The Tagbanua tribe, one of the oldest tribes in the Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, can be mainly found in the central and northern Palawan
Palawan is an island province of the Philippines located in the MIMAROPA region or Region 4. Its capital is Puerto Princesa City, and it is the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction. The islands of Palawan stretch from Mindoro in the northeast to Borneo in the...

. Research has shown that the Tagbanua are possible descendants of the Tabon Man
Tabon Man
Tabon Man refers to fossilized anatomically modern human remains discovered on the island of Palawan in the Philippines on May 28, 1962 by Dr. Robert B. Fox, an American anthropologist of the National Museum of the Philippines...

; thus, making them one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. They are brown-skinned, slim and straight-haired ethnic group.

The tribe has two major classifications based on the geographical location where they can be found. Central Tagbanuas are found in the western and eastern coastal areas of central Palawan. They are concentrated in the municipalities of Aborlan
Aborlan, Palawan
Aborlan is a 2nd class municipality in the province of Palawan, Philippines. It lies in a vast plain between the Sulu Sea and the mountains. It is located 69 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa City...

, Quezon
Quezon, Palawan
Quezon, Palawan is a 2nd class municipality in the province of Palawan, Philippines. According to the 2000 census, it has a population of 41,669 people in 8,453 households...

, and Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa City
The City of Puerto Princesa is a city located on the western provincial island of Palawan, one of 80 provinces which make up the Philippines...

. Calamian Tagbanua, on the other hand, are found in Baras coast, Busuanga Island
Busuanga Island
Busuanga Island is the largest island in the Calamian Group in the province of Palawan in the Philippines. Busuanga Island is, in fact, the second largest island in the province after Palawan island itself. The island is located halfway between the islands of Mindoro and Palawan with the South...

, Coron Island
Coron Island
Coron Island is the third largest island in the Calamian Group of Islands in northern Palawan in the Philippines. The island is part of the larger municipality of the same name. It is about southwest of Manila, is known for several Japanese shipwrecks World War II vintage. The island is part of...

 and in some parts of
El Nido
El Nido, Palawan
El Nido is a first class municipality and managed resource protected area in the province of Palawan in the Philippines...

. These two Tagbanua sub-groups speak different languages and do not exactly have the same custom.

Tagbanua live in compact villages of 45 to 500 individuals. In 1987, there are 129, 691 Tagbanuas living in Palawan. At present, Tagbanua tribe has an estimated population of over 10,000. Of which, 1,800 are in the Calamianes
Calamian Group
The Calamian is a group of islands in the Philippine province of Palawan. It includes:* Busuanga Island* Coron Island* Culion Island* Calauit Island* several minor islands....



According to folk history, the Tagbanua had an early relationship with Brunei
Brunei , officially the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace , is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia...

, with the first sultan of Brunyu, from the place called Burnay.

Formal history of the Tagbanua tribe began in 1521 when Magellan's ships docked in Palawan for provisions. Antonio Pigafetta
Antonio Pigafetta
Antonio Pigafetta was an Italian scholar and explorer from the Republic of Venice. He travelled with the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and his crew on their voyage to the Indies. During the expedition, he served as Magellan's assistant and kept an accurate journal which later assisted him...

, Magellan's chronicler, recorded that the Tagbanua practiced the ritual of blood compact
Blood compact
Blood compact was a ritual in the Philippines where tribes would cut their wrist and pour their blood into a cup filled with liquid and drink each other's blood as part of the tribal tradition to seal a friendship, a pact or treaty, or to validate an agreement...

, cultivated their fields, hunted with blowpipes and thick wooden arrows, valued brass rings and chains, bells, knives, and copper wire for binding fish hooks, raised large and very tame cocks which they pitted against one another and laid bets on, and distilled rice wine.
Until the latter part of the 17th century, southern Palawan was under the jurisdiction of the Sultan of Brunei, leading to friction between Spaniards and the Sultan. During this time, and for almost three hundred years, the Spaniards and the Muslims of Sulu, Mindanao, Palawan, and north Borneo were at war.

In the 19th century, the Tagbanua continued to believe in their native gods. Each year, a big feast is celebrated after each harvest to honor their deities.

When the Spanish regime ended and the Americans occupied the Philippines, some changes came to the island of Palawan, and to the Tagbanua. In 1904, Iwahig became the site of a penal colony
Penal colony
A penal colony is a settlement used to exile prisoners and separate them from the general populace by placing them in a remote location, often an island or distant colonial territory...

, which displaced the Tagbanua as it expanded. In 1910, the Americans put up a reservation for the Tagbanua. In succeeding years, internal migration from the Visayan islands and from Luzon, the dominance of the Christian religion
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

, and the absorption of the island into economic and political mainstream marginalized the Tagbanua people.

Ancestral domain

In 1998, the Tagbanua of Coron Island
Coron Island
Coron Island is the third largest island in the Calamian Group of Islands in northern Palawan in the Philippines. The island is part of the larger municipality of the same name. It is about southwest of Manila, is known for several Japanese shipwrecks World War II vintage. The island is part of...

 were awarded a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) over more than 22,000 hectares of land and sea. CADT is the title to the land and the sea that have sustained the community for centuries. It gives the Tagbanua the right to manage the area and preserve its rich marine and land resources.

