Philippines Indigenous Art Forms Explored
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Weaving traditions of the Philippines
  2. Pottery in the Philippines
  3. Philippine Tattoo Art
  4. Bamboo crafts of the Philippines
  5. Philippine Indigenous Music and Dance
  6. Philippine Textile Art
  7. The Art of Philippine Wood Carving
  8. Preserving Philippine Indigenous Art Forms

When you think of the Philippines, you might picture its stunning beaches or delicious food. But, did you know that this tropical nation is also home to a rich treasure trove of indigenous art forms? The Philippines is a melting pot of cultures, each with their own unique art forms that have been passed down through generations. These art forms range from intricate weavings to pottery, tattoos, and bamboo crafts, to music, dance, textile art, and wood carving. So, let's embark on a journey to explore the diverse indigenous art forms in the Philippines, and appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship that make them unique.

Weaving traditions of the Philippines

First on our list is the weaving tradition, an indigenous art form that has been a part of Filipino culture for centuries. When you look at a piece of Filipino woven fabric, you're not just looking at a material. You're seeing a story, a tradition, and a piece of the weaver's soul.

In the northern provinces of the Philippines, you'll find the Ilocos region, known for its abel weaving. The abel fabric is so strong and durable, it can last for generations. Its vibrant colors and intricate designs reveal the creativity and skill of the Ilocano people.

Moving further south, we come across the Yakan weavers of Basilan. They create vibrant, geometric textiles that are a feast for the eyes. The Yakans traditionally use these colorful fabrics to make their traditional attire— a clear sign of their rich cultural identity.

Finally, let's not forget the T'boli people of South Cotabato, who are famous for their t'nalak weaving. The t'nalak fabric is made from abaca fibers and dyed with natural colors. The T'boli believe that the intricate patterns are dreams given to them by their ancestors.

These are just a few examples of the weaving traditions in the Philippines, each unique and special in its own way. So next time you see a piece of woven fabric, remember: it's more than just a material. It's a piece of Filipino culture, a testament to the country's rich indigenous art forms.

Pottery in the Philippines

Shifting our focus from woven fabric to clay, let's get our hands dirty with the traditional pottery of the Philippines. Much like weaving, pottery is one of the indigenous art forms in the Philippines that has been around for a long time. It's a testament to Filipino resourcefulness and creativity.

One of the most recognized pottery traditions in the Philippines is found in Vigan. Here, locals have been making burnay jars for centuries. These large, earthenware jars are created using a foot-powered wheel and a unique process of firing in underground pits. Burnay jars are not just decorative items — they're used for storing water, grains, and even local wine!

Another place in the Philippines known for its pottery is Ilocos Sur. The town of San Juan is famous for its red clay pottery, known locally as damili. Damili pottery ranges from cooking pots and water containers to toys and figurines, showing the versatility of this art form.

And let's not forget Sagada, a town nestled in the mountains of the Cordillera region. Here, the Kankanaey-Igorot people have been creating stoneware pottery for generations. They use a unique, freehand technique — without a wheel — to shape their pots, and the result is a beautiful, rustic piece of art.

Each piece of pottery tells a story of the hands that shaped it, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines. So next time you come across a piece of Filipino pottery, remember to appreciate the skill and tradition that went into creating it.

Philippine Tattoo Art

Next up, let's look at a different type of art form — one that's drawn on the skin. Yes, we're talking about the indigenous tattoo art in the Philippines. It's a fascinating topic, so get ready for some inky insights.

In the Philippines, the art of tattooing goes way back. The ancient warriors of the Visayas, Luzon, and Mindanao regions proudly wore intricate tattoos that signified their bravery in battle. This form of body art wasn't just for decoration; it was a badge of honor. The more tattoos a warrior had, the more respected they were.

One tribe well-known for its tattooing traditions is the Butbut tribe of Kalinga, in the northern part of the Philippines. Here, they practice a technique known as batok. Batok tattoos are applied using a thorn and a bamboo stick, a method that's been passed down through generations. The designs often represent nature, like the mountains, rivers, and animals of the Kalinga land.

The last living traditional tattoo artist from the Butbut tribe is Apo Whang Od. At over 100 years old, she's a living legend and has devoted her life to preserving this indigenous art form in the Philippines. Her work has gained international recognition, and people from around the world visit her to get inked.

Philippine tattoo art is rich with symbolism and history. It's more than just skin deep — it's a testament to the strength, courage, and resilience of the Filipino people. So, if you ever have the chance to see these tattoos in person, remember the stories they carry.

Bamboo Crafts of the Philippines

Let's shift our focus now to a unique art form that uses one of nature's most versatile materials — bamboo. When it comes to indigenous art forms in the Philippines, bamboo crafting holds a special place. You'll soon see why.

In the Philippines, bamboo is more than just a plant. It's a vital part of the culture, used for building homes, making musical instruments, and creating beautiful crafts. The versatility of bamboo is truly impressive. It's strong yet flexible, allowing artists to shape it in ways that suit their vision.

One of the most recognized bamboo crafts is the 'banga', a traditional rice container. These containers, often decorated with intricate designs, are a common sight in the Ifugao region. The attention to detail in each piece is a true testament to the skill of the local craftsmen.

Another popular bamboo craft is the 'sawali', a woven bamboo panel used for building walls in traditional Filipino homes. The weaving process requires patience and precision, resulting in a product that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

But it's not all about practicality. The bamboo also takes a starring role in creating toys like the 'saranggola', a traditional Filipino kite. The 'saranggola' showcases the playful side of bamboo crafts and adds a dash of color to the skies.

Through the art of bamboo crafting, we can see how the indigenous people of the Philippines have harnessed the gifts of nature. It's a shining example of creativity, resourcefulness, and respect for the environment. So, next time you come across a bamboo craft, take a moment to appreciate the hands that shaped it.

Philippine Indigