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The Tagbanwa people in Coron, Palawan
Total population
56,661 (2020 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Philippines (Palawan)
Aborlan Tagbanwa, Calamian Tagbanwa, Central Tagbanwa, Cuyonon, Tagalog
Roman Catholic, paganism, Indigenous Tagbanwa religion
Related ethnic groups
other ethnic groups of Palawan, other Austronesian peoples

The Tagbanwa people (Tagbanwa: ᝦᝪᝯ) are one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Philippines, and can be mainly found in the central and northern Palawan. Research has shown that the Tagbanwa are possible descendants of the Tabon Man, thus making them one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines.[2] They are a brown-skinned, slim, and straight-haired ethnic group.[3]

There are two major classifications based on the geographical location where they can be found. Central Tagbanwas are found in the western and eastern coastal areas of central Palawan. They are concentrated in the municipalities of Aborlan, Quezon, and Puerto Princesa. Calamian Tagbanwa, on the other hand, are found in Baras coast, Busuanga Island, Coron Island and in some parts of El Nido.[4] These two Tagbanwa subgroups speak the same languages but different tone and pronunciation and do not exactly have the same customs. The Tagbanwa are believed to have descended from the Tabon Man, making them one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. They have a long history of resistance against foreign invaders, from the Spanish colonial period to the American era.

They are known for their close relationship with nature, which is reflected in their beliefs and practices. They believe in a variety of spirits that inhabit the natural world, and they perform rituals to appease these spirits.

In terms of livelihood, the Tagbanwa are primarily fishermen, farmers, and gatherers. They are also skilled in weaving and pottery.

In spite of the challenges they face, such as land grabbing and the encroachment of modernization, the Tagbanwa continue to preserve their culture and traditions. They are a testament to the rich cultural diversity of the Philippines.[2][5]


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According to folk history, the Tagbanwa had an early relationship with Brunei, with the first sultan of Brunyu, from the place called Burnay.

Formal history of the Tagbanwa tribe began in 1521 when Magellan's ships docked in Palawan for provisions. Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler, recorded that the Tagbanwa practiced the ritual of blood compact, cultivated their fields, hunted with blowpipes and thick wooden arrows, valued brass rings and chains, bells, knives, and copper wire for binding fish hooks, raised large and very tame cocks for fighting, and distilled rice wine.

Until the latter part of the 17th century, southern Palawan was under the jurisdiction of the Sultan of Brunei, leading to friction between Spaniards and the Sultan. During this time, and for almost three hundred years, the Spaniards and the Muslims of Sulu, Mindanao, Palawan, and north Borneo were at war.

In the 19th century, the Tagbanwa continued to believe in their native gods. Each year, a big feast is celebrated after each harvest to honor their deities.

When the Spanish regime ended and the Americans occupied the Philippines, some changes came to the island of Palawan, and to the Tagbanwa. In 1904, Iwahig became the site of a penal colony, which displaced the Tagbanwa as it expanded. In 1910, the Americans put up a reservation for the Tagbanwa. In succeeding years, internal migration from the Visayan islands and from Luzon, the dominance of the Christian religion, and the absorption of the island into economic and political mainstream marginalized the Tagbanwa people.

Ancestral domain

In 1998, the Tagbanwa of Coron Island were awarded a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) over more than 22,000 hectares of land and sea. CADT is the title to the land and the sea that have sustained the community for centuries. It gives the Tagbanwa the right to manage the area and preserve its rich marine and land resources.[6]

The Coron Island Ancestral Domain of the Tagbanwa people covers the two villages of Banuang Daan and Cabugao, and the neighboring Delian Island. The ancestral domain is currently ruled by HM Tribal Chieftain Rodolfo Aguilar I, assisted by his Council of Elders.

The Calamian Tagbanwa of Coron filed the first formal legal claim in the Philippines for their "ancestral waters".[7] The initiative also became the first ancestral waters claim to be recognized by a government.[8] In March 2010, Tabganwas previously driven away from Calauit island were issued a CADT covering over 55,000 hectares in recognition of the communities' ancestral land and waters.[9][8] The title covers the entire island and includes 50,000 hectares of ancestral waters surrounding the island.[9]



Further information: Tagbanwa script

A sample of the Tagbanwa script at the Museo Palawan (Museum of Palawan).

