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Indigenous religious beliefs of the Tagalog people

The indigenous religious beliefs of the Tagalog people (sometimes referred to as Anitism,[1][2] or, less accurately, using the general term "animism") were well documented by Spanish missionaries,[3] mostly in the form of epistolary accounts (relaciones) and as entries in the various dictionaries put together by missionary friars.[3]

Archeological and linguistic evidence[2][4][3] indicates that these beliefs date back to the arrival of Austronesian peoples,[1][5][3] although elements were later syncretistically adapted from Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Islam.[6][3] Many of these indigenous beliefs persist to this day, in sycretistic forms discussed by scholars as Philippine variations of Folk Islam and Folk Catholicism.[7]


Unlike early western religions, with their great emphasis on pantheons of deities. Religion among Tagalogs was intimately intertwined with their day-to-day lives, as Almocera points out:

Aside from their own social structure, they believed in an invisible society coexisting with their own. This society, they believed, was inhabited by spirits that included dead ancestors, deities, and lesser gods. Pre-Hispanic Filipinos honored these spirits with rituals and feast days because these supernatural beings were considered able to preside over the whole gamut of life, including birth, sickness, death, courtship, marriage, planting, harvesting, and death. Some of these spirits were considered friendly; others were viewed as tyrannical enemies.[1]

Ancient Tagalogs initially believed that the first deity of the sun and moon was Bathala, as he is a primordial deity and the deity of everything. Later on, the title of deity of the moon was passed on to his favorite daughter, Mayari, while the title of deity of the sun was passed on to his grandson and honorary son, Apolaki. One of his daughters, Tala is the deity of the stars and is the primary deity of the constellations, while Hanan was the deity of mornings and the new age. The Tagalog cosmic beliefs is not exempted from the moon-swallowing serpent myths prevalent throughout the different ethnic peoples of the Philippines. But unlike the moon-swallowing serpent stories of other ethnic peoples, which usually portrays the serpent as a god, the Tagalog people believe that the serpent which causes eclipses is a monster dragon, called Laho, instead. The dragon, despite being strong, can easily be defeated by Mayari, the reason why the moon's darkness during eclipses is diminishes within minutes.[8]

"Pag-aanito": "offering" or "act of worship"

Because of the limitations of language and of personal religious biases, Spanish chroniclers often recorded different interpretations of Tagalog words relating to worship. The word "anito" is one of these words which had differing interpreters. Scott[3] notes that missionaries eventually reinterpreted the word to mean "all idols", including the middle eastern gods mentioned in the bible, whenever they were included in their homilies. As a result, in modern times, the word "anito" has come to mean the various figurines or "idols" which represent Filipino deities. However, the Tagalog words for such representations was "larauan".[3]

In his 1613 Dictionary Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, Fray Pedro de San Buenaventura[9](p361) explains:

More appropriately would it be called an offering because "anito" does not signify any particular thing, such as an idol, but an offering and the prayer they would make to deceased friends and relatives... [or] an offering made to anything they finished, like a boat, house, fishnet, etc., and it was mats, cooked foodk, gold, and other things.

The unnamed author of the anonymous 1572 "Relación de la conquista de la isla de Luzón" (translated in Volume 3 of Blair and Robertson),[10] while noted to be particularly hispanocentric and anti-nativist in his views, nevertheless provides a detailed description of the Tagalogs' pag-aanito, which bears many apparent similarities to surviving indigenous practices:

"When any chief is ill, he invites his kindred and orders a great meal to be prepared, consisting of fish, meat, and wine. When the guests are all assembled and the feast set forth in a few plates on the ground inside the house, they seat themselves also on the ground to eat. In the midst of the feast (called manganito or baylán in their tongue), they put the idol called Batala and certain aged women who are considered as priestesses, and some aged Indians—neither more nor less. They offer the idol some of the food which they are eating, and call upon him in their tongue, praying to him for the health of the sick man for whom the feast is held. The natives of these islands have no altars nor temples whatever. This manganito, or drunken revel, to give it a better name, usually lasts seven or eight days; and when it is finished they take the idols and put them in the corners of the house, and keep them there without showing them any reverence."

"Bathala": the "almighty" or "creator"

According to the early Spanish missionaries, the Tagalog people believed in a creator-god named "Bathala",[2] whom they referred to both as maylicha (creator; lit. "actor of creation") and maycapal (lord, or almighty; lit. "actor of power"). Loarca and Chirino reported that in some places, this creator god was called "Molaiari" (Malyari) or "Dioata" (Diwata).[3] Scott (1989) notes:

"Bathala was described as "may kapal sa lahat [maker of everything]," kapal meaning to mould something between the hands like clay or wax."[3]

Francisco Demetrio, Gilda Cordero Fernando, and Fernando Nakpil Zialcita summarize a number of Tagalog beliefs regarding Bathala:

"The Tagalogs called their supreme god Bathala Maykapal or Lumikha (The Creator). An enormous being, he could not straighten up due to the lowness of the sky. And the sun burned brightly near him. One day, Bathala got a bolo and pierced one of the sun's eyes so that it could generate just enough heat to sustain life. At last, Bathala was able to straighten up and with his hands pushed the cooler sky to its present level. Bathala is also known as the grand conserver of the universe, the caretaker of things from whom all providence comes, hence the beautiful word 'bahala' or 'mabahala' meaning 'to care'."

The missionaries who observed the Tagalog peoples in the 1500s noted, however that the Tagalogs did not include Bathala in their daily acts of worship (pag-a-anito). Fray Buenaventura noted in the Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala that the Tagalogs believed Bathala was too mighty and distant to be bothered with the concerns of mortal man, and so the Tagalogs focused their acts of appeasement to the immediate spirits which they believed had control over their day-to-day life.[7]

Other deities and powers

Because Bathala was considered a "distant" entity, the Tagalog people focused their attention more on some scholars term to be "lesser" deities and powers,[2] which could be more easily influenced than Bathala.[7]

Because the Tagalogs did not have a collective word to describe all these spirits together, Spanish missionaries eventually decided to call them "anito," since they were the subject of the Tagalog's act of pag-aanito (worship). According to Scott, a careful search of sources from the 1500s reveals that:[3]

"there was no single word in Tagalog for the other deities to whom Bathala was superior: when necessary, Spanish lexicographers referred to them all as anito."[3]

According to Scott, accounts and early dictionaries describe them as intermediaries ("Bathala's agents"), and the dictionaries used the word "abogado" (advocate) when defining their realms. These sources also show, however, that in practice, they were addressed directly: "in actual prayers, they were petitioned directly, not as intermediaries." Scott cites the example of a farmer's prayer to Lakapati, where a child would be held over a field, and the farmer would pray: "Lakapati, pakanin mo yaring alipin mo; huwag mong gutumin [Lakapati feed this thy slave; let him not hunger]"[9](p361)

Demetrio, Fernando and Zialcita, in their 1991 reader "The Soul Book", categorize these spirits broadly into "Ancestor spirits" and "non-ancestor spirits, but then further sub-categorize them into: "Ancestor spirits, nature spirits, and guardian spirits."[2]

Tagalog spirits described in early firsthand accounts

Scott, drawing from firsthand accounts and descriptions in early dictionaries, describes some of these Tagalog spirits specifically:

  • Lakan Bakod was "the lord of fences (bakod),"and "was invoked to keep animals out of swiddens".[3] Scott quotes San Buenaventura[9](p361) as saying Lakanbakod's larauan (image/idol) "had gilded genitals as long as a rice stalk", and "was offered eels when fencing swiddens - because, they said, his were the strongest of all fences."
  • Aman Sinaya was an ancestor spirit who was invoked by Fishermen as a guardian spirit. Scott notes that he was "the inventor of fishing gear, [and] was named when first wetting a net or fish hook"[3]
  • Lakapati "was worhipped in the fields at planting time" and "was fittingly represented by a hermaphrodite image with both male and female parts"[3]
  • Aman Ikabli, the patron of hunters
  • Dian Masalanta, the patron of lovers and childbirth.
  • Mankukutod, protector of coconut palms, given an offering by Tuba tappers before climbing a tree,[3] lest they fall from the trunk.
  • Uwinan Sana, guardian of grasslands or forests,[3] acknowledged as overlord of grasslands or forests whenever entering them, to avoid being regarded as trespassers.[3]
  • Lakambini, the advocate (Spanish dictionaries used the term "abogado")[3] of the throat, was invoked in case of throat ailments.
  • Haik, the sea God, called upon by seamen in a major ceremony,[3] asking for fair weather and favorable winds.
  • lesser deities like Linga and Bibit, who caused illness if not given recognition in the ordinary course of daily activities.[3]

Katalonan (priests or priestess)

The priest or priestess of the Tagalogs and Kapampangans were called "Katalonan" (also spelled Catalonan; or Catulunan in Kapampangan), and was equivalent of the Visayan term "Babaylan." The term apparently springs from the Tagalog word "katalo", which means "in good terms with," such that the Catalonan are those "in good terms with the Anito spirits".[7]

Historian and Spanish Missionary Pedro Chirino, SJ noted that their long hair is a symbol of their commitment to their religion.[11]

Although the many modern Filipinos mistakenly refer to any priest or priestess of the Animistic Prehispanic Filipino religions as Babaylan, writer Nick Joaquin and historian William Henry Scott remind modern Filipinos that the independent cultural evolution of each Filipino ethnic group should be respected.[3][12]

Folk Medicine

Tagalog folk medicine, some practices of which persist today and are studied under Filipino psychology, is strongly influenced by the religious cosmology of the Tagalog people.[13][14] Aside from the indigenous herblore which is common to forms of folk medicine throughout human society, among the overarching concepts within Tagalog folk medicine include the systems of "Usog" and of "Init at Lamig" ("Hot and Cold") which leads to "Pasma."

Tigmamanukan (omen birds)

The Asian fairy bluebird (Irena puella turcosa) is one of two species of fairy bluebird (genus Irena, family Irenidae) that have been suggested to be the actual bird referred to by the ancient Tagalogs as the tigmamanukan.

The Tagalog people called the tigmamanukan, a local bird, an omen bird. Although the behaviors of numerous birds and lizards were said to be omens, particular attention was paid to the tigmamanukan.

According to San Buenaventura's Dictionary,[9] the Tagalogs believed that the direction of a tigmamanukan flying across one's path at the beginning a journey indicated the undertaking's result. If it flew from right to left, the expedition would be a success. This sign was called "labay", a term still present in some Filipino languages with the meaning "proceed". If the bird flew from left to right, the travelers would surely never return.

It was also said that if a hunter caught a tigmamanukan in a trap, they would cut its beak and release it, saying "Kita ay iwawala, kun akoy mey kakawnan, lalabay ka." ("You are free, so when I set forth, sing on the right.")

While the name "tigmamanukan" is no longer used today, some early western explorers say that the specific bird referred to by the name is a fairy bluebird (genus Irena, family Irenidae). One explorer specifically identified the Asian fairy bluebird (Irena puella turcosa)[15] while another specifically identified the Philippine fairy bluebird (Irena cyanogastra).[16] In any case, most of the sources which describe the tigmamanukan agree that it is distinguished by a "blue" color.[17]

The Tagalog "Anito" and the Visayan "Diwata"

Demetrio, Cordero-Fernando, and Nakpil Zialcita[2] observe that the Luzon Tagalogs and Kapampangans' use of the word "Anito", instead of the word "Diwata" which was more predominant in the Visayan regions, indicated that these peoples of Luzon were less influenced by the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs of the Madjapahit empire than the Visayans were.[2] They also observed that the words were used alternately amongst the peoples in the southernmost portions of Luzon - the Bicol Region, Marinduque, Mindoro, etc. They suggested that this have represented transitional area, the front lines of an increased "Indianized" Madjapahit influence which was making its way north[2] the same way Islam was making its way north from Mindanao.[3]

