Negritos or Malays: Who are the original inhabitants of the Philippines?

When I was younger, I remember reading in a Filipino children’s book that the Filipinos were made up of a migratory Malay population. I didn’t think much of it then until this article came up which challenges the notion of the indigenous Filipino.

Who are the indigenous?
The Philippine Inquirer, 12 February 2008

All these years, school teachers have taught Filipino children that Filipinos belong to the Malay stock.

Now comes a language scholar, who has authored influential studies about Cordillera and other Philippine languages for almost 50 years, who says that linguistic, archaeological and anthropological findings collected through the years prove that this assertion may have been wrong.

Based on a comprehensive study of Philippine languages and dialects, Dr. Lawrence Reid, a New Zealand-born researcher emeritus of the University of Hawaii, dates the indigenous and mainstream Filipino to Taiwan about 4,500 years ago.

According to the study, populations of Negritos are believed to have existed for at least 50,000 years before the migrations of people from Taiwan. This idea of a Neolithic, out-of-Taiwan expansion is not new, so it’s a little surprising that this is considered “news”. Perhaps the news here is that the modern Philippine origin story needs to be updated?
Related books:
Archaeology of Asia (Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology) by M.T. Stark
Man’s conquest of the Pacific: The prehistory of Southeast Asia and Oceania by P. Bellwood
Glances: Prehistory of the Philippines by J. T. Peralta
Bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia (Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology) by M. Oxenham
Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago by P. Bellwood

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

39 thoughts on “Negritos or Malays: Who are the original inhabitants of the Philippines?”

  1. It makes more sense Malay. I believe those who are darker brown in either Philippines or Malaysia has a more of this Negrito DNA compared to those who have yellowish skin.

  2. I see a lot of wishful thinking and denial here. While I can’t say that any race is superior to others, the differences between them is undeniable, and goes much deeper than skin color. It’s common knowledge that temperament, physical ability, intelligence, and countless other traits are dependent upon breeding in animals, but every one sticks their head in the sand when this is brought up regarding humans. Every one repeats the ridiculous mantra “The only difference between races is the color of their skin!” There are many variations & sub-variations, and countless examples of racial interbreeding, but the differences are there. Don’t be afraid of the truth, just accept it.

    I found this sight looking for information on Philippine Negritos, whom I find very interesting. I’ve personally observed them, and found most of them to be very primitive, with a very basic hunter-gatherer existence. Many of them trade with asian-type Filipinos (non-negrito)and foreigners (Europeans & Americans), but live in their primitive camps. They don’t seem to have the technology or the intellectual capacity to travel long distances by boat. So, the big question is: how did they come to populate distant islands in the Pacific? The Andaman Islanders and a whole host of other similar populations of African-looking hunter-gatherer peoples live on Pacific islands far from the mainland. There are may theories, but very little hard data and research. I hope some scientific types study these people before they become extinct or absorbed into other populations.

    1. Truth – truth be told, you are not as smart as the negrito. There is no need for hard data or research, but some common sense. The negrito could only have got to those islands by boat, or they were really great swimmers. What you call ‘primitive’ living means that at least a negrito child can make a fire and gather food, while your so called ‘modern’ or western child would probably die from starvation from watching too much TV. 

      Just because you know how to use the internet, doesn’t make you smarter than those living a more basic life style. I come from Polynesia where we still practice the old ways and traditions on our home island, very much like the negrito, and I can tell you, they are very much smarter than you and I sitting at our laptops. What you call ‘primitive’ communities are far more production and supportive of their extended family and community than you can ever imagine. It takes more than merely ‘observing’ to understand what people are really about.

  3. The Negritoes is one of THREE groups of aborigines in Malaysia. Only the Negritoes is said to have origins from Africa as can be seen quite clearly by their features, dark skin , curly hair and wide noses. As I got to meet them up close I noticed that they are simple people and not at all sophisticated. They are not adept ( currently ) at solving sophisticated issues such as farming, business even holding on to a marriage institution. They had been in a ‘ time capsule’ longer than everybody else and in Malaysia they are just recently opening up.They have basic survival knowledge and able to find food in the jungle. Many are having difficulty adjusting to modern life and this have led many ,especially the young to indulge in drugs, gum sniffing , alcohol abuse and free sex which incidentally has always been practiced.You will notice that many recent babies have very light skin. The more sophisticated of the aborigines or Orang Asli are the Senois and the Proto Malays who have more knowledge in Jungle Flora and Fauna matters.Thus the Negritoes may have come from Africa but the others could have originated from Ancient Taiwan or could have originated from the Malay Archipelago and moved outwards instead because the Malays are a distinct race generic to South East Asia.

