People in the Philippines are collectively called Filipinos, with men also referred to as Filipinos and women known as Filipinas. Philippine is used as an adjective pertaining to the country. Filipino is used as an adjective regarding the people, in some cases in particular reference to Christian Filipinos (Muslim are known as Moros) . Around 95 percent of the population lives on the eleven largest islands.

Most Filipinos are of Malay descent (like Malaysians and Indonesians), with a sprinkling of Chinese, Spanish, American and Arab blood. Three hundred years of Spanish occupation left behind the Roman Catholic religion and 75 years of American presence has left the English language, yet Filipino culture and people have an identity that is very much its own, and the people on each island have their own distinct character. Before it was forged into a colony and later a nation, the Philippines was a group of islands, with different ethnic groups that lived largely independent of one another on individual islands, groups of islands and different regions on big islands. The ethnic breakdown of country still more or less follows the pattern set by the archipelago's early inhabitants.

More than 100 cultural minority groups are scattered throughout the country. Filipinos are ethnically similar to Malays but culturally they are more like the Spanish. They are generally smaller and more slender than Europeans and have brownish skin, dark eyes and heavy, straight black hair. It is hard to distinguish accurately the lines between stocks. From a long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of merchants and traders, evolved a people of a unique blend of east and west, both in appearance and culture. [Source: Philippines Department of Tourism]

Nationality: noun: Filipino(s); adjective: Philippine. Many Filipinos call themselves Pinoys. Ethnic Groups: Christian Malays constitute 91.5 percent of the total population; Muslim Malays 4 percent; Chinese 1.5 percent; and others 3 percent. Ethnic groups: Tagalog 28.1 percent; Cebuano 13.1 percent; Ilocano 9 percent; Bisaya/Binisaya 7.6 percent; Hiligaynon Ilonggo 7.5 percent; Bikol 6 percent; Waray 3.4 percent; other 25.3 percent (2000 census). Languages: Filipino (official; based on Tagalog) and English (official); eight major dialects — Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinan; Religions: Catholic 82.9 percent (Roman Catholic 80.9 percent, Aglipayan 2 percent), Muslim 5 percent, Evangelical 2.8 percent, Iglesia ni Kristo 2.3 percent, other Christian 4.5 percent, other 1.8 percent, unspecified 0.6 percent, none 0.1 percent (2000 census). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Lonely Planet called Filipinos ‘among the most ebullient and easy going people anywhere.’ According to the Philippines Department of Tourism: “Don’t be shy about coming up to a Filipino and starting a conversation. We’re not just fun, we’re officially friendly too. ranked us the friendliest country in Asia – eight in the world! [Source: Philippines Department of Tourism]

Philippine society was relatively homogeneous in 1990, especially considering its distribution over some 1,000 inhabited islands. Muslims and upland tribal peoples were obvious exceptions, but approximately 90 percent of the society remained united by a common cultural and religious background. Among the lowland Christian Filipinos, language was the main point of internal differentiation, but the majority interacted and intermarried regularly across linguistic lines. Because of political centralization, urbanization, and extensive internal migration, linguistic barriers were eroding, and government emphasis on Pilipino and English (at the expense of local dialects) also reduced these divisions. Nevertheless, national integration remained incomplete. [Source: Library of Congress]


Historical Development of the Philippine People

Through centuries of intermarriage, Filipinos had become a unique blend of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Negrito, and American. Among the earliest inhabitants were Negritos, followed by Malays, who deserve most of the credit for developing lowland Philippine agricultural life as it is known in the modern period. As the Malays spread throughout the archipelago, two things happened. First, they absorbed, through intermarriage, most of the Negrito population, although a minority of Negritos remained distinct by retreating to the mountains. Second, they dispersed into separate groups, some of which became relatively isolated in pockets on Mindanao, northern Luzon, and some of the other large islands. Comparative linguistic analysis suggests that most groups may once have spoken a form of "proto-Manobo," but that each group developed a distinct vernacular that can be traced to its contact over the centuries with certain groups and its isolation from others. With the advent of Islam in the southern Philippines during the fifteenth century, separate sultanates developed on Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago. By the middle of the sixteenth century, Islamic influence had spread as far north as Manila Bay. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Spain colonized the Philippines in the sixteenth century and succeeded in providing the necessary environment for the development of a Philippine national identity; however, Spain never completely vitiated Muslim autonomy on Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago, where the separate Muslim sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, and Maranao remained impervious to Christian conversion. Likewise, the Spanish never succeeded in converting upland tribal groups, particularly on Luzon and Mindanao. The Spanish influence was strongest among lowland groups and emanated from Manila. Even among these lowland peoples, however, linguistic differences continued to outweigh unifying factors until a nationalist movement emerged to question Spanish rule in the nineteenth century. *

Philippine national identity emerged as a blend of diverse ethnic and linguistic groups, when lowland Christians, called indios by the Spaniards, began referring to themselves as "Filipinos," excluding Muslims, upland tribal groups, and ethnic Chinese who had not been assimilated by intermarriage and did not fit the category. In the very process of defining a national identity, the majority was also drawing attention to a basic societal cleavage among the groups. In revolting against Spanish rule and, later, fighting United States troops, the indigenous people became increasingly conscious of a national unity transcending local and regional identities. A public school system that brought at least elementary-level education to all but the most remote barrios and sitios (small clusters of homes) during the early twentieth century also served to dilute religious, ethnic, and linguistic or regional differences, as did improvements in transportation and communication systems and the spread of English as a lingua franca. *

Multi-Cultural, Multi-Regional Filipinos

The Filipino character is actually a little bit of all the cultures put together. The bayanihan or spirit of kinship and camaraderie that Filipinos are famous for is said to be taken from Malay forefathers. The close family relations are said to have been inherited from the Chinese. The piousness comes from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. Hospitality is a common denominator in the Filipino character and this is what distinguishes the Filipino. Filipinos are probably one of the few, if not the only, English-proficient Oriental people today. Pilipino is the official national language, with English considered as the country's unofficial one. [Source: Philippines Department of Tourism]

The Filipinos are divided geographically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is recognizable by distinct traits and dialects - the sturdy and frugal llocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains, the carefree Visayans from the central islands, and the colorful tribesmen and religious Moslems of Mindanao. Tribal communities can be found scattered across the archipelago. The Philippines has more than 111 dialects spoken, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and cultural groups.

The country is marked by a true blend of cultures; truly in the Philippines, East meets West. The background of the people is Indonesian and Malay. There are Chinese and Spanish elements as well. The history of American rule and contact with merchants and traders culminated in a unique blend of East and West, both in the appearance and culture of the Filipinos, or people of the Philippines.

Hospitality, a trait displayed by every Filipino, makes these people legendary in Southeast Asia. Seldom can you find such hospitable people who enjoy the company of their Western visitors. Perhaps due to their long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life in a way that seems more Latin than Asian. The Spaniards introduced Christianity (the Roman Catholic faith) and succeeded in converting the overwhelming majority of Filipinos. At least 83 percent of the total population belongs to the Roman Catholic faith. The American occupation was responsible for teaching the Filipino people the English language. The Philippines is currently the third-largest English speaking country in the world

Philippines’s Multitude of Ethnic Groups

Each of the Philippines 50 or so ethnic groups has its own language or dialect, with no single ethnic group making up a majority of the population. The main groups are the Cebuano (24.1 percent of the population), Tagalog (21 percent), Ilocono (11.7 percent), Hiligaynon or Illongo (10.4 percent), Bucolano, or Bikolan (7.8 percent), Pamanga (3.2 percent). Other groups make up 21.8 percent of the population. The include (in descending order based on population): Pangasinan, Ibang, Aklan, Hantik, Samabal, Ivantan, Itawas and Isinai. Bisayan, or Visayan, is a generic label that encompasses Cebuans, Panayans and Samarans. The largest non-Filipino minorities are Chinese, Americans, and Spanish.

To Filipinos, each ethnic group is associated with distinct cultural and character traits and stereotypes. The Ilcocanos in the north, for example, are regarded as sturdy and frugal. The Tagalogs of the central plains are considered industrious, while the people of the Visayans are thought of as carefree and fun loving. The Tagalog dominate the Philippines culturally and politically because they are ethnic group indigenous to the Manila area.

Like their counterparts in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, the Chinese minority are very active in trading and business and their influence far exceeds their numbers (about a half million people). In the remote highlands there are still some tribes relatively untouched by the modern world. The Tasadays, a stone-age tribe, weren't "discovered" until 1971 (although some of the claims originally made about them have been questioned); the Ilongots continued to hunt heads up until the middle seventies; and Negritos still live a pygmy-like existence in the forest.

