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  batak
by: Christine Abriza
       
 
       
     
     
     
  The word "Batak" is said to be an old Cuyunon term which means "mountain people." The Spaniards used to refer to these people as "Tinitianes," from a place called Tinitian on the coast north of Puerto Princesa. The Batak are the smallest of the three major Palawan groups.  They also appear to be the most endangered, their population having progressively decreased over the years. In the early 1900s, they numbered around 600 (Miller 1905:183). By 1970 the number of Batak mother-tongue speakers had dwindled to 393 (Llamzon 1978:112). Batak or Binatak is the language spoken by this group.  Unlike the two other groups, the Palawan and Tagbanua, the Batak have not adopted the ancient syllabary and script of Indic derivation, despite the fact that their ancestral territory adjoins the Tagbanua cultural area.
The Batak live mainly in small settlements near Puerto Princesa, close to the coastal villages of Babuyan, Tinitian, and Malcampo.  Mich of their traditional habitat is mountainous country, particularly the region of Honda Bay. In recent times, they have lived in several river valleys of Babuyan, Maoyon, Tanabag, Tarabanan, Laingogan, Tagnipa, Caramay, and Buayan. But this dispersed habitat only serves to underscore their scant poulation, since each Batak group would only have a maximum of 91 and a very low minimum of 10 members, with at least two of eight groups having more part-Batak members (unmarried offsprings of exogamous marriages) than full-Batak ones (Eder 1978:105). Batak territory includes a narrow plains area abutting into the north Sulu Sea, where the Batak come down to during the rainy season.
Because of their physical characteristics, the Batak have been classified as a Phillippine Aeta group, or as having Aeta affinities (Eder 1977:12). An early account described the Batak as resembling somewhat the Aeta in other parts of the Philippines, but having more physical resemblances with the Semang and Sakai of the Malay peninsula, with their long and kinky hair, hirsute faces and bodies, small stature but well-formed bodies (Miller 1905:183).

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History

The exact origins of the Batak have not been determined. Based on their Aeta characteristics, it can be assumed that they comprise the remnants of a formerly more numerous group of Aeta who settled in Palawan in an early period (Miller 1905:186). What is known is that for a long period, they were a nomadic group roaming vast areas in the north, settling in a place long enough to find food, then moving on to other places to continue hunting and gathering. They were described in early accounts as a very timid and peaceable people, who avoided contact with foreigners. While the Batak have reside in coastal villages during certain periods, thy lived exclusively in the interior upland northern Palawan in the earlier days.
Despite contacts with other Palawan groups and settlers from other islands, Batak material culture has not changed from its seminomadic character.  Only a few woven material and several basket types are produced by them. Although very much isolated, the Batak have had training relations with outsides, such as neighboring groups or the Christian settlers along the coast.  Through these brief and intermittent contacts, the Batak have learned a little Cuyunon and Tagalog.
Batak society has been severely affected by disease and malnutrition due to poverty, by the continuing influx of settlers form Luzon and the Visayas who occupy an increasing area of Palawan's vast tracts of land, and by the opening of the northern mountain regions of Palawan to logging operations by capitalists and politicians. Their reduced population, and the altered ways of some members of their group due to acculturation or displacement, has been accompanied by a decline in the material conditions of life, as well as in the dynamism of whatever artistic expression they traditionally posessed.
As pointed out in the a recent study of change in Batak society, the Batak-as in the case of all other Philippine Aeta groups- have been critically influenced and affected by contact with the outside world, and the effect has been noted in their "subsistence economy, socioterritorial organization, and ritual life," with the ultimate consequences that Batak society has been sapped of its reproductive viability and robbed of its actual distinctiveness. The consequence is that "the Batak today are literally disappearing people, and much that was unique in their traditional culture has been irretrievably lost," (Eder 1977:12).

