by: Christine Abriza
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).
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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