Spanish Influence on the Philippines

The Spanish have had a huge influence on Filipino culture. The time that the Philippines was under Spanish rule makes up a major part of their history. Spain had control of the Philippines for more than 300 years, so it’s no surprise that there are many Filipino customs, traditions, and cultural norms that can be traced back to the Spanish. They left their mark probably more so than any other foreign nation to which the Philippines was subjected. [Source: by Rebecca, Philippines Baguio Mission, 2009-2011, the missionary website, \=/]

Spain was one of the most powerful nations in the world in the 1500s and 1600s when it . At this time, different nations would race each other to be the first to settle in and claim different areas. According to historians, there were three objectives for taking the Philippine islands. First and foremost, it was seen as an opportunity to spread the Roman Catholic church, which had become quite powerful in Europe. The other objectives may have been to gain wealth through the spice trade in Asia, and also to gain political power by conquering and laying claim to as many lands as possible. The following are a few specific ways that Spain influenced the Philippines during its reign: \=/

Language: It is no surprise that over this long period of time, the Spanish language made its way into the Filipino dialects. Today it is estimated that about 20 percent of Tagalog words are Spanish. In fact, the common Tagalog greeting “Kumusta” was derived from the Spanish “Como esta” (How are you). Here are a few very common words that came from Spanish (the spellings have been Filipino-ized): Diyos (god), eskwela (school), gwapo (handsome), kalye (street), kabayo (horse), kwento (story), karne (meat), pamilya (family), sapatos (shoes), bintana (window), and many, many more. \=/

Numbers, Name and Money: The Spanish money system (based on pesos) was adopted into the Filipino lifestyle as well as the use of Spanish numbers in business and money transactions. Today, using Spanish numerals is the marketplace norm. It is also interesting to note that the Spanish were the ones who appointed Manila as the capital city of the Philippines. They also named the islands “Filipinas” after Prince Philip os Asturias, who later became the King of Spain. \=/

Catholicism: Did you know that the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian nation in Asia? That’s because when the Spanish took over, they brought their long tradition of Catholicism with them. It was part of the Spanish conquest to convert all the natives to Christ through their Catholic tradition. Today as a result, the Catholic church still remains a very powerful force in the Philippines. For example, divorce is illegal there because of the Catholic church’s influence in the government and law-making. Filipinos still celebrate and participate in many Catholic holidays and customs. Practically everywhere you go you will see big Catholic cathedrals. In many homes, you’ll see pictures of the virgin Mary or the last supper, and many people carry around rosaries with them. On public transportation are plastered posters of Jesus and Mary and religious sayings. Because of the Spanish conquest, there is a strong tradition of Christianity among the Filipino people. \=/

Last names: One very interesting thing that the Spanish changed about the Philippines was the use of native last names. In 1849, the Governor sent out an order that all families were to choose a new last name from a list of Spanish last names (in order to create a more organized system of keeping track of people). As a result, today there are many Spanish last names still in use, such as Garcia, Cruz, Reyes, Mora, Vasquez, Valdez, Flores, Ramos, Perez, Villanueva, Ortiz, etc. However, there were some Filipinos who did not want to change their native last names, and so today there are still some native names remaining. Examples of native Filipino last names include Macaraeg, Matapang, Masipag, Dimaguiba, Guinto, Magsaysay, Makapagal, Batungbakal, etc. \=/

Western culture: During the Spanish rule, westernized culture gradually began to seep into the Filipino way of life. Western music, dance, art, recreation and customs were adopted by Filipinos. Even their beliefs and perspectives about life experienced a bit of a drift away from Eastern muslim philosophies to a more westernized perspective. One example of this was the abolishment of slavery. Classes between the rich and poor, however, remained.

Education: During the Spanish reign, they established Catholic-run schools. Friars and nuns were the teachers at these schools. The Filipino people were literate before the Spanish ever arrived, but the Spanish added new subjects to their academia such as math, Spanish, and business. In time, the Spanish also set up colleges (segregated by gender). One of the more well-known of these colleges is the university of Santo Tomas, which was established back in 1611.

Food: The Spanish brought with them their own cuisine and many of these foods were adopted into the Filipino diet. Here’s a list of some of them: corn, flour, squash, avocado, sausage, beef, guava, sapodilla (chico fruit), papaya, cabbage, cocoa, potatoes (white), ham, coffee, beer, bread (made from wheat flour), pickles, sardines. The Spanish also introduced forks, spoons, plates, and cups to the Philippines. To this day, forks and spoons are used when eating (but not knives). However, some Filipinos still prefer to eat the truly native Filipino way, without utensils.

