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Philippine Negritos

Philippine Negritos

ETHNONYMS: Aeta, Atta, Baluga, Batak, Dumagat, Mamanwa, Pugut

The Negritos of the Philippines are comprised of approximately twenty-five widely scattered ethnolinguistic groups totaling an estimated 15,000 people. They are located on several major islands in the country: Luzon, Palawan, Panay, Negros, Cebu, and Mindanao. They are assumed to be the aboriginal inhabitants of the archipelago. The religion of most groups remains animistic, often with a thin overlay of Roman Catholic influence. All the Negrito languages are Austronesian, as are all the native languages of the Philippines. The Negrito languages do not form a subfamily among the Philippine Austronesian languages. Rather, they tend to be most closely related to, but usually mutually unintelligible with, the languages of the non-Negrito peoples in their particular geographical areas. All Negrito adults in every area are bilingual, able to converse in and understand the major languages of their non-Negrito neighbors with only minor difficulty. The population of the Negritos has declined greatly since the early Hispanic period (1600) and continues to decline today because of high death rates resulting from encroachment by outsiders, deforestation, depletion of their traditional game resources, and general poverty and disease. These Negroid peoples are phenotypically quite different in appearance from the Mongoloid peoples of the Philippines, who today outnumber the Negritos by 4,000 to 1. In spite of their Negroid appearance, all scholars reject the theory that their ancestors came from Africa. Rather, the accepted theory today is that Philippine Negritos are descendants of groups of Homo sapiens who migrated into the Philippines during the Upper Pleistocene from mainland Southeast Asia, and subsequently developed their phenotypic traits in situ, through processes of microevolution, some 25,000 years ago. All of the Negrito groups are or were hunter-gatherers. Today they are found in various stages of deculturation. Most practice some marginal cultivation themselves, and all groups carry on intense symbiotic relationships with neighboring non-Negrito peoples, trading forest products for cash or starch food (rice or corn), serving as forest guides, and especially working as casual laborers on nearby farms.

See also Agta; Tasaday


Eder, James F. (1987). On the Road to Tribal Extinction: Depopulation, Deculturation, and Adaptive Well-Being among the Batak of the Philippines. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fox, Robert B. (1953). The Pinatubo Negritos: Their Useful Plants and Material Culture. Manila: Bureau of Printing.

Garvan, John M. (1964). The Negritos of the Philippines, edited by Hermann Hochegger. Vienna: Verlag Ferdinand Berger Horn.

Omoto, Keiichi (1985). "The Negritos: Genetic Origins and Microevolution." In Out of Asia: Peopling the Americas and the Pacific, edited by Robert Kirk and Emoke Szathmary, 123-131. Canberra: Journal of Pacific History.


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