The Negritos were the aboriginal (or first) inhabitants of the Philippine archipelago.


An Ati woman in Kalibo on Panay, Philippines
Total population
55,473 (2020 census)[1]
(1980: 1,500 speakers of Ati)[2]
Regions with significant populations
Western Visayas
Ati, Aklanon, Hiligaynon, Tagalog
Animism, Christianity (Roman Catholic)
Related ethnic groups
Other Negritos, Visayans, and Filipinos

The Ati are a Negrito ethnic group in the Visayas, the central portion of the Philippine archipelago. Their small numbers are principally concentrated in the islands of Boracay, Panay and Negros. They are genetically related[3] to other Negrito ethnic groups in the Philippines such as the Aeta of Luzon, the Batak of Palawan, the Agta of the Sierra Madres, and the Mamanwa of Mindanao.[4]


A woman at the Kalibo Ati-Atihan Festival

The Negritos are the descendants of the same early East Eurasian meta-population, which also gave rise to modern East Asians and Australasians, among other populations of the Asia-Pacific region. The earliest modern human migrations into the Philippine archipelago were during the Paleolithic, around 40,000 years ago, followed by two other migration waves between 25,000 and 12,000 years ago, through the Sundaland land bridges that linked the islands with the Asian mainland. The latest migration wave is associated with the Austronesian peoples (c. 7,000 years ago) from Taiwan.[5][6][7] The Philippine Negritos display relatively closer genetic affinity towards different Eastern Asian populations, prehistoric Hoabinhian samples, as well as to the Indigenous people of New Guinea and Aboriginal Australians, from which they diverged around c. 40,000 years ago, and also display genetic substructure along a North to South cline, suggesting their ancestral population diverged into two subgroups after the initial peopling of the Philippines. Furthermore, they display high percentages of Denisovan gene flow.[5][6]

Legends, such as those involving the Ten Bornean Datus and the Binirayan Festival, tell tales about how, at the beginning of the 12th century when Indonesia and the Philippines were under the rule of Indianized native kingdoms, the ancestors of the Bisaya escaped from Borneo and from the persecution of Rajah Makatunaw. Led by Datu Puti and Datu Sumakwel and sailing with boats called balangays, they landed near a river called Suaragan, on the southwest coast of Panay, (the place then known as Aninipay), and bartered the land from an Ati headman named Polpolan and his son Marikudo for the price of a necklace and one golden salakot. The hills were left to the Atis while the plains and rivers to the Malays. This meeting is commemorated through the Ati-atihan festival. This legend, though, is challenged by some historians.[8]

During Spanish colonization, the tribe made contact with the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and were exploited in his colonization of Panay.



An Ati family in Kalibo, Aklan

The Ati speak a distinct language known as Inati. According to a census in 1980, the speakers of Inati number about 1,500. Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a are also commonly used.[2]


The Ati practice a form of animism that involves good and evil spirits. These spirits are nature spirits that often guard rivers, the sea, the sky, as well as the mountains. Sometimes, they may cause disease or comfort. The Ati from Negros refer to them as taglugar or tagapuyo, which literally means "inhabiting a place." Christianity has also been adopted due to less isolation and more contact with "outsiders."

Ancestral lands

The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) granted to the Ati community on Boracay a certificate of ancestral domain title (CADT) in 2010.[9]

Atis were harassed and threatened in 2012 on two occasions by men identified with resort owners and local officials.[4] Ati youth leader Dexter Condez was killed on February 22, 2013.[10] The killing has not yet been resolved.[4]

The Supreme Court upheld the CADT in 2019 in favor of Atis against legal challenges mounted by private claimants.[11]

In 2018, four Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) for 3.2 hectares agricultural lands were granted to Ati communities as part of the national land reform program. Ati farmers now grow dragon fruit, banana, lemongrass, papaya, and vegetables on the land.[12]


Ati woman in Panay


Not too long ago, like other Negritos in the country, their clothing was simple, with women wearing wraparound skirts, sometimes made out of bark cloth, and men wearing loincloths. However today T-shirts, pants, and rubber sandals are common as daily clothes.

Jewelry is simple in nature. Some jewelry objects involve plants such as flowers, while others use animal bones; particularly the teeth of pigs.


Ati are known in Panay as practitioners of herbal medicine. Locals often seek their help in removing leeches from a person's body.


The Negritos traditionally were nomadic people, with the Ati of Panay being known as the most mobile. Now they live in more permanent settlements like Barotac Viejo, island of Guimaras, Igkaputol (Dao), Tina (Hamtic) and Badiang (San Jose de Buenavista). The famous island of Boracay is still regarded as their ancestral land as the area known as Takbuyan, between the municipalities of Tobias Fournier (Dao) and San Joaquin, on the southwestern coast of Panay. Very few of them are now nomadic (mostly women with small children). Ati men traditionally join 'sacadas' workers on time of harvest of sugar plants in places such as Negros or Batangas.


