The Batak Culture

BatakThe Batak (Batac, Tinitianes) are one of the subgroups of the Philippine Negrito who are genetically associated with the Negrito of west central Luzon, i.e., the Pinatubo Ayta. The Batak live in the forests of northern Palawan in the western Philippines. They depend on a varied mix of cultivation, hunting, gathering and fishing. The Batak of the Philippines are a ‘negrito’ people, not to be confused with the Batek, a hunter-gatherer people of peninsular Malaysia, or the populous and ethnically diverse Indonesian Batak of northern Sumatra. Like the classic Negrito, the Batak are food gatherers, hunters, and quasi-swidden cultivators. They are distributed in the northeastern mountains of Palawan from the Babuyan river in the south, to Malcampo in the north. They speak both Tagbanwa and Pala’wan. Originally dispersed, they have been in recent times (1880) congregated in the area about Tanabag, their first nucleated settlement. This was made possible with the introduction of dry rice cultivation and civil government structure in the area. The estimated population is 1,780 (NSO 1990).

The Batak were formerly proficient in the use of the bow and arrow as well as the blowgun. They now practice minimal shifting cultivation of dry rice with occasional gardens planted to cassava, tubers, and vegetables. There is food gathering to supplement their needs.

The social organization is based on bilateral kinship, the discrete band, and rather loosely, the community. The civil structure at present follows the barangay with a kapitan over an aggregate of bands. Loosely, too, like the Tagbanwa, there is the masikampo who heads the surigiden or council of elders.

The belief system parallels that of the surrounding Tagbanwa. It includes belief in five souls: one in the head, and four each in the arms and legs. Whatever happen to the souls determine the health, or life and death of the individual.

They are believed to have originated from the first wave of human populations who crossed the land bridges connecting the Philippine islands with mainland Asia, up to 50,000 years ago.

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