People of the Rock: The Lost Tau’t Batu Tribe

Culture Facts

Where: Singmapan Basin, Palawan, Philippines
Who: The Tau’t Batu people, the last discovered tribe in these islands
Visiting: Shamanic harvest festival is an amazing event to appreciate these haunting people

Where it’s At

The Singmapan Basin, in a remote corner of the Philippines, is where forested valleys make excellent trekking spots. The Basin is located on the island of Palawan, one of the least explored places in Asia and home to an underground river and by far the country’s best diving, in the Sulu Sea.

A Race Discovered

The Tau’t Batu, or ‘People of the Rock’ live here and they are the last discovered tribe in the Philippines; only 20 years ago they were living in complete isolation from the western and eastern world. You’ll need a guide to get here because they live so isolated; the guide will also serve as an interpreter too.

The women here hunt honey while the men’s job is to catch bats, forest rats and small birds. Their lifestyle and culture is not particularly developed, but they are skilled in hunting for small creatures and wild pigs. This supplements their diet of farmed fruits like pineapple, pepper, cassava, garlic, squash and sweet potato. They use their agricultural produce to trade with other Palawan tribes.

There is no age limit here for marriage so it’s common for girls to have children at a very young age. Their houses are primitively constructed using intertwined saplings. The basic family unit of couples and their children are often meshed together in larger extended family dwellings or caves where foods are shared amongst the whole community.

Visiting the Tau’t Batu

If you’re lucky you’ll be invited to participate in the harvest festival, that takes place when they have had a bountiful year. The celebration goes on for 24 hours as bamboo leaves are stomped to let the spirits know of the people’s thankfullness. Only certain people have access to these spirits and they are the ones who do the stomping. Singing their whole history is common as they possess no written language and hearing this can be a beautiful way to experience the ways of these fascinating people. They also possess several unique musical instruments.

With only 100 families left, it’s a big question whether the people can survive, but so far the Tau’t batu have changed little with all the attention. Missionaries have given up on the isolated tribe, declaring them to be ‘too hard-headed’ so perhaps these curious people are determined enough to survive the change which 21st century life and tourism inflicts on their lifestyle. It is advisable to think carefully before visiting these remote tribes as the impact you leave behind may be more than the trip is worth to you.

More Information

Spirit of Place
Phil Borges portraits from time spent with the Tau’t Batu

By Dave Lowe

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