Palawan Culture

The Palawan culture is characterized by the different influences of cultures that are interwoven through the ages with the already existing cultures on the island.


  • Introduction
  • Culture Palawan
  • Tribes on Palawan


Palawan is known as the cradle of Philippine society. This is due to the discovery of human remains in a cave in Palawan, called the Tabon Cave. In this cave, a team of anthropologists found artwork and different human skeletal remains that are probably more than twenty thousand years old. It is believed that the Tagbanua and the Palawano, the two remaining tribes in Palawan, are direct descendants of the Tabon people.

Archaeologists have determined that the deceased were buried in Palawan in pots about five thousand years ago. There are about fifteen hundred burial jars and a wall painting of a funeral procession recovered. The burial jars were nicely decorated. The Manunggul pot is one of the most beautiful art objects from the pre-colonial period in the Philippines. Five hundred years after Christ people were buried in pots in Palawan.

The Tagbanua and the Palawano tribes over the centuries were faced with influences from different cultures. This was due to the turbulent period in China between 220 and 263 AD. At that time there were many wars in China. The inhabitants of South China ran away for these wars and spread over the various islands in Asia, including the municipality of Palawan. These people were known as the Aetas and Nigritos, small dark people, which the Batak tribe is related to.

On Palawan, there was already an unofficial government and there was some sort of alphabet. There was also trade with sailors from China and Malaysia. This is proven by the discovery of Chinese pottery and other utensils. The first officially described trade relationship was between the people of Palawan and traders from China. There was a record found of a trade mission dating back to 982 AD. Especially swallow nests were a popular trade product for the Chinese.

In the twelfth century there was an influx of migrants from Malaysia who accelerated the economy on the island with the knowledge of agriculture. The Malaysians were growing different crops and kept pigs, goats and chickens. In the thirteenth century, a new stream of migrants from Indonesia came, which brought Buddhism and Hinduism with them.

The south of the island of Palawan is situated on Borneo which is why the south was under the authority of the Sultan of Brunei. Here, Islam was introduced.

In this period, increased trade and marriages were concluded between the original inhabitants and those with Chinese, Japanese, Arabic or Indian background.

The big change came in the culture on Palawan when Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan on March 16 discovered the first island in the Philippines. Magellan spread the Christian faith among the former residents. Lapu-Lapu, the ruler of Mactan, refused. Magellan was mortally wounded in the ensuing battle of Mactan and could escape with only a handful remaining Spaniards.

We now know a lot about this period by Antonio Pigafetta. He was a scholar of Venice who sailed with Magellan on his discovery. He has described many things, about the different cultures and society in Palawan. Pigafatta writes in his chronicles about the various inhabitants of Palawan. He also describes the government system, the different languages, the way of trade, weapons, hobbies and nature. So Pigafatta describes that people use spears and blowguns. He also describes the language, which consisted of three vowels and thirteen consonants according to him. He also describes a dialect with almost eighteen syllables. He also describes various sports and games including fist fighting and cockfighting.

Culture Palawan

The culture on Palawan can best be described as colorful and diverse. Throughout the ages there are different groups of people with different cultural backgrounds to Palawan arrived to build a new life. Already faced present strains with different cultures from countries such as China and Malaysia. These migrants brought with them knowledge which include was agriculture on the island in an acceleration of growth. Besides knowledge, these migrants also took new habits with them. Because marriages took place between existing tribes and immigrants, there was a cross-fertilization between different cultures. This has led to many cultures living together in harmony.

Currently there are about seventy different cultures present in the province. These cultures are a melting pot of different ethnic groups with influences from Asia, Spain and Africa. This mix of different cultures has a unique, colorful culture you won’t find anywhere else.

Palawan culture is characterized by a variety of different languages, beliefs, festivals, art forms and different tribes.


Different festivals are held in the province of Palawan. You can find the most popular ones hereunder.

  • Awarded festival: This festival is held from the 23rd till the 27th of January in Port Barton and is aimed at showing the beauty of the land
  • Baragatan festival: This festival is held two weeks before foundation day (23rd of june). In this festival different cultures converge in parades and markets.
  • Kulambo festival: This festival is held on every 18th day of March in El Nido. This is a festival where people dance in the streets of El Nido where they use a Kulambo (mosquito net) as a costume.
  • Pasinggatan festival: This festival is held from the 25th of April till the 4th of may in Taytay. The festival means appearance or jet. The purpose of the festival is that everybody shows their talents. A lot of dancing and nice food.
  • Puerto Princesa city Foundation day: This festival is held every 4th day of the month in Puerto Princesa with different activities in the area of culture and sports. There are multiple markets, singing and dancing and nice food.


Palawan has a national museum in which you can visit the various art objects of the island. The museum is located in Puerto Princesa.