The Coron Island Ancestral Domain of the Tagbanua people covers the two villages of Banuang Daan and Cabugao, and the neighboring Delian Island. The ancestral domain is currently ruled by HM Tribal Chieftain Rodolfo Aguilar I, assisted by his Council of Elders.


The Tagbanua people has its own native language, however, they are also proficient in speaking the Palawano language
Palawano language
The Palawano languages are spoken on the island of Palawan in the province of Palawan in the Philippines.There are actually three related, but not mutually intelligible, languages, each with a number of dialects, which called themselves "Palawano" .The three Palawano languages share the island with...

 and several other dialects like Tandulanon, Silanganon, and Baras in each locality, while a significant number of them can comprehend Tagalog
Tagalog language
Tagalog is an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a third of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by most of the rest. It is the first language of the Philippine region IV and of Metro Manila...

, Batak, Cuyonon
Cuyonon language
Cuyonon is a language spoken on the coast of Palawan, and the Cuyo Islands in the Philippines.-External links:*, cuyonon.org...

, and Calawian languages.


The Tagbanua's relationship with the spirit world is the basis for their rituals, celebration, and dances. The many ceremonial feasts punctuating Tagbanua life are based on a firm belief in a natural interaction between the world of the living the world of the dead. These ceremonies and rituals takes place on all levels, ranging from rituals perform within the family, to those which are led by the community's leader on behalf of the people. Such celebrations call for special structures to be built, such as ceremonial platforms and rafts. Rituals offering include rice, chicken and betel nut.

The Tagabanua tribe has four major deities. The first, the lord of the heavens, was called Mangindusa
Mangindusa, is one of the four highly revered gods in the Tagbanua mythology, is also known as the "lord of the heavens."Mangindusa dwells in a sacred area called Awan-awan, a place lying beyond the langit, in a region between the sky world and the earth...

or Nagabacaban, who sits up in the sky and lets his feet dangle below, above the earth. The god of the sea was named Polo and was deemed a benevolent spirit. His help was invoked in times of illness. The third was the god of the earth named Sedumunadoc, whose favor was sought in order to have a good harvest. The fourth was called Tabiacoud, who lived, in the deep bowels of the earth.

For these gods, the Tagbanua celebrated a big feast each year, right after harvest, when there is much singing, dancing, courting, and conclusion of blood compacts. The babaylan
Babaylan is a Visayan term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community "miracle-worker"...

 (shaman) called for the people to converge at the seashore, carrying food offering of all kinds. The babaylan took the chickens and roosters brought for the ceremony, and hung them by their legs on tree branches, killing them by beating with a stick. They were allowed only one blow for each animal, and those who survive went free, never to be harmed again, because Polo, the sea god, took them under his protection. The fowl that died were seasoned, cooked and eaten. After eating, they danced and drank rice wine. At midnight, as Buntala, a heavenly body, passed the meridian, the babaylan entered the sea waist dipped, all the while dancing and pushing a raft made of bamboo, which had offering on it. If the offering was returned to the shore by waves and winds, it meant the sea god refused the people's offering. But if the raft disappeared, there was rejoicing. Their offering was accepted and their year would be a happy one.

Other spirits inhabit the forests and environment, and belief in their existence necessitates rituals to placate them or gain their favors. The babaylan
Babaylan is a Visayan term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community "miracle-worker"...

 performs rituals of life, from birth to death. It is believed that there is a deity who accompanies the soul of the dead to its final destination. Hunters invoke the assistance of the spirits of the dead relatives in asking the owners of the wild pigs to allow their hunting dogs to locate the prey. A mutya (charm) is commonly used to help its possessor succeed in the hunt.

However, the Tagbanuas of the North inhabiting Coron Island are now predominantly Christians due to evangelization efforts of foreign missionaries during the late sixties and seventies.

Family structure

The basic social unit
Social unit
Social unit is a term used in sociology, anthropology, ethnology, and also in animal behaviour studies, zoology and biology to describe a social entity which is part of and participates in a larger social group or society....

 of the Tagbanuas is their nuclear family
Nuclear family
Nuclear family is a term used to define a family group consisting of a father and mother and their children. This is in contrast to the smaller single-parent family, and to the larger extended family. Nuclear families typically center on a married couple, but not always; the nuclear family may have...

composed of a married couple and their children. They are monogamous. They live in houses that are made up of bamboo and wood for a strong frame, anahaw leaves for roof and walls, and bamboo slats for the flooring.

Families can either be free men or nobles which in the Southern tribes is known as Usba.

