The Cuyunon tribe

The Cuyunon tribe is one of the tribes on the island of Palawan. The Cuyunons see themselves as the elite of the indigenous people of Palawan. The tribesmen are proud of their identity and their rich cultural past. The language of the Cuyunons is called Cuyunon. The language is dominated by words that consist of one syllable. It is primarily a spoken language. The Cuyunons owe their name to the island of Cuyo, where they come from. What the word “Cuyo” means remains a mystery. This island is about fifty square kilometers and is located northeast of Palawan.


  • The history of the Cuyunon tribe
  • The culture of the Cuyunon tribe

The history of the Cuyunon tribe

The history of the Cuyunons goes far back in time. One suspects that the Cuyunons are descendants of the ancient inhabitants of the areas around Indochina, southern China, Thailand and Malaysia. It is generally believed that Palawan was formerly associated with Borneo, from which these people have arrived overland at Palawan. The Cuyunons are known by several names, including Taga-Cuyo, the Cuyonon, the Cuyuno and Cuyunin.

The Cuyunons live in northern and central Palawan, the Calamian islands in the archipelago and on the islands around the island of Cuyo. Cuyo is an archipelago of five islands of which Cuyo Island is the largest island. This archipelago is located in the Sulu Sea between the islands of Palawan and Panay in.

The Cuyo Islands have for a long time been inhabited by people. First the Ati discovered these islands. The Ati tribe is descended from the Negritos. Around twelve hundred AD the Ati were joined by immigrants from Malaysia. These people were drawn from northern Malaysia and reached through the Visayas on the Cuyo Islands. These migrants came in contact with Chinese traders who used the island to stock up on supplies for the trip and for trade in bird nests. Chinese merchants exchanged stores and bird nests against porcelain and fabrics.

At that time Cuyo was known as Dapulo and it was one of the major trading posts in the region. Because it was an important trading post, there were merchants from afar to market their wares. So the people of Cuyo came into contact with many different peoples and cultures. Some traders from China and India settled on the island and the original population learned a lot about, for example shipping. The original inhabitants came into contact with the Moro. The Moro were wealthy Muslim traders from Malaysia and Brunei. These people were also familiar with shipping and trade.

In addition to sharing knowledge even relations between the original inhabitants and traders from different countries evolved. This created a unique blend of different cultures. Though this mix, the Cuyunon could develop into a flourishing society.

Everything changed in 1568 when the Spaniards arrived and demanded land. The Spaniards brought Christianity to the island. Because the Cuyunons had to deal with other cultures for centuries they had learned to adapt to new cultures and they managed to also adapt to the Spanish culture. During the more than three hundred years of Spanish rule the Cuyo island was home to the Spanish. The Spaniards built a fort, a harbor and a ten meter high wall to protect it.

After Spanish rule succeeded, the Cuyunons succeeded well enough to stand on their own feet. The Cuyunons settled outside the Cuyo archipelago and came to live on, for example, Palawan. Unlike other tribes in Palawan, the Cuyunons marry not only within their own tribe. Thus in Palawan there is a mix of different tribes who call themselves the Palaweños. The Cuyunons see themselves as the elite of this group.

The culture of the tribe Cuyunon

The Cuyunons belong, together with the Agutayanons and the Molbogs, until the Palaweños. Unlike most tribes in Palawan, the Cuyunons are known for their intercultural marriages including in Palawan with Tagbanuas, the Batak and the Palawans. This ensures that the Cuyunon tribe with approximately 240,000 people, is one of the largest ethnic groups of the population in the province of Palawan. The Cuyunons are considered to be the elite of the Palaweños.

There are four sub groups within the Cuyunon tribe. These are:

  • Paraguanen
    Paraguanen are the Cuyunons that live mainly on the island of Palawan (Paragua)
  • Poroanen
    Poroanen are the Cuyunons that live on the different islands around the island of Palawan
  • Mestiso
    Mestiso are the Cuyunons that are half Chinese and half Spanish.
  • Lakto
    Lakto are the Cuyunons that have not turned to the Catholic Faith and still believe in animism.


Feasts are important in the culture of the Cuyunons. Many things are celebrated, but the main celebrations are weddings, birthdays and celebrating the baptism. The Cuyunons love both dancing and music. The Cuyunons often go to church. There is also an annual festival called Komedy.

These people are social and love dancing and partying. Their functions are formal and grow with multiple opportunities for friendships and courtships. They love to celebrate weddings, birthdays and christenings. They often go to church for the traditional rituals and the main events. They roast a pig to show their gratitude when their wishes are granted.

Every year there is a village festival called Komedy. It is usually held in private homes for the elite class and on the square in front of the audience. The entrance is enough to earn profits to buy drinks. Cockfighting completes the celebrations, while the meals are often simple.


The Cuyunons absolutely love music. Several musical instruments are used including the batungtung, palakupakan, lantoy and subing. Also drums and stringed instruments are used as background music. A lot of the music has a religious meaning and will have influences from Christianity and Islam. Also there is a lot of dancing. The dance is a mix of Spanish and indigenous influences.