The Tagbanwa people have their own native languages (Aborlan Tagbanwa, Calamian Tagbanwa, and Central Tagbanwa) and writing system, however, they are also proficient in speaking the Palawano language and several other dialects like Tandulanon, Silanganon, and Baras in each locality, while a significant number of them can comprehend Tagalog, Batak, Cuyonon, and Calawian languages.[5]

Indigenous Tagbanwa religion

Further information: Tagbanwa mythology and List of Philippine mythological figures

The Kayangan Lake is considered a sacred place by the Tagbanwa people.


Family structure

A typical Tagbanwa hut

The basic social unit of the Tagbanwas is their nuclear family composed of a married couple and their children. They are monogamous.[5][14] They live in houses that are made up of bamboo and wood for a strong frame, anahaw leaves for roof and walls, and bamboo slats for the flooring. Tagbanwa live in compact villages of 45 to 500 individuals.[14]

Families can either be free men or nobles, which, in the Southern tribes are known as Usba.[5]

Visual arts and crafts

The traditional costumes of the Tagbanwa were fashioned from the bark of trees, particularly the salugin. The preparation of this bark was unique. After being felled, the tree would be cut around the trunk, the outer bark stripped off to expose the inner layer. A mallet would beat the layer, until it is soft enough to hang loose from the bole. This is washed and dried under the sun. In the past, menfolk wore simple loincloths, supported by a woven rattan waistband called ambalad, while women wore only brief wraparound skirts made from bark. The Tagbanua later adopt some articles of Muslim clothing. At present, while many Tagbanwa still wear their traditional apparel, western-type clothing has found its way among the people.[15]

A Tagbanwa elder weaving a pandan mat.

In the past, when both men and women wore their hair long, they filed and blackened their teeth, and carved earplugs from the hardwood bantilinaw. The Tagbanwa also carved wooden combs and bracelets. They strung bead necklaces to be used in covering women's necks. Anklets of copper and brass wire were also crafted and worn by women.[15]

Tagbanwa women wear bright body ornament and brightly colored clothes.[3] They dress just like the non-tribe lowlanders but some elder men prefer to use G-strings for comfort while tilling the field or going fishing.[14]

Baskets and woodcarvings are the more notable products of Tagbanwa artistic crafts today. They excel in the number of designs they apply to their tingkop (harvest basket). These baskets are made of blackened and natural bamboo, which makes the designs stand out. The cone-shaped type of basket is another fine example of Tagbanwa skilled artistry. Using black and natural color designs outside, the center of the cone has the bamboo strip skived slightly smaller, creating even holes for the screen. The funnel effect is accomplished through a close weaving of the bamboo strips towards the top.[15]

The soft rice baskets, called bayong-bayong, are made with different unusual shapes. These have square bases and round tops. To produce interesting block and V-shapes, the plain buri sides superimposed with colored buri. Color is woven into the Tagbanwa basket with the used of dyed palm leaves.[15]

Blackened woodcarvings of animals, with simple etched or incised features exposing the original white grain of the wood, are the most well known examples of Tagbanwa woodcarvings or sculpture.[15]

Some of the objects carved are mammanuk (rooster), a ritual bowl, kiruman (turtle), kararaga (a native bird), dugyan (a small ground animal), lizards, and wild pigs. Carved animals are used with rice, betel nut, and other offerings to attract the deities and spirit relatives in the pagdiwata rituals. The turtles, for instance, floats on grains of palay in an ancient Ming trade bowl. Others that are not used in rituals become toys for children.[15]

Performing arts


Main articles: Music of the Philippines and Agung

A Tagbanwa musical instrument (tube zither) made of bamboo inscribed with Tagbanwa script.