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Religious Beliefs and Practices

Like other Aeta groups in the Philippines, the Batak are an animist group.  They believe in good and bad spirits who dwell in trees, rocks, and mountains. some of these spirits are Batungbayanin, spirit of the mountains; Paglimusan, spirit of the small stones; Balungbunganin, spirt of the almaciga trees; and Sulingbunganin, spirit of the big rocks. In Batak cosmogony, there are gods who are to be feared, because of the retribution they can inflict upon mortals; there are also gods to be thanked for many favors they give to people.  In old Batak lore, there was a god named Maguimba, who in remotest times lived among the people, having been summoned by a powerful babaylan, and he supplied all the necessities of Batak life, as well as all the cures for illness. He even had the power to bring the dead back to life. 
The Batak believe that good deities guide them in their hunt, provide them with good harvests, and keep them in good health. Foremost of these benevolent gods is Diwata, who provides for the needs of men and women, and gives out rewards for good deeds.  A deity named Angoro lives in basad, a place beyond this world where the souls of the dead go, and it is there where they come to know if thy are to proceed to lampanag (heaven) or be cast into depths of the basad, where fire and boiling water await these ha[pless ones. The malevolent deities cause sickness, bodily harm, crop failures, misfortunes, and even death, to those who disobey their will or transgress upon their places of abode.  There are also lesser gods in the Batak pantheon, some of whom are Siabuanan, Bankakah, Paraen, Buengelen, and Baybayen, deities of great strength.
The Batak believe in a principal soul which resides in the head of a person, and four other minor ones.  During sickness, the soul leaves the body, and it is only the shaman, performing the necessary rituals, who can recall the soul and bring back the man to health and life.
Because they are beholden to their deities, who must be placated, supplicated, or invoked in whatever life activity they are engaged in, the Batak perform rites and ceremonies that maintain the links between their natural and social world, and the world of the spirits. They have rituals which may be considered smaller-scale versions of the Tagbanua's diwata or inim, and it is likely that it was from the latter group that they learned such practice. They make use of incantations, and depend on a male babaylan who performs ritual daces. Music is provided by female instrumentalists who pound on rudimentary drums, and strike bamboo tubes with sticks.
Sanbay is a ritual in honor of Diwata, who asked by the people to bless them with generous harvests of palay (unhusked rice) and honey. This ritual takes place inside a forest, about 2-3 km from the beach. Two huts are constructed for the ritual. Palay is placed in one of these huts. A replica of a beehive, meanwhile, is situated in another small hut. Prayers are recited to Diwata by the babaylan, after which the people in attendance gather together in festive eating, drinking, and dancing.
In considering the natural environment as the abode of spirits, the Batak have adopted certain attitudes towards objects. For instance, no Batak will cut down a balete tree without first asking the spirit who lives in the tree if it is quite willing to transfer to another tree. To ascertain the spirit's response, a stick is leaned against the tree. The following day, the Batak come back for the spirit's answer. A stick lying on the ground means no, the spirit cannot move out and therefore the tree cannot be felled, while a stick still upright against the trunk means yes, the spirit has moved on and the Batak have its permission to cut down the balete tree (Llamzon 1978:113).

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Visual Arts and Crafts 

The traditional costume of the Batak is simple, consisting mainly of bark cloth which they prepare from a species of mulberry tree.  For the lower-body covering of the men, long strips of bark are cut, the outer portion removed, and the fibrous part pounded until it becomes a soft fluffy material.  The men wear it by winding it around their waistline, down between the legs and back, with the loose ends tucked in and allowed to hang out. The Batak male usually has two sets of bark cloth.  One is for everyday use, and is undecorated.  The other is decorated and colored, usually yellow and red, colors extracted form vegetable dyes. Tied to his bark cloth is a small rattan or bamboo container for tobacoo and betel nut. He wears his hair long and uncombed, and occasionally winds a headband around his hair. Another accoutrement on his body is a bamboo pouch which contains the necessary fire-making elements of flint and steel and, sometimes, tobacoo. He is not usually given to ornamentation, although he sometimes puts on narrow bracelets, armbands, and small rings, Often, he would be sporting a tattoo on his chest or arms.

