Batak people (Philippines)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Batak people in Palawan (c. 1913)

The Batak are one of about 140 indigenous peoples of the Philippines. They are located in the northeastern portions of Palawan, a relatively large island in the southwest of the archipelago. There are only about 450 Batak remaining according to a 1990 census[1]. Also called Tinitianes, the Batak are considered by anthropologists to be closely related to the Aeta of Central Luzon, another Negrito tribe. They tend to be small in stature, with dark skin and short curly or "kinky" hair, traits which originally garnered the "Negrito" groups their name. Still, there is some debate as to whether the Batak are related to the other Negrito groups of the Philippines or actually to other, physically similar groups in Indonesia or as far away as the Andaman Islands.


The Batak have for centuries combined a hunting-gathering lifestyle[2] with seeding of useful food plants, kaingin, a slash and burn farming method,[1] and trading. The Batak had important trading connections with the maritime peoples of the Sulu region for many centuries of their history. They traded natural and forest goods in exchange for manufactured products.[3]

The Batak were largely undisturbed until the arrival of the Americans in the final years of the nineteenth century. The reason for this was due the Bataks being within the margins of mainstream Filipino political and cultural life.[3]

Since 1900, Filipinos and others began to migrate to the traditional regions where the Batak lived. This led to the resources and land of the Bataks to dwindle. In the 1930s, the government attempted to establish reservations for the Batak in the coastal plains but these soon were settled and overran by the Filipino migrants in the 1950s. This caused the Batak to move inland into the interior of the island.[3]

During the mid to late-20th century the Batak were easily pushed out of their preferred gathering grounds by the sea into the mountains by emigrant farmers, mostly from Luzon. Living in less fertile areas, they have attempted to supplement their income by harvesting and selling various nontimber forest products, such as rattan, tree resins, and honey. This has been met with resistance by the government and commercial collectors, who assert that the Batak have no legal right to these resources. Conservationists, however, have taken an interest in the Batak's collection methods, which are much more sustainable than the techniques used by commercial concessionaires.


The Batak were once a nomadic people, but have since, at the behest of the government, settled in small villages. Still, they often go on gathering trips into the forest for a few days at a time, an activity which has both economic and spiritual value for them. Their belief system is that of animism, which is belief in spirits that reside in nature. They classify spirits into the "Panya'en" who are malevolent and the "Diwata" are generally benevolent but are also capricious.[4] Batak make regular offerings to these spirits, and Shamans undergo spiritual possession in order to communicate with the spirits and heal the sick.

Rapid depopulation, restricted forest access, sedentary living, and incursion by immigrants has devastated the group culturally. Today, very few Batak marry other Batak but tend to marry from other neighboring groups. The pattern has been that the children of these marriages tend not to follow Batak cultural ways, and today "pure" Batak are rare. They are also not reproducing to sustain their population.[5] As a result, Batak are being absorbed into a more diffuse group of upland indigenous peoples who are slowing losing their tribal identities, and with it their unique spirituality and culture; there is even some debate as to whether or not they still exist as a distinct ethnic entity.

Batak families trace descent through both sides of the family. Kin relationships are similar to those of the Filipinos. Since the Batak are discouraged from using the birth name of their in-laws, they have multiple personal names. Divorce and remarriage used to be common and acceptable among the Batak but integration to mainstram Filipino society has changed this to a degree. Husbands and wives usually enjoy equal freedoms though the wives tend to live in their husband's household except for the early stages of the marriage when both live in the wife's household. Nuclear households are the basic economic unit though multiple households can and do pool their resources. However, the nuclear household is expected to be self-reliant. Batak households tend to have few children with the average being 3.5 persons.[3]


The Batak today engage in many occupations which includes foraging, selling forest derived goods, shifting cultivation, and workers under Filipino farmers or other employers. Primary food for the Batak were squirrels, jungle fowls, wild pigs, honey, fruits, yams, fish, mollusks, crustaceans and more. The main source for these food items come from the forests in the region. The Batak used many methods to capture animals like pigs with the use of bows and arrows, spears, dogs, or homemade guns which varied as time passed and foreign influence increased.[3]

When it came to trading, the Batak mostly sold rattan, honey, and Manila copal. In return, they received clothing materials, rice and other goods.[3]

A few Batak also cultivate rice, corn, sweet potato, and cassava. Wage labor for nearby farmers is important to the Batak economy. Batak men are usually hired out for a few days to do certain work like clearing weeds, harvesting, or to pick coconuts and coffee. Local tourism is also a source of revenue for the Bataks.[3]

Indigenous Batak religion[edit]

The Batak have a strong belief that the world is inhabited by many supernatural and nature spirits and entities.The panya'en are considered sinister beings while the diwata are more benevolent but capricious entities. These spirits (especially the diwata) and more are said to only be visible to shamans and these beings are claimed to inhabit specific trees, streams, and more. Panya'en are believed to aggressively protect the various forests and riverine resources that the Batak utilize. Wasting, overusing, or disrespecting these resources or its animals are said to anger the panya'en protector who then punishes the culprit(s) with illness or death. Batak babalians (or shamans) are capable of communicating with these supernatural entities and can intercede on the behalf of those affected by misfortune or illness.[3]

The Batak people believe in a unique array of deities and other figures, namely:

  • Maguimba - Who in remotest times lived among the people, having been summoned by a powerful babaylan, and he supplied all the necessities of Batak life, as well as all the cures for illness. He even had the power to bring the dead back to life.
  • Diwata - Provided for the needs of men and women, and gives out rewards for good deeds. Sanbay is a ritual in honor of Diwata, who is asked by the people to bless them with generous harvests of palay (unhusked rice) and honey. This ritual takes place inside a forest, about 2–3 km from the beach. Two huts are constructed for the ritual. Palay is placed in one of the huts. A replica of a beehive, meanwhile, is situated in another small hut. Prayers are recited to Diwata by the babaylan, after which the people in attendance gather together in festive eating, drinking, and dancing.
  • Angoro - Lives in Basad, a place beyond this world where the souls of the dead go, and it is there where they come to know if they are to proceed to Lampanag (heaven)or be cast into depths of the Basad, where fire and boiling water await these hapless ones.
  • Baybay - goddess of rice[6]
  • Ungaw - god of bees[6]
  • Siabuanan - A lesser deity with great strength
  • Bankakah - A lesser deity with great strength
  • Paraen - A lesser deity with great strength
  • Buengelen - A lesser deity with great strength
  • Baybayen - A lesser deity with great strength
  • Batungbayanin - Spirit of the mountains.
  • Paglimusan - Spirit of the small stones.
  • Balungbunganin - Spirit of the almaciga trees.
  • Sulingbunganin - Spirit of the big rocks.
  • Esa - Ancestor of the Bataks[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Jagmis, Noel. "The Batak". National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Retrieved 7 June 2017.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ LeBar, Frank M. (1977). Insular Southeast Asia: Philippines. 2 v. Human Relations Area Files. p. 260. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Skutsch, Carl, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of the World's Minorities. New York: Routledge. p. 195. ISBN 1-57958-468-3.
  4. ^ Eder, James F.; Programme, IUCN Forest Conservation; Programme, World Wide Fund for Nature Forest (1997). Batak Resource Management: Belief, Knowledge, and Practice. IUCN. ISBN 9782831703664. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  5. ^ Ferretti, Eveline (1997). Cutting Across the Lands: An Annotated Bibliography on Natural Resource Management and Community Development in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. SEAP Publications. p. 228. ISBN 9780877271338. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  6. ^ a b "Kabatakan" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-10-02.
  7. ^ "ICCA Consortium".

External links[edit]