Introduction / History Although the various people groups that live in the Philippines have similar cultures, there are many small language groups. These are scattered primarily on the islands of Luzon and Mindanao, and are primarily tribal in nature. For the most part, they have remained isolated from modernization and still live a lifestyle based on survival.
Like most tribal groups, language is the chief distinguishing feature within their culture. Although many of the groups speak a language from the same family, their particular dialects may not be understood by neighboring tribes.
In the past, quite a number of these tribes practiced different forms of headhunting. Inter-tribal fights were common, often resulting from disagreements over territory.
Though the Philippines consists of over 7,000 islands, only about 700 are inhabited. It is the only country in Asia with a Catholic majority. Turmoil, suffering, and rapid changes in recent years have prepared millions to seek a personal faith in Christ. However, special efforts must be made to reach these remote tribes with the Gospel.
What are their lives like? Virtually all of the tribal groups living in the Philippines are farmers. The principal crops are wet rice and maize; while vegetables, tobacco, and coffee are grown as secondary crops. Some domestic animals such as dogs, goats, and chickens are also raised on the farms.
The most common method of farming is in "swidden" fields. (These are temporary gardening plots produced by cutting back and burning off the existing vegetation.) The plots usually lie adjacent to their homes. The farmers also depend heavily on irrigated rice terraces which are located on the mountain slopes. Since such "slash and burn" techniques are still used, the crop yield is generally poor. In addition, many of the native forests in the Philippines have been destroyed.
Some of the tribes (such as the Manobo who live on the southeastern coast of Mindanao) have been heavily influenced by plantation agriculture. Others living in the mountainous areas are still primarily hunters and gatherers.
Most of the tribal villages are arranged in clusters around individual gardens. The basic unit of society among these tribes is the extended family. Marriages are most often arranged while the prospective bride and groom are still quite young. Since the tribes have strict taboos on sexual relations between relatives, most marriages are "exogamous," or with members of another tribe.
Depending on the influence of outside cultures, the clothing of the tribes varies. Some wear simple loin cloths, while others dress in modern style clothing.
There seems to be very little political organization within the tribes. However, most villages do have a "headman" or chief who acts as a judge and defender.
What are their beliefs? Most of the tribal groups are animists, believing in many gods and spirits who control life situations and circumstances. They believe that these deities have human emotions and must be appeased by means of sacrifice and worship. These gods are believed to exist in both living and inanimate objects.
The villagers believe that there are specific rituals that must be observed in order to ensure a successful journey into the next life. Some of the groups (such as the Itneg tribes) utilize female shamans, or mediums, in their elaborate rituals. They believe the shamans have power to cure the sick by magic, to communicate with the gods, and to control events.
There are other tribes (such as the Kalinga) who believe that the spirits, or anitos, may be their deceased relatives of whom the souls have not been properly sent to the after world.
In the Kankannaey tribes, the priesthood is led by men rather than women. The primary sacrifices used in their rituals are pigs.
Although the Manobo tribes believe in a supreme being that inhabits the "sky world," and the Binukid have had some exposure to Christianity, these tribes, like the others, remain unreached with the Gospel. They are a people living in deep bondage to senseless rituals and spirit worship.
What are their needs? Although these remote tribes are slowly being forced into a modern world, they continue to struggle daily with life's most basic essentials. They are in desperate need of quality medical care, modern farming techniques, and educational opportunities.
Specific strategies must be developed in order to see these tribes reached with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to the Philippines and share Christ.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will prepare the hearts of the people for the Gospel.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Christians living among them.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the tribesmen towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray that God will cause the governmental leaders of the Philippines to turn to God for guidance and help.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among each tribal group in the Philippines.
North Central Mindanao, central, north Bukidnon Province; northeast Lanao del Norte Province; Misamis Oriental Province, Cagayan de Oro area including southwest of Gingoog bay; very small border strip, Lanao del Sur. (Source: Ethnologue 2016)