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Cultural Minorities of the Philippines

Part Four

NEGRITO
There are said to be 15, 000 to 50, 000 pure Negritoes living in the Philippines; estimates vary wildly.

The various Negrito groups call themselves names like Agta, Ayta, Alta, Ita, Ati, Ato and Aeta, which are variations of 'man' or 'person'. They live dispersed over many islands but are principally found in eastern Luzon. They can be readily distinguished from all other Filipinos by their physical characteristics: they are darker and rarely tall than 1.5m. Their hair is cut short and crinkly, often decorated with a bamboo ornament. Their traditional clothing is made out of tree bark.

The Negritoes are nomads and only a few of them have settled in one place. They often live in temporary huts built from twigs, branches, foliage and grass. Sometimes they work small fields in which they plant sweet potatoes, rice and vegetables. They also hunt animals, using bows and prison-tipped arrows.

Seafaring Negritoes are called Dumagat. You meet them occasionally on secluded beaches on the Pacific coast of North Luzon, where they settle temporarily in hastily built huts.

The Negritoes do not have laws as we know them, nor do they feel themselves bound to any authority. When decisions have to be made, the head of the family's word is final.

PALA'WAN
The Pala'wan live in the highlands of south Palawan. Their villages consist of three to 12 houses. They are led by a number of panlima, who are administrators and are also meant to help maintain the peace. The Pala'wan religion has Hindu and Islamic elements. The highest deity is Ampo, who is believed to pass on responsibility for the regulation of the affairs of humanity to his subordinate gods, the diwatas. Religious celebrations include dancing, singing and drinking rice wine a marriage is only agreed upon after lengthy negotiations between the two families concerned and is often arranged when the couple are still children.

TASADAY
The Tasaday live in the mountains deep within the tropical rainforest of south Cotabato Province on Mindanao. The discovery of the Tasaday by the outside world has caused considerable controversy.

They were first discovered by the outside world in the early 1960s by a hunter named Dafal, but the first 'official' meting didn't take place until June 1971. Their health was remarkable; from the dawn of time these semi-naked cave and forest dwellers lived on the fruit they gathered, and the fish, frogs, tadpoles and crabs they caught. They did not hunt or farm, and they used only primitive stone tools.

According to some reports, the 25-clan members had no contact with the outside world until they met Dafal. They did not even know of the existence of other tribal groups outside their forest. It's worth reading John Nance's book the Gentle Tasaday, which offers a fascinating, if controversial, account of the tribe.

The controversy arose in early 1986 with a report by Dr. Oswald Iten of Switzerland and a Stern reporter Walter Unger, who suggested that the sensational discovery of the Tasaday was nothing but a publicity stunt staged by the Marcos government.

As the debate raged, scholars and journalists from all over the world demanded further proof and explanations. The Department of Anthropology convinced an ultimately inconclusive symposium, and only a testimonial issued by the Congress, which had arranged for some Tasaday to be flown to Manila, could help clarify the situation. The authenticity of the Tasaday as an ethnic group was then confirmed by the highest government authorities. The most recent confirmation of the authenticity of the Tasaday was presented at the International Congress of Anthropological & Ethnological Sciences in early 1992 in Washington. (From Lonely Planet, Philippines)

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All rights reserved. Sun.Star Weekend 2001

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.APRIL 29-MAY 5, 2001

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