  4. There’s actually two different definitions for “Malay”. There are the ethnic Malays, those who speak the Malay language (Bahasa Melayu, in Indonesia known as “Bahasa Indonesia”).  They live in most of Malaysia, Indonesia, with minority populations in Thailand. Arguably, Filipinos are also ethnic Malays by blood but due to difference in language and religion, Filipinos aren’t typically considered as true ethnic Malays because they don’t speak Malay and the majority of Filipinos are Catholics (by definition, a Malay is a Muslim and there is no such thing as a “Bahasa Filipina” or anything). The OTHER meaning for “Malay” can refer to the Malay race, which is the “Austronesian” people. This isn’t only referring to Malaysians or Indonesians, but also to Thais, Vietnamese, Samoans and Madagasis as well because they are Austronesians and Filipinos are DEFINATELY in this group. The concept of Malay race, was given by Johann Friedrch Blumenbach who is a German scientist. Some sources say that Filipinos are ethnic Malays, some sources say that Filipinos and Malays are only related and aren’t the same thing. Our ancient script, Baybayin and our ancient languages were related to those in Sumatra and Java and the Sunda Islands.

    Indonesian people also seem to be a little darker and browner than Filipinos and Malaysians, than the typical brown Asian. I don’t know whether anyone else notices this. Remember one of Obama’s look alikes is Indonesian!  

    Do I think Filipinos are ethnic Malays? Yes I do. The only reason why there is NO SUCH thing as “Bahasa Filipina” is because the Dutch and British didn’t care about forcing the Malays in Borneo and Sumatra to speak their language so their culture was nearly untouches. Spain and later on Japan, brutally destroyed us.                        

    1. Negritos are the first actually. On language, malayo polynesian seems to have originated in taiwan but recent genetic studies proved that genetic diversification and hence population migration originated south and moved up north to taiwan.

      On the question of who were the original filipino, there was none. Filipino is a modern term that developed during the 18th century. The filipino nation is a recent creation made from the amalgation of previous nations. We can therefore say that the filipino consciousness developed in concert with and among the various ethnolinguistic groups of the philippines.

      However if you were asking about what was the first state/nation to exist in the territory now called the philippines, then we can say that the bisaya (from southern tagalog down to brunei), the pampangeno (the kingdom of tondo) ma’i (mindoro) and other notable kingdoms would have qualified as nation states. 

      The biggest would probably be the Bisaya (sri vijayans). People in the visayas (regardless of being cebuano, hiligaynon or kiniray.a) would consider themselves as bisaya first and filipino second. These means that even before filipino nationalism developed, there were already large scale nation-states (with national identities) These original nation states include the bisaya malayo that occupied brunei up to the visayan islands. Negritos and lumad previously occupied most of mindanao, the visayas and luzon.The bisaya considered themselves foreign colonizers and saw themselves as a seperate ethnolinguistic group (i.e. citizens of sri vijaya w/c was melayu) at its height, sri vijaya counted barunay (brunei) and solot (sulu) as part of its territories. It is from brunei and sulu that the colonizing bisaya originated, they first purchased the shores of aninipay (Panay), the bisaya valued seashores being a maritime culture. They also spread north to batangas and southern tagalog (this time by open warfare against the pampangeno/tondo kingdoms). In time, the conquering bisaya became the dominant group (became the ruling castes) and their dominant culture subsumed the original lumad and negrito culture previously present on their conquered territories. 

      It is helpful to note that at the time of spanish conquest, the most stratified societiy’s were the bisaya with social stratification having barely begun among the tagalog. This implies a higher degree of political and social specialization of the south as compared to the north. It is also helpful to note that the bisaya has retained many of the political concepts and practices of Sri vijaya such as the banua (wanua – political admininistrative term), the post of bendahara, and even the mandala type of relationship among the rulers vis a vis the Confederation of Madya-as. The mandala system and its subsequent breakdown enabled the spanish to divide and conquer the bisaya. It is said that Rajah Humabon befriended Magellan because he wanted to use magellans superior firepower (at this time the conquest of mulukas was already known to the bisaya) to cow rajah lapulapu into submission. The conflict stemmed from lapu lapu’s refusal to respect Humabon’s seniority and lapu lapu’s subsequest deference to Sulu. This means that strife between the bisaya was more of court and political maneuverings for influence  among the royal houses rather than warfare between separate nation states.  History among the bisaya (as well as the sri vijayan) was oral and the concept of the bisaya as a nation as well as their affinity to sri vijaya has survived in the cultural psyche of the visayan up to this day. 

      The visayan language continuum and the bisaya (hiligaynon, tausug, waray, karay.a, sugbuanon) is currently the ethnolignuistic group in the philippines with about 50 mil speakers. The melayu through there bisaya descendants are therefore a dominant group in the philippines even if not all filipinos are of melayu descent. 

