Upland Tribal Groups

Philippines Table of Contents

Another minority, the more than 100 upland tribal groups, in 1990 constituted approximately 3 percent of the population. As lowland Filipinos, both Muslim and Christian, grew in numbers and expanded into the interiors of Luzon, Mindoro, Mindanao, and other islands, they isolated upland tribal communities in pockets. Over the centuries, these isolated tribes developed their own special identities. The folk art of these groups was, in a sense, the last remnant of an indigenous tradition that flourished everywhere before Islamic and Spanish contact.

Technically, the upland tribal groups were a blend in ethnic origin like other Filipinos, although they did not, as a rule, have as much contact with the outside world. They displayed great variety in social organization, cultural expression, and artistic skills that showed a high degree of creativity, usually employed to embellish utilitarian objects, such as bowls, baskets, clothing, weapons, and even spoons. Technologically, these groups ranged from the highly sophisticated Bontocs and Ifugaos, who engineered the extraordinary rice terraces, to more primitive groups. They also covered a wide spectrum in terms of their integration and acculturation with lowland Christian Filipinos. Some, like the Bukidnons of Mindanao, had intermarried with lowlanders for almost a century, whereas others, like the Kalingas on Luzon, remained more isolated from lowland influences.

There were ten principal cultural groups living in the Cordillera Central of Luzon in 1990. The name Igorot, the Tagalog word for mountaineer, was often used with reference to all groups. 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 youths in the mountains as a positive expression of their separate ethnic identity vis-à-vis lowlanders. Of the ten groups, the Ifugaos of Ifugao Province, the Bontocs of Mountain and Kalinga-Apayao provinces, and the Kankanays and Ibalois of Benguet Province were all wet-rice farmers who worked the elaborate rice terraces they had constructed over the centuries. The Kankanays and Ibalois were the most influenced by Spanish and American colonialism and lowland Filipino culture because of the extensive gold mines in Benguet, the proximity of Baguio, good roads and schools, and a consumer industry in search of folk art. Other mountain peoples of Luzon were the Kalingas of KalingaApayao Province and the Tinguians of Abra Province, who employed both wet-rice and dry-rice growing techniques. The Isnegs of northern Kalinga-Apayao Province, the Gaddangs of the border between Kalinga-Apayao and Isabela provinces, and the Ilongots of Nueva Vizcaya Province all practiced shifting cultivation. Negritos completed the picture for Luzon. Although Negritos formerly dominated the highlands, by the early 1980s they were reduced to small groups living in widely scattered locations, primarily along the eastern ranges of the mountains.

South of Luzon, upland tribal groups were concentrated on Mindanao, although there was an important population of mountain peoples with the generic name Mangyan living on Mindoro. Among the most important groups on Mindanao were the Manobos (a general name for many tribal groups in southern Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur provinces); the Bukidnons of Bukidnon Province; the Bagobos, Mandayas, Atas, and Mansakas, who inhabited mountains bordering the Davao Gulf; the Subanuns of upland areas in the Zamboanga provinces; the Mamanuas of the Agusan-Surigao border region; and the Bila-ans, Tirurays, and T-Bolis of the area of the Cotabato provinces. Tribal groups on Luzon were widely known for their carved wooden figures, baskets, and weaving; Mindanao tribes were renowned for their elaborate embroidery, appliqué, and bead work.

The Office of Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities succeeded in establishing a number of protected reservations for tribal groups. Residents were expected to speak their tribal language, dress in their traditional tribal clothing, live in houses constructed of natural materials using traditional architectural designs, and celebrate their traditional ceremonies of propitiation of spirits believed to be inhabiting their environment. They also were encouraged to reestablish their traditional authority structure in which, as in Moro society, tribal datu were the key figures. These men, chosen on the basis of their bravery and their ability to settle disputes, were usually, but not always, the sons of former datu. Often they were also the ones who remembered the ancient oral epics of their people. The datu sang these epics to reawaken in tribal youth an appreciation for the unique and semisacred history of the tribal group.

Contact between primitive and modern groups usually resulted in weakening or destroying tribal culture without assimilating the tribal groups into modern society. It seemed doubtful that the shift of government policy from assimilation to cultural pluralism could reverse the process. James Eder, an anthropologist who has studied several Filipino tribes, maintains that even the protection of tribal land rights tends to lead to the abandonment of traditional culture because land security makes it easier for tribal members to adopt the economic practices of the larger society and facilitates marriage with outsiders. Government bureaus could not preserve tribes as social museum exhibits, but with the aid of various private organizations, they hoped to be able to help the tribes adapt to modern society without completely losing their ethnic identity.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress