Commonly referred to as Negritos, Agtas do belong to the Negrito ethnolinguistic group. There are many Agta tribes, scattered over Regions I to V in the island of Luzon.
Agtas are characteristically small, dark-skinned, curly-haired, and small-nosed. Their traditional clothing is tapis (skirt) for women and bahag (breechcloth) for men. Breastfeeding mothers wear uban, a piece of fabric slung from the shoulders. Most men scar their bodies, using various designs that have been passed down to them by their ancestors. Today, most Agtas have abandoned their tribal attire for “civilized” clothes.
Traditional Agta houses are built in clusters and made from indigenous materials such as bamboo, wood, talahib (cogon), coconut leaves, and abaca bark. Agtas as young as 14 marry the partner chosen by their parents. Hunting is their main means of subsistence. They use pointed sticks called galud to kill birds, wild deer, monkeys, and wild pigs. Agtas exchange part of the meat and some forest products for starchy food and other goods with nearby farmers. Their other traditional means of livelihood are farming and fishing. Today, however, many Agtas take on seasonal jobs, such as copra and charcoal making, and gold panning.
The Agtas worship the spirits of their ancestors or Anitos; their rituals include dances and a depiction of hunting movements. They have no formal leaders. The old males in their community only serve as consultants for arbitration purposes.
The spiritual, health, livelihood, education, and literacy needs of the Agtas are a big challenge to the government.
The Agtas occupying Southeastern Luzon includes the following:
Alabat Island Agta
The few remaining Alabat Island Agtas (also known as Inagta Alabat) are concentrated on the east of Quezon Province in CALABARZON Region, mostly on the said island.
Camarines Norte Agta
The Camarines Norte Agtas (also known as Manide or Abiyan Agta) reside in Santa Elena and Labo, Camarines Norte (Bicol Region). One of four endangered Negrito populations, whose numbers are dwindling at a very rapid pace, the tribe faces extinction in the near future unless drastic steps are taken to preserve their language and culture.
Casiguran Dumagat Agta
The Casiguran Dumagat Agtas can be found on the eastern coast of Aurora Province in Central Luzon Region.
Central Cagayan Agta
Northeastern Luzon, particularly Cagayan and Isabela in Cagayan Valley, are the habitations of the Central Cagayan Agtas.
The Dicamay Agtas became extinct in the 1960s, one of two tribes that ceased to exist in the 20th century. They once resided along the Dicamay River west of the Sierra Madre Mountains, near Jones, southern Isabela (Cagayan Valley).
Most Dupaninan Agtas live in Cagayan Valley, (Region II) in northeast Luzon, from Divilacan Bay in northeastern Isabela Province to Palaui Island, north of Cagayan Province.
The Isarog Agtas (also known as Inagta Partido) live on Mt. Isarog, east of Naga City in Camarines Sur, Bicol Region. This tribe is by far the most endangered ethnolinguistic Negrito population, as only a few remain today.
Mt. Iraya Agta
The Mt. Iraya Agtas reside east of Lake Buhi in southern Camarines Sur, Bicol Region. One of four endangered Negrito populations, whose numbers are dwindling at a very rapid pace, the tribe faces extinction in the near future unless drastic steps are taken to preserve their language and culture.
Mt. Iriga Agta
The Mt. Iriga Agtas (also known as Inagta Rinconada) reside west of Lake Buhi in southern Camarines Sur Bicol Region. The tribe is also on the endangered list, although there are still substantial members remaining (unlike neighbors east of Lake Buhi, the Mt. Iraya Agtas).
Umiray Dumaget Agta
The Umiray Dumaget Agtas were originally found in the coastal areas of Aurora (Central Luzon Region) and Quezon Provinces (CALABARZON Region). However, new settlers pushed them up the mountains, where they broke down into small groups. At present, the Umiray Dumaget Agtas are dispersed throughout Quezon and live in permanent settlements, no longer semi-nomadic. The Umiray Dumaget Agtas have the largest population among all Agta tribes, estimated at 3,000.
The Villaviciosa Agtas once resided in Villaviciosa, western Abra (CAR), near the Ilocos Sur border. The Villaviciosa Agtas are one of two Negrito ethnolinguistic populations that became extinct in the past century.