“Archaeological findings indicate that the First Filipino, the Tabon Man, once lived in the Tabon Caves Complex, now known as the Lipuun Point in Quezon, Palawan. Archaeological exploration and excavations undertaken at the Tabon Caves Complex yielded significant artifacts and ecofacts belonging to different cultural chronologies ranging from 50,000 years ago to the 14th century A.D.”
According to Mr. Roy Q. Rodriguez, organizer of the Palaw’an Tribal Village found at the Palawan Butterfly Ecological Garden in Sta. Monica, Puerto Princesa, his grandfather had a blood compact with one of the tribe’s elders in the 70’s in the uplands. Their agreement was that his grandfather was to help the tribe preserve its fast vanishing culture due to the influence of education and modernization. The younger generations are often tempted to find jobs as farm hands and trade their traditions and way of living for salaries and a western lifestyle.
In their small compound in the city, his grandfather allotted an area where some members of the tribe can build a few huts as accommodations for when they were to go into the city from their upland homes to trade and barter for goods.
Described as a hunting & gathering tribe, families would often take turns staying at the compound bringing in handicrafts such as aromatic resin that serve both as torches and insect repellent when wrapped in special leaves and sold at P 150.00 each. Blow dart sets are also available as souvenirs, the edges dipped in poison to deliver a lethal blow when used in hunting wild pigs and other forest animals. Percussion instruments made of wood and cow’s hide, as well as gongs and the kudyapi are used to demonstrate their musicality.
A couple of staff who have immersed for a week or so at the tribe’s upland villages act as interpreters and tour guides at the compound.
Sacred dances and rituals of the tribe are never used for the presentations but only when in actual practice, and there are guests at the compound whose timely arrival allow them to witness these special occasions.
Their cultural presentations, and a fair share of the entrance fees and sales from the souvenir shop has continually allowed the tribe to earn a decent income without having to sacrifice their culture, Mr. Rodriguez adds.
At the Sabang Port in Puerto Princesa, jump off point for the Underground River tour, there is a small hut where mostly female members of the Tagbanua Tribe take turns performing the Sayusad Dance for tourists and visitors.
The known dances associated with their rituals are the following: Abellano, also called soriano, a traditional dance performed by males; Bugas-bugasan, a dance for all participants of a pagdiwata, after they have drunk the ceremonial tabad (rice wine); Kalindapan, solo dance by the female babaylan and her attendants; Runsay, ritual dances performed by the villagers on the seashore, where bamboo rafts laden with food offering are floated for the gods; Sarungkay, a healing dance by the main babaylan as she balances a sword on her head and waves ugsang or palm leaf strip; Tugatak and Tarindak, dances performed by the villagers who attend an inim or pagdiwata; Tamigan, performed by male combatants using round winnowers or bilao to represent shields.
The dancing accompanying the Runsay, performed about midnight and lasting until daybreak, is possibly the most moving of all Tagbanua dances, since it is a part of a sacred ritual that takes place only once a year, and is performed on the beach from where the ritual raft has been launched towards the sea world.
Guests who attend the Albarka ritual watch dances such as the Busak-busak, the spider dance; Batak Ribid, a dance simulating the gathering of camote; Bungalon, a showing off dance; Bugsay-bugsay, a paddle dance using fans; Segutset, a courtship dance; and Tarek, a traditional dance. The Andardi is a festival dance of the Tagbanua in and around Aborlan, performed at social gatherings. When dancing during a festival, the performers are dressed in their costumes, and hold in each hand a dried palm leaf called palaspas. The music of the Andardi is composed of one part of twelve measures, played or sung continuously throughout the dance. Drum or gongs accompanies the music and the song.
The Tagbanua, one of the oldest ethnic group in the Philippines, are possible descendants of the Tabon Man, making them one of the original inhabitants of the Philippines.
At present (2000 census), they have an estimated population of 10,000 spread over western and eastern coastal areas of Central Palawan.
This coverage was made possible as a part of USAID’s Advancing Philippine Competitiveness (COMPETE) project which seeks to increase competitiveness of economic growth areas including Palawan, in partnership with the Department of Tourism and the Province of Palawan.
Special thanks to Air Asia Zest Airlines for sponsoring our roundtrip airfare from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan.