Indigenous religious beliefs of the Philippines

Various terms have been used to refer to the religious beliefs of the 175 ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines, where each had their own form of indigenous government prior to colonization from Islam and Spain. They are characterized as being animistic, and have been collectively referred to as Anitism or Bathalism or the more modern and less Tagalog-centric Dayawism.[1][2][3][4]

The profusion of different terms arises from the fact that these indigenous religions mostly flourished in the pre-colonial period before the Philippines had become a single nation.[5] The various peoples of the Philippines spoke different languages and thus used different terms to describe their religious beliefs. While these beliefs can be treated as separate religions, scholars have noted that they follow a "common structural framework of ideas" which can be studied together.[3]

Some writers have noted that these beliefs have similarities with the Shinto religion of Japan, although they do not draw a historical linkage between the two belief systems.[6] More historically linked are the various indigenous religious beliefs the various religions of Oceania and the maritime Southeast Asia, which draw their roots from Austronesian beliefs as those in the Philippines.[4][7]

As of 2010, an estimated 2% of the Philippine population identified as practicing indigenous beliefs - the majority of whom live in isolated areas where Islam, Catholicism, or Protestantism have not become dominant. Since the entrance of the 21st century, streams of Christian and Muslim Filipinos are steadily reverting to their indigenous ethnic religions that were once branded as lowly by Spanish, American, and Arabians colonizers, but have been affirmed by the social sciences as comprehensive and highly in nature.[8]

On the other hand, many aspects of these traditions have been integrated into the local practice of Catholicism and Islam, resulting in syncretistic practices called "Folk Catholicism"[1][2] and "Folk Islam".[5]

The folklore narratives associated with these religious beliefs constitute what is now called Philippine mythology, and is an important aspect of the study of Philippine culture and Filipino psychology.

Religious worldview

Historian T. Valentino Sitoy, in his review of documents concerning pre-Spanish religious beliefs, notes that three core characteristics which shaped the religious worldview of Filipinos throughout the archipelago before the arrival of Spanish colonizers. First, Filipinos believed in the existence of parallel spirit world, which was invisible but had an influence on the visible world. Second, Filipinos believed that there were spirits (anito) everywhere - ranging from the high creator gods to minor spirits that lived in the environment such as trees or rocks or creeks. Third, Filipinos believed that events in the human world were influenced by the actions and interventions of these spirit beings.[3]

Anito were the ancestor spirits (umalagad), or nature spirits and deities (diwata) in the indigenous animistic religions of precolonial Philippines. Paganito (also maganito or anitohan) refers to a séance, often accompanied by other rituals or celebrations, in which a shaman (Visayan: babaylan, Tagalog: katalonan) acts as a medium to communicate directly with the spirits. When a nature spirit or deity is specifically involved, the ritual is called pagdiwata (also magdiwata or diwatahan). Anito can also refer to the act of worship or a religious sacrifice to a spirit.[5][4][9]

When Spanish missionaries arrived in the Philippines, the word "anito" came to be associated with the physical representations of spirits that featured prominently in paganito rituals. During the American rule of the Philippines (1898–1946), the meaning of the Spanish word idolo ("a thing worshiped") has been further conflated with the English word "idol", and thus anito has come to refer almost exclusively to the carved figures or statues (taotao) of ancestral and nature spirits.[5][10]

The belief in anito is sometimes referred to as anitism in scholarly literature (Spanish: anitismo or anitería).[11]

Deities and spirits

Creator gods in Filipino religions

Many indigenous Filipino cultures assert the existence of a high god, creator god, or sky god.[4] Among the Tagalogs, the supreme god was known as Bathala, who was additionally described as Maykapal (the all-powerful) or Lumikha (the creator). Among the Visayan peoples the creator God is referred to as Laon, meaning "the ancient one." Among the Manuvu, the highest god was called Manama. Among most of the Cordilleran peoples (with the Apayao region as an exception), the creator and supreme teacher is known as Kabuniyan.[4]

In most cases, however, these gods were considered such great beings that they were too distant for ordinary people to approach.[2] People thus tended to pay more attention to "lesser gods" or "assistant deities" who could more easily approached, and whose wills could more easily be influenced.[4][2]

"Lower gods" in Filipino religions

Lesser deities in Filipino religions generally fit into three broad categories: nature spirits residing in the environment, such as a mountain or a tree; guardian spirits in charge of specific aspects of daily life such as hunting or fishing; and deified ancestors or tribal heroes. These categories frequently overlap, with individual deities falling into two or more categories, and in some instances, deities evolve from one role to another, as when a tribal hero known for fishing becomes a guardian spirit associated with hunting.[4]

Filipino folk healers

During the pre-Hispanic period, babaylan, functioned as shamans and spiritual leaders and mananambal were for folk healers. At the onset of the Colonial era, the suppression of the babaylans and the native Filipino religion gave rise to the albularyo. By exchanging the native prayers and spells with Catholic oraciones and Christian prayers, the albularyo was able to synchronize the ancient mode of healing with the new religion.

Albularyos employ herbs, alum, coconut oil, etc., in their healing practices as well as various prayers, chants and "supernatural" cures—especially for cases involving supernatural causes. As time progressed, the albularyo became more prominent in rural areas in the Philippines. Lacking access to scientific medical practices, rural Filipinos trusted the albularyos to rid them of common (and sometimes believed to be supernatural) sicknesses and diseases.

However, the role of the albularyo was slowly overshadowed by the rise of modern medical facilities. Urbanization gave the masses access to more scientific treatments, exchanging the chants and herbs of the albularyos with the newer technologies offered by the medical field. Still, albularyos flourish in many rural areas in the Philippines where medical facilities are still expensive and sometimes inaccessible.


Some of the rituals observed by Filipino Folk Healers include:

  • Pangalap - the aforementioned yearly search for concoction ingredients
  • Halad - ritual offering of food and drink to honor the spirits of the dead
  • Palínà - ritual fumigation; called tu-ob in the islands of Panay and Negros
  • Pangadlip - the chopping or slicing of pangalap ingredients
  • Pagpagong - burning or reducing the ingredients into charcoal or ashes
  • Making of Minasa - concoctions made from the pangalap ingredients
  • Rubbing with Lana - medicinal oil concocted from coconut

See also


  1. 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. Maggay, Melba Padilla (1999). Filipino Religious Consciousness. Quezon City: Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.
  3. Sitoy, T. Valentino, Jr. (1985). A history of Christianity in the Philippines Volume 1: The Initial Encounter. Quezon City, Philippines: New Day Publishers. ISBN 9711002558.
  4. 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.
  5. Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4.
  6. Gutierrez, Anna Katrina (2017-06-15). Mixed Magic: Global-local Dialogues in Fairy Tales for Young Readers. John Benjamins Publishing Company. ISBN 9789027265456.
  7. Osborne, Milton (2004). Southeast Asia: An Introductory History (Ninth ed.). Australia: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-74114-448-5.
  8. Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project: Philippines. Pew Research Center. 2010.
  9. Antonio Sánchez de la Rosa (1895). Diccionario Hispano-Bisaya para las provincias de Samar y Leyte, Volumes 1-2. Tipo-Litografia de Chofre y Comp. p. 414.
  10. Frederic H. Sawyer (1900). The Inhabitants of the Philippines. Charles Scribner's Sons.
  11. Stephen K. Hislop (1971). "Anitism: a survey of religious beliefs native to the Philippines" (PDF). Asian Studies. 9 (2): 144–156.
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