind of lifestyle with seeding of useful food plants, kaingin – a slash and burn farming method, and trading. It is believed that they may have already had trading relations with Chinese merchants as early as 500 AD.
During mid to late 20th century, Bataks were pushed out of their gathering grounds which was by the sea and was forced to move into the mountains by emigrant farmers who were mostly from Luzon. Living in less fertile areas, they attempted to supplement their income by harvesting and selling various nontimber forest products such as rattan, tree resins, and honey. This was, however, resisted by the government and commercial collectors who claim that the Bataks have no legal right to the resources that they are utilizing. Conservationists, on the other hand, have taken interest in the collection methods of the Bataks which are more sustainable than the techniques used by commercial concessionaires.
Bataks were once nomadic people but this changed when the government has given a small village for them. Still, they often go to gathering trips that would take them a few days at a time, a practice that has both economic and spiritual value to them.
Their belief system is that of animism – the belief of spirits that resides within nature. The Bataks make a regular offering to these spirits, while Shamans undergo spiritual possessions in order to communicate with the spirits and to heal the sick.
These days, “pure” Bataks or those whos parents both belong to the Batak tribe have become highly rare due to the incursion by immigrants and the exposure of the tribe to the society. Most Bataks would prefer marrying a person outside of the tribe and will, later on, have children who will choose not to go by the norms of the tribe. As an effect, Bataks are being absorbed into a more diffuse group of upland indigenous peoples who are slowly losing their tribal identities, their unique spirituality and culture, there are even debates as to whether these people still exist as a distinct ethnic entity or not.
This indigenous group is most likely to be found in the northern part of the province of Palawan such as Agutaya Island, Municipality of Roxas, Municipality of San Vicente, Municipality of Brooke’s Point, Municipality of Taytay, and Linapacan. They may also be occasionally spotted in Manila, the capital city of the Philippines.
These groups of people are believed to belong to the family of Austronesians and Malayo-Polynesians whose have a long inhabited the province of Palawan. They have lexical similarity with Cuyonon and the Calamian Tagbanua, who are also indigents in Palawan.
Agutaynens, however, does not have much information and exposure to the public since there are only a few of them and there are almost no records about this group due to the separation of their area to the mainland of the province of Palawan. According to recent reports, this group of people has also begun embracing modernization.
As mentioned earlier, the Tagbanuas are believed to be descendants of the Tabon Man due to the many similarities that they have when it comes to language, alphabet, the practice of kaingin, and a common belief in soul relatives.
This tribe is found mostly in the Central and Northern portion of Palawan. They practice shifting cultivation of upland rice which is considered as a divine gift, they are also known for their rice wine ritual called “Pagdiwata”. The cult of the dead is the key to the religious system of the Tagbanua, who also believe in countless deities found in the natural environment.
The Tagbanua is one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Philippines that can be mainly found in the municipalities of Aborlan, Quezon, Calamianes Islands, Baras Coast, Busuanga Island, Coron Island, in some parts of El Nido, and even in Puerto Princesa City. They are brown skinned people with slim and erect stature and has straight hair.
This ethnic group is divided into two groups; Central Tagbanua and Calamian Tagbanua. The two groups speak different languages and do not exactly have similar customs.
Tagbanuas live in compact villages of 45 to 500 individuals. In 1987, there are about 130,000 Tagbanuas living in Palawan, at present, however, it dropped to only around 10,000, 1, 800 of which are located in Calamianes.
Tagbanuas have their own unique government system that is being practised by both the Central Tagbanuas and the Calamian Tagbanua.
The Molbogs are indigents in the province of Palawan who is believed to be among the migrants from North Borneo and is now living in the Balabac Island in Palawan. Referred as Molebugan or Molebuganori in many literary works, Molbogs do a lot of farming, fishing, and occasional barter trading with the Sulu Bangsa Moro and nearby Sabah market centers as means of their subsistence.
