The Palawan tribe

The Palawan tribe, also known as the Pala’wan or the Palawano, is a tribe that lives in the southern Mountains on the island of Palawan. Officially the tribe is still called Palawano but Palawan is quicker to pronounce so a lot of people just leave the ‘o’.


  • The history of the Palawan tribe
  • The culture of the Palawan tribe

The history of the Palawan tribe

There is little known about the past of the Palawan tribe. One suspects that the Palawan and Tagbanua in the past belonged to the same group but they eventually settled in different areas so that they have split from the Tagbanua. In early 1970 the missionaries came to the areas that were populated by the Palawan. The missionaries made the Palawan tribe known to the outside world. One of the main subgroups of the Palawanos are the Taaw’t Bato, which means people from the rocks.

The culture of the Palawan tribe

The Palawan tribe is divided into four subgroups according to their language differences

  • Brooke’s Point Palawano (the Palawan tribe from Brooke’s Point)
  • Bugsuk Palawano (The Palawan tribe from the southern part of Palawan)
  • Quezon Palawano (The Palawan tribe from the central part of Palawan)
  • Southwest Palawano (The Palawan tribe of the southwestern part of Palawan)

The Palawanos from the higher areas in Palawan still live according to their ancient traditions. In these people, the original culture of the Palawan tribe are most visible. The Palawanos who lived in the lower parts of the island have had much to do with missionaries in the past. This has greatly influenced the culture of these Palawanos.


The family bond is very important in the culture of the Palawan tribe. The Palawanos have a great respect for the elderly. The Palawanos live together with a number of families. At the head of the family is the oldest and the head of the community is the oldest in the community. This person is called Panglima and gets a lot of respect. The Panglima is a kind of judge and is responsible for maintaining public order. Every community has a Mag-urowan. This is a kind of medicine man which offers help with various ailments.

When a man invites asks for the hand of a woman he will be invited by the family and he gets some riddles. When he manages to solve these riddles satisfactorily he has approval to marry her.

Because more and more tribal members come into contact with modern society, the more traditional way of life is changing.


Palawano is the spoken language in the Palawan community.


The Palawanos have an animist faith. They believe in spirits, and they do their best to keep these spirits happy. They believe that good and evil spirits must be appeased through rituals. Shamans provide the connection between the spirit world and the tribesmen.

Because of the introduction of other religions, these traditions are changing. For example, some tribal traditions of Islam and Hinduism are included in the faith while other tribes have moved to the Christian traditions.


The Palawanos are mainly agricultural. They do so by cutting down the vegetation before burning  it all. This creates a fertile soil in which they grow crops. After harvesting they start looking for a new place because the old place is not fertile enough. They grow bananas, rice, different vegetables and root crops.

The Palawanos are good hunters and gatherers. The forest provides enough food and medicinal herbs. The forests are vital for survival. When hunting for wild animals, spears which are dipped in poison are used. While hunting they also use dogs. Also, when fishing they make use of a type of poison. There is a kind of carrot juice squeezed out, after which the fish come to the surface allowing them to be grabbed easily out of the water.


The Palawan tribe is far removed from the modern world. This means that they often do not have access to various facilities including a hospital or even primary education. Because the world of the Palawanos is getting smaller, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have a good life. By deforestation and mining forests are shrinking. Because they often have no training, it is difficult to get income in a different way. This results in a high mortality rate among the Palawan tribe. It is important that the government provides these people with protection before they become extinct.