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Tagbanwa Tribe of Palawan: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Indigenous People | Philippines Ethnic Group]

Tagbanwa Tribe of Palawan: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Indigenous People | Philippines Ethnic Group]

The Tagbanwa, also Tagbanua and Tagbanuwa, are the aboriginal inhabitants of Palawan who retreated inland. The term may have been derived from taga, meaning “people from,” and banua, meaning “countryside,” and therefore means “people from the inland area.” The word “banua” has many other meanings. It generally means “land on the waters,” but in recent years, it has been used to refer to the complex domains of the Tagbanwa, including the seas adjacent to their lands. It also refers not only to the founders or original settlers of the land but also to the owners of the land and the seas. This was one of the main arguments raised by the Tagbanwa of Coron in their claims to their ancestral domains in northern Palawan. “Banua” also means kinship ties, “the active bond which unites a people living in a particular area” (Yap 1994, 4).

Tagbanwa stilt houses at the entrance of Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan
Tagbanwa stilt houses at the entrance of Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan, 2011 (Rey Torres)

The Tagbanwa can be divided into four subgroups. The Apurahuano Tagbanwa, alternately called the Central or Aborlan Tagbanwa, are mostly rice cultivators, although some are dependent on riverine resources for their subsistence. They are mostly in central and southern Palawan. The Kalamianen Tagbanwa, also identified as Calamiano, Calamian, Kalamianon, and Karamiananen, are mainly marine-oriented. They live in the Kalamianen group of islands in northern Palawan. The Tandula’nen Tagbanwa live on the northwestern coast of Palawan’s mainland, and mainly settle on a tangdol, a promontory or land formation that juts out to the sea (Marche 1970). The Silana’nen or Selanganen Tagbanua live on the northeastern coast of Palawan’s mainland. The Tandula’nen and the Silana’nen, classified as one group, live mostly along the coasts and on riverbanks, and are dependent on both marine and land resources. The Tagbanwa have their own terms of classification for their group: Tagbanwang Lupa (land-dependent Tagbanwa); Tagbanwang Dagat (marine-oriented Tagbanwa); and Tagbanwang Pampang (coast-dwelling Tagbanwa or marine- and land-dependent Tagbanwa).

The Apurahuano Tagbanwa are the most widely distributed group on the mainland of Palawan Island. They occupy areas in the northern, central, and southern parts of the mainland, particularly the eastern and western coastal area, the near-coastal plains, and the valleys of central Palawan. To the north of the main Tagbanwa communities live the small and dwindling Palawan group known as Ken-uy and the southern highland dwellers known as the Palawan. On Culion Island, at the northern end of Palawan, also live some Tagbanwa groups.

The Tagbanwa have always been mainly coastal or near-coastal and riverine dwellers, although they were reported during the Spanish colonial period as having occupied some interior areas, perhaps in reaction to the frequency of invasions by Mindanao Muslims along the eastern coast of the island. The Tagbanwa have been concentrated on the eastern side of Palawan as a result of the island’s geography. The western region is generally mountainous, while the eastern region is where much of the lowlands are located. Palawan’s river systems, though of little importance as a means of transportation, are valuable sources of food such as fish and shells, and drinking water. Thus, many Tagbanwa villages are located near rivers and streams.

From the 1880s to the early 1900s, they were reported to be occupying the east coast, between Inagawan and Daulig, and from Ulugan Bay to Apurawan, particularly in Bahile and Bintuan on the west coast. They were also found occupying some islands in the Calamianes, particularly Linapacan, Culion, and Busuanga.

Present estimates about the number of Tagbanwa families and individuals vary. In northern Palawan, the Tagbanwa population is estimated at about 6,000 individuals from a rough figure of 2,000 families. In central Palawan, there are about 10,000 individuals. The 1995 government census estimates their population at 7,106 individuals, which represent 15.20% of the total indigenous population in Palawan or 1.35% of the total Palawan population. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) estimates the number of Tagbanwa individuals in the entire Palawan province at 11,472 (2,206 households) and 14,183 (2,781 households) in 1990 and 1995, respectively. A 1999 report of the NCIP places their population at 17,000 individuals.

The Tagbanwa speak a language which is closely related to other Palawan groups such as the Palawan, Batak, and Cuyunon. It is believed that the Tagbanwa and the Palawanon may have derived from a common proto-culture, and their languages may have separated only in circa 800 CE. Today, the Tagbanwa, particularly the Apurahuano, still use their ancient native syllabary in writing. On the other hand, the languages of the various Tagbanwa groups are different from each other. They identify themselves as Apurahuano, Kalamianen, Tandula’nen, or Silana’nen when circumstances require them to invoke certain distinctions, mainly geographic and linguistic in orientation.

History of the Tagbanwa Tribe

According to folk history, the Tagbanwa had a relationship with Brunei a long time ago with the first masikampu (sultan) of Brunyu, from a place called Burnay. Their formal history, however, begins with the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. In 1521, Magellan’s ships docked in Palawan for provisions, and Antonio Pigafetta recorded that the Tagbanwa practiced the ritual of blood compact, 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 the Spaniards and the sultan. During this time, and indeed for almost three hundred years, the Spaniards and the Muslims of Sulu, Mindanao, Palawan, and north Borneo were at war.

Tagbanwa communities in southern Palawan all the way to Taytay in northern Palawan and up to the Calamianes group of islands were not spared from slave-raiding activities, primarily carried out by the Tausug of the Sulu Sultanate and the Moros of the Sultanate of Maguindanao. Tagbanwa men and women were captured by these raiders, who were called pirata (pirates) or tulisanes, and integrated into the Sultanate’s labor pool as slaves. These incursions into Tagbanwa territories were determined to a large degree by the imperial motives of Europe and by the Sultanate of Sulu’s economic strategy of strengthening its political base and maritime military power in the context of its burgeoning trade with China and Britain.

The Muslims dominated Palawan until the late 19th century. They gradually lost control of these territories when the Spaniards launched a vigorous campaign, through a strengthened naval force, to combat Muslim marauding activities. The Muslim colonial history of Palawan “had a considerable social and cultural influence upon the Tagbanwa” (Fox 1982, 16).

With the end of Spanish colonial domination and the entry of the United States as the new colonial administrator, change came to the island of Palawan and to the Tagbanwa. The Apurahuano Tagbanwa moved to new frontiers in search of new resources. They traveled in familial clusters, settled on the peri-coastal plains to harvest marine resources, cultivated swidden, and collected non-timber forest products. They held claims to these territories not through formal land titles but through usufructuary rights, extending communal labor in clearing forests and planting annual crops, and assigning place names to some areas of social significance.

In the early 1900s, there were three principal rancherias (farm houses or settlements) of Tagbanwa in Berong, Apurawan, and Napsahan, now called Totobaen, on the west coast of Palawan. On the east coast were large Tagbanwa communities at Iwahig, Inagawan, Aborlan, and Tigman. Some of the west coast Tagbanwa moved from Apurawan toward the east coast around 1918 to have easier access to manufactured goods. They bartered their forest products for these goods, which were available in stores opened by lowland merchants.

Other causes of Tagbanwa migrations from the turn of the 20th century to the 1950s were the following: in the early decades of the 20th century, the growing presence of the American administration and lowland Christian migration; from 1900 to 1902, an outbreak of smallpox and measles that wiped out close to two-thirds of many Tagbanwa villages; in 1903, the establishment of a penal colony at Iwahig and its expansion into the Inagawan area of the Tagbanwa; in 1910, the opening of a school and a Tagbanwa “reservation” in Aborlan, which forced some of them to abandon their nomadic hunting and foraging activities; beginning in the 1950s, the growing number of Christian settlers, who bought parcels of land and cleared virgin forests to give way to basakan (rice fields) in Tagbanwa-occupied territories; and the increasing incursion of logging and mining companies into Tagbanwa lands, which either forced them out of their territories or absorbed them into these companies’ labor pool.

Other Tagbanwa groups underwent the same pattern of settlement. The Tandula’nen Tagbanwa living on the shores of Malampaya Sound, a rich body of water in the municipality of Taytay, were hired as laborers by American-owned logging concessionaires that entered their territories from the 1900s to the 1930s, commercial fishing companies that were given lease to their waters beginning in the 1940s, and later by Manila-based logging and mining firms in the 1950s. These developments prompted the arrival of migrants from Bicol, Ilocos, and Visayas, who eventually took over their territories and pushed the Tagbanwa to the hinterlands.

The national government established settlements for many more Tagbanwa communities who were required by law to restrict their movements within these fixed areas. The Kalamianen Tagbanwa of the islands of eastern El Nido and Linapacan were ordered to live in a “reservation” on Calibangbangan Island by Gov-Gen Francis Burton Harrison in 1917. These Tagbanwa, as hunters and foragers of marine species, had lived in transient family hamlets on the shores of several islands in this part of northern Palawan. Some Kalamianen Tagbanwa in Taytay lived in a settlement site established by the national government sometime in the 1950s. Some Tandula’nen Tagbanwa around Malampaya Sound established their residence in Sitio Yacal, which the local government eventually declared as one of their permanent settlement sites in the 1960s.

New environmental management strategies beginning in the 1970s until the present gave rise to new forms of governance pertaining to resource use, tenurial arrangements, and negotiations on territorial claims. These have had both negative and positive consequences on Tagbanwa territories. The declaration of Tagbanwa territories as natural parks forced them to relocate to new settlements. Some 500 Kalamianen Tagbanwa families of Coron were evicted from their territories when President Ferdinand Marcos declared 3,700 hectares of Calauit a game preserve and wildlife sanctuary in 1976. They were moved to the Halsey-Burabod Resettlement on Culion Island. In 1986, however, some 200 Tagbanwa families belonging to the Balik-Calauit Movement reoccupied portions of the park. The Apurahuano Tagbanwa on the mouth of Cabayugan River were the first settlers on the shore of Tuturingan, once called Tinagong Ilog (Hidden River) and now renamed St. Paul Subterranean River, also known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River. The government drove them away when it declared the place a national park in 1992 and turned it into a tourist destination.