Complementing the rich Tagbanwa rituals and social gatherings in the past was an assortment of musical instruments. These included the aruding or jaw harp; the babarak or nose flute; the tipanu or mouth flute; the pagang and tibuldu, two variations of the bamboo tube zithers; the kudlung or boat lute; the gimbal or drum, whose top was made from the skin of the bayawak or monitor lizard; and the tiring, composed of lengths of bamboo with openings of various sizes producing different notes when struck with a stick. In addition, there were two generic types of gongs obtained from the shallow babandil. The mouth flute is still in use, and the gongs and drums are still played during rituals. Modern acoustic type guitar and the ukulele, which is fashioned from a half coconut shell, supplant the other instruments.[15]


The known dances associated with the rituals are the following: abellano, also called soriano, a traditional dance performed by males; bugas-bugasan, a dance for all participants of a pagdiwata, after they have drunk the ceremonial tabad (rice wine); kalindapan, solo dance by the female babaylan and her attendants; runsay, ritual dances performed by the villagers on the seashore, where bamboo rafts laden with food offering are floated for the gods; sarungkay, a healing dance by the main babaylan as she balances a sword on her head and waves ugsang or palm leaf strip; tugatak and tarindak, dances perform by the villagers who attend an inim or pagdiwata; tamigan, performed by male combatants using round winnowers or bilao to represent shields.[15]

The dancing accompanying the runsay, performed about midnight and lasting until daybreak, is possibly the most moving of all Tagbanwa dances, since it is a part of a sacred ritual that takes place only once a year, and is performed on the beach from where the ritual raft has been launched towards the sea world.[15]

Guests who attend the albarka ritual watch dances such as the busak-busak, the spider dance; batak ribid, a dance simulating the gathering of camote; bungalon, a showing off dance; bugsay-bugsay, a paddle dance using fans; segutset, a courtship dance; and tarek, a traditional dance. The andardi is a festival dance of the Tagbanwa in and around Aborlan, perform at social gatherings. When dancing during a festival, the performers are dressed in their costumes, and hold in each hand a dried palm leaf called palaspas. The music of the andardi is composed of one part of twelve measures, played or sung continuously throughout the dance. Drum or gongs accompanies the music and the song.[15]


Drama in Tagbanwa society is expressed in the mimetic dances imitating animals, such as busak-busak, and those showing occupations, such as batak ribid and bugsay-bugsay. But the most important mimetic forms are the rituals where the priestess is possessed by and plays the role of the deity to whom the offerings are being made.[15]

Economic activity

They cultivate rice in swidden or kaingin field that is intercropped with sweet potato, corn, and cassava. Those in the coastal areas indulge in fishing and exchange it with agricultural products for consumption. They also gather forest products such as gum, rattan, and honey for cash.

The highest potential source of income for the Tagbanwa are handicrafts particularly woodworking, mat making and basketry, the raw materials for which are readily available to them.[14][16]


  1. ^ "Ethnicity in the Philippines (2020 Census of Population and Housing)". Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved July 4, 2023.
  2. ^ a b The Tagbanua Tribe. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  3. ^ a b Ethnic Minorities in the South: Tagbanua Archived 2008-08-29 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  4. ^ Palawan Tourism Council: Palawan Culture. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  5. ^ a b c d National Commission on Indigenous People[permanent dead link]. Accessed August 30, 2008.
  6. ^ PCIJ: Tagbanua Win First Ever Ancestral Waters Claim Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  7. ^ Zingapan, Kail; De Vera, Dave (1999-03-10). "Mapping the Ancestral Lands and Waters of the Calamian Tagbanwa of Coron, Northern Palawan" (PDF). Participatory Avenues. Retrieved 2020-07-12.
  8. ^ a b The Ancestral Lands and Waters of the Indigenous Tagbanwa Communities of Northern Palawan (PDF). Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development. 2017.
  9. ^ a b "Tagbanuas banished by Marcos reclaim Calauit, their ancestral domain". Press Reader. 2010-03-10. Retrieved 2020-07-12.
  10. ^ a b c d CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art: Peoples of the Philippines (1994). Cultural Center of the Philippines.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Fox, R. B. (1982). Religion and Society Among the Tagbanuas of Palawan Island, Philippines. Manila: National Museum.
  12. ^ a b Filipino Heritage: The metal age in the Philippines (1977). Manila: Lahing Pilipino Pub.
  13. ^ Fox, R. B. (1977). Tagbanua Heaven. Filipino Heritage, II.
  14. ^ a b c d Thinkquest: Palawan Islands Archived 2008-12-07 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Tagabanua by Mark Joel Velasquez Archived 2008-05-17 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed August 28, 2008.
  16. ^ Palawan Profile at Accessed August 28, 2008.