Ethnic Groups of the Philippines

Can Education Help Preserve Tingguian Culture?

Abreños Performing Tani, A Tingguian Courtship dance
Image from The Province of Abra website

24 December 2019

BAGUIO, Philippines – The Philippines is home to numerous ethnic communities sharing a remarkable history that has shaped and continues to shape the lives of various individuals. People as well as organizations have recently started capturing the beauty of these ethnic groups as technology and intercultural practices give birth to a diverse connection of culture, tradition, belief, and history. However, despite the rising appreciation of the beauty of such practices, it is not entirely effective in ensuring that the communities and their residents survive the challenges of the times; that is, the preservation of their own culture alongside their modern needs and societal changes.

For instance, the Tingguian, one of the hundreds of ethnic groups in the country, face troubling concerns of losing memories of their own history and culture. They may have been residents of the Northern regions of Luzon for decades and even centuries, but as the people grew more accustomed to new environments, the more difficult it became to incorporate their ancestors’ beliefs and traditions. This is not an exclusive case for their group but more of a pressing matter troubling numerous ethnic communities within and outside the Philippines.

Who are the Tingguian?

The origin of the word Tingguian can be traced back to the Malaysian word tinggi/tingue, which means “high” or “elevated,” or pertaining to mountains. This association is related to the homes of the first tribes in the northern regions of the Philippines, as they refer to themselves as Itneg or Idaya-as. However, the Spanish colonizers of the country used the term Tingguians to mean “mountain dwellers,” which gradually described different tribes in the region. This later became a collective term for the people of Abra.

Presently, the Tingguian people have 12 subgroups: Agta/Negrito, Adasen, Balatoc, Banao, Belwang, Binongan, Gubang, Inlaud, Mabaka, Maengs, Masadiit, and Mayudan. The diversity of these communities belonging to one ethnic group shows how the members have reached various districts of the northern region and how they each tried to build their own system. The members of the Tingguian ethnic group are connected through their ethnolinguistic backgrounds, which help them communicate. For instance, they understand the spoken words of other subgroups even though they cannot actually speak the language.

The Agta Tribe of the Sierra Madre

Nonetheless, having to work together in preserving their age-old practices, customs, traditions, beliefs, and their entire culture is a huge challenge. The tribespeople of Tingguian are not the only ones burdened with this. It is something that many minority members experience. However, if there’s a way to educate the members of the Tingguian community, is that enough to help them appreciate and value their customs, traditions, and unique ethnic identity?

The Cry Of The Stomach, A Loss For A Community

The numerous indigenous groups in the Philippines, including the Tingguians, have a rich history. Even with the efforts to preserve their cultural treasures and practices, these indigenous people are continually forced to make a choice between feeding their empty stomachs and giving up their cultural identity. Members of the majority community often persuade hungry farmers to give up their ancestral lands to them.

As this kind of system continues, individuals and organizations try to reach out to the ethnic communities. These efforts are often in combination with a means to educate both young and old members of these communities.

More than A Vision

The Tingguians are part of a community that is gradually being educated. Individuals and practitioners share their expertise to incorporate different music, historical accounts, and other traditional practices in school programs. This may seem like a small step, but it is a step in the right direction to help in the preserve their culture.

The question now is, how does this move affect the community? Would it be enough to make a dent in the current flow of the changing times? Or would it be a mere thread of hope for the preservation of one of the northern region’s indigenous wonders?

Awareness and active participation from the Tingguians are needed. The elders are the key to connecting the present to the past. Education may not only be provided to the younger ones but to the more experienced members of the community.

Image from The Province of Abra website,


AUTHOR: Ethnic Groups Philippines