The Tagbanwa, however, have reclaimed portions of their domains through new tenurial instruments offered by the government. The Apurahuano Tagbanwa of Kayasan and Cabayugan near the Underground River were awarded their certificates of ancestral domain claims (CADCs) in 1996. The Kalamianen Tagbanwa of Coron were granted their CADC in 1998, later converted into a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) in 2004, which covers more than 22,000 hectares of the land and sea of Coron and Delian islands. The coverage includes their traditional fishing grounds as part of their ancestral waters, the teeb ang surublien or teeb sorobleyen (the territorial sea inherited from the ancestors), the first of its kind in the Philippines and now considered a landmark case. The community of the Tandula’nen Tagbanwa of Yacal in Taytay was declared a tribal ancestral zone and granted a CADC in 2010. The Tagbanwa have won cases to reclaim their territories through a combination of legal mechanisms, creatively sustained advocacy strategies, the help of civil society groups, and a wide range of political alliances. These have compelled the state to proffer some form of political accommodation and compromise.

The Livelihood of the Tagbanwa People

Video: Katutubong Tagbanua

The Tagbanwa are rotational swidden farmers, shifting cultivators of dry and upland rice, collectors of timber and non-timber products, forest foragers, seasonal deep-sea fishers, regular gleaners of marine resources, handicraft artisans, and occasional wage laborers in settler communities.

Tagbanwa elder pounding coffee beans in Lajala village, Coron, Palawan
Tagbanwa elder pounding coffee beans in Lajala village, Coron, Palawan, 2016 (Belio Lucero)

They clear parcels of forests by kaingin or slash-and-burn farming, and prepare swidden in rotation. They use the bolo to cut down trees. The Tagbanwa practice “integral swidden,” that is, traditional, year-round, community-wide, largely self-contained, and ritually sanctioned. Such a tradition is a viable practice in a tropical forest environment. Men and women in traditional Tagbanwa society maintain their own uma (swidden). Site selection is normally done by men. The giba (primary forests) or the bunglay (mature secondary forests) are chosen by men while women do their tagudali (cultivation) in the current fields occupied. The size of swidden fields is dictated by the ability of the household to maintain their swidden. Since production is generally for consumption and a little surplus for exchange, the average size of each swidden is less than a hectare.

Tagbanwa planting rice in a slash-and-burn field, Palawan
Tagbanwa planting rice in a slash-and-burn field, Palawan circa 1981 (W. Thomas Conelly)

Temporary farmlands are mainly devoted to paray (rice), the staple crop, irrigated by rain and water coming from mountain springs. Rice is viewed as a kind of divine gift and the “perfect food,” which moreover is the source of the rice wine tabad, the “perfect drink” used in their religious rituals. Rice is extensively grown because of its ritual importance, but other crops are also grown, such as kamoteng kahoy (cassava), kamoteng baging (sweet potato), and ubi and corot (kinds of yam). After a certain number of years, the Tagbanwa look for other areas to clear. They leave the kaingin to fallow and allow it to revert to its natural vegetation. Kaingin, however, is now regulated in many Tagbanwa territories. It is not allowed in primary growth forests, but permitted only at specified months of the year in limited-size areas in the latian (secondary growth forests), far from water sources and springs. Looking for new kaingin has also become a problem in recent years because many basakan have been claimed by migrants, causing contemporary Tagbanwa agriculture to be more sedentary and settled in limited places.

Man collecting bugtik or Manila copal in the mountains of Palawan
Man collecting bugtik or Manila copal in the mountains of Palawan, circa 1981 (W. Thomas Conelly)

During the summer, the Tagbanwa collect bejuco, yantok or uway (types of rattan) as materials for houses, furniture, and household items. They use a hantik or a pukpok (tapping knife) to tap bagtik (copal resin) from almaciga trees. The resin is used for industrial purposes, such as for varnish. They spend three days to one week in the forest to collect rattan and 20-25 days to tap bagtik. They spend the night in a sanggukad or sarumag, an open hut that serves as a transient dwelling for individuals who are away from their houses while they forage in the forest. They take the rattan to traders in barangay centers, which then sell them in the town market. Sacks of resin are loaded onto a balsa (bamboo raft) that float down rivers and streams until they reach their hamlets, which are two to three days away. The resin is carried in gunny sacks called balola, which are hauled onto a carabao-drawn sled that travels through kilometers of foot trails leading to the main road where they are sold to waiting traders or brought by jeepney to the town center.

Tagbanwa honey collector, Palawan
Tagbanwa honey collector, Palawan, circa 1981 (W. Thomas Conelly)

During the summer, deges (honey, Fil. pulot), also called lanaw, is collected. This entails a knowledge system that the Tagbanwa observe. The appearance of bees correlates with the blossoming of certain types of plants, trees, and vines. They mark certain trees as a seal of rights to the tree; a violation of the system of ownership entails fines and sanctions. They smoke bees from the tado (hive) with leaves called uop and abano and with buds of the anibong (betel nut wood). Collectors are advised not to urinate against a trunk beneath beehives, as the urine secretes an aroma that attracts the bees and may cause them to attack the collector. The head of a beehive usually points to the direction of other beehive locations.

The Tagbanwa also collect balinsasayaw (swiflet) nests, which are sold to local traders for export to Chinese markets. They are expert hunters of baboy ramo (wild boar), which are usually found near riverbanks, and they use anibon (bow), bancao (arrow), sopocan or salbatana (blowpipe), busog (spear), and lately, pusil, taka-taka, patuka (types of home-made guns), and pig bomb. The boar’s meat is divided among members of the hunting team. These forest products used to be traded in exchange for household needs like rice, coffee, sugar, and milk. In recent years, however, they have been exchanging these produce for much-needed cash (Guieb 2000).

The Tagbanwa have traditionally employed six typical fishing methods: using pole and line; catching shrimps by hand or with a small jig; applying fish poisons, usually from herbs and vines; damming or dying of streams and installing fish weirs in openings through the small dams; using a fish gun, with rubber slings and arrows; and illuminating a stream at night with a torch to attract fish or eel which they strike with a long bolo (Fox 1982, 49). The Kalamianen Tagbanwa employ other forms of fishing: palubog (set gill net), paanod (drift net), kawil and horos-horos (hook and line), kitang (long line), ganti-ganti (jigger), pana (spear gun), and bubo (pots and traps). They use a sakayan (non-motorized boat), some of which are propelled by wind-blown cloth or plastic sails. Aside from fish and shellfish species, other marine resources they collect include lató (seaweeds), balatan (sea cucumber), manlut (giant clams), horseshoe crab, and mother of pearls. They are expert divers, using only yapak (improvised wooden flippers) and antipara (improvised goggles) to catch commercial fish species at depths of 30 to 70 feet. They also resort to the use of compressors, although this is risky and often endangers the life of the diver. Highly valued marine species are for the domestic market, but many of these produce reach international destinations, facilitated by a network of traders.

Nomadic Tandula’nen and Kalamianen Tagbanwa move from one fishing ground to another in search of commercially important marine resources. They follow betocon ba a camaroraan (a star on the east), which guides them when they travel at night and which charts their fishing routes. They camp for a few days or weeks on a tangdol or promontory during their fishing expeditions. All members of each household, including the children, join the male fisher in the tangdol where they set up temporary residence. During the trip, they take with them domesticated pigs, chicken, dogs, and household items, mostly kitchen utensils.

The fishing expedition is based on the cycle of wind directions. During the amihan (northeast monsoon), usually from December to May, which creates huge waves in the seas, they stay in communities of migrants, for whom they work as porters or household and store helpers. They have no farmlands of their own, and they get a share from the produce of rice fields and vegetable farms of settler families by working as seasonal farmworkers. When the habagat (southwest monsoon) sets in, the Tagbanwa carry out their fishing expedition, which takes about six to seven months, usually from May to December.

They group themselves into bands, each band consisting of family members and kin, male and female, children and adults. Each band has its respective traditional fishing route. They ensure that each band’s route does not encroach in the fishing routes of other bands. During these fishing expeditions, they establish temporary camps in traditionally identified places where they erect temporary houses made of bamboo, wood, tree trunks, and nipa and coconut leaves. In several instances, they may no longer find these structures intact when they return to these campsites, because these have either been destroyed by typhoons and strong winds or taken furtively by migrant settlers living nearby. They fish everyday, except during trading days when they sell their catch at the nearest trading center. Once the fishing cycle is complete, they return to migrant communities to work again as wage laborers.

A new phenomenon has altered the dynamic of these fishing expeditions. A non-Tagbanwa trader may not only join but even lead them in their trips. The trader, who owns the capital, including the big boat that they use for their fishing trips, ranks at the top of this economic hierarchy; and the Tagbanwa, as the fish workers, are at the bottom. The catch is no longer for the Tagbanwa’s household consumption, because what was once subsistence fishing for the Tagbanwa has become commercialized fishing. They catch fish not just for household consumption but to meet the demands of the market. Hence, the marine environment is no longer solely a source of food for the Tagbanwa; it is now a source of capital to produce food.

Tagbanwa women and men weave mats, baskets, winnowing trays, and nipa shingles. They carve small wooden objects such as images of the mammanuk (rooster), kiruman (turtle), kararaga and tambukurdur (native birds), dugyan or dugyon (porcupine), itik (duck), and bayawak (monitor lizard). Aside from using these woven materials and wooden carvings in their rituals, they also sell them to augment their cash income.

These activities by the Tagbanwa indicate their participation, in varying degrees, in the local economy that is linked to the international market. The incursion of migrants has caused the depletion of the Tagbanwa’s resources; this has created an unequal distribution of the products as well as competition between the Tagbanwa and the migrants for these resources.

Political System of the Tagbanwa People

The traditional Tagbanwa political hierarchy is only loosely stratified. An individual’s authority is dependent not so much on one’s rank but upon the respect accorded the person by village members. Leadership is wielded more by influence rather than coercion.

Tagbanwa community in central Palawan
Tagbanwa community in central Palawan, circa 1981 (W. Thomas Conelly)

At the bottom of the social ladder are the uripun (slaves) and duluan or timawa (lower class), both of which are considered equal in status. On top of the social ladder is the ginuu or begarar (upper class), who are entitled to participate in the surugid, sometimes called surugidin (council of leaders), which exercises judicial and legislative functions. Succession therein is lineal rather than collateral; that is, sons eventually assume their father’s titles, although women have lately been ascribed this status.

