Palawan Chronicles V: A Visit to the Vanishing Batak Tribe
I was not feeling well when I started my ascent to the mountains where the Batac village is located. The Information Center told me that it is a 3-kilometer hike. Being a marathoner, I told myself that it would not be that hard to hike towards the village even without a guide. So after about an hour of trekking and crossing river streams, the Batac huts started to dot the trails. The huts begin to congregate near the river until I was greeted by a group congregating on the central house.
Batak tribe is a Cuyunon (Palawan/Cuyo dialect) term that means “mountain people.” They are a group of people who are found on the north of Palawan. They are believed to be Negritoes and have inhabited Palawan in the early 1900’s. They are nomads but have adapted and start settling in the mountains near the river for easy hunting and gathering of food. They are generally shy and peaceful.
I was greeted by none other than the chieftain, Marting Gupo, turns out that it was a meeting of the leaders. Present also was Victoriano Patero, a Tagbanua chieftain (Tagbanuas are another group of tribes living in Palawan), with other leaders of the tribe in that particular village.
They invited me to join them, I sat with them and they asked my “pakay” (purpose). I told them that I just want to visit the tribe and that my heart is very close to the tribes since I was still in college. I wanted to see how they live, to play with the kids, to somehow learn contentment and emulate simple living.
Their meeting was about the change in leadership style from having one leader to the going back to what they have been doing in the past- Council of Elders. The community chooses 7 elders/leaders to lead them instead of having only one leader.
The first time I saw a topless tribe woman was in a remote island in Coron, a Tagbanua 2 years ago. I was surprised women here are still topless. To think that I’m in Puerto Princesa City, with less than 2 hours of travel from the center you would discover a little taste of how our first ancestors conducted their lives.
From what I observed, their livelihood comes from making “rainmakers” from “buho” and bamboo. They also harvest rubber resin from Agathis trees. One of them was cutting rattan and drying it.
I would assume that the Batac tribe came from the Aetas or Negritoes for they are dark skinned, have curly hair and are short.
History would tell us the reason why they live in the mountains. Once they are in the plains probably near the river. But when “foreigners” came they are driven up towards the mountains and they have adapted very well to their new home.
The Batac hut is simple, it doesn’t have a divider, just one room and everything in it. Well, they don’t have stuffs that we have in our houses. They cooked on the ground and eat when they feel like eating, Usually they don’t mind the time.
As of this writing there are only 351 remaining Bataks in Palawan. They are quickly diminishing because some choose to stay in the city and discontinue their customs. Still some marry other tribe or Tagalogs or Cebuanos. The chieftain told me that most of the youth like to live in the city more than the forest.
I have seen their museum at the jump-off and they have amazing hunting tools and musical instruments. This just tells us of their rich heritage and the importance of their contribution to the culture of the Filipino people.
As I bid good bye, I met Rico. A 20-year old youth and I told him that I would come back and stay overnight next time. He was excited. WHO WANTS TO COME WITH ME NEXT TIME? The kids came with me until the start of the descent and finally said good bye. I reached into my bag and gave the biscuits and jellies left.
At this time I can really feel the pain and dehydration of my body. I have colds and cough and its hard for me to walk back. But I have to hurry to catch the trip back to the city. The trek down the mountain was the longest 45-minute walk I ever experienced.
But more than the physical pain, it hurts my heart to learn that they are vanishing on a very fast pace. Some tribe members have become laughing stock while in the city because of their skin color. I was thirsty for the time when we see the tribes (not only the Batac) in a different light. When we respect them and honor them because they were able to conquer all odds. It was a bitter-sweet feeling to finally visit this tribe. For one I was happy to see them and play with the kids before they completely vanish, then it was painful to learn that they are only 351 remaining. I pray that they would not and the youth would continue to preserve their culture. We should learn from them- how they lived in simplicity, one day at a time.
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How to get there: The Batak Visitor Center is located in Sitio Tanabag, travel time about an hour by bus (tell the river to drop you off the Batak Village). There is no entrance fee. The information center has a museum and souvenir shop; it also serves as a jump-off point to the village. 3-kilometer hike (less than an hour). Fare would be Php50-60 from San Jose Terminal, Puerto Princesa City.
The Palawan Chronicles is a 6-part series of unforgettable moments I experienced during my 7-day escapade (December 2010) in Palawan. Some sights have become familiar and common because I stayed in Puerto Princesa City for almost a year but most are seen with fresh insight- rediscovering the beauty of simple life.
Join the adventure and let’s walk among throngs and throngs of Palawenos in Baybay (Baywalk), tour some city spots, survive a 2-day island challenge; visit a vanishing Batac tribe and taste French and Vietnamese influence in this beautiful island paradise. I will also add how much I spent to guide you should you plan to do a Palawan escapade.
Baywalk Christmas Tree Madness / Puerto Princesa City Tour / Solo Beach Camping in El Nido (Part 1) /Solo Beach Camping in El Nido (Part 2) / A Visit to the Vanishing Tribe of Batak / Perfect Match- French Bread & Vietnamese Noodles