Lowland Christian Population of the Philippines

Although lowland Christians maintained stylistic differences in dress until the twentieth century and had always taken pride in their unique culinary specialties, they continued to be a remarkably homogeneous core population of the Philippines. In 1990 lowland Christians, also known as Christian Malays, made up 91.5 percent of the population and were divided into several regional groups. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Because of their regional base in Metro Manila and adjacent provinces to the north, east, and south, Tagalogs tended to be more visible than other groups. Cebuanos, whose language was the principal one in the Visayan Island area, inhabited Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, Negros Oriental, Leyte, and Southern Leyte provinces, and parts of Mindanao. Ilocanos had a reputation for being ready migrants, leaving their rocky northern Luzon homeland not just for more fertile parts of the archipelago but for the United States as well. The home region of the Ilongos (speakers of Hiligaynon) included most of Panay, Negros Occidental Province, and the southern end of Mindoro. Their migration in large numbers to the Cotabato and Lanao areas of Mindanao led to intense friction between them and the local Muslim inhabitants and the outbreak of fighting between the two groups in the 1970s.

The homeland of the Bicolanos, or "Bicolandia" was the southeastern portion of Luzon together with the islands of Catanduanes, Burias, and Ticao, and adjacent parts of Masbate. The Waray-Warays lived mostly in eastern Leyte and Samar in the Eastern Visayas. The Pampangan homeland was the Central Luzon Plain and especially Pampanga Province. Speakers of Pangasinan were especially numerous in the Lingayen Gulf region of Luzon, but they also had spread to the Central Luzon Plain where they were interspersed with Tagalogs, Ilocanos, and Pampangans. *

As migrants to the city, these lowland Christians clustered together in neighborhoods made up primarily of people from their own regions. Multilingualism generally characterized these neighborhoods; the language of the local area was used, as a rule, for communicating with those native to the area, and English or Pilipino was used as a supplement. Migrants to cities and to agricultural frontiers were remarkably ready and willing to learn the language of their new location while retaining use of their mother tongue within the home. *

Philippines Man Holds World’s Shortest Man Title For Several Months

In June 2011, a Philippines man Junrey Balawing was named the world's shortest man by the Guinness World Records. AFP reported: “A teenager from a poor family in the rural Philippines has been declared the world's shortest man as he turned 18. Guinness World Records presented Junrey Balawing, who is 59.93 centimeters (23.6 inches) tall, with a certificate at his birthday party. Mr Balawing stopped growing when he was two, his father said. He is more than 7centimeters shorter than the previous record holder, Khagendra Thapa Magar from Nepal, who had held the record since last October. Relatives say he has difficulty standing and walking, but the community was protective of him. [Source: AFP, June 12, 2011 |=|]

"Officially he is the world's shortest man," declared Guinness World Records official Craig Glenday in front of cheering relatives and friends at his birthday party in the rural town of Sindangan on Mindanao island in the southern Philippines. Well-wishers, including politicians, presented him with cash gifts which his family said would add to their meagre savings, AFP news agency reported. |=|

"Thank you to all of you for supporting my son, the world's shortest man," Mr Balawing's father said. Mr Balawing blew out a candle on his birthday cake and said "I'm tired". His father said he had been a sickly child and doctors had not been able to say why he stopped growing. His three siblings are all of normal size. |=|

In February 2012, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported: In the next few weeks, Balawing “is flying to Italy to rub elbows—literally, if he can—with the world’s tallest man, who towers at 251.46 centimeters (8 feet 3 inches). The son of a blacksmith in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte, the 18-year-old Balawing will have a photo session in Italy with Sultan Kosen, a behemoth farmer from Turkey. Kosen is said to be one of only 10 confirmed cases in history of humans reaching 243 centimeters (8 feet) or more. “There is an invitation for the Balawings—Junrey and his parents—to go to Italy (in April). That’s what we are attending to right now,” Mayor Nilo Sy of Sindangan was quoted by ABS-CBN News as saying. It said it would be Balawing’s first ride on an airplane. [Source: Philippine Daily Inquirer, AFP, February 10, 2012 |=|]

“But Balawing’s claim to being the world’s shortest man has been challenged by Chandra Bahadur Dangi, a 72-year-old man from Nepal, who claims to stand at just 56 centimeters (22 inches). Guinness World Records experts confirmed last week they planned to travel to Dangi’s village in the impoverished southwestern valleys of Dang district to measure the pensioner, who says he weighs just 12 kilos. If his measurements prove correct, Dangi would eclipse Balawing but would also be the shortest human adult ever documented, taking the accolade from India’s Gul Mohammed, who was measured at 57 centimeters before he died in 1997 at the age of 40. |=|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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