Tagalog soul

The Tagalog people traditionally believe in the two forms of the soul. The first is known as the kakambal (literally means twin), which is the soul of the living. Every time a person sleeps, the kakambal may travel to many mundane and supernatural places which sometimes leads to nightmares if a terrible event is encountered while the kakambal is travelling. When a person dies, the kakambal is ultimately transformed into the second form of the Tagalog soul, which is the kaluluwa (literally means spirit). In traditional Tagalog religion, the kaluluwa then travels to either Kasanaan (if the person was evil when he was living) or Maca (if the person was good when he was living). Both domains are ruled by Bathala, though Kasanaan is also ruled by the deity of souls.[18]

Due to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Roman Catholicism was forcefully introduced to the Tagalog. In Roman Catholicism, a good person is sent to Heaven while a bad person is sent to Hell to burn in scalding oil.

Dream beliefs

The Tagalog people traditionally believe that when a person sleeps, he may or may not dream the omens of Bathala. The omens are either hazy illusions within a dream, the appearance of an omen creature such as tigmamanukan, or sightings from the future. The dream omens do not leave traces on what a person must do to prevent or let the dream come true as it is up to the person to make the proper actions to prevent or make the dream come true. The omen dreams are only warnings and possibilities 'drafted by Bathala'.

Additionally, a person may sometimes encounter nightmares in dreams. There are two reasons why nightmares occur, the first is when the kakambal soul encounters a terrifying event while travelling from the body, or when a bangungot creature sits on top of the sleeping person in a bid of vengeance due to the cutting of her tree home. Majority of the nightmares are said to be due to the kakambal soul encountering terrifying events while travelling.[19][20]

Traditional burial practices

The Tagalog people had numerous burial practices prior to Spanish colonization and Catholic introduction. In rural areas of Cavite, trees are used as burial places. The dying person chooses the tree beforehand, thus when he or she becomes terminally ill or is evidently going to die because old age, a hut is built close to the said tree. The deceased's corpse is then entombed vertically inside the hollowed-out tree trunk. Before colonization, a statue known as likha is also entombed with the dead inside the tree trunk. In Mulanay, Quezon and nearby areas, the dead are entombed inside limestone sarcophagi along with a likha statue. However, the practice vanished in the 16th century due to Spanish colonization. In Calatagan, Batangas and nearby areas, the dead are buried under the earth along with likha statues. The statues, measuring 6-12 inches, are personified depictions of anitos. Likha statues are not limited to burial practices as they are also used in homes, prayers, agriculture, medicine, travel, and other means.[21]

Foreign influences

Although the current scholarly consensus is that the roots of the Tagalogs' beliefs were indigenous, or to be more specific, Austronesian, these beliefs were later "enhanced" by elements which the Tagalogs adapted from Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, and Islam.[6][3] Although scholars acknowledge the possibility that some of these influences may have come through the limited trade the Tagalogs had with the Srivijaya,[3] it is believed that most of the Hindu and Buddhist elements were incorporated as a result of the more extensive trade the Tagalogs later had with the Majapahit,[3] while the Islamic influences were incorporated due to the Tagalog maginoo class' connections with the Sultanate of Brunei, and the Tagalog's trading relations throughout Malaysia.[3]

Indirect Indian influences through the Majapahit

Because physical evidence regarding the degree to which India influenced the Philippines prior to the Spanish conquista is rather sparse, scholars have held differing views on this matter over the years. Jocano (2001) notes:

"Except for a few artifacts and identified loanwords that have been accepted as proofs of Indian-Philippine relations, there are meager intrusive materials to sustain definite views concerning the range of Indian prehistoric influence in the country. Many generalizations [that] have so far been advanced merely obscure the basic issues of Philippine cultural development. Even archeological data, mostly trade items, must be critically evaluated before they are judged as evidence of direct contacts."[22](pp138–139)

He notes that the various streams of the evidence which support the assertion that this influence reached the Philippines include:[22] "Syllabic writing; artifacts in the form of different figurines made of clay, gold, and bronze that were dug in various sites in the Philippines; and 336 loanwords identified by Professor Francisco to be Sanskrit in origin, with 150 of them identified as the origin of some major Philippine terms."

Regardless of how and when it actually happened, historiographers specializing in Southeast Asia note that this "influence" was cultural and religious, rather than military or political in nature. For example, Osborne, in his 2004 history of Southeast Asia, notes:[6](p23)

Beginning in the 2nd and third centuries C.E. there was a slow expansion of [Indian] cultural contacts with the Southeast Asian region. It was an uneven process, with some areas receiving Indian influence much later than others, and the degree of influence varying from century to century. [...]Indianization did not mean there was a mass migration of Indian population into sea. Rather, a relatively limited number of traders and priest scholars brought Indian culture in its various forms to Southeast Asia where much, but not all, of this culture was absorbed by the local population and joined to their existing cultural patterns.

Osborne further emphasizes that this "indianization" of Southeast Asia did not per-se overwrite existing indigenous patterns, cultures, and beliefs:

"Because Indian culture “came” to Southeast Asia, one must not think that Southeast Asians lacked a culture of their own. Indeed, the generally accepted view is that Indian culture made such an impact on Southeast Asia because it fitted easily with the existing cultural patterns and religious beliefs of populations that had already moved a considerable distance along the path of civilization.[…] Southeast Asians, to summarize the point, borrowed but they also adapted. In some very important cases, they did not need to borrow at all."[6](p24)

Historiographers, both from Southeast Asia in general,[6] and the Philippines specifically[3][22] — agree that the impact of "indianization" in Philippines was indirect in nature,[6] occurring through contacts with the Majapahit culture.[22][3] Orborne (2004) notes that Vietnam and the Philippines did not participate in the main wave of Indianization:[6](p23)

"In the case of Vietnam, who were in this period living under Chinese rule, the process of Indianization never took place. For a different reason – distant geographical location – neither did the Philippines participate in this process."

Jocano furthers:

"The Philippines is geographically outside the direct line of early commerce between India and the rest of Southeast Asia. Moreover, the island world of Indonesia, with Sumatra and Java controlling the traffic of trade, functioned as a sieve for whatever influence (cultural, social, and commercial) India might have had to offer beyond the Indonesian archipelago.[...]Thus, it can be said that Indian Influence filtered into the Philippines only indirectly."[22](p139)

After reviewing threads of evidence for the various views concerning the date and mechanism of "Indian prehistoric influence in the country", Jocano concludes:

"Philippine-Indonesian relations during precolonial times became intensified during the rise of the Madjapahit Empire. It was during this time that much of the so-called Indian cultural influence reached the Philippines through Indonesia. But what penetrated into our country, particularly in the seaport communities, was already the modified version of the original Hindu cultural traits."[22](p142)

Fray Diego de Herrera noted that inhabitants in some villages were "Muslim in name only", and sborne also notes that the Luzones who visited Portuguese Malacca in the 1510s to 1540s were "nominally Muslim".[6] The unnamed author of the Anonymous 1572 Relación[10] goes into further detail:

"In the villages nearest the sea some do not eat pork, the reason for their not eating it, which I have already given, being that, in trading with the Moros of Burney, the latter have preached to them some part of the nefarious doctrine of Mahoma, charging them not to eat pork. [....] When[...]any of them are asked why they do not eat it, they say that they do not know why; and if one asks them who Mahoma was and what his law commands, they say that they do not know the commandment or anything about Mahoma, not even his name; nor do they know what his law is, nor whence it came. It is true that some of them who have been in Burney understand some of it, and are able to read a few words of the Alcorán; but these are very few, and believe that he who has not been in Burney may eat pork, as I have heard many of them say."[10]

Present day beliefs

Modern day scholars such as Scott,[3] Jocano,[23] and Maggay,[7] and theologians such as Gorospe[24] agree that the Indigenous religious beliefs of the Tagalog people persist even to this day, in the form of folk religion.

For example, Almocera notes that:

The encounter with Spanish-Catoholic Christianity did little to change the worldview held by the Pre-Hispanic Filipinos . It resulted, however, in the formation of a folk religion: namely Filipino "Folk Catholicism," a syncretistic form of which still exists.

