Batak people (Philippines)

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Group of Bataks, Paragua (1913).png
Batak people in Palawan (c. 1913)
Regions with significant populations
Batak language, Filipino language, other languages of the Philippines
Christianity, Anito, folk religions
Related ethnic groups
Aeta people, Manobo, Mamanwa; other Negrito peoples, Austronesian peoples

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. Since ancient times, the Batak have inhabited a series of river valleys along the coastline of what is today Puerto Princesa City.[1]

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 to 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's way of life and survival is threatened by dwindling forest resources, partly due to mining activities.[4] Communities also experience high infant mortality and low birth rates.[5]

The Batak are working to acquire Certificates of Ancestral Domains Titles for their traditional lands in Puerto Princesa.[6][7]


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.[8] 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.[9] 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 mainstream 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]


  • Maguimba: the god in the remotests times, lived among the people, having been summoned by a powerful babaylan (shaman); provided all the necessities of life, as well as all cures for illnesses; has the power to bring the dead back to life[10]
  • Diwata: a benevolent god who provides for the needs of women and men, and gives out rewards for good deeds[10]
  • Angoro: a deity who lives in Basad, a place beyond this world, where the souls find out whether they will enter the heavens called Lampanag, or be cast into the depths of Basad[10]
  • Deities of Strength
  • Batungbayanin: spirit of the mountains[10]
  • Paglimusan: spirit of the small stones[10]
  • Balungbunganin: spirit of the almaciga trees[10]
  • Sulingbunganin: spirit of the big rocks[10]
  • Esa’: an ancestor whose movements created the landscapes, which he named during a hunting journey with his dogs, who were after wild pigs[11]
  • Baybay: the goddess and master of rice who originated from Gunay Gunay, the edge of the universe; married to Ungaw[12]
  • Ungaw: the god and master of bees who originated from Gunay Gunay, the edge of the universe; married to Baybay[12]
  • Panya’en: mystic entities who control certain wild trees and various animals[12]
  • Kiudalan: in charge of forest pigs[12]
  • Napantaran: in charge of forest pigs[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Jagmis, Noel. "The Batak". National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Archived from the original on 21 July 2018. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
  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 Skutsch, Carl, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of the World's Minorities. New York: Routledge. p. 195. ISBN 1-57958-468-3.
  4. ^ "Project Bamboo: Help The Bataks Of Palawan". Start Some Good. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  5. ^ "Batak". Survival International. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  6. ^ "Questionnaire on Indigenous Issues / PFII" (PDF). United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  7. ^ "Land Reform 2000". Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved 2020-06-21.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mckenzie, D. A. (2014). Psychic Phenomena: A Clinical Investigation. Lulu Publishing.
  11. ^ Novellino, D. (2003). Shamanism and Everyday Life. An Account of Personhood, Identity and Bodily Knowledge amongst the Batak of Palawan Island (the Philippines). University of Kent.
  12. ^ a b c d e Novellino, D. (2003). ‘Contrasting landscapes, conflicting ontologies’. Assessing environmental conservation on Palawan Island (the Philippines), in D. Anderson and E. Berglund (eds.) ‘Ethnographies of Conservation: Environmentalism and the Distribution of Priviledge’. London: Berghahn.

External links[edit]