At the apex of the ginuu is the masikampu, who is considered the chieftain or primary leader and is consulted by village and kin regarding decisions on any domestic or legal concerns. It is a position acquired only through hereditary leadership. Authority is mainly identified with seniority. The chieftain class must have been inherited by the Tagbanwa from the Moro or Islamized chiefs. It probably replaced an earlier leadership by elders. Any of the masikampu’s children, called binubureng, can acquire the title, and he or she cannot turn it down when offered by the parent. Reluctance is not accepted as an excuse. A masikampu’s once supreme political and economic status has significantly diminished through time, mainly because local and government political units have subsumed the Tagbanwa’s political unit under their jurisdiction. Today, a masikampu is supported mainly by minimal fees and the post-harvest gift of a small portion of rice from subject families.

There are secondary leaders in the ginuu social class, which comprises two levels. The superior designations are entitled maradya, saribangsawan, nakib, and sabander, and the lower-tier designations are given the titles laksamana, mudadi, pangara, and tumindung. As legal guardians of clans, they may extend their counsel to cases involving nonrelatives when these are regarded as interfamilial. Their offices are largely independent and, unlike those of the masikampu, their powers depend on personal ability and popularity. These traditional, legal titles were incorporated in new organizations as the Tagbanwa communities changed over time.

At the height of Moro slave raids in Palawan, these leaders paid tribute to the sultanate. The sultan divided his territorial domains into different administrative units. Each unit was headed by a masikampu whose powers were subject to the supervision of the sultan. The districts were subdivided into smaller units headed by a panglima (datu or chieftain) and administered by a maharaja or maradya, parukka, and orangkaya. Their main duty, particularly that of the panglima, was to collect revenues in their districts for the sultan and to serve as a watchdog over affairs of the community.

Also a member of the ginuu is the babaylan or babalyan (shaman), who would have a deep understanding of how Tagbanwa society works and of the psychological concerns of individuals. Unlike the legal experts of the surugid, the babaylan does not play a political role but primarily officiates at important rituals of their community. As such, the babalyan affirms the political and decision-making powers and privileges of the ginuu class.

Early Tagbanwa political units were centered on the masikampu of Aborlan, although each community claims autonomy of government. At present, Tagbanwa villages fall within the jurisdiction of the municipal district, although native participation here remains ambiguous. The district is principally administered by the mayor, vice-mayor, councilors, and police chiefs. Theoretically, the municipal officials outweigh the decisions of the tribal leaders. However, notwithstanding adaptations to the national system, Tagbanwa political organization maintains considerable autonomy. Interpersonal relations are guided by kinship and a judicial system, which preserves custom law. Said law involves a series of interrelated rights and obligations, which must be satisfied by the payment of fines and fees.

The ancient script surat tinagbanua, which is a syllabary of Indic origin, was still in use between 1970 and 1992 in an area around Brooke’s Point. The surat consists of 17 basic graphs: three for vowels, 16 for consonants, and two diacritic signs to symbolize vocalic variation within the syllables. The combination makes up a code of 45 graphs. These are incised on bamboo slats or banana leaves to convey brief messages and notices, which are derived from the adat (customary law) and are related to the rights and duties of the kindred. The function of the surat tinagbanua was to spread the word of the headman and the judge, and was not for religious, literary, or scientific writing. The types of messages that would be disseminated by means of the surat tinagbanua are the tingkag, a call to an assembly; bawal, a prohibition; tabang, a call for help or assistance; ukuman, a judgment; and pasawud at inglaw, a notice for an epidemic.

Presently, the Tagbanwa’s acquisition of CADC has caused the reorganization of village political units. These organizations are either newly installed groups or indigenous, thus following the traditional hierarchy of authority, albeit responding to the economic and political demands of the times. Members of these newly formed social organizations are usually the same members of the indigenous formations in the community; and the terms for the leaders follow the traditional categories, although reconfigured according to newly assigned tasks and responsibilities.

The Tagbanwa surugid is now called surugueden in villages that have been granted a CADC, as in the Tagbanwa villages surrounding Ulugan Bay and around the St. Paul Subterranean River, also known as the Palawan Underground River. It is in charge of the management of the resources of the CADC-delineated territory. It is the highest policy-making body and arbitrator in the community, particularly on matters relating to government policies and community activities pertaining to relations with nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and private institutions.

The surugueden is composed of several leaders, each with specific assignments. The head of the surugueden is the urangkaya, who leads in the decision-making on all matters brought to the council for discussion. He or she is the most powerful and highly regarded member of the surugueden. The urungkaya also officiates at marriage ceremonies. The urangkaya’s assistant is the satya, who helps in the implementation of laws pertaining to economic programs of the council and in the management, use, and regulation of the community’s natural resources. The satya is assisted by the makayakas. The rumoronding is similar to the konsehal (village council member or councilor), who promulgates policies, rules, and guidelines pertaining to local affairs. The manunuturan serves as the surugueden’s adviser who liaises with non-village organizations such as local government units, NGOs, and private groups. He or she also polices all members of the council, checking that their behavior and activities comply with the ethical and legal standards set by the council. The pangarapan adjudicates in the decision-making process of the surugueden. He or she accepts all cases brought to the council, coordinates with the urangkaya in scheduling the council’s meeting, and, together with his or her assistant called the digadong, informs all the leaders of the schedule of the meeting. The digadong, the pangdulan, and the kesar-kesar act as lawyers for parties involved in cases under study by the council. The tagabawit, being the primary analyst of issues, gathers information about cases that are brought to the council for deliberation. The mananadtad announces the hatol (findings and judgment) made by the council. The parakasa attends to all legal matters pertaining to post-surugueden concerns, mainly for the filing of legal matters to the appropriate institutions outside the community’s organization, such as the barangay or municipal courts. He or she is assisted by a rumoronding when acting as an arbiter for parties involved in the surugueden. The saribangsawan acts as the secretary and record keeper of the council, and the maradya is the treasurer who collects the bandi (fees) on litigation, marriage, divorce, domestic settlements, and all other matters brought up for the council to decide. The tumanggong is in charge of the order of the council’s meeting. He prepares the minutes and sees to it that all matters up for discussion are deliberated upon by the council.

Tagbanwa Culture, Customs and Traditions

Video: Tagbanwa tribe sa Culion, ibinahagi ang kanilang mga tradisyon

The basic unit in Tagbanwa society is the family. Matrilocality is practiced, which means that the man goes to live in the place of the woman he marries. The household consists of a father, a mother, unmarried children, and even widows and widowers. In some cases, a widow or a widower maintains a separate residence nearby.

Tagbanwa man and women
Tagbanwa man and women (The Gems of the East by Arnold Henry Savage Landor. Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1904)

Village life is defined by ritual and social obligations. The Tagbanwa family is formed through parental arrangement called dayday, although many Tagbanwa families no longer observe this practice. Tagbanwa men and women marry between 13 and 20 years old, although marriages between preteens have been known to occur. A non-Tagbanwa marrying a Tagbanwa is expected to follow the latter’s customary laws. When a marriage has been agreed upon, the man pays the woman’s parents a bandi (bride-price or dowry), which can be in the form of cash, a property, or any requested item.

In the absence of a babalyan, the oldest married person in the community officiates at the combira or combida (wedding ceremony). Among the Kalamianen Tagbanwa, the engaged couple is left alone in the house of the woman’s parents for almost six hours before the wedding ceremony begins. No one is allowed to enter the house, except the parents of the two who periodically check on their children. The engaged couple is expected to have a serious talk during this period. They are allowed to leave the house and join kin members waiting outside only when the ceremony is about to begin. The man and the woman sit on a mat, and people gather around them. The officiating elder approaches the two, joins their hands together over an empty tin plate, murmurs a prayer, sips tabador rice wine, and declares the two married. The short ritual is followed by a feast that lasts until dawn. Some Tagbanwa may get married in a civil or a Christian ceremony after the Tagbanwa wedding ritual has been performed. Children may also be given a Christian baptism, one purpose of which is to meet certain legalities that require marriage contracts and birth certificates.

After marriage, the Tagbanwa couple lives with the parents of the woman, or a new house is constructed for them nearby. The birth of a child stabilizes the family, the child being recognized bilaterally. Childless couples may resort to adoption. The Tagbanwa consider having children as the main purpose of marriage, and children are very much desired and loved.

Tagbanwa mother and children
Tagbanwa mother and children (SIL International)

For the Tagbanwa, the men are midwives. The husband helps his wife deliver the baby. In the absence of the husband or in instances of prolonged delivery, a male neighbor is called. Rarely is a woman called to help deliver the baby, unless it is an old woman, who is usually a babalyan.

Monogamy is the ideal norm, although polygyny is practiced, in which case the consent of the first wife is needed. Besides this privilege of the first wife, she has a preferential share in the earnings of the household. Divorce is recognized, and a fine is imposed on the spouse who has given cause for the separation.

Pang-agaw or “wife stealing” is a traditional practice that is not considered an act of adultery on the part of a married woman or concubinage on the part of a married man, as there are no such concepts in Tagbanwa morality or custom law. All cases of pang-agaw end in divorce and remarriage. Physical aggression or violence that may sometimes follow an act of wife stealing is deplored. There are rituals and a legal system of arbitration and compensation that are designed to prevent any personal and social conflict arising from wife stealing, especially when it occurs between relatives. “Guilt” is erased with the payment of necessary fines. Presently, pang-agaw is prohibited in some Tagbanwa communities.

There are three possible situations of wife stealing and fines associated with them. First, if an unmarried man “steals” a married woman, that is, proposes marriage and wins, he pays the ex-husband a divorce fine called bagay, about three times the amount of the woman’s original bride-price. He also pays a new bride-price to the woman’s parents. Second, if a married man takes an unmarried woman—technically not wife stealing but a prelude to either polygyny or divorce—he pays his first wife a kapaduwayan (from duwa, meaning “two”) or “polygyny fee,” if she and her parents agree to the polygynous marriage. If she demands a divorce, he pays her parents a bagay. In either case, he pays a bagay to the ex-husband and another bagay to his first wife if she chooses divorce. If she accepts the polygyny, he pays her a bagay, on top of the bride-price to be paid to his additional set of in-laws.

Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Tagbanwa People

The Tagbanwa’s relationship with the spirit world is the basis for their rituals, celebrations, and dances. The many ceremonial feasts punctuating Tagbanwa life are based on a firm belief in a natural interaction between the world of the living and the world of the dead. These ceremonies and rituals take place on all levels, ranging from rituals performed within the family, to those that 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, with leaf streamers attached to high poles. Ritual offerings include rice, chicken, and betel nut.

pagdiwata ritual of the Tagbanwa, Palawan
The pagdiwata ritual of the Tagbanwa, Palawan, circa 1983 (Ma’i Collection, Filipinas Heritage Library)

The focal point of Tagbanwa life is the period immediately following the harvest, when there is much singing, dancing, courting, and conclusion of blood compacts. It is a season for the abundant flow of tabad, the rice brew, which is indispensable because it improves the well-being of the ritual participants and lures the spirits of the dead to join in the celebration.

The mountains and forests are believed to be the abode of the countless benevolent as well as malevolent spirits, which the Tagbanwa can ill afford to antagonize. For this reason, no tree is cut down without a ritual preceding it.

The Tagbanwa recognize the existence of a supreme being called Mangindusa, who sits up in the sky with his feet dangling above the earth. Other spirits inhabit the forests and environment, and belief in their existence requires rituals to placate them or gain their favors. The babalyan, who is often a woman, performs the 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 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 hunt, fishing expedition, or a litigation.

Lambay ritual to bless the paraw, Palawan
Lambay ritual to bless the paraw, Palawan, 2014 (Katherine Jack,

The Tagbanwa cosmology, as described by a maglambay (male spiritual leader), a katungkulan (female spiritual leader), and a babalyan from the Tagbanwa settlements of Baraki and Kaibigan, includes langit (the sky), “an infinitely high canopy” that encompasses the visible celestial region, beyond which the Tagbanwa know nothing about. A being called Tungkuyanin sits on the edge of this celestial region, his feet dangling in the vastness of the cosmos, his eyes always cast down toward the earth. Should he look up at what lies beyond, he would fall into the dark void or nothingness. Rain is the gift of Mangindusa, the highest-ranking deity in the Tagbanwa pantheon. It falls to the earth through a hole in the sky. The sky is held up in place by two immense tree trunks: in Babatan, the east, where the sun rises; the other in Sidpan, the west, where the sun sets. In Babatan lives a deity called diwata kat libatan, while in Sidpan is the deity known as diwata kat sidpan. Both of them jointly control the rains. A being called Tumungkuyan is tasked with washing and cleaning the trunks of the two immense trees with the blood of those Tagbanwa who perished in epidemics, and this explains the red color of the rising and setting sun.

Below the langit is the skyworld, which includes the clouds. This region is called dibuwat, meaning “high,” and here dwell quite a number of deities and one class of dead ancestors. In the dibuwat live the bangkay, the spirits of Tagbanwa who died violently or were poisoned, as well as spirits of women who died while giving birth. Beneath the dibuwat reside the bulalakaw or diwata kat dibuwat, flying deities who roam the region of the clouds, ready to come to the aid of any Tagbanwa needing their help.

Mangindusa does not dwell in the highest celestial region but in a sacred area called Awan-awan, which lies just beyond the langut (sunset), in a region between the skyworld and the earth. In this place, Mangindusa lives with an entourage: Bugawisan, his wife; the dibuwatanin, his messengers; and other celestial beings. He never descends from Awan-awan but eternally sits in his domain and swings back and forth in a bintayawan or barbarangan, a contraption used in the diwata ceremonies, which are attended by many deities. The dibuwatanin convey the Tagbanwa’s pasalamat (expressions of gratitude) and their offerings of rice, tobacco, betel, and wax to the median region of the highest deity, whose abode the lower deities cannot enter.

In the Tagbanwa cosmos, kiyabusan (from kabus, “lacking”) is the place where there is no wind, virtually the edge of the world where only the void exists. But this is also the place where the amyan (hot, dry northeast winds), which facilitates the burning of cleared land, come from. The Tagbanwa call on the diwata kat amyan when the rains do not stop and dry winds are already needed. Since the amyan also brings into the world the fearsome salakap (the spirits of epidemic sickness), kiyabusan is likewise considered the realm of spirits of those who died from epidemics.

An adyung, a huge outrigger boat steered by the salakap, sails with the amyan through the celestial regions to the kiyabusan, bearing the souls of those who have died from panglubaw (smallpox), tai-tai (dysentery), and tarangkaso (flu). During the season of the amyan, the salakap are said to plant a tree called daunu. Any person who smells the scent of its flowers is struck down with illness. The salakap include Tumungkuyan, who washes with blood the sky-supporting trees; Tandayag; Lumalayag; and Sumurutun, who is the captain of the vessel of the epidemic victims. The outrigger is seen by them in their dreams, “filled with the spirits of their loved ones.”

The Tagbanwa describe the salakap as small, dark, kinky-haired beings, their bodies and faces covered with pangkot (pockmarks). In their myths, the salakap are said to be beings who once lived alongside the Tagbanwa as friendly neighbors, but a perfidy committed by the Tagbanwa created in the salakap a desire to devour their former friends. The runsay ceremony, a plea for protection from epidemics, had its beginnings in the belief that the salakap must be placated.

While Mangindusa is considered the highest-ranking deity, there is no traditional ascription to him as the sole creator of the world, although Christian mythology has had some influence in imbuing Mangindusa with more powers than he used to possess. In fact, the creation of the world and of human beings is said to have been the handiwork of the diwata (deities). Mangindusa, on the other hand, has always been traditionally considered the punisher of dusa (crime). In Tagbanwa society, the only recognized dusa is sumbang (incest), the universal taboo. Mangindusa holds the society, rather than the individual, responsible for the sumbang. Mangindusa’s punishment of society may take the form of withholding the rains. In the past, society punished the offenders by drowning them in the sea. In present society, a huge fine is imposed. On top of this, a special lambay ritual is performed, which is a homage to Mangindusa.

A Tagbanwa is believed to have six souls in all: a “true soul” called kiyarulwa, and five secondary souls called the payu. The kirayulwa is a gift of Mangindusa to a child emerging from the mother’s womb; the other souls appear only during the lambay ritual for the child, upon reaching one month or two. Lambay is any ceremony or part of a ceremony that is directly addressed to Mangindusa. These other souls are found at the extremities of the hands and feet and on top of the head. When a person dies, the kiyarulwa wanders toward four possible destinations. If the cause of death is epidemic sickness, the salakap brings the soul to kiyabusan. If a person dies from poisoning or through violence, the soul becomes a bangkay and goes to inhabit the “high regions.” Those who die of sabu, meaning that their souls were “caught” by the panyaan (environmental spirits) or the damdam (evil spirits), have their souls transformed into a biyaladbad, which then inhabit the environment. If a person dies a natural death, the soul travels to basad, the underworld. While the main soul, kiyarulwa, becomes a spirit inhabiting the world of the dead and continues to interact with the living through rituals, the five secondary souls are absorbed into the environment.

The underworld of the Tagbanwa, particularly the basad, has clearer outlines than the blurred and indeterminate skyworld. When a Tagbanwa dies, his or her soul remains on earth for seven days until the kapupusan, or rites for the dead, are finished. For seven days, the soul lingers on in the grave at daytime but returns to its former house at night to observe the behavior of those left behind. In its journey to the underworld, the soul encounters several interesting places and characters. There is the sacred river kalabagang where the soul meets Taliyakad, the watcher who guards the vine bridge called balugu. Later it meets Anggugru, keeper of the fires, who welcomes the soul to the underworld and gives it fire.

In basad, the spirits of the dead become known as tiladmanin and live a life that mirrors exactly that of the living: planting rice and raising families until they have died seven times. But the structure of basad is the reverse of what happens in the world of the living. As the sun rises on earth, it goes down in basad. Rivers flow from the ocean to the mountains. Planting time on earth is harvest time in basad. This, according to Fox, is a logical way of explaining the continuity of the life processes.

Many of the Tagbanwa’s ancient beliefs and practices remain. In fact, the challenge of acculturation and the actual process of dislocation that has taken place in the present century have fortified the Tagbanwa faith in the efficacy of ancient lifeways and values. Significantly, while the Tagbanwa deal with coastal Christians everyday, their ritual practices continue to function as expressions of the community.

Rituals are observed by the Tagbanwa in every swidden stage. The lambay is a Tagbanwa village ritual in central Palawan held twice a year. It is observed first in January, and involves ritual appeal to the deities for days of sunshine and winds that would sufficiently dry the forests and prepare them for clearing and planting. Forests are only opened if permission is given by the spirits through signs. A second lambay is held in May, when planting season comes and the people ask for moderate rains which will make their upland rice grow. In both rituals, they appeal to Mangindusa.

The maglambay leads the Tagbanwa in asking the deity to forgive the villagers for acts of sumbang and the lesser offense of darak, so that the god would not withhold the rains and thus cause famine. The maglambay are hereditary religious leaders who enforce participation by all families in the village and to whom the fines for incest are paid. Such is the weight of their responsibility to the highest-ranking deity that the persons must present a convincing case for the forgiveness of their people for acts known and unknown to them, or else Mangindusa can cause the maglambay’s death.

There are two Tagbanwa rituals for seeking from the feared salakap, the spirits of epidemic sickness and death. These two rituals are the pagbuyis and the runsay. The pagbuyis is performed by the magbuyis three times a year. The first is in November, and the second in December. During this whole period, the amyan or northeast monsoon is blowing. The third time is during magkaaldawan (from aldaw, “day”), when the moon can be seen during daytime. During pagbuyis, the magbuyis calls upon the salakap to plead with them not to capture the souls of the Tagbanwa. The salakap are believed to do this as they sail with the northeast winds in their huge boat called sakayan, with their “cargo” of smallpox, cholera, dysentery, flu, and other epidemic diseases. The salakap are led by their captain Sumurutun, who has three lieutenants named Tuwan Ding, Tuwan Pagbuysan, and Tuwan Pagraskadan. For the pagbuyis, a large permanent ceremonial platform called piyangaw is built in front of the house of the magbuyis. Offerings of katumbal twigs with their red pepper fruits, the favored food of the salakap datu, are made on this platform.

