The Philippines 2009

SEARCHING FOR THE MANGYAN AND THE NEGRITO PEOPLE

We travelled by moped to this peculiar 7,000 islands nation. Once among region’s best-performing economies, the Philippines are today economically dependable on the United States and the money sent home by a huge Filipino overseas workforce.

Tens of millions of Filipinos live below the poverty line, yet the country has the highest birth rate in Asia, with the population forecasted to double within three decades. After exploring the sprawling Metro Manila, we wanted to meet the elusive Mangyan and Negrito peoples. They are native to Mindoro Island.

The Mangyan are comprised of eight indigenous groups, each with its own tribal name, language, and customs. The total population may be around 100,000, but no official statistics are available because of the difficulties of counting remote and reclusive tribal groups, many of which have no contact with the outside world. On Mindoro there are a few villages scattered in the bush. The Mangyan are farmers and weavers, and occasionally sell their crafts to tourists.

The Negritos are among the least-known of all living human groups. They are the first indigenous inhabitants of the country and share some common physical features with the African pygmies. The Negritos are comprised of approximately twenty-five widely scattered ethno-linguistic groups totaling an estimated 15,000 people, found in various stages of deculturation. They prefer to remain in their tribal territories. The Negritos we met were reclusive foragers, subsisting on mollusk and forest fruit.

The future of this enigmatic tribe is threatened by encroachment by outsiders, deforestation, depletion of their traditional game resources, and general poverty and disease. Sadly several indigenous people of Africa are facing a similar fate: the Kasena of Burkina Faso, the Pygmy of Central Africa, the Himba and the San of Namibia, and even the Maasai and the Borana of Kenya.