A History of the Tinguian People of Luzon in the Philippines

Throughout Asia there are many different ethnic groups who each have their own culture and identity. For the majority of the people who live in the West, the different ethnic groups which reside in China are perhaps the most widely recognised. However, in the Philippines there are other ethnic groups who are just as diverse and interesting as the ethicalities in China.

In the mountainous region of north-western Luzon, the sub-provinces of Abra, Apayao and the area of Kalinga which borders them dwell the Tinguian people, as well as several other groups. In the past, when Spanish and early American travellers visited this area, gave each to these diverse divisions the term tribes, regardless of the fact that many were in the same culture and linguistic groups, and not physically varied either.

The Tinguians are known by various names including Tinguianes, Tinggians, Tingians, Itneg and the Burics. One of the best sources of our information on these people comes from one Commissioner Worcester who made a record of the native, non-Christian people in northern Luzon. He states that the true Tinguian settlements were Ballasio, Nagbuquel, Vandrell, Rizal, Mision, Mambog, and Masinget, since there are settlements in other parts which are made of people belonging to tinguian and Igorots (another tribal community).

At the time of Worcester’s records, the population of Tinguians were said to be around 20,000 individuals. They were said to be shorter and lither than that of the Igorots. Worcester states that their faces were longer and narrower. “The cheek-bones are more prominent; the root of the nose is higher, and the ridge usually straight; the eyes are set farther apart, are more widely open, and the Mongolian fold is less prevalent”.

According to Worcester, marriages are arranged by the parents when the children are very young and unmarried people do not live in separate houses. Marriage usually takes place before puberty hits and circumcision is not practiced.

The older men of the villages constitute the social hierarchy of the Tinguians; the leader of the community is called ‘lakay’ who is appointed due to his better fitness. All disputes come before him and if the matter is more complicated, then he calls in the rest of the council.

Unlike other women in surrounding communities, the Tinguian woman has much more of a higher standing in the community. Although her husband pays a bride price for her, all of her property remains hers, she can take any disputes to the lakay and all her possession upon her death are granted to her children. Although the Tinguians have one wife, many men keep concubines and their children are considered legitimate, although the other women have none of the legal rights as the wife.

The Tinguian people are a fascinating culture, although there have not been much academic studies regarding them. Despite this, they provide a fascinating insight into the lives of the people before the Westerners brought their culture and religion with them to this region.


Cole, Fay Cooper (1909)  Distribution of the non-Christian Tribes of Northwestern Luzon, American Anthropologist, Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association.