The Batangan Mangyan

The Batangan Mangyan inhabit the interior of the Philippines‘ island of Mindoro. Along with the Bangon, they are the most traditional and isolated of all the Mangyan peoples, several thousand of them having no contact with the outside world whatsoever.

Batangan Mangyan men preparing rice, interior Mindoro, the Philippines

Batangan Mangyan men preparing rice, interior Mindoro, the Philippines

The Batangan villages are mostly further inland than those of the the Alangan Mangyan, between one and three days’ walk from the coast. The least traditional of the Batangan live near the coast where there are a few villages that have been converted to Christianity, whose children go to school and who mostly wear Western clothes. Even these are very shy and I would greatly discourage anyone from turning up there without having arranged a guide first through either missionaries, the Mangyan Heritage Center in Calapan or the Mangyan Mission in San Jose. These people will, of course, want a very good reason for helping you visit the Batangan.

Further inland are some villages of unchristianized Batangan who nevertheless occasionally send a few of their members to the lowlands to trade with the Alangan or even all the way to Sablayan. Everyone in these communities wears only traditional dress apart from two or three men in each community of 200 who are the ones that get sent to the lowlands. These each wear an old T-shirt on their top half and a loincloth on their bottom half. While all other men wear loincloths, women wear G-strings made of tree bark and a sheet of tree bark over their breasts which they take off when in their own house. The children in these communities do not go to school, nobody speaks English or Tagalog and they do not allow outsiders into their villages unless accompanied by a trusted Batangan or Alangan.

I was the first outsider allowed into one of these communities, because my girlfriend at the time was reporting for the BBC and the Mangyan Mission was keen to get some coverage to help raise awareness of a mine that is poisoning the Mangyans’ rivers. It nevertheless took about three months of traveling back and forth between different NGOs and missionary groups and passing on letters of recommendation, etc. Finally I got taken to an Alangan village where the Batangan’s only two trusted outsiders lived, they traveled to the Batangan to ask permission for my visit, I got accepted and three weeks after arriving at that Alangan village I was on my way to the Batangan. So visiting these isolated groups of Batangan is not really an option unless you have a good reason and plenty of time, patience and local contacts.

Further inland from these groups live those Batangan who have absolutely no contact with the outside world and never leave the mountains and forests of interior Mindoro. These will run away from anyone wearing clothes even if they arive with a trusted Batangan, believing them to be cannibals.

The most isolated group of Batangan, of whose existence I learned from the other Batangan communities I visited, lives in a cave and goes completely naked. Their diet consists only of fruits, plants and vegetables as well as what animals they can kill with their only tools – stones. They throw stones at anyone, even other Batangan, that comes near them.

Why the Batangan are so terrified of outsiders most likely has to do with a number of factors. Firstly, they originally lived on the coasts but were driven inland hundreds of years ago when other Filipino immigrants arrived, a process which is still continuing today as the coastal populations expand into Mangyan lands. In more recent decades they have suffered serious abuses at the hands of the New People’s Army rebels who hide out in the island’s interior and the Japanese who occupied the island during World War Two. So even those Mangyan groups considered “ucontacted” are well aware of the existence of outsiders and, due to their own experience, terrified of them.

Click here for my blog about the Batangan Mangyan. It’s 4208 words and 24 photos.

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