The runsay is described as the most dramatic of all Tagbanwa rituals. It is observed only once a year, at nighttime, on the fourth day after the full moon of December, and takes place near the mouth of the river. The runsay, like the pagbuyis, is held to ask for protection against epidemics. The ritual begins at dusk and ends at dawn.

There are five distinct phases in the runsay. The first phase consists of building the bangkaran or banglay, a three- to six-meter ceremonial raft, constructed from fourteen poles of lawas, a kind of bamboo, with a beautiful sail made from split leaves of atap palm, and a mat-like kadiyang used as platform for the offerings of liyutyut (glutinous rice), komuy (a rice dish), and fermented rice in banana leaves. This is followed by the panawag, invocation to the spirits of the dead and the nine deities who ride the kawa on the sea. The third phase consists of the burning of incense on the kadiyang atop the bangkaran, and prayers by the ritual leader; the lighting of the candle and offering of ritual food to the deities, which is the signal for the children to dive into the mound of food on the raft, and eat as much as they can; and the cleaning up and repair of the raft, if this was damaged during the ritual food scramble. The fourth phase begins with the third invocation to the nine deities, followed by individual family offerings of basketfuls of rice, cigarettes, areca nuts, and betel leaves carried by a woman; the tying of a small chicken to the platform and the lighting of candles beside it; the hoisting of the raft toward the sea; the relighting of candles blown out by the wind; the throwing of a pinch of rice to the sea; and the voyage seaward of the bangkaran. Shortly after the raft has disappeared, a spiritual group sings and dances from about midnight until the break of day.

Two other important Tagbanwa rituals are the pagdiwata or diwata, an invitation to the deities to take part in their festival to celebrate a plentiful harvest, and the bilang, a ritual for the dead. Both feature a babalyan who is possessed by the deities. These rituals comprise the most important form of theater among the Tagbanwa.

The Tagbanwa Dwellings and Community

The choice of Tagbanwa settlements is determined by a combination of cultural, political, and economic factors. Kinship plays a major function in the delineation of a Tagbanwa settlement, which is composed of hamlets of households clustered according to blood ties. Elders delineate a paniain, a sacred place where they perform and hold several traditional ceremonies. Burial sites are considered sacred places. They do not erect houses in these areas. Farming, hunting, gathering of forest products, fishing, and other economic activities are also not allowed in the paniain. Violation of this tradition is considered a grave offense deserving of the most severe form of punishment.

typical Tagbanwa house in Palawan
A typical Tagbanwa house in Palawan (The Philippine Islands and Their People by Dean Worcester. The Macmillan Company, 1898.)

Political forces have shaped the migration and settlement patterns of the Tagbanwa. Their society may be said to have undergone three main historical periods: the indigenous period, during which there were protohistoric contacts and trade with Hindu-Indonesian culture; the Muslim period, which included contacts with the sultanates of Borneo and the Muslims of Sulu and Mindanao; and the Spanish, American, and contemporary periods, which drew the Tagbanwa into several networks of local and global trade that prompted a considerable increase in the extraction of their resources, the conversion of lands and seas into commercial uses, the incursion of settlers into their traditional territories, and their displacement into areas that have geographically marginalized them and yet subsumed them under political administration and environmental governance.

In the late 19th century, travelers observed that Tagbanwa huts were built on piles. Formed out of trees, these piles were planted at distances of two to four meters. A house could have many posts, but the biggest were those in the four corners. The roofs and walls were made of tree leaves, and rarely was there a door. The hut of the leader was perched on the bank of the river, three meters above the water.

The Tagbanwa house has undergone only a slight transformation since then. Present-day houses are built lower, reaching up to only within 1.5 to 1.8 meters, and occasionally two to four meters above the ground. They are basically rectangular, windowless, partitionless structures still resting on posts, with the floor, the sides, and the gabled roof made of various combinations of bamboo, rattan, and palm fronds. Inside the house, however, there could be as many as eight levels, some of which are an entry level, a level for the hearth where cooking is done, a level where the dining area is located, a level for sleeping, and a level or more for storing various objects and possessions. The highest level is allotted for pillows and blankets. Only the father, the mother, and unmarried children live in the house. Married children move out and live in their own dwellings. Widows and widowers also maintain separate residences, but also sometimes live in any of their children’s house.

The Tagbanwa seek temporary shelter in the sanggukad or sarumag, literally “a fleeting moment,”particularly among the Tagbanwa in the ancestral domains of Tagabinet and Cabayugan near the St. Paul Subterranean River. It serves as a transient home for individuals or families who are away from their settlements while they hunt or forage for food in the forest. A sanggukad is about seven feet high, elevated 1.5 feet from the ground, supported by sturdy poles dug into the ground and extending up to the roof. The roof is constructed low and also serves as the wall of the structure. The roof is thatched with materials made from pinpin and anibong (Oncosperma or fishtail palm). The hut’s floor area is 1.5 by 3 meters. Flooring materials come from tagbak.

Nearby is a kampo or campsite for those engaged in various economic activities, such as collecting beeswax or honey, tapping almaciga resins, hunting wild pigs, and gathering rattan. They stay in the campsite and seek temporary shelter in a sanggukad until they complete their forest activities. They share news and stories about their communities and renew social ties when they stay in the sanggukad for brief periods. Neighboring Batak territories have a similar structure with the same function, which they call sambuang.

Traditional Attire of the Tagbanwa People

The traditional apparels of the Tagbanwa were fashioned from the bark of trees, particularly the salugin or salugon, imbaleg, laraga or magulba. The preparation of the salugin bark was unique. After being felled, the tree would be cut around the trunk, the outer bark stripped off to expose the inner layer. This layer would be beaten with a wooden mallet until it was soft and pliant enough to hang loose from the bole. This was then washed in the river and dried out under the sun. No dye or decorations were applied to it. The Tagbanwa had always depended on this inner tree bark because back-loom weaving is unknown to them, as with all Palawan groups. In the past, menfolk wore simple loincloths or G-strings, supported by a woven rattan waistband called ambalad or ambulad, a braided, abaca belt with a coiled cord attached to each ends, and knots at the end of the cord serve as a buckle. The women wore only brief wraparound skirts made from bark. The Tagbanwa later came to adopt some articles of Muslim clothing. At present, while many Tagbanwa still wear their traditional apparel, Western-type clothing has found its way among the people.

Tagbanwa carved animal
Tagbanwa carved animal (Edison Molanida)

Tagbanwa carved animal
Tagbanwa carved animal (Edison Molanida)

The Tagbanwa’s body accessories were aesthetically deliberate creations. In the past, when both men and women wore their hair long, they filed and blackened their teeth, and carved earplugs from the hardwood bantilinaw. These ornately designed plugs were inlaid with mother-of-pearl in geometric patterns. The Tagbanwa carved wooden combs and bracelets. They strung bead necklaces, each set consisting of so many strands it could cover a woman’s neck. Anklets of copper and brass wire were also crafted and worn by women. However, these earlobe plugs, combs, bracelets, necklaces, and anklets have now become quite rare.

The Tagbanwa, though, continue to adorn their bodies with personal accessories, some of which are for medicinal, hygienic, or aesthetic purposes. They wear the balig, a necklace believed to cure certain ailments. Both men and women wear the lansong, a bracelet made of brass or wood. To hold up skirts, women use the sigota, a girdle made of rattan strips; the men still use the ambalad or ambulad.

Tagbanwa Crafts

Tagbanwa basket called basag
Tagbanwa basket called basag (David Baradas Collection)

Baskets are of various weave designs and shapes. The salimbawang, in which they store personal items, is tubular in form and has superimposed black strips through the weave, producing starlike designs. Of the same function is the cube-shaped sugwa. The pitaka,which isfor holding tobacco, is a woven pouch of buri with superimposed designs. The women store their combin the darawa-at-satsat, a two-piece pouch connected by a wooden strap.

Tagbanwa basket called ba-ai
Tagbanwa basket called ba-ai (Cassie Pontone, The Field Museum, Cat. No 109839)

Knives are important personal items for the Tagbanwa. Women use the banggut, a carved wooden knife made from bantilliwan with which they part the hair to get the lice out. To cut areca or betel nuts, they use the kukuit, which is a small metal blade with a curved end and a scalloped head. The men use knives called hantik or a pukpok to tap copal resin from almaciga trees.

They have accessories for betel nut chewing and smoking. The apugan, the base of a cone shell, is used to store lime. The rangkop, which is for storing tobacco leaves, is a bamboo container with woven rattan bands on which geometric designs are incised. Tobacco leaves are laid to dry on a paypay, a square mat of sturdy bamboo strips.

Hand-woven mats and baskets are the most common items in a Tagbanwa household. The ikamun is a one- or two-layered buri mat, for sleeping on for ceremonial purposes. There are different types of soft baskets for storing rice or palay grains. The buwat-sambutan is a bottle-shaped buri basket with a cover; it has four woven stands and three pouches fastened onto each side of the body. A bayong is a cylindrical basket with a square base and a round rim, to which a braided buri handle is fastened. Another cylindrical basket made of split bamboo is the lusong, the bottom and rim of which are reinforced with rattan. Block and V-shaped baskets have plain buri sides on which are superimposed colored buri. The colored baskets have dyed palm leaves woven into them. Among the colors used are red, blue, violet, grey, black, and green. There are at least three common designs for hand baskets that are used as tobacco containers. Carrying baskets have straps that are slung on the person’s head, shoulder, or back. These baskets have a square base that broadens to a wide open-round rim, four sturdy bamboo supports, and a suspension strap of bark or a braided buri fastened on the sides. The sasadan or ba-a/ba-ai is the general utility basket. The tabig or balulong is for carrying crops. The basag is a storage basket with cover.