Molbogs are believed to be related to the Orang Tidung or Tirum (Camucone in Spanish) as based on their dialect and I some of their socio-cultural practices. Orang Tidung is an Islamized indigenous group that lives in the northeast coast of Sabah. However, words from other ethnic groups such as the Jama Mapun and the Tausug are also found in the dialect of the Molbogs. This, together with their socio-cultural lifestyle, distinguished them from Orang Tidung.
The intermarriages that occurred frequently between the Molbogs and the Tausugs have hastened the Islamization of the Molbogs. The offsprings of these intermarriages are known as kolibugan which means half-breed. The Sulu Sultanate in the Philippines’ political periphery was also formed from the unification of the Molbogs and the Palawanon Muslims who were then ruled by Sulu Datus.
Like all Muslim groups, Islam is a way of life for the Molbogs. They observe the Five Pillars of Islam and the basic Arabic chanting that may be heard daily in a Molbog community. In the past, there have already been two groups who tried to reach these people, one in the year 1975 and the other in 1982. Both groups were accepted as medical and literacy volunteers. Any outsiders who want to bring religion to the community, however, is not welcome.
The Palaw’an, also known as Palawano, is an indigenous ethnic group found in the province of Palawan. This group is divided into four ethnolinguistic subgroups namely; Quezon Palawan (also known as the Central Palawano), Bugsuk Palawano (South Palawano), Brooke’s Point Palawano, and Southwest Palawano. This indigenous group belongs to large Manobo-based linguistic groups of the southern Philippines. They were originally found in the interior regions of South Apuruan on the West Coast and South of Abo-Abo on the East Coast, these regions may be located in the Southern part of the province of Palawan. The Palaw’ans have become popularly known as Palawans which is pronounced faster than the name of the province.
The Palaw’ans were originally nomadic, however, agrarian settlers began coming and occupying their vast domain. The tribe used to exploit the most fertile piece of land and move on to the next one; their family units were very small which was probably caused by high mortality rates. They built their houses on a hillside that is close to a river or a stream using four skinny trunks of trees. The floor of their houses is about 15 to 20 feet above the ground. Members of the family used a slanted log that is attached to the entrance of their houses to get up and down the house, for those who were not married, a hanging rope is more preferred.
They hunt wild animals using spears with lethal poison at the tip of it and catch fish by using a special root sap that is diluted in a shallow river or stream. The Palaw’ans hardly domesticate chickens nor hogs, they preferred dogs which comes very helpful during hunting. They are considered naïve when it comes to socialization and would always welcome outsiders with great precaution since they have always been scared of getting sick; this form of precaution makes them abandon their area immediately to avoid acquiring any form of the disease – even just a common cold.
It is believed that the Palaw’ans have the shortest life span of all peoples but there is no statistical data that could back up this claim. This tribe has no concept of years when asked about when they were born, they would usually use a tree as the reference of their age, saying that they were born when the tree was just at a certain height.
The men in this tribe wear g-strings while the women wear patadyong which is a native wrap that is similar to the malong. In food preference, the Palaw’ans do not usually use salt, their usual diet is composed of rice, banana, cassava, vegetables, rimas or breadfruit, fruits, wild pigs from hunting, birds such as wild quails and tikling, wild chicken / labuyo, and freshwater fish. They prepare a delicious delicacy called the pinyaram which is closely similar to the bibingka of the Tagalogs.
The term “Tao’t Bato” literally means “people of the rock”, they are not actually a separate language or a separate ethnic group but rather a small community of traditional southwestern Palawanos who happen to live in the crater of an extinct volcano during certain seasons of the year, their houses are built on raised floors inside caves though others have set their homes on the open slopes. These group of people is found in the Singnapan Basin, a valley in Mount Matalingahan on the east and the coast of the west; in their, North is the municipality of Quezon while to their South are still unexplored regions of Palawan.
They have preserved their culture and way of life, the men still wear g-strings that are made from bark and cloth while the women wear a piece of cloth that is made into skirts to cover their lower body. Like many tribes, this group of people is half naked but sometimes, women wore a blouse that they obtain from the market system.