The most common religion in Palawan is Roman Catholicism. Next to the Roman Catholic faith there is also the Protestant faith represented in the province. Further in the south of Palawan Island there is mostly the Islamic faith. Also Buddhism is represented in Palawan. The different tribes, including the Batak and Tagbanau hang on to an animistic belief or switched to a Christian denomination.


There are about 52 spoken languages and dialects in the province where Cuyonon and Tagalog are the main two languages.

Tribes in Palawan

Palawan is also home to several indigenous tribes. The best known tribes are the Tagbanua, the Palawano, the Taaw’t Bato, the Molbog and the Batak. There are also some lesser known strains including Agutayanos, the Ken-Uys, the Calamianes, the Cagayanos and deJama-Mapuns. All these different tribes, some of which are small in number, have an important role in the cultural heritage of Palawan.

Below, the main tribes are discussed briefly. There is also an extensive article from each tribe to read.


The Batak tribe lives in the northern part of the province of Palawan. The Batak tribe owes its name to the Cuyonons. In their language, Batak means “people of the mountains’. The Batak people are naturally peaceful and shy. They are close to nature and use the natural resources of the country to meet the daily needs.

The Batak people are also referred to as Tinitianes. One suspects that the Batak are closely related to the Negrito tribe. This is partly due to external similarities, such as the short curly hair and dark skin.

The Batak people are generally hunters. They also grow some crops. This occurs even in the old fashioned way. That means that a forest is cut down and then burned. This creates fertile soil in which they grow their crops. They act with others to get the products that they do not produce by themselves. The Batak people search rattan, honey and raisins in the jungle which they then sell to other products. In history, the Batak tribes had good trade relations with the Chinese.

The Batak have an animistic belief which means they believe in ghosts. The two main spirits are the Diwata and Paneyon. The Batak believe it is possible to communicate with the spirits. This is done through the Babaylan. The shaman treats diseases within the Batak tribe to put themselves into a trance.

Because many people from the Batak tribe rather marry outside their own community, the origin of Batak becomes rare. The Batak live a hard life and the fact that there is less land where they can live, the number of Batak people is greatly reduced.


The Cuyonons you can encounter in the northern and central parts of the island of Palawan. It is thought that the ancestors of this tribe in Malaysia and India came after they have settled in and around the Cuyo archipelago. The Cuyo archipelago lies in the Sulu Sea and belongs to the province of Palawan. From this island they have spread across the various islands nearby. A large number of Cuyonons live in and around the capital, Puerto Princesa.

The Spaniards at the time of the Spanish occupation had a base on the island of Cuyo. This allowed the Cuyonons to come into contact with the Christian faith early on. Many Cuyonons are also Roman Catholic or Protestant. In addition, animism has retained a place in this culture.

The Cuyonons believe in intercultural marriages. As a result, the Cuyonons are a mixture of different cultures. So they include Arabic, Jewish, Malaysian, Indian, Spanish and Chinese influences. Also there are marriages between different tribes taking place among the Batak, Palawans, Cagayanens, Tagbanuas, Molbogs, Parianean, and Agutaynons.

These people call themselves the Palaweños. The Cuyonons are the elite class among the Palaweños. The Cuyonon tribe has ten sub-tribes which all fall under the authority of chief Datus. Many Cuyonons are politically active and are looking for fame and success. The first Miss Philippines was a Cuyonon and the first female ambassador to the Philippines was also from the Cuyonon tribe.

The bulk of the Cuyonons are traditionally engaged in trade at sea and fishing. They had already been in contact with Chinese traders who were looking for swallow nests. The Cuyonons have their own language: the Cuyonon.


The Molbog tribe lives on the island of Balabac. Balabac is an island south of the island of Palawan. The Molbog are also called Molebuganon and Molebugan. Molbog is derived from the word Malubog, which means turbid water.

One suspects that the Molbogs were migrants from northern Borneo. On the northeast coast of Sabah, an endemic group of people called the Orang Tidung pr Tirum live. This is an Islamic community that closely resembles the Molbogs regarding culture and traditions. Many words match Tausung and Sama languages. The base language is Balabac Molbog.

Nowadays there are more and more marriages between Molbogs and Tausung tribes. This is partly because these two cultures are very similar. The children from these marriages are called kolibugan (mixed race).

The Molbogs have an Islamic belief. One suspects that this is because Balabac formerly belonged to the Sulu Sultanate. As a result, many Molbogs converted to Islam. The Christian faith is represented among the Molbogs. This is because Christian teachers have taught the Bible and so have been able to spread the religion among the people in Balabac.

The main source of income is fishing and agriculture. Also barter is very prevalent with people from Sabah and Sulu.