The winnowing tray used to separate the rice grain from the chaff is the nigo, a flat, round bamboo tray with a rattan rim. A variation of this type of winnowing tray is the guyungan, which has an open weave at the center to allow broken grains to fall through. A sling of rattan is fastened on the sides for suspension. The alupan is a bamboo cup for measuring rice; it is fluted all around and has a flower-like buri-braided band near the middle. The bariyukan is a coconut shell with a serrate rim.

Some kitchen and dining items include the following: an inuman, a small tubular bamboo water container with a rattan sling; the cagelike gantongan, a bamboo basket for holding household utensils that is suspended with a rattan strip; the bulatak, an open-weave rattan basket for holding plates, with a floriated rim and a sturdy base of interlocking bamboo strips; the darawa-at-baso, a glass or bottle holder; the bara-luwag, an open-weave ladle holder, with a rim of intertwined rattan strips; the darawat, a coconut half-shell with carved openings to hold ladles, suspended with a coiled cord; the pisaw, a kitchen knife made of a curving metal blade, its wooden handle reinforced by a metal ring or ferrule to prevent it from splitting; the parabas-it-bangaw, a bamboo fly swatter with several slits on one end; and the kiyab, a square, rattan fan, which may have a herringbone weave design, to enkindle or keep a fire going.

The Tagbanwa use a rice-planting stick called tutugda, which is a long wooden stick with a carved head. They carry their bolo in a wooden sheath or scabbard called angkap. To gather sago, they use a papalo (pith adze) to extract the core of a split palm trunk and loosen the pulp from the fibers. The handle of the papalo is made of palm wood, reinforced by rattan that is lashed around it.

There are two kinds of traps to catch wild fowl: the bantang, a braided loop of rattan strips; and the rabay, an open basket with four pointed wooden stakes to close the opening, which serve as posts for the missing rattan nooses.

The Tagbanwa have different ways of catching fish. There is the palsawan, a bamboo trap for freshwater fish that hasa series of vertical bamboo strips tapering to a small mouth rim. The strips are tied to round rattan rings, and attached to the trap is an intertwined rattan loop fastened to the top to form a conical shape. There is also the surayang (harpoon point) for catching large fish: it has barbed forks and is attached to a shaft by a long cord.

The best known examples of Tagbanwa wood carving or sculpture are blackened wood carvings of animals with simple, incised features exposing the original white grain of the wood. These wood carvings, which traditionally used to be part of ritual offerings, have long been available in the market as commodities for tourists. For wood carving, a long wasay (adze) is used to cut or smoothen wood. Wasay is a metal blade with a handle reinforced by rattan strips lashed around it.

The process of wood carving begins with the cutting of the branches of the alimutyugan tree. This wood, soft and white, is cut into foot lengths, split in half, and debarked. Rough blocks are made with the bolo called barong. For carving the actual shape and the fine details of the object, a small curved knife called pisay is used. The sculpting done, the Tagbanwa artist then uses a sandpaper leaf called agupi or isis to smoothen out the surface, after which camote (sweet potato), yam, or cassava leaves are rubbed all over it, giving it a greenish color because of the leaf’s juice. For blackening, a piece of the almaciga resin is burned on the ground, and the object is passed over the burning resin to blacken it thoroughly with soot. The blackened object is given a second scrubbing with the leaves then passed over the smoke again, this process being repeated until the black coloring no longer comes off despite any rubbing. Finally, a knife is used to make the incisions, etchings, and scrapings on the carved object. The etched designs consist of eyes, polka dots, V-marks, white triangles, plant and leaf motifs, lines and geometric shapes.

Some carved objects are mammanuk (rooster), a ritual bowl, kiruman (turtle), kararaga (a native bird), tambukurdur (also a native bird), dugyan or dugyon (porcupine), itik (duck), bayawak (monitor lizard), 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 turtle, for instance, floats on grains of palay on an ancient Ming trade bowl. Lizards, turtles, and wild pigs, when not used as ritual objects, become toys for children.

Aside from animal wood carvings, the babalyan uses various pagdiwata paraphernalia. Boats, believed to transport the dead to the otherworld, are a prominent feature of these ceremonies. The rigless lunday is a carved, wooden boat with designs inscribed against a blackened background; the sakayan, a small, carved, wooden boat with bamboo rigs, has sooted designs on its sides. A ceremonial raft called bukutan serves as a covered platform made of bamboo strips.

Rice wine jars are also prominent in pagdiwata rituals. The bulbous bigura is a glazed stoneware, with a thick, round rim, a short neck, and four handles. The oval pattingi has a thickened rim with impressed designs on the body, which is surrounded by molded cords; within two corded bands are peony sprays and on the shoulder are eight, curving, grooved-loop ears on dragon-like heads. A gusi is a vase with a small rim that opens slightly outward and a narrow neck that broadens in the middle and tapers down to a flat base.

Accompanying the rituals is the use by the babaylan of a bamboo popgun, the timbak, which symbolizes the seafarer’s attack on dreaded spirits of epidemics; and ceremonial rods called tarindak, which are long, bamboo poles that are crossed and decorated with palm leaves.

Tagbanwa Literary Arts

Tagbanwa literature is mainly oral. A type of folk speech among the Apurahuano-Aborlan Tagbanwa is the egem (riddle), which tests one’s wit and is recited during a pulao (wake). Below is an example of an egem:

Wayana, wayana

Engga magkaltegan. (Hangin)

(Here it comes, here it comes

It comes invisible to the eye. [Wind])

They also recite proverbs that use elements in their environment to convey the norms and values of their community. The following Apurahuano-Aborlan Tagbanwa example illustrates the virtue of humility (De la Cruz-Bediores 1987):

Yan kiyapusan et kawayan, perme nalang


(The tip of the bamboo bows to the earth.)

A woman’s candor is described in this next example (Fox 1982):

Basi it babay dila nira.

(Women’s bolo is their tongue.)

Another example of folk speech is the berso, which is a one-stanza oral poem composed of four lines, with each line running from six to 10 syllables. It can be about any aspect of Tagbanwa life. A berso may be a social commentary in the form of a joke, such as in the example below, which is popular among the Kalamianen Tagbanwa of Taytay and Linapacan (Guieb 2000):

Tong cacleran yong Malampaya

May pag lutao an torso

Belag pala torso

Cuten yong piloto.

(In Malampaya

there floats a piece of log

no, it is not a log

It is a penis of a fishing

vessel’s pilot.)

Malampaya Sound is a rich body of water in the municipality of Taytay, which has been overrun by interlopers. In the berso above, the fishing vessel’s pilot may stand for intruders whose sexual conduct in Malampaya is offensive to the local communities. The image of the floating log caricatures Malampaya as a site of social ills of this sort.

Among the Tandula’nen and Kalamianen Tagbanwa, the garay-garay is a man’s versified expression of his intentions to win the woman he addresses. A longer type of folk speech is the erecay, which involves an exchange of verses between two bards concerning a specific topic and lasts for about an hour or two; the whole performance, however, may last for weeks, with periodic breaks, depending on the contentious issues being debated upon by the parties.

Songs are a popular form of expression among the Tagbanwa. A sarsila is a song that imparts knowledge and practical skills. Among the Tandula’nen and Kalamianen, the sandaw-sandaw is a song between a man and a woman who exchange views about the love offered by the man. The man accompanies the song with a guitar, the strings of which, during the olden times, were made of bua (human hair). Among the Apurahuano-Aborlan Tagbanwa, an uyman or oiman is a male courtship ballad; a duliman is a song about friendship; and a dagoy or sudsud is a generic, narrative song, such as an elder’s piece of advice to the youth of the tribe (Fernandez 1988):

Kamong mga binora, kamong mga binora

Mag rigen rigen kamo, mag rigen rigen kamo

Kamali y begtek mo, kamali y begtek mo

Isobli taling bosta, isobli taling bosta.

Ki amang baybayanen, ki amang baybayanen

Bilin tugon kanaken, bilin tugon kanaken

Magkawagay wagay na, magkawagay wagay na

Ken ya salen kretan ka, ken ya salen kretan ka.

(You, who are young

Bind yourselves together

Do away with your faults

Inherit only the good.

The old man by the sea

Left me word

If you are divided

You will fall.)

The tablay is a song in four verses, popular among Kalamianen Tagbanwa of all ages. They sing the tablay at work or at rest, in community gatherings, while journeying around their community, or during fishing expeditions. Young women and men use the tablay to express their love for each other, but it is often more about their work in the farm, fishing experiences, the environment, particular events, and criticism of the behavior of community members. In Busuanga and Coron, the Tagbanwa sing the tablay in their homes or while crossing their fields atop a water buffalo. Women sing the tablay while gleaning, cooking, washing clothes on riverbanks, and weaving fish nets. Here is an example of the tablay:

Mapilay pilay besiong beltay beltay

pag sagyap sagyap iyan anday anday

ang anday anday tabyang tong calesed

tabyang calesed tong pamalay palay.

(To row a boat is exhausting

foraging for fish called anday-anday

the anday-anday relieves our hardship

and bails us out of hunger.)

Among the Kalamianen Tagbanwa of the municipalities of Taytay, Dumaran, and Linapacan in northern Palawan, the tablay is a social practice that refers not only to their songs but to the very act of journeying as a way of marking their banua. In this sense, it marks the territories covered by their fishing grounds, ancestral waters, and contemporary territories of their socioeconomic and cultural domains, which, through the years, have gradually shrunk due to claims on these from various directions.

The composo is a ballad of four to six stanzas, each stanza having four lines. A composo of this length runs under five minutes but can also be a long narrative. In form and melody, it is very closely related to the Mexican corrido and is thus a remnant of Spanish colonialism. It has a structure and rhythm that is popular, and a singular pattern runs throughout the song. It is sung any time and any day by common folk in public places and during important community gatherings. The composo is like a news item, a short notice about particular events, or a narrative that provides details of their history. It carries stories of crime and passion that happened in the community; disasters, tragedies, domestic squabbles, and other events of significance to the village folk; social issues like human rights violations, land grabbing, and the lives of folk heroes; or commentaries and didactic messages, such as moral standards and religious beliefs.

