Batak people (Philippines)

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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 Ayta 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.

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. It is believed that they may have had trading relations with Chinese merchants as early as 500 AD.

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.

Indigenous Batak religion[edit]

The Batak people believe in a unique array of deities, 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.
  • 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.

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. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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.

External links[edit]