Their artistry is cruder than any of the other Palawan tribes except in rare cases that involve basketry. Around cave dwellings, they construct a light and sturdy lattice-work made of saplings lashed together and anchored fast to crevices in the walls to provide access to the caves. The construction of these lattice-works does not depend on any framework that would hold the unit against the walls; the anchorage is distributed all along the lattice-work in a way that the breakdown of one section may be compensated for by the other portions of the construction. There are modifications and elaborations on the basic “datag” or sleeping platforms, and “lagkaw” or granary, depending on the varying conditions there is in various caves.
The Tao’t Bato are swidden cultivators who practice multiple cropping with cassava as their major source of carbohydrates. They also produce sweet potatoes, sugar canes, malunggay, garlic, pepper, string beans, squash, tomato, pineapple, and many others. Throughout the year, hunting and forging are pursued to complement the carbohydrate diet of the people; most of the wild pigs that they are hunt are caught through spring traps.
They also indulge the “samb” or barter, and “dagang” or monetary exchange. The samb is specifically for marine fish that is provided for them by the Candawaga in exchange for horticultural products while the dagang involves forest products like almaciga and rattan.
The basic social unit among the Tao’t Bato is the ka-asawan or marriage group. This extends to the basic couple to the more complex arrangements of a compound and extended family grouping. The ka-asawan is further grouped into large associations called “bulun-bulun” which means gathering. These multi-household bands are physically bounded in terms of areas of habitation. Each bulun-bulun normally occupies one cave or a single house complex in the swidden area for their residence. Being part of the bulun-bulun is characterized by the ecosystem of sharing through different types of social and material exchanges such as in food.
Because of their uniqueness, the Philippine government declared their area off-limits to strangers to protect them from unreasonable exploitation.
The Cuyunon refers to an ethnic group that dwells in the municipality of Cuyo, northern, and in central Palawan. The Cuyunons are originally from Cuyo and the surrounding Cuyo Islands that is found in Sulu Sea, in the northern portion of Palawan.
This group of indigents is considered as an “elite class” among the hierarchy of the natives who live in Palawan. During the Spanish colonization in the Philippines, Cuyo was one of the territories of Palawan that had the strongest Spanish presence.
Known as Cuyonon, Cuyono, Cuyunon, Kuyunon, Kuyunen, and many others, this ethnic tribe in Palawan geography is the most dominant tribal group in this region – composed of about 240,000 people as recorded for the year 2015; although scattered all over the world, 85% of them permanently resides in the province of Palawan. They originated genetically and linguistically from Panay Island in the central Philippines since 1250 AD but they have Malayan roots from the Banjarmasin in Borneo Island 1,000 years ago.
The Cuyono of tody is usually a Roman Catholic, Christian Protestants, and Animists with strong Spanish adaptations. The Cuyunon Tribe, unlike most of the Philippines’ homogeneous tribal groups, is a heterogeneous tribe, their ancestors could be traced back to the ancient migrants and traders who settled down in Palawan like the Chinese, Arabs, Jews, Indians, Malays, Vishayans, Spanish and other Europeans. Although the language of the Cuyunons are closely related to the Kinaray-a of Miag-ao in Iloilo province, the fact remains that as early as 1250’s, the early Cuyunon tribe became the common denominator of all the homogeneous tribes of Palawan because they always intermarry with the Bataks, Tagbanuas, Agutaynens, Molbogs, and other tribes that live in Palawan.
Cuyunons are divided into four subgroups which distinguish one Cuyunon from the other.
1. Paraguanen – the Cuyuno people who settled mostly in the mainland Palawan (Paragua)
2. Poroanen – the Cuyuno people who settled mostly in the islands and islets of Palawan
3. Mestiso – the Cuyuno who usually are half Chinese or Spanish
4. Lakto – the Cuyuno who did not accept Catholicism and lived as Animists.
Cuyunons, unlike the other tribes in Palawan, may be seen anywhere in the province and even in the city of Puerto Princesa. They are the ones who have embraced modernization and have utilized it in their daily lives, making it hard to identify them when they are in public unless you ask them about their ethnicity.