An excerpt of a long composo by the Tandula’nen Tagbanwa of Taytay echoes the anin (pain coming from the depths of the soul) of someone reminiscing the lost traditions of their community:

Ing pariho intea ca papel

Anin, Mangguad

nabuay na aco


maglepad ng ca lupa’t tane;

Ya pag git co ca Deingaran

Anin, Mangguad

may bebit co amanangaran


(If I were only a piece of paper

Anin, Mangguad

I would have


flown from the earth and its mounds;

I would have left Deingaran

Anin, Mangguad

with my name packed in my journey


The singer’s pain, addressed to his mangguad (a treasured friend held dearer than any member of his kin), is that of his people. The anguish is brought about by a series of dislocations, both geographical and symbolical. Moving from one tane (mound of earth) to another means traveling farther away from Deingaran, one of their places of origin. Though each journey means uprooting a part of their identity as a people, each journey also means packing up their names, together with every bit of material culture they can manage to bring along. This they have to do in order for them to preserve whatever is left of their identity. They are forced to move from one place to another, but they never really leave their place. A physical place may have been lost, but their sense of place from where they could construct their identities remains intact and steadfast (Guieb 1999).

Tagbanwa Myths and Folktales

Much of the Tagbanwa religious beliefs and rituals are based on time-honored ancestral myths and stories that explain the origin of their world, and represent “a primeval, greater, and more relevant reality, by which the present life, fates, and activities of [humankind] are determined” (Fox 1982, 151). Thus, the existence of the spirit world finds its explanation in myths, such as the origin of the salakap, those small, dark, and kinky-haired deities believed to be the cause of epidemics but used to be in friendly terms with the Tagbanwa.

Tagbanwa deities creating the world
Tagbanwa deities creating the world (Illustration by Ara Villena)

Once upon a time, it is said that the salakap and the Tagbanwa decided to go fishing at sea. They made an agreement that the Tagbanwa would leave some komuy, a rice dish wrapped in alimutyugan leaves, along the trail, so that the salakap would know where to go. But the Tagbanwa decided to play a trick on their friends. When the salakap opened the package left for them, they found human waste instead of food, but they were so hungry they proceeded to eat it. The salakap said human food tasted good that perhaps their flesh would taste even better. So they devoured all the Tagbanwa, save for one man and a woman. The two were spared, provided they promised to hold a runsay ceremony once a year. And so the salakap sailed off toward kiyabusan or “the void.” The descendants of the Tagbanwa survivors have held a runsay yearly since that time. Touched with humor, the salakap myth explains the existence of kiyabusan, which plays a significant role in the agricultural life cycle of clearing, planting, and harvesting.

Deities are also found in creation myths. One story originating from the settlement of Baraki has two versions, the first of which attributed creation to the collective acts of the diwata or deities. The deities made stone but the stone could not speak. Then they made earth and the earth could speak. The earth became a human being, the Tagbanwa. Finally, the deities gave the human being the elements of fire, the flint-like stones, iron, and tinder, as well as rice and rice wine. Now that the people had rice wine, they could call the deities and the spirits of the dead.

The second version, told by a masikampu, is a blend of traditional Tagbanwa belief and Christian mythology. The creator made the first man, Adan, who was as silent as stone until the creator made the earth. The creator gave Adan a companion, Iba, and they had three children. One day, as Adan was sleeping, his loincloth was unable to cover his private parts. The eldest laughed very hard at the sight, and he became the Tagbanwa’s first ancestor. The second child laughed mildly, and he became the Moros’ ancestor. The third child covered his father with a sheet, and he became the Spaniards’ ancestor. This, according to the storyteller, explains why the Tagbanwa are impoverished, the Moros are more fortunate, and the Spaniards and Americans, who cover themselves, are the richest.

The origin of Tagbanwa places is explained in creation tales, some of which are also deluge stories. A popular creation myth among the Tandulan’en and Kalamianen Tagbanwa is about Malampaya Sound, which used to be a vast plain of fertile ground. A long drought spanning several years hit the plains and brought misery and damage to the lives of the people living in the area. A young Tagbanwa male called Mandeg or Mandek dreamed that a woman instructed him to locate a big rock from where they could tap water. He found the big rock in the forest and hit it with his axe. Water continuously gushed out of the rock until it inundated the plains of Malampaya.

Such stories illustrate that places derive their names from plants, animals, fish, or other marine resources abundant in the area; the cosmos and its elements; certain ecological characteristics specific to the place; and local history, which also serves as the people’s interpretation of their lives. For the Tagbanwa, these stories are histories of their places and ancestors and regarded as legitimate documents of their past, as real as the contemporary circumstances in which they find themselves.

Palaisgen rescuing Tubod
Palaisgen rescuing Tubod (Illustration by Ara Villena)

The different Tagbanwa groups have their own epic, which are known by the heroes who represent them. The Apurahuano-Aborlan Tagbanwa have Pala’isgen; the Kalamianen Tagbanwa of Taytay, El Nido, and Linapacan have Dumaracol; and the Kalamianen Tagbanwa of Coron and Busuanga have Ti Makarere and Ti Natambak. Only the Pala’isgen has been fully reconstructed. The documentation and reconstruction of the Dumaracol by different epic chanters of various islands covered by the towns of Taytay, El Nido, and Linapacan have yet to be completed since work on the epic started in 1998. The storylines of Ti Makarere and Ti Natambak have largely been drawn from interviews with elders.

Apu Pilas and the nine deities
Apu Pilas and the nine deities (Illustration by Ara Villena)

Pala’isgen is sung in the evening when it is time for villagers to rest after a day’s work. Pala’isgen, the deity of war, descends to the land of the Tagbanwa to defend them from huge monsters that threaten their place and life ways. He loves Tubod, a beautiful princess whose magnificent abode stands on huge waves in the middle of the sea. He rescues her from captivity by mammoth animals, takes her to his community, and marries her. Pala’isgen, however, leaves Tubod and the Tagbanwa community when peace has been attained and returns to the world of the Tagbanwa deities.

The Dumaracol is sung in the evening, preferably during the waxing of the moon and on the occasion of a pulao or wake, but this has considerably changed over time. The remaining chanters sing it on any occasion but maintain the evening as the most appropriate time for chanting the epic. Dumaracol is the eponymous Kalamianen Tagbanwa hero who defends their territories against Muslim slave raiders. He rescues the kidnapped Tagbanwa men and women from huge Muslim prahus (sailing boat). He uses his supernatural strength and engages his enemies in hand-to-hand combat. He dies from shame for his love for the beautiful Limbonganen but is brought back to life by a babalyan. He rescues the abducted Limbonganen. The epic ends with the union of Dumaracol and Limbonganen in a grand feast celebrated by the community.

Ti Makarere and Ti Natambak are courageous warriors who defend Tagbanwa territories against Moro and Spanish invaders. They live on the cliffs in Banwang Daan and travel great distances in one leap to reach Tagbanwa territories under attack. They have amulets that render them invulnerable to machetes. The two heroes, however, succumb to the bite of a big group of tatut, a crustacean with an oversized pincer, while sleeping in their respective caves. Elders narrate that their fate was caused by their indiscriminate attack on outsiders.

A myth explaining the origins of the runsay ritual tells the story of an ancient Tagbanwa, Apu Pilas, who meets eight men and one woman riding a large kawa, a metal cooking vat, while walking on the beach near the mouth of the Aborlan River, then called Ab Inan. They call out to the frightened Apu Pilas, who runs to call a companion. The nine seafarers turn out to be deities, and introduce themselves as Mamuldaw, Nanalaykay Kat Bukas (Among the Waves), Sinamukray Kay Layag (Riding with Sails), Tumindug Kumana Kan (Standing Gentlemen), Ilintaw Kat Sabang (Floater on the Deep Waters), Linintas Kat Butas (Crossing as Far as You Can See), Nagsagubay, Nanalaytay Kat Langab (Walker on the Waves), and the lone female. They tell the two Tagbanwa to hold a runsay every year on the fourth day after the full moon in December. Otherwise, there would be sickness and death among the people.

Tagbanwa Dances and Rituals

Complementing the rich Tagbanwa rituals and social gatherings in the past was an assortment of musical instruments, some of which have, through the years, fallen into disuse. These included the aroding (mouth harp), babarak (nose flute), tipanu (mouth flute), pagang and tibuldu (two variations of the bamboo zither), kudlung (boat lute similar to the kind used in Mindanao groups and in the Celebes), gimbal (drum whose top was made from the skin of the bayawak or monitor lizard), and 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 gong. The mouth flute is still in use, and the drum and gongs are still played during rituals. The other instruments are rarely seen now, and have been supplanted by the modern acoustic-type guitar and the ukulele, which is fashioned from half a coconut shell, similar to that used by the Christian Visayans.

Tagbanwa boy playing the gongs, Aborlan, Palawan
Tagbanwa boy playing the gongs, Aborlan, Palawan, 2017 (Photo courtesy of Masicampo Ruben Joya)

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

Elderly Tagbanwa woman dancing
Elderly Tagbanwa woman dancing (Neil Daza)

Guests who attend the albarka ritual watch dances such as the bungalon, a showing-off dance; segutset, a courtship dance; tarek, a courtship dance; and andardi, a courtship and farewell dance, but can also be a dance for any festival. Other dances include the tuyatok, a man’s display of strength and wealth; magkepet et tarendak, which is a more elaborate version of the tuyatok; sarungkay, a dance about a war caused by love; taming, a war dance performed by a man and a woman; and sagayan, the drunkard’s dance. When dancing during a festival, the performers are dressed in their native apparel. Gongs or drums are played in these dances.

Drama in Tagbanwa society is expressed in the mimetic dances such as the busak-busak (spider dance) and the uyaman (monkey dance), and the occupational dances such as the batik ribid (camote-gathering dance) and the bugsay-bugsay (paddle dance using fans).

The dancing accompanying the runsay, performed about midnight and lasting until daybreak, is the grandest of all Tagbanwa dances. It is 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 toward the seaworld. The women, their heads covered with various pieces of cloth, form a spiraling chain of figures by placing their hands on the shoulders of the women in front of them. The men hold hands and form themselves into a big circle around the spiral formation of women. As the women dance slowly in a clockwise direction, tightening the spiral chain, the men also move in a clockwise fashion around the women’s circle. The two chains advance and retreat, the women spiraling, the men encircling, all the while following the rhythm of singing. The tune sung is called turun, which has two parts: one for the men, the other for the women. Sometimes the two groups would interchange their verses, evoking laughter from the dancers. Singing, dancing, laughing, then circling again and spiraling again, the dance continues until dawn.

