It is no secret that the locals of all lands got the short end of the stick when the conquerors took over lands the world over. It is unfortunately no different here in the Philippines, where the indigenous are being pushed out of their original homes, as the push for economic growth surges deep into the untouched, natural world.

In recent years, there has been a painful spotlight thrust onto a group of indigenous people right here in Mindanao – the Lumad. Since the middle of last year, the previous administration had been accused of carrying out mindless attacks on the people of the Lumad, despite there being no wrongdoing on the part of the indigenous people.

Image: Twitter/JeffLiwag

As somebody who calls Davao City home, the current president, Duterte, is working very hard to right the unthinkable wrongs of his predecessors. This form of ethnocide is unacceptable, and there needs to be an urgent conversation about this.

Let’s discuss the Lumad people.


The Lumad are not a single people; the term ‘Lumad’ is a collection of (up to) 18 different tribes, all originating from Mindanao. There seems to be a confusion about the true number of the Lumad, ranging from 13 to 18 tribes.

Lumad peoples are a shorthand of ‘Katawhang Lumad’, a Cebuano term that directly translates to “indigenous people”. Cebuano may be an odd choice for a group of people who reside in Mindanao, but it is the only common tongue all these tribes have.

 Note:  Lumad is the blanket name for non-Muslim, non-Christian tribes and indigenous people.

Of the tribes named in the 18, there are the T’Boli, B’laan, Ata, Bagobo, Banwaon, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaunon, Kalagan, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Mangguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Subanen, Tagakaolo, and Uno. Most of these tribes do have a few Muslims and Christians amongst them (when the different conquerors tried to take them over, but most still hold their old beliefs, e.g. Animism).

Some tribes, like Kalagan, have some disparities over their inclusion in this blanket term as they have a significant Muslim community within their ranks. This is why there is no definite number of tribes within Lumad peoples.

The Lumad

Image: Miles Albasin |

Lumad people are the natives of the Filipino land, the people who were here before any foreigners or conquerors set foot on the land.

To put it simply, the Lumad people are the natives of the Filipino land, the people who were here before any foreigners or conquerors set foot on the land. These indigenous consist mainly of Negrito groups who are specific to a certain ancestral land.


As mentioned before, most, if not all of the tribes do have a common tongue in Cebuano. However, their native languages differ from tribe to tribe, even though some may have similarities due to their proximities to each other.

Most of the languages carry the same name as their tribe, e.g. the T’boli peoples’ language is simply called T’boli. However, due to their close proximity to the B’laan, among others, their native languages have similarities to each other. Many also do understand Tagalog and are able to speak some of it, while others, like the AtaBukidnon, and Higaunon people speak the Manobo languages.

Life as a Lumad

Image: | Jacob Maentz

The indigenous of any land live simply, rejecting the practices of the new ages and the conquerors, instead preferring the ways of their ancestors that have worked for them for many generations. Lumad are no different in this sense, choosing to protect and live their lives on ancestral grounds. This has caused much conflict over the years, especially with big companies and the government looking to take over their land.

Most Lumad live in the highlands or in forested swamp areas, allowing them to be hunter-gatherers and live off the land. Agriculture is huge in many of these communities, such as with the T’boli, and many still practice slash-and-burn, like they did from years past. Rice, yams, and cassava are some of the most important crops to the T’boli.

These days, however, while they still rely heavily on agriculture, slash-and-burn has been outlawed, making it a lot harder for them to access viable land, especially with companies purchasing most of it.

Image: Flickr/PrestiGiovanni

Lumad who live closer to water, such as the Subanen, rely not only on the land for food but also take to the water as fishermen to hunt for their food. Some do practice trade, while some of the more “popular” Lumad recognize the significance of tourism as a lucrative source of income.

Housing is pretty standard throughout the Lumad communities, with most of their accommodation preserved and strengthened from the days of old. Many use bamboo to build their houses as it is not only plentiful but also light and strong, while others use materials found on their land.

Some cities, such as General Santos City, have tried to provide socialized housing for certain Lumad families driven off their land. While some Lumad are accepting of this practice, it has been met with much rejection by a significant portion of the people.


Image: Twitter/SpecialChad

Stereotypically, tropical indigenous people the world over wear clothing made of the plants of the land, and wear as little as possible to cope with the heat and humidity whilst working. Lumad take it a step further, with their colourful attire, hairpieces, and an assortment of accessories. The casual onlooker may see their attire as very similar, if not identical, but closer inspection will reveal the unique difference between tribe’s attires, from material to colour, to specific trinkets.

Numbers and beyond

Images: Flickr/99539988@N00

Because there is no actual headcount or registration of peoples of these tribes, there is no entirely accurate or up to date number available. However, the general number tends to vary from tribe to tribe, from the Subanen numbering over 300,000 to the Tasaday (another group that has questionable origins) numbering a little over 200 at last count.

While indigenous people the world over have been pushed around and ostracized by the foreign invaders, the Lumad have it much worse than many. Mindanao is a mineral-rich group of islands, and the ancestral land the Lumad used to reside on have always been sought after by corporations for years, even up to today.

That is why at the turn of the last century the Lumad held rights to lands that covered 17 of Mindanao’s 24 provinces, yet consist only 6% of the population to date. Amazingly, even though the Philippines signed the ‘Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ UN Act in 2007, the Lumad are still being pushed out and killed over ancestral land by government and corporations.

 The Lumad’s desires are simple: 

  • Return of land taken through unlawful means;
  • Cancelling of government permits to exploit their lands, instead going through individual tribes for permission and reimbursement;
  • Control over settlers into ancestral domains;
  • Culture to be taught officially via the DepEd curriculum;
  • Stopping militarization of territories, recruitment of Lumad into paramilitary units, and improper use of revenge raids; and
  • Dispersing of fake Lumad organizations to diffuse legitimate Lumad claims and advancing selfish interests in the government.

In the end, there can be no argument that not only are the Lumad people misunderstood, but the people who do understand them are exploiting and depriving them of their rights. Most of these rights are about their desire to live simply and abide by their age-old practices.

There have been many wrongs done to these wonderful, traditional people, and there have been too many times that people in power have kept their glances averted from the glaring issue. The Lumad deserve their land, their rights, and they sure as hell deserve to have their individual voices heard.

It may not be a popular topic, but it is one that needs to be opened and spoken about. For all too long the Lumad have been pushed around and silenced for wanting the same rights as the regular people. Hopefully, the government will do something to right the wrongs of previous administrations, but if not, it is up to you to read up and learn about these people.

I stand with the Lumad.

Image: Flickr/SoulNotes