Archive for the ‘Negritos’ Category



The Aeta, also known as the Agta or Ita,  live mainly in the mountains in the north of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines. They are Negritos: they are short with dark brown skin, woolly to curly hair, flat noses and, compared to most people in the Philippines, large, dark eyes. Most Filipinos look down on them because they are dark-skinned.

There are 40,000 of them left. They go to bad schools and live in poverty. Only a third of them live to see 15. And of those who live to 15, most are dead by 30.

The Aeta are like American Indians in America: they came there first but newcomers have been pushing them off their land into the less desirable parts of the country. They are seen as near-savages and do not receive equal protection under the law.

The government does not uphold their land rights. It stands by and does little to nothing while farmers, mining companies and others push them off their land. Neither does the government see to it that they have good schools. It was not any better when the Philippines was under American rule in the early 1900s.

The Aeta came to the Philippines from Borneo 30,000 years ago. They walked to the Philippines – because back then you could: it was the middle of an ice age and the sea was much lower. They and other Negritos were the main people in the Philippines till 5,000 years ago when the Austronesians, Asians from the north, began to arrive.

The Aeta have their own art, dance, music, etc. They used to have their own style of dress but that has been disappearing in favour of Western dress.

Some things they have taken on from the outside world: T-shirts, sandals, karaoke, gongs and, despite being short, basketball. Their languages too come from outside: they are Austronesian, not whatever it was they spoke in ancient times.

Religion: The Spanish tried to make them into good Catholics by forcing them to live in mission settlements. That failed. American missionaries in the 1900s did not have much better success. Most Aetas are not Christians. They believe in good and evil spirits that rule nature. They perform religious dances before they go on a pig hunt or gather shellfish.

Some say they eat men. That seems to be a stereotype: there is no proof of it. They also say they have little understanding of law, land rights or money. That sounds like a self-serving stereotype, but since many of them live off in the mountains and do not receive a proper education, it is not out of the question.

During the Vietnam War they were used to train American soldiers on how to live in the jungle.

Not all of them live in the mountains. Some live in towns and cities where they beg, sell things on the street or perform unskilled labour. They are almost never seen doing white collar work. They also do farm work – often on the very land that used to be theirs!

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Negritos means “little black people”; it is what the Spanish called the short black people they saw in South East Asia. The men were barely over five feet (1.5 m), the women shorter still. They looked like black people from Africa: woolly hair, dark brown skin, flat noses, thick lips.

orang_asli3They live in the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and the Andaman Islands to the west. There is at least 30,000 of them in the Philippines.

Negritos do not think of themselves as Negritos: they see themselves as belonging to this or that tribe.

PartIII02The Chinese knew about them: one appears as the hero in the book “Kunlun Nu” (c. 880). Even the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu was said to be “black in complexion”. Some of the ancient Buddhas of Thailand look black too!

The big mystery about Negritos is when and how they got to South East Asia.

We do not know yet for sure, but the following seems to be the probable answer based on what we know so far:

Negritos are extremely ancient, so ancient that they were the very first people ever to come to South East Asia. The Malaysians even call them the orang asli – the original people. They came with the first wave of people to leave Africa. South East Asia was mainly Negrito 5,000 years ago but now only pockets of them are left here and there. Like the American Indians in North America.

If you look at people’s mitochondrial DNA you can not only build a family tree of all mankind, you can also piece together when and how humans spread across the earth.

Most Negritos who have had their DNA tested turn out to have the same mitochondrial DNA as the people in southern India, New Guinea and Australia: haplogroup M, the first to leave Africa. They left about 50,000 years ago, following the coast of the Indian Ocean and then spreading inland. This gave rise to:

  • India: Dravidians
  • South East Asia: Negritos
  • New Guinea: Papuans, Melanesians
  • Australia: Aboriginals
  • South America: palaeoindians of 30,000 years ago


We do not know if the Palaeo-Indians of 30,000 years ago (at Pedra Furada in Brazil and Monte Verde 2 in Chile) belonged to haplogroup M, but we do know they looked like the people in Australia, so it seems likely. They could have been shipwrecked there – they did have boats, having reached Australia. (The Incas, for example, knew about white people before the Spanish came because of shipwrecks.)

Every branch of mankind started out in Africa and started out black. But because haplogroup M stayed mostly in the tropics they kept much of their black appearance, like dark skin and flat noses.

It seems that South East Asia is most like Africa so that Negritos changed the least in appearance, unlike, say, the Aboriginals to the south, who changed more (straighter hair, for example).

Negritos, though, did get shorter. That might be due to island dwarfing: most Negritos who remain live on islands where food is limited, which gives short height an advantage.

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