The most important mimetic forms are the rituals where the babalyan is possessed by and plays the role of the deity to whom the offerings are being made. The most important of Tagbanwa rituals is the diwata, also called pagdiwata or inim, which is essentially an open invitation to the deities to partake of a lavish feast of ceremonial tabad, cooked rice, rice cakes, jewelry, music, and other offerings. The preparations for this celebration are extensive and preoccupy the whole Tagbanwa village. The ritual is undertaken for any of various purposes: healing of the sick, supplication for a bountiful harvest or a successful hunt, thanksgiving for the rice harvest, and the general well-being of the village. The ritual is held in honor of Mangindusa, as well as other deities of lower standing.

The jars of fermented rice wine play a most important role in these rituals because they are the means by which the deities are attracted to participate in the feast, rice wine being the only thing absent in the spirit world. Rice wine is the ritual bond that draws together all the other parts of the feast, such as the blood pacts, songs, and dances. It is considered a recreational drink, a ritual strength-giving agent, and, as medicine, liberally applied to wounds or parts of the body that are in pain. The bond formed through the rice wine is at once social and cosmological, since the beverage binds the individual to the group, as well as mortals and spirits of the dead to the deities.

At the center of the diwata rituals is the babalyan, who has the responsibility of selecting the areas for a new clearing, placating the spirits of the surroundings, providing the magical charms for hunters and fishers, and curing all kinds of ailments. While any adult can invoke the spirits of the dead in other Tagbanwa rituals, only the babalyan can summon them in the pagdiwata.

The bilang ceremony is the all-important ritual for the dead. It takes place after the rice harvest, a time when tabad becomes plentiful. Every Tagbanwa family is expected to host one or more bilang rituals. As in the pagdiwata and most other Tagbanwa rites, tabad is indispensable in the bilang, because the ceremony revolves around the sharing of wine between living persons and the spirits of the dead, who share a fondness for wine. Since there is no wine in the underworld, the bilang is a welcome opportunity for the spirits to drink their favorite tabad and for the living to have favors granted them, since the spirit relatives are very open to entreaties of the family on occasions such as this.

The bilang ritual begins with the rite of divination to determine which among the spirit-relatives has caused a person’s illness. This makes use of the babalyan who performs the brief rite of panawag near the grave of the dead relative by making offerings of betel quids and ceremonial cigarettes, and promising tabad should the ill become well. A jar of tabad with sipping reeds is prepared by the celebrants, together with the offerings, which include a karung or water container; a plate with betel quid and cigarettes; a glass of “orange gin,” the cheap alcoholic drink bought from stores; two bowls with five or seven pieces of amik, a sweet fried rice cake; a kerosene with a wick lamp providing light for the ritual, which has replaced the traditional pitch lamp; two piles of husked rice, set aside at harvest time specifically for the bilang rituals; and a bowl of liyutlut, cooked glutinous rice which is sweetened, packed into green bamboo tubes, and recooked. The same liyutlut (called “lutlut” by the Palawan group of the Mantalingayan highlands in the south) is called piyusupusu and suman when wrapped in banana leaves. These three basic ritual foods—amik, liyutlut, and piyusupusu—are all considered divine gifts, and are believed to be so tasty they are fit to be offered to the deities and the dead.

Tagbanwa People as Features in Media

There are five FM radio stations and no AM stations transmitting in the Calamian Islands. In Coron, particularly, these are DWDW Radyo Bandera News FM 88.7 (Bandera News Philippines), the community radio DZNE Radyo Kasimanwa 97.3 (National Nutrition Council), DWRZ Radyo Natin Coron 100.5, and DWYD Brigada News FM 101.3 (Brigada Mass Media Corporation). There is only one radio station in Cagayancillo, the community radio Radyo Cagayancillo 89.5.

Municipalities in the northern mainland have access to seven FM radio stations, most of which are repeaters, except for DWRO Radyo Natin 98.9 in Roxas, and one AM station DWJS Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) Palawan 1134, also in Roxas. In addition to a lone AM radio station (DWES RMN Palawan 792), municipalities in the south have access to around 13 FM radio stations, including three in Quezon (DWDW Radyo Bandera 91.1, DWYD Brigada News FM 98.3, and DZRK Radyo Kapitbisig 106.3) and one in Aborlan (DYUN FM 89.3 from the State Polytechnic University).

Majority of radio stations in Palawan are concentrated in Puerto Princesa City, with repeaters located in various towns in Palawan. There are 5 AM stations and 15 FM radio stations, including DWZB Radyo Palawan 91.1 by ZOE Broadcasting Network, DWAN DWIZ 94.3 by Aliw Broadcasting Corporation, DYHY Barangay FM Palawan 97.5 by GMA Network Inc., DYEZ Love Radio Palawan 98.3 by the Manila Broadcasting Company, and DWAR RMN Palawan 103.9. In January 2011, one of the latter’s main anchors, activist and environmentalist Dr. Gerardo “Gerry” Ortega, was gunned down allegedly due to his critical comments on issues about mining and corruption in the local government ( 2021; GMA News Online 2011).

According to the National Telecommunications Commission, as of June 2020, there are around 12 TV stations in Palawan, ten of which are in Puerto Princesa, including People’s Television Network’s Channel 4, Palawan Broadcasting Corporation’s Channel 7, GMA Network’s Channels 12 and 27, and ZOE’s Channel 33. There is only one relay station in Coron, which is GMA Network’s Channel 8.

Palawan, 1995, is a documentary that tackles the environmental and political struggles of the Tagbanwa. It focuses on how the Tandula’nen Tagbanwa living around the marine resource-rich Malampaya Sound in Taytay, Palawan were evicted from their fishing grounds and settlements pushing them into interior areas of northeast mainland Palawan. The push from the coastal areas to forest settlements were brought about by Manila-based fishing concessionaires and capital-intensive logging companies in the 1940s on through the 1950s, then by settler Christian groups in the 1960s and by different groups involved in marine and forest resource extraction beginning in the 1970s.

A Study for Dumaracol, 2016, is a video documentation of the life and loves of the hero of the Kalamianen named Dumaracol, from the epic of the same designation, who leads the group’s defense of their territories against Moro slave raiders during the height of the military, economic, and political expansion of the Sulu Sultanate. The short documentary highlights director Eli R. Guieb III’s search for the epic that began in 1997 among the Kalamianen on Batas Island in Taytay, Palawan and continued in the mid-2010s in several northern Palawan Kalamianen settlements in the municipalities of El Nido, Linapacan, and Coron.

Several short videos and documentaries about the Tagbanwa can be found on YouTube. These are mostly school projects and productions by mainstream and independent media groups. A group of mass communication students from Palawan State University produced a thesis project about the Tagbanwa. The 21-minute video Buhay Katutubong Tagbanua ng West Coast (Life of the Tagbanua Native in the West Coast), 2018, features the Apurahuano Tagbanwa’s livelihoods, such as hunting, collecting almaciga resin, swidden farming, and rice planting, as well as their struggles against poverty, malnutrition, and diseases (Botin 2018).

Many international agencies and individual vloggers have also taken interest in the Tagbanwa. In 2018, Russian channel RT Documentary produced a 27-minute documentary, Palawan Lost: The dark side of a tropical idyll that tourists don't see, which closes in on the struggles of the Tagbanwa and the Tau’t Bato on mainland Palawan amidst the exploits of land grabbers and private mining corporations (RT Documentary 2018). In 2020, Berlin-based filmmaker Rafael Calleja traveled to Coron and directed the five-minute video Tagbanwa: Indigenous People of Coron as a personal project (Calleja 2020). It showcases the island via drone and underwater shots by American documentary photographer Jacob Maentz and provides a glimpse of the Tagbanwa’s crop harvesting and coffee brewing traditions.

Another noteworthy production is Singapore-based Filipino journalist Mayo Martin’s The Other Side of Paradise in Coron Island, a video feature that runs for roughly three minutes, produced for the TV magazine series Celebrate Asia by the transmedia company Channel NewsAsia of Singapore, and aired on 24 October 2019. The video juxtaposes the booming tourism of Tagbanwa-managed sacred areas in Coron with the social problems of a Kalamianen Tagbanwa community, such as their precarious dependence on rainwater for water supply, on seasonal root crops, and on tourism for their economy. The video is ironically punctuated by a love song sung by a Tagbanwa man, whose own guitar accompaniment of the song renders poignant and painful the lover’s unrequited love for a woman (Martin 2019).

GMA Network has featured the Culion Island in two of their magazine programs, Biyahe ni Drew (Drew's Travels) and iJuander (Wandering Juan). The former, a 40-minute episode, aired on 16 January 2015 showcases the island’s snorkeling spots and local food. It includes a six-minute feature about the Tagbanwa’s natural processing of coffee (GMA News 2015). In the iJuander episode, which aired November 2017, show host Cesar Apolinario experiences harvesting clam meat, locally known as letlet and tasting their Tagbanwa coffee (GMA Public Affairs 2017). The Kalamianen Tagbanwa’s tradition of edible nest harvesting produced by the balinsasayaw (swiftlet birds) in caves of limestone karsts in Coron and the challenges posed by this economic livelihood are the issues presented in a short feature of the TV news program 24 Oras aired on GMA on 20 May 2014.

Culion, 2019, is a film on women living with leprosy in Culion island seeking a cure for their illness during the 1940s. The film won several awards, including Best Screenplay (Ricky Lee) at the Metro Manila Film Festival Hall of Fame in 2019, and Best Heritage Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Director awards at the 7th Urduja Heritage Film Awards in 2020. The film, however, has no direct articulation about the Tagbanwa.


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  • This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition. Title: Tagbanwa. Author/s: Edgardo B. Maranan (1994) / Updated by Eulalio Guieb III (2018 and 2021), with contributions from Nicanor G. Tiongson and Dante Javier (2018), and Jhoanne Kristine Vinuya (2021). Publication Date: November 18, 2020. Access Date: September 16, 2022. URL:


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