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Population, Cultural Groups

Sulu Archipelago, Negritos, Maranao, mestizos, distinct cultures

Filipinos are generally divided along linguistic, geographic, and religious lines. Different linguistic groups developed as a result of the original settlement patterns. As the Malayan peoples spread throughout the archipelago, they dispersed into separate groups that each developed a distinct vernacular, or regional language. The primary religious groups are Christians and Muslims.

Christian Filipinos are the largest and most politically powerful group in the Philippines. They live primarily in lowland areas, specifically coastal areas and inland plains. They speak many different regional languages and dialects and are categorized into ethnolinguistic groups. Intermarriage and internal migration have helped to reduce language barriers over the years. The largest groups are the Tagalogs, who predominate in central and southern Luzon, including Manila; the Cebuanos, who live in Cebu, Bohol, eastern Negros, western Leyte, and in some coastal areas of Mindanao; and the Ilocanos, who predominate in the coastal areas of northern Luzon. Other major groups are the Ilongos, who speak Hiligaynon; the Bicolanos, who speak Bicol; the Waray-Waray; the Pampangans; and the Pangasinans.

Muslim Filipinos, also known as Moros or Moro Muslims, constitute the second largest group with a common cultural identity, although there are many linguistic and cultural differences among them. The Moros are of Malayan or Indonesian descent and comprise ten major ethnolinguistic groups, the largest of which are the Maguindanao, Maranao, Tau Sug, and Samal. The Maguindanao, who live mainly on Mindanao, are the largest Muslim group in the country. The Maranao, meaning “people of the lake,” live principally around Lake Lanao on Mindanao. The Tau Sug and Samal live in the Sulu Archipelago. Although the majority of Muslim Filipinos live in the southern islands, communities of Muslims live in other areas of the country as well.

The upland tribal groups are the third largest cultural group in the Philippines. The islands include more than 100 upland tribes, ranging in size from 100,000 to fewer than several hundred members. The members of the Aeta and Agta tribes are considered to be the indigenous people of the Philippines. They are descendents of perhaps the first humans who settled the islands during prehistoric times, before the Malayan migrations. They are commonly known as Negritos (a term assigned to them during the Spanish colonial period) and are one of the world’s few remaining Pygmy people, who are characterized by shorter-than-average height. Their communities are located mainly on northeastern Luzon. Although most of them were absorbed into the Malay population through intermarriage, some retreated to the mountains as the Malayan settlers increased in number. Those who retreated retained a hunting-and-gathering way of life augmented by a type of nomadic farming known as slash-and-burn agriculture, whereby they created temporary crop fields by clearing and burning small areas of forest. Other upland peoples of Malayan descent followed a similar settlement pattern. Through centuries of relative isolation, these groups have preserved their traditional ways of life and distinct cultures. They are engaged in subsistence hunting, fishing, and farming. Most maintain indigenous belief systems based on animism (the worship of nature deities and other spirits).

People of Chinese descent comprise the largest non-Malay group, making up about 1 percent of the population. Chinese people have settled in the Philippines for centuries. They originally came as traders, and during the colonial period they began to form an important merchant class. Many recent arrivals from China live in the Philippines as semipermanent residents, while others become Philippine citizens. Intermarriage between Chinese and lowland Filipinos is common. People of mixed Malay and Chinese descent are known as mestizos. Unlike Chinese who do not intermarry or become citizens, mestizos have always been readily accepted in Philippine society. They formed the first Filipino elite during the colonial period, and today they continue to form an economically and politically important minority.

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