The Philippines: Where to Experience Indigenous Culture First-Hand

However, despite centuries of conflict and colonialism, the way of life of the original inhabitants is still palpable. There are about 110 ethnic groups, speaking 170 languages. Indigenous culture is particularly strong on the island of Luzon, home to groups such as the Ifugao, Kankanaey and Kalinga. Even today, exploring the rice terraces of Ifugao involves perseverance and long bus rides through the Cordillera. These mountains – along with the reputation of the Kalinga as headhunters – meant that his people resisted the Spanish invasion.

“My family is Kankanaey,” explains Elvira Masferré Sana, who runs the Masferré museum in Sagada; it is dedicated to her late father, photographer Eduardo Masferré, who documented the tribes in the 1950s. “The men wore loincloths and the women wore woven rugs,” Sana explains. These are still worn during begna rituals.

Elsewhere on Luzon are groups of the original inhabitants of the land, the Negritos. These include the Aeta, traditionally nomadic, known for their weaving, and the Agta,
characterized by their body scarification.

The Ati live in Panay, Boracay and Negros. They are thought to have arrived from Borneo 30,000 years ago. Palawan and its neighboring islands are home to the Palawano, who hunted with blowguns. This is also where you will find the Tagbanwa, who traditionally wore bark fiber clothing. While mining, new roads and the exodus of young people to the cities threaten the Tagbanwa way of life, they still spear fish and build dwellings on stilts. Further south, Mindanao is home to communities including the Yakan, a collective of Muslim farmers and weavers originally from Indonesia.

Communities hold the key to the Philippines’ past, through long-standing practices such as tattooing and storytelling. Today, Indigenous-owned businesses and guides keep their cultures alive by telling these stories. We just need to listen.

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