Scott, in his seminal 1994 work, "Barangay: Sixteenth-century Philippine Culture and Society", notes that there are striking similarities between accounts from the 1500s vis a vis modern folk beliefs today. He describes the account of Miguel de Loarca account, in particular, to be:

"remarkable in that it sounds like what is now called folk Catholicism."

Catholic Scholar Fr. Vitaliano R. Gorospe, meantime, notes:

"even today especially in the rural areas, we find merely the external trappings of Catholic belief and practice, superimposed on the original pattern of pre-Christian superstitions and rituals."[24]

Important teachers and writers


  1. ^ a b c Almocera, Ruel A., (2005) Popular Filipino Spiritual Beliefs with a proposed Theological Response. in Doing Theology in the Philippines. Suk, John., Ed. Mandaluyong: OMF Literature Inc. Pp 78-98
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Demetrio, Francisco R.; Cordero-Fernando, Gilda; Nakpil-Zialcita, Roberto B.; Feleo, Fernando (1991). The Soul Book: Introduction to Philippine Pagan Religion. GCF Books, Quezon City. ASIN B007FR4S8G.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4.
  4. ^ Odal-Devora, Grace (2000). Alejandro, Reynaldo Gamboa; Yuson, Alfred A. (eds.). The River Dwellers. Pasig : The River of Life. Unilever Philippines. pp. 43–66.
  5. ^ Benitez-Johannot, Purissima, ed. (September 16, 2011). Paths Of Origins: The Austronesian Heritage In The Collections Of The National Museum Of The Philippines, The Museum Nasional Of Indonesia, And The Netherlands Rijksmuseum Voor Volkenkunde. Makati City, Philippines: Artpostasia Pte Ltd. ISBN 9789719429203.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Osborne, Milton (2004). Southeast Asia: An Introductory History (Ninth ed.). Australia: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-448-5.
  7. ^ a b c d e Maggay, Melba Padilla (1999). Filipino Religious Consciousness. Quezon City: Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.
  8. ^ []
  9. ^ a b c d Buenaventura , Pedro de San (1613). Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala. Pila, Laguna.
  10. ^ a b c Blair, Emma Helen; Robertson, James Alexander, eds. (1903). Relation of the Conquest of the Island of Luzon. The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. 3. Ohio, Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Company. p. 145.
  11. ^ Chirino, Pedro (1604). Relacion de las Islas Filipinas
  12. ^ Joaqiun, Nick (1988). Culture and History. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 411. ISBN 971-27-1300-8.
  13. ^ Tan, Michael (2008). Revisiting Usog, Pasma, Kulam. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press. p. 178. ISBN 978-971-542-570-4.
  14. ^ Jocano, F. Landa (1973). Folk Medicine in a Philippine Community. Quezon City: Punlad Research House, Inc. ISBN 971-622-015-4.
  15. ^ Forbes, Henry (Oct 1885). "A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago. A Narrative of Travel and Exploration from 1878 to 1883". The American Naturalist. 19 (10): 975–977. doi:10.1086/274069.
  16. ^ Meyer, A.B. "The Tagals Tigmamanukan". In Blumentritt, Ferdinand (ed.). Dictionario Mitologica de Pilipinas. pp. 34, 118.
  17. ^ Garcia, Mauro (Ed.) (1979). "Readings in Philippine Prehistory". Manila 1979: Filipiniana Book Guild, Inc. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link) CS1 maint: location (link)
  18. ^ []
  19. ^ []
  20. ^ []
  21. ^ Tacio, Henrylito D. Death Practices Philippine Style Archived 2010-01-25 at the Wayback Machine,, October 30, 2005
  22. ^ a b c d e f Jocano, F. Landa (2001). Filipino Prehistory: Rediscovering Precolonial Heritage. Quezon City: Punlad Research House, Inc. ISBN 971-622-006-5.
  23. ^ F. Landa Jocano, ed. The Philippines at the Spanish Contact. Manila: MCS enterprises, 1975, 2.
  24. ^ a b Vitaliano R. Gorospe, S.J., Chrisitian Renewal of Filipino Values. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1966. 37.