      On language, the current Philippine language is based on tagalog (also classified linguistically as bisaya but is very close to pampangeno due to proximity). A move that has long been criticized by bisaya (especially the sugbuanon). Basa (pronounced as bah-sah) is the term for reading and language, and understanding (sahbot in sugbuanon). Who knew it could have been basa pilipino instead of wikang pilipino if bisaya was the basis. 

  5. But a lot of this post is true. Many Filipinos, thought that they came from Indonesia or Malaysia. They still teach it in Filipino schools, and they even teach that Filipinos are ethnic Malays, which is again; a disputed topic. The old fact was that, Malays from Indonesia and Malaysia sailed and came north and inhabited the Philippines and created the people we come to know as “Filipinos” and this is why many Filipinos consider themselves as ethnic Malays. However, new findings now show it’s the other way around. That, a group from southern China migrated to Taiwan and then to the Philippines and then later to Malaysia and Indonesia. So there was really no such thing as “Malays”, however there was supposively a Chinese kingdom called “Malayu”. They reached the Philippines and became Filipinos, then to Borneo where they became Malays. So instead, Filipinos aren’t ethnic Malay or “Malaysian/Indonesian” by decent but rather Malaysians/Indonesians in Borneo and Sulawesi are Filipino by descent. Gotta remember not all Malaysians and Indonesians are Malays. About 30% of Malaysians are Indians, more than 50% of Indonesians are Javanese not Malay. Ethnic Malays also have some Indian in them, this I don’t know why. I’ve seen many ethinc Malays, their facial features and body builds look much more typical to Indian and Pakistanis than the typical Malay.

    So, either way is a good reason for calling Filipinos ethnic Malays. We share a lot of similiarities with Indonesian and Malaysian culture, but too much differences. Malay and Filipino do have a lot of cognates and loanwords, but they have too much false cognates and they aren’t the same language either, Filipino is a form of Tagalog not Malay. Indonesian is a form of Malay. Also, most Filipinos bear English and Spanish names (due to Spanish and American colonization), and have lost touch with the Malay naming system.

  6. mother nature reveals all things … let those who have eyes see… isis… all of humanity originates from the darkness of its mothers womb … light is darknes … if u doubt this try what white people …like  myself i may add… call sunbathing . its amazeing to read how much u hate ur self and ancestors … i would like to point out to u that the bushmen of africa speak the oldest known language on this planet … i invite u to have a look for ur self … i have no doubt that u wil notice the distinct facial and body similarities
    like unto ur self.. in closing … human features… if im right… most of us were born head first … and spanked on our ass…so that we would cry out and take a deep gulp of  oxygen … that races thru vital organs at warp speed towards …”IT…”  THE MOST HIGH … KING OF KINGS … CREATOR OF ALL THINGS …THE KINGDOM … OR THE KING DOME OF GOD … YES MY FRIENDS … THE BRAIN… oh yeh i forgot ..let me thank the creator for my big nose … the more oxygen the better the brain works…  oh yeh people …if u would  tilt  ur massive dark heads back and look up towards the heavens … preferably at night..u… will see that the universe is black all 24hrs of the day …so as it is above shall it be below.  in conclusion i would like to make a small wager… that most women and men that read this … think ur powerfull and sexy when you my friends are wearing black!   …. its been nice   chatting with u ..but i gotta get the hell out hear… peace!!    

  7. Yes yes. Malays came from an origin in Taiwan to the Philippines. Do not believe anybody saying that “Malays..came from Indonesia and Malaysia and sailed up to the Philippines and occupied and inhabited the islands”. There is one term I can describe for this, “BOGUS”! They still teach it in Philippine schools. Malays are basically Filipino by descent. Filipinos are NOT Indonesian/Malaysian by descent.

  8. Guys, I believed that all the comments above were all imaginary history. for your own fact information there’s no such Filipino or philippines, only philippines got its birth and name after king Felippe of Spain conquered the several Island, now known called Luzon, bisayas & mindanao.and the peoples of Luzon and Bisayas surrendered to Spain and converted to Christianity and accepted the country name Philippines from wrote word (Felipe) King Feleppe. So filipinos stop arguing the history of our country because only it reminds the cowardliness of the peoples of Luzon & Bisaya otherwise if they don’t surrendered there will be no name philippines. we native of mindanao never surrendered to American, Spain and japanese, that is why we still called Bilaan, Tiruray & other native of the land. Our clans fought side by side with the muslim (Moros) in mindanao in depending our island from aggressor. Mindanao never been under american, spain and Japanese and originally not a part of the Philippines, because the peoples here in Mindnao not surrendered with King Felippe. So end the wrong history of the Philippines, and don’t implicate malaysia and Indonesia and other countries with your false history. Talking about negretos and Aetas, actually they are not originally negretos but they look alike but they are orinally inhavitants of the Island which is no name that time, before King felippe reached to these Islands.

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