The women fashion their lower body covering out the same kind of material, except that being skirtlike, their bark cloth is wider and wound around their lower body, and loosened in front. Some have acquired cotton cloth which is then cut into a variation of the tapis (wraparound). Like the menfolk, Batak women do not cover their upper torso. Adult women usually strap a band around their waist, made of several rings of colored rattan strips. To their tapis belt is tied a container for their betel chew and tobacoo leaves. During special occasions such as feasts, Batak women put decorations on their hair, usually colored bands festooned with flowers, colored leaves, and grasses. They may also tuck fragrant roots into their waistline. Rattan ringlets an dmetal anklets are worn around their wrists and ankles respectively, while red-and-black seed necklaces with attached squirrel's tails hanging from the Batak are also sported (Orosa-Goquingco 1980:113). At the age of seven, Batak women start having their heads about 5 cm from the hairline of the forehead, in a semicircle from one ear to the other.
A few Batak men have retained the practice of body tattoing. The tattoo design is called sipra or marka (from the Spanish marca, "mark"). The tattoo is applied to the skin of the arm or chest with a sharp pointed piece of bamboo or a needle, which has been dipped in soot obtained from the smoke of burning oil or fat. Tattooing is a painful process, but Batak men who sport them undergo the process as a ritual manhood, and for the beauty of the designs. The Batak have a fetish called tapa, an object which they believe possesses the power toward evil. About 20 cm long, it could be made from roots, herbs, and cotton ball tassels.

 
 
 
  Another origin story similar to the first ends with an explanation of how fire came to the Batak. Once there was an old man who had two sons. One day, the old man fell asleep, and as he did so, his penis was exposed. Seeing this, the younger son began laughing. The older son reprimanded him, saying, "why are you laughing?" and he proceeded to cover up his sleeping father with a piece of cloth. The father soon woke up, and simply said to his younger son, "You shall become a Batak," and boy turned into an ugly man wearing a loincloth. He had become the first Batak. On the other hand, the older son grew up to become a wise and wealthy man. Then the old man said to the son who had turned into a  Batak: "If you cannot find a stone, a piece of steel, and tinder, it will be impossible for you to build a fire." Hearing these words, the son went to the river to look for a stone. Then he went to the forest where he found the tinder, and after some more searching, he found a piece of steel. He struck the stone with the steel while holding them both close to how the first fire was made by the first Batak.
According to Batak folklore, woman did not  come from man but man come from woman. Once there was an old man with two sons. He sent them out to the fields to watch over his trees, warning them not to eat the fruits of those trees. But the younger son disobeyed. He ate some of the fruits, and after some time, grew breasts on his body. When the older son saw what was happening, he was surprised, but liked what he saw. Later, he married the woman who used to be his brother. And this was the first marriage. 
Like other groups which have rice as a staple, the Batak have a very interesting story about the origin of rice which, curiously enough, explains the origin of plates. There was a man and woman in the earliest days. They had a child. Food was hard to come by. One night in a dream, the man was told to kill their child and plant it in the field. As soon as he awoke, the man proceeded to cut up his child into tiny pieces. He scattered the pieces of flesh all over the field. In time the pieces began to sprout, and the first palay of the Batak came forth. Then the man gathered the bones of the child and scattered than all over the field, where they turned into bandi (plates). And so the Batak came to own plates, which they would use to pay for fines or the bride-price. 
Another story explains the origin of certain customs, in this case one associated with wakes for the dead. There was a man who died. His relative placed his corpse on the floor of the house and began mourning. For two days they mourned, and on the second night the corpse began to move. It suddenly sat and stood up, and proceeded to eat the people attending his wake. A man was able to escape. He ran outside and shouted for help. He dashed back inside, grabbed a pole, and hit the corpse with it. The corpse, who was still devouring the people, suddenly went dead again. More people arrived and they tied down the corpse on the floor, and placed the pole across its chest. The corpse never moved again. To this day, the Batak still tie a pestle across the body of a dead person. 

