Negritos of the Philippines

Negritos of the Philippines
Negritos of the Philippines | @museumxst0ries

Negritos of the Philippines

The Philippine Negritos. The word “Negrito”, a Spanish term pertaining to a small black person, was used by Spanish missionaries and chroniclers from the late 16th century onwards in documenting indigenous groups with dark-colored skin, curly or kinky hair and small-bodied physique. This term is also synonymous to “Negrillos” and “cimarrones”, which translates to “taga-bundok” (persons who live in the mountains) in Tagalog. These groups are distinct hunters and gatherers who seasonally move from one place to another, largely depending on the forest, freshwater, and marine resources for subsistence.

“Negrito” has also been used to refer to groups with similar physical characteristics and ways of life in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Australia, and the Pacific Islands. The earliest written document pertaining to Negrito groups in the Philippines was recorded in 1225 by Chao Ju Kua, a Chinese chronicler and customs officer who visited for trade. He wrote about the “Hai-tan” or Aeta groups living in the “most hidden valleys” of Luzon. This was validated in the first part of the 17th century, at the onset of the colonial period.

The Philippine Negrito consists of more or less 32 different groups based on their language. They refer to themselves as Agta, Ayta/Aeta, Atta, Arta, Alta, Dumagat, Ati, Ata, Batak and Mamanwa, depending on how they identify themselves. Most of these terms are generally derived from the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian term *aRta, which literally means “person”. Among lowland groups, they are often referred to as kulot, a person with curly hair, or pogot, a dark-skinned person. In turn, they call lowlanders unat, a straight-haired; puti, fair-skinned; or again, one who harvests rice.

Interestingly, Agta and Alta groups in Cagayan and Isabela refer Ilocano and Kalinga groups as ugsin, ugdin, ogden or uldin- all of which are derived from the old Negrito word urtin meaning “red”, perhaps referring to the perception that these groups have reddish skin.

Text: National Museum of the Philippines

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