[Updated September 2020] For some reason, this is one of the most-visited (and commented) posts on this site and it was time for a better contextualisation of this article. The link from the Philippine Inquirer (dated 12 February 2008) is no longer active – it is an opinion piece by Vincent Cabreza summarising a paper presented by Lawence Reid from the University of Hawaii about the misrepresentation of indigeneity in the Philippines and the Austronesian migration. The then(?)-common view is that all Filipinos are descendants of a migratory Austronesian (“Malay”) population. However, prior to this migration of of Austronesian-speaking peoples into Southeast Asia, there were already other peoples living across Southeast Asia – the ancestors of the so-called negritos.
Reid’s paper, Who are the Indigenous? Origins and Transformations can be accessed here. The paper discusses the idea of indigeneity in the Philippine context, and reviews the linguistic and archaeological evidence for the Austronesian migration from Taiwan or Southern China into the rest of Southeast Asia. I have included a larger quote from the end of Cabreza’s piece for clarity, as well as updated the recommnded books list.
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.
[Added September 2020, part of Cabreza’s original story] Reid says: “It is simply not true that the ancestors of Ifugaos or any Cordilleran peoples or of the Tagalogs or other lowland groups are descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines.”
“When your ancestors first arrived in these islands, they were not unoccupied. They were occupied by maybe hundreds of groups of Negritos, most of who have been completely assimilated or have died out,” he says. He says scientists have located 25 present-day groups of Negrito stock who still thrive, although they are on the brink of extinction themselves.
Reid says the latest United Nations policy subscribes to the definition that indigenous peoples are “original inhabitants of a country, who inhabited the present territory of a country, at a time when persons of a different culture or ethnic origin arrived there.”
Negritos are “the true first Filipinos” who date back to 50,000 years, he says, while the Ifugao ancestors who reputedly built the world heritage enshrined rice terraces appeared to have arrived only 4,000 years ago “as their first colonizers.”
“It is these first Filipinos who are the most downtrodden and socially marginalized of all Filipinos, and most in need of urgent action to enable them to survive in this society,” he says.
The Cordillera no longer hosts Negrito tribes, although Reid says anthropologists have found evidence that Alta Negritos of the Sierra Madre used to thrive in the Ifugao mountains.
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?
– First Islanders: Prehistory and Human Migration in Island Southeast Asia
– Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago: Revised Edition
– Philippine and Chamorro Linguistics Before the Advent of Structuralism (Koloniale Und Postkoloniale Linguistik / Colonial and Postco)
– Philippine minor languages;: Word lists and phonologies, (Oceanic linguistics special publication)
– The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives
– Paths of Origins: The Austronesian Heritage