A Datu leads the Cuyunon tribe. There are several Datus selected on the basis of their problem solving skills. A Datu is consulted when there are disputes between people and possessions, for example. Currently there are ten Datus who jointly control the Cuyunon tribe. You are often a Datu for life but this title can not be carried over to your children.

Political influence

Their supreme Mangolo or Datu is Dumara who rules the Datu Council and presides over their meetings. They are also called Pinkamaelam. This position is gained through elections by other datus is not lifetime or hereditary. They are elected for 8 years.

Punong Datu is considered the District Datu of their tribe who is responsible for the appointing of the municipal datu and the following punong datu. He represents the district in the council of datus. The punong datu is elected as dumara. This is a hereditary and a lifetime position. They are called Kamamalaman and Mga Maelam in Banua.

A Datu is considered the Municipal Datu who is the ruler of the town of Cuyono tribe in the region of Palawan Island. It is divided among Barangay Chieftains. He presides over elder’s Municipal Council. They solve the issues related to personal relations or properties. This position is not hereditary but is lifetime. The person is elected on the basis of their problem solving talent and other useful skills.

Punong Tribo are Barangay Chieftains of Cuyonon tribe and they rule the Barangay. They are also selected through elections and the position is not a lifetime or hereditary position. They are known as mga Maelam-elam.

The Council of datus is the regional assembly of Cuyonon tribe. It is composed of the district Punong Datu and also Municipal Datu who decide all matters regarding the cuyonon tribe like family property and personal issues.

Today, they have 10 chiefs or Punong Datus who rule the Cuyonon tribe and 2 Plenipotentiaries Datus who comprise the Council of Datus. Their names are as follows:

  • Datu Higinio Clark Mendoza II
  • Datu Ferdinand Blanco
  • Datu Freddie Ponce de Leon II
  • Datu Andrei Ustares Acosta
  • Datu Wilfredo Magdayao
  • Datu Prospero Castro
  • Datu Jim Gerald Pe
  • Datu Rogelio Alili
  • Datu Robert Rover
  • Datu Felipe Acosta II
  • Plenipotentiaries Datu Franklin Solita
  • Plenipotentiaries Datu Fernando Macolor Cruz (Cabaylo II)


The majority of Cuyunons are Roman Catholic or Protestant. In addition, some Cuyunons have preserved their animistic beliefs.


Cuyonon is an official language and is used by many people on the island. In the eighties, forty percent of the people in Palawan spoke this language. Now you notice that Tagalog is increasingly becoming the dominant language and fewer people still speak Cuyonon.


Traditionally, Cuyunons work at sea and also live by the sea. Most men are fishermen and build boats to sail along the Sulu Sea. Shrimp are also caught and they are adept at searching for swallow nests. Now there are more and more people from the mainland of Palawan who switched to agriculture and cultivate rice, sweet potatoes, yams, corn and manioc. In the time that it is quiet on land, fishing for shrimp, crab, sea urchins, octopus, sea cucumber, jellyfish and seaweed is done.

Code of conduct

They have a lot of sayings and multiple beliefs that formed the most fundamental Codes of Conduct in their tribe. Here are a few of them:

  • Hindi magpaliyas sa lai
    This means that one should not go against the law or otherwise one would be cursed to death or chronic misfortune.
  • Magpamati sa iba
    This saying means that one should always listen to everyone and never be aggressive of one’s own opinions. One’s wisdom is a ‘gift’ and people should consider their elders as a blessing. One should respect women, children and old and consider their advices at the time of trouble.
  • Ang tanan tepeng
    It promotes the concept of equality among men. It urges people to respect a child and a older man equally. Even more, they give women a very high stature in the society saying that they are the ones who brought them in this world thus most respectable of all.
  • Magpangabuty y matawhay
    It promotes the message of peace and tranquility. One should always live in peace and walk peacefully. Because of peace there is love and because of love comes peace.
  • Magpakitaw asta mag-taw
    This saying is for helping the poor or the ones in need of help. According to them the greatest gift from the Divine is asking and providing.
  • Hindi kaw ma inggit sa ib
    It urges people to stop being envious of each other. If some is blessed, they will have a good fortune. And jealousy wouldn’t bring any good to anyone & merely destroy humanity.
  • Hindi mo ikumpara imong sadili sa iba
    One shouldn’t compare oneself to any other because there always will be someone who would be better than their self. But there also is a person who is lesser than them. Honor and dignity count the most and comparison seeds bitterness.
  • Hindi magpabugal
    It curses the feeling of pride and ego among humans. Pride only kills one internally.
  • Magdason i tama
    One should not disobey the sacred laws and orders and not divert the meanings on their own. All orders are straightforward and cannot be varied.
  • Mag-geregman
    One should always promote love because that is the best way to lead life. Everyone needs everybody.