The Palawano tribe, also known as Pala’wan, live in the highlands of southern Palawan and belong to one of the oldest populations of the island. The Palawano people resemble the Tagbanau people. It is thought that they both descended from the same ancestors but have split apart because they lived in different areas in Palawan. The Palawano people live in the south of the island. For this reason they are also known as Teardrop, which means people of scattered places.

The Palawano community has several subgroups. One of the most famous is the Taaw’t Bato. It is also contemplated that the Ke’ney descended from the Palawano people. Ke’ney means ‘’fat people upstream”.

Most Palawano people are poor and earn their living by growing rice. There are also Palawanos engaged in mining and forestry. The Palawano are skilled hunters. There is still hunted on an old traditional way. This means with a bamboo blowpipe and darts. Most Palawano people do not go to school.

The Palawano tribes have different religions. Most have an animistic faith, but there are also those who have a mix of Islamic and Hindu beliefs. Others have Christian beliefs and gather in churches on their land since a long time ago.

The main language among the Palawano community is Palawano. The New Testament has even been translated into this language.


The Palaweños consist of two subgroups. These are the Agutayanon & Cuyonon. The Cuyonons are regarded as the elite, while the Agutayanons form the lower class.

The Agutayanons lifestyle is simple. The main source of income is agriculture. The Cuyonons are more disciplined, more religious and more ambitious.

The main religion is Christianity with animistic beliefs.


The Taaw’t-Bato is a small community belonging to the Palawano tribe living in the crater of an extinct volcano during certain periods of the year. The Taaw’t-Bato tribe lives in and around the Singnapan valley in eastern Palawan and on the coast of northern Quezon. They live in traditional houses made in caves. Hence the name Taaw’t Bato, which means “people who live on the rock.”

The Taaw’t-Bato are creative people. This is reflected in the clothes, in their work and in building their homes. The clothing is still primitive and Taaw’t-Bato do not wear much clothing. The women wear skirts made from a piece of cloth covering their lower body. women also sometimes wear a blouse, but this is not traditional. In contrast, men wear a string of bark and canvas. They are skilled at making baskets. They also use a lattice work of young trees to serve in the caves as a door, sleeping platform and granary.

Most Taaw’t-Bato people work in agriculture. They grow a variety of crops including sweet potato, malungay, pepper, sugar, garlic, pineapple, squash, bean and tomato. The Taaw’t-Bato have a high-carbohydrate diet which is supplemented with pork. In addition, trade is conducted. This may involve barter (sambi) as well as trading for money (Dagang). The Taaw’t-Bato trade in fish and forest products such as rattan and Almaciga.

The Taaw’t-Bato live in a complex society. First, there is group marriage: one man and one woman. Those living with multiple family groups. This is called a bulum-bulum. These often share the same cave or the same house and are in fact multi-households. The basic principle of these households is that they share everything among themselves, mainly food.

The Taaw’t-Bato love music. The music is made with the aid of two musical instruments. The kudlong and the kubing. One suspects that it is animistic beliefs to a large extent with what Christian faith influences.

To protect this culture, the Philippine government shielded these people from tourism. Yet it fails to keep back the ever advancing cultural changes.


The Tagbanuas, also called Tagbanwas, are the descendants of the Tabon people. These were the first inhabitants of Palawan. Tagbanua means “people of the world” and they live in the center and in the north of Palawan. The Tagbanuas from the central part of Palawan live in the west and the east side of the coastal area of the island of Palawan, the Calamian Tagbanua are living on the islands of Coron, Busuanga and Linapacan.

The Tagbanua grow rice, which they consider to be a gift from god. To honor their god there is a rice wine ceremony, called Pagdiwata. Minds and souls play an integral part in the culture of the Tagbanua. According to the Tagbanua there is a strong link between the living in this world and the dead. In faith there are different gods and goddesses. For these gods and goddesses there are annual festivals and celebrations. A hunter gets a “Mutya”  before he goes hunting which is a kind of talisman for luck.

The Tagbanua meet their living by making baskets and carvings. They are good at producing beautiful body accessories, including necklaces, bracelets, anklets and combs. These are made of wood copper, brass and beads. They also grow corn, sweet potato and cassava.

The Tagbanua speak different languages, including Tagalog, Aborlan Tagbanwa, Central Tagbanwa and Cuyonon. They also speak Palawano. Although there are different dialects spoken, the tribes understand each other well.

The Tagbanua have invented various instruments they use at performances. Among others there are the harp, drum, and various flutes including mouth and nose flutes. Some performances are religious but others are during meetings and parties. There are traditional dances in which there are different groups of dancers. There are dance groups consisting only of male dancers and have solo dancing women. The Tagbanua are reflected lovers of drama imitating various animals during performances.

Pigafetta wrote in his chronicles that Tagbanua people love brass rings, knives, thick wooden arrows, bells and chains. They also build hooks by means of iron wires. As well as arrows, bells and chains.