The Philippines: Ethnicity

Figure 1.--Here Igorot boys are taking mellons to market. This photograph looks to have been taken in the 1920s.

The population of the Philippines is one of the ethnically most diverse in the world. The country's ethnic history is a mater of considerable debate. Filipinos have a mixture of Negrito, Polynesian, and Mongoloid racial elements, with some admixture of Chinese, American Indian, Arab, Spanish and American elements. The Spanish term "indio" is used to describe the indigenous people of the Philippines and "mestizo" is used to describe anyone of mixed blood. There are many tribal Filipinos who are called lumad. They live in mostly mountain areas of the country like Igorot, Aeta, Mangyan, Manobo, Bagobo, Tausug, Maranaw, Badjao, Maguindanao, Samal, Yakan, Subanon, T’boli, Talaandig, Mandaya, B’laan, Tiruray, Tasaday. Despite the ethnic diversity, the Philippines through centuries of intermarriage have suceeded in creating a relativively harmonious, homgenous national culture. The principal group which has not assismilated into Filipino national life is not an ethnic minority, a religious minority--the Muslims on the southern islands.

Human Habitation

The first evidence of Human habitation is Cagayan Man (500,000-250,000-500,000 BC) and Tabon Man (30,500-11,000 BC). Anthropologists report similarities with similar fossil finds in China and Indonesia.


The nomadic Negritos appear to have populated scattered areas of the Philippines before the last Ice Age ended. This meant that at the time there were land connectiins with Asia. They appear to be related to the ancestors of the Andamanese.


The Negritos were followed by Malays who constitute the largest ethnic stock of the modern Philippines. They brought agriculture to the lowland Philippine. The Malays spread throughout the archipelago. They absorbed, through intermarriage, most of the existing Negrito population. Some of the Negritos resisted assimilation by moving ingto remote mountenous areas. As they disperse throughout the islands, the Malays developed into separate groups. This was especially pronounced in Mindanao, northern Luzon, and some of the other large islands. Modern linguistic analysis strongly suggests that most of these groups spoken a form of "proto-Manobo suggesting common origins. Anthropolgists debate the origins ans spread of the Malay population of Ocdania and the modern Malay Peninsula. It has long been assumed that the Malays spread from the Malayan Peninsula and spread from there to Sumatra and the Indonresian Peninsula and then to the Philippines Archepeligo. Another theory has developed in recent years, the “Mainland Theory”. [Bellwood] This theory postulates that the ancestors of modern day Filipinos (and Malays, Indonesians, and Pacific Islanders ) originally crossed the Taiwan Strait (2,000 BC). These voyagers ten used balangays (boats) to cross the Bashi Channel to the Philippines. The theory uses as evidence the fact that on Taiwan and the Philippines, the peoples are divided into several small tribes, but in Malaysia and Indonesia there is a more homogenous population or large tribeal structures. The ethnic landscape of the Philippines was relatively fixed and dominated by the Malays (14th century).

Southern Chinese

Tornatras are peoples of mixed Austronesian and Southern Chinese descent.

Pre-Colonial Trade

The location of the Philippines made it a center of trade as developin maritime technology made trade possible. Traders included the Chinese (from the northwest), the Malays (from the West), and Arabs (from the south--modern Indonesia). There is evidence of trade with Persia and Indiaas well. Traders added diversity to the ethnicity of the Philippines, but the overall ethnic imprint was minor.


The Spanish mostly settled in the lowlands around Manila and Cavite. Some intermarried with the natives and the Southern Chinese. These gave rise to the Mestizo population. Other Mestizo communities appeared in Cebu, Iloilo, and Bacolod. The British and French opened the Suez Canal (1867). This had the effect of reducung the isolation of the Philippines from Europe by loweing freigh costs. A number of Europeans settled in the islands. American colonization (1898) brought more people of modstly European stock.

Native Ameeicans

The Spanish who had earlier colonized the America brought Native Americans with them. I am not ebntirely sure of the numbers involved, but some authors claimn that they were brought in considerable numbers. [Craig] They appear to have been brought from Mexico, members of the Nahuatl (Aztec) and Yaqui peoples as a more amenable labor group than indigenous Filipinos. Some appear to havecbeen Spanish-Native American Mestizos. These Native Americans appear to have easily inter-married with the Malay population, especially on Luzon where many settled.


Bellwood, Peter.

Craig, Austin.


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Created: 11:15 PM 6/10/2007
Last updated: 11:15 PM 6/10/2007