The Ati are the central attraction in the Ati-atihan festival, a festival named in their honor. It is said that the festival is held to commemorate the first appearance of the Roman Catholic Church and the Spaniards in the province of Aklan. According to oral tradition, the Ati helped the Spaniards conquer the native Visayans and, as a reward, the tribe was given a statue of the Santo Niño.

In the Dinagyang festival of Iloilo City, also on Panay, performers are also painted to look supposedly like Ati and are organized into "tribes", called "tribus", to perform dances with drums, as the Atis are supposed to have done when the Austronesians arrived and bought Panay from the Ati. Dinagyang is held to celebrate this purchase as well as the arrival in Iloilo of the Santo Niño statue. When the statue first arrived in 1967, a tribe from the Ati-atihan festival was invited to Iloilo to mark the occasion.

Atis of Boracay

Ati tribe members cultivate the warm sand in Barangay Manoc-manoc in Malay, Aklan.
Ati people receiving agricultural tools from the Philippine government during the 2018 Boracay closure and redevelopment

Atis are the original inhabitants of Boracay island. As the island gained fame, Atis were pushed away. They lost their lands and many were rendered homeless. Consequently, many migrated to the Caticlan mainland. However, President Duterte took the initiative of land reforms. In November 2018, land titles of 3.2 hectares (7.9 acres) were handed over to the Atis.[13] about one percent of the roughly 1,000-hectare (2,500-acre) area of the island. The lack of education and discrimination remain issues faced by the Atis of Boracay in more recent times.[14]

The Philippine government through the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) has made efforts to increase Ati employability through scholarships for culinary and aesthetics training programs. Upon completion of these programs, they will graduate with a nationally recognized certificate.[15][16] The government is also making an effort to create employment opportunities; in 2019, the Aklan provincial government hired two full-time employees from the Ati community to oversee the crop production in the Ati Greenhouse which was set up as a source of income for the Ati community.[17]


  1. ^ "Ethnicity in the Philippines (2020 Census of Population and Housing)". Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved 6 July 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Ati – A language of Philippines". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
  3. ^ "image from". Archived from the original on 27 February 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-27.
  4. ^ a b c Resabal, Cooper (October 27, 2018). "After cleanup, Atis in Boracay hope to reclaim land". Vera Files. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  5. ^ a b Jinam, Timothy A.; Phipps, Maude E.; Aghakhanian, Farhang; Majumder, Partha P.; Datar, Francisco; Stoneking, Mark; Sawai, Hiromi; Nishida, Nao; Tokunaga, Katsushi; Kawamura, Shoji; Omoto, Keiichi; Saitou, Naruya (August 2017). "Discerning the Origins of the Negritos, First Sundaland People: Deep Divergence and Archaic Admixture". Genome Biology and Evolution. 9 (8): 2013–2022. doi:10.1093/gbe/evx118. PMC 5597900. PMID 28854687.
  6. ^ a b Larena, Maximilian; Sanchez-Quinto, Federico; Sjödin, Per; McKenna, James; Ebeo, Carlo; Reyes, Rebecca; Casel, Ophelia; Huang, Jin-Yuan; Hagada, Kim Pullupul; Guilay, Dennis; Reyes, Jennelyn; Allian, Fatima Pir; Mori, Virgilio; Azarcon, Lahaina Sue; Manera, Alma (2021-03-30). "Multiple migrations to the Philippines during the last 50,000 years". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 118 (13): e2026132118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2026132118. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 8020671. PMID 33753512.
  7. ^ "Discerning the Origins of the Negritos, First Sundaland People: Deep Divergence and Archaic Admixture". 8 August 2017. Retrieved 2023-02-27.
  8. ^ "Kalantiao – the hoax". Paul Morrow. Archived from the original on 15 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-26.
  9. ^ Buan, Lian (August 28, 2019). "Supreme Court affirms Ati ownership of 2-hectare land in Boracay". Rappler. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  10. ^ "Violence looms over Ati tribe ancestral domain in Boracay". Rappler. February 26, 2014. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  11. ^ "SC rules NCIP has primary jurisdiction over ancestral domain claims". ABS-CBN News. August 29, 2019. Retrieved 2020-06-20.
  12. ^ Seneviratne, Kalinga (2024-04-07). "Fighting for their land: on Philippine's Boracay, Ati tribe faces eviction". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on April 10, 2024. Retrieved 2024-04-11.
  13. ^ "Boracay Atis get land ownership titles". cnn. Archived from the original on 2019-07-02. Retrieved 2019-07-02.
  14. ^ Productive Employment for Indigenous People
  15. ^ "TESDA to provide livelihood skills for indigenous people in Antique". Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  16. ^ Lomotan, Roi Anthoni; Malagar, Georgette (May 21, 2019). "Feature: Better future awaits IPs after TESDA training". Archived from the original on July 3, 2019. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  17. ^ "Aklan Province". Retrieved 2019-07-03.

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