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Performing Arts

In placating and supplicating the divinities spirit world, the Batak use incantations, music, and dance in ritual performances.  For these, they depend on a male babaylan wo performs magdiwata (ritual songs) and magtarek (dances).  Music is provided by female instrumentalists who pound on rudimentary drums, and strike bamboo tubes with sticks.  The drums, called kalag, are usually made from dried animal skin drawn tight over a piece of hollowed wood, and lashed to it by means of a coiled rattan ring.  Other musical instruments used are the tipano, a 47cm long flute with six fingerholes, made from a small diameter bamboo intermode; the sabagan, a piece of li-it softwood about 3 m long, played by means of drumstick-shaped pieces of wood; and the lampung, also a wooden instrument suspended from the house beams like the sabagan.  There is also mention of the guimbal, agong, and bobandil instruments in relation to the magdiwata ritual.  Moreover, the Batak have three special instruments:  the lantoy, a nose flute with two holes; the kodian, which is about 1.8 m long with two barks of fiber, and used as the traditional accompaniments in the singing of the "Abellano"; and the budlong, a guitarlike two-stringed instrument.  The set tunes of the magdiwata songs are euphonic; for instance:
A-u-na,
A-i-yo,
A-ye-a,
A-e-na.
During the healing rites, the babaylan goes into a trance by lying flat on the ground and singing the sukilan, the wawaen, and the runduman.  In this state he dances with vigor and power.  At one point, he stands still, almost motionless; then he starts to shake and tremble, taking small steps at a time as he continues on to bigger and more strenuous steps.  Dancing stops only when he falls exhausted and out of breath.  He then announces the best cure for the ailing person.  This usually entails an animal sacrifice, and the recitation of prayers to appease the offended diwata.  Another healing dance is called the kendar, which is also performed by a male shaman while in a trance.  Sometimes the kendar is performed during the rice harvest rituals.
The tarek is another traditional dance performed by a farmer and his family as part of a preplanting ritual to ask the diwata of the fields to guard the newly opened fields and to bring a good harvest.  Before the tarek is danced, food and animal offerings are placed on field altars set up for the ritual.  Both the kendar and the tarek as well as dances called leyan-leyan and sadonkaya are performed by the babaylan.  The women do not participate in ceremonial dances although they are familiar with the routines.
Three dances exemplify the present Batak hierarchy of dances:  the sarunkay, the first dance executed by the healer during the healing ritual, the bugsay-bugsay, an enjoyable dance for one or more persons; and the patarusan, considered the highest in the hierarchy as it is the fastest and most exciting but perhaps the easiest to learn.  These dances can be complex, with much stomping while the arms hang loosely at the dancer's side or are crossed at the back or even raised from the elbow (as in an inverted T position).
The prototheatrical rituals of the Batak are represented by the magdiwata and magtarek, performed to appease spirits through song and dance; kuma, the group reidentification ritual; runsay, the group ancestral spirit worship ritual; kambay, the thanksgiving ritual; and sagda, the vengeance ceremony (Warren 1940).  There are also dance enactments of the bees search for honey, battle scenes and courtship episodes.  A common version of the latter is that in which the girl pretends to spurn the advances of her suitor, a comical piece mostly improvised.   E. Maranan

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References

Calderon, Mary Jane. "The Basketry of the Batak." Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. Vol XIV, (1986).

Cuadria, Nick C. Palawan Ethnographic Catalogue. Ethnographic Catalogue No 3. Manila: National Museum, 1985.

Eder, James F. "Prtrait of a Dying Society: Contemporary Demographic Conditions Among the Batak of Palawan." Philippine Quarterly Culture and Society, No 5, (1977).

____________. On the Road to Tribal Extinction: Depopulation, Deculturation, and Adaptive Well-being Among the Batak of the Philippines. University of Caligornia University Press, 1978.

Krieger, Herbert W. Peoples of the Philippines. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, (1942), plate 17, 64/65.

Lane, Robert. Philippine Basketry: An Appreciation. Manial : Bookmark Inc, 1986.

Llamzon, Teodoro A. Handbook of the Philippine Language Groups. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1978.

Miller, Edward Y. The Bataks of Palawan. Ethnological Survey Populations. Manila: Department of the Interior, 1905.

Orosa-Goquingco, Leonor. Dances of the Emerald Isles. Quezon City: Ben-lor Publishers, 1980.

Regional Map of the Philippines IV-B. Manila: Edmundo R. Abiyan Jr, 1988. 

Warren, Charles P. The Batak of Palawan: A Culture in Transition. Reaearch Series No 3. Chicago: University of Illinois Yndergarduate Division, 1964

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