Visual Arts and crafts

The traditional costumes of the Tagbanua were fashioned from the bark of trees, particularly the salugin. The preparation of this bark was unique. After being felled, the tree would be cut around the trunk, the outer bark stripped off to expose the inner layer. A mallet would beat the layer, until it is soft to hang loose from the bole. This is washed and dried under the sun. In the past, menfolk wore simple loincloths, supported by a woven rattan waistband called ambalad, while women wore only brief wraparound skirts made from bark. The Tagbanua later adopt some articles of Muslim clothing. At present, while many Tagbanua still wear their traditional apparel, western-type clothing has found its way among the people.

In the past, when both men and women wore their hair long, they filled and blackened their teeth, and carved earplugs from the hardwood bantilinaw. The Tagbanua also carved wooden combs and bracelets. They strung bead necklaces to be used in covering women's necks. Anklets of copper and brass wire were also crafted and worn by women.

Tagbanua women wear bright body ornament and brightly colored clothes. They dress just like the non-tribe lowlanders but some elder men prefer to use G-strings for comfort while tilling the field or going fishing.

Baskets and woodcarvings are the more notable products of Tagbanua artistic crafts today. They excel in the number of designs which they apply to their tingkop (harvest basket) made of hard strip bamboo. These baskets are made of blackened and natural bamboo, which makes the designs stand out. The cone-shaped type of basket is another fine example of Tagbanua skilled artistry. Using black and natural color designs outside, the center of the cone has the bamboo strip skived slightly smaller, creating even holes for the screen. The funnel effect is accomplished through a close weaving of the bamboo strips towards the top.

The soft rice baskets, called bayong-bayong, are made with different unusual shapes. These have square bases and round tops. To produce interesting block and V-shapes, the plain buri sides superimposed with colored buri. Color is woven into the Tagbanua basket with the used of dyed palm leaves.

Blackened woodcarvings of animals, with simple etched or incised features exposing the original whit grain of the wood, are the most well known examples of Tagbanua woodcarvings or sculpture.

Some of the objects carved are mammanuk (rooster), a ritual bowl, kiruman (turtle), kararaga (a native bird), dugyan (a small ground animal), lizards, and wild pigs. Carved animals are used with rice, betel nut, and other offerings to attract the deities and spirit relatives in the pagdiwata rituals. The turtles, for instance, floats on grains of palay in an ancient Ming trade bowl. Others that are not used in rituals become toys for children.


Complementing the rich Tagbanua rituals and social gatherings in the past was an assortment of musical instruments. These included the aruding or jaw harp; the babarak or nose flute; the tipanu or mouth flute; the pagang and tibuldu, two variations of the bamboo zithers; the kudlung or boat lute; the gimbal or drum, whose top was made from the skin of the bayawak or monitor lizard; and the tiring, composed of lengths of bamboo with openings of various sizes producing different notes when struck with a stick. In addition, there were two generic types of gongs obtained from the shallow babandil. The mouth flute is still in use, and the gongs and drums are still played during rituals. Modern acoustic type guitar and the ukulele, which is fashioned from a half coconut shell, supplant the other instruments.


The known dances associated with the rituals are the following: abellano, also called soriano, a traditional dance performed by males; bugas-bugasan, a dance for all participants of a pagdiwata, after they have drunk the ceremonial tabad (rice wine); kalindapan, solo dance by the female babaylan and her attendants; runsay, ritual dances performed by the villagers on the seashore, where bamboo rafts laden with food offering are floated for the gods; sarungkay, a healing dance by the main babaylan as she balances a sword on her head and waves ugsang or palm leaf strip; tugatak and tarindak, dances perform by the villagers who attend an inim or pagdiwata; tamigan, performed by male combatants using round winnowers or bilao to represent shields.

The dancing accompanying the runsay, performed about midnight and lasting until daybreak, is possibly the most moving of all Tagbanua dances, since it is a part of a sacred ritual that takes place only once a year, and is performed on the beach from where the ritual raft has been launched towards the sea world.

Guests who attend the albarka ritual watch dances such as the busak-busak, the spider dance; batak ribid, a dance simulating the gathering of camote; bungalon, a showing off dance; bugsay-bugsay, a paddle dance using fans; segutset, a courtship dance; and tarek, a traditional dance. The andardi is a festival dance of the Tagbanua in and around Aborlan, perform at social gatherings. When dancing during a festival, the performers are dressed in their costumes, and hold in each hand a dried palm leaf called palaspas. The music of the andardi is composed of one part of twelve measures, played or sung continuously throughout the dance. Drum or gongs accompanies the music and the song.


Drama in Tagbanua society is expressed in the mimetic dances imitating animals, such as busak-busak, and those showing occupations, such as batak ribid and bugsay-bugsay. But the most important mimetic forms are the rituals where the priestess is possessed by and plays the role of the deity to whom the offerings are being made.

Economic activity

They cultivate rice in swidden or kaingin field that is intercropped with sweet potato, corn, and cassava. Those in the coastal areas indulge in fishing and exchange it with agricultural products for consumption. They also gather forest products such as gum, rattan, and honey for cash.

The highest potential source of income for the Tagbanua are handicrafts particularly woodworking, mat making and basketry, the raw materials for which are readily available to them.

External links

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