The Mamanwa (variously called Conking, Mamaw, Amamanusa, Manmanua, Mamaua, Mamanwa) are one of the three groups that occupy a very distinct position in Philippine populations. Heretofore, the Mamanwa has been classified as a Negrito subgroup, but physical anthropological data indicate otherwise. The Mamanwa form a distinct branch from the rest of the Philippine populations which include the various groups of the Negrito, and the Austronesian-speaking peoples which now comprise the modern populations. The Mamanwa appear to be an older branch of population appearances in the Philippines affecting to some extent the Negrito of northeastern Luzon. Like all the Negrito groups in the country, the Mamanwa speak a language that is basically that of the dominant group about them.
The Mamanwa can be found in Agusan del Norte, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Panaoan Island, and in the mountains of Southern Leyte. The Mamanwan dialect is bordered on the north and east by Suriganon; on the west by a mixed vernacular of Surigaonon and Cebuano; on the southwest by Butuanon; and on the southeast by Bislig Kamayo. Mamanwan is typologically an Austronesian language classified as a member of the Visayan language family tree of the Southern Philippines (by Dyen 1965). According to comparative studies made by Pallesen (1985), the Southern Visayan language family, historically, has two dominant branches which are Proto-Surigao and Proto-Mansaka; from Proto-Surigao are ascended the Mamanwa, Surigaonon, Butuanon, Kamayo, and Tausug.
The national population is about 1,922 (NSO 1990) with concentrations in Agusan del Norte (725) principally in Kitcharao (300) and Santiago (430) (NSO 1980). The people, however, are very mobile, continually relocating themselves in search of subsistence. Lately, they have moved into Southern Leyte.
One of the oldest and still extant tribes in the Philippines is the Mamanwa tribe, who bear a striking physical resemblance to the Negritos. Their other name is Mamanwa Negritos and are believed to be descendants of the original settlers of the Philippines. Leadership is accorded to the eldest and most respected males in their community to lead the Mamanwas; once chosen, the role as tribal leader(s) cannot be passed down onto the next of kin. Communes comprise of three to twenty households arranged in a circle atop a high ridge or deep within a valley. The incursion of heavy industry into their heritage lands had forced many to settle in the hinterlands, where they continue to practice their customs and traditions. Hence, some practices have fallen by the wayside, such as traditional hunting by bow and arrow. The Mamanwas receive some of their subsistence from other groups with whom they have forged labor agreements.
The lifeway of the Mamanwa is founded on slash-and-burn cultivation on small patches and minimal wet rice agriculture. Food gathering is heavily relied upon. The bow and arrow which was once important in hunting is no longer in use. Patron-client relationships with members of the surrounding group operate to some extent to provide them with subsistence needs. Settlements are generally small, numbering from three to twenty households in high ridges or valleys. The houses are usually arranged in a circle. Traditionally, dwellings are without walls.
A community is usually composed of kindred. Leadership resides in the oldest and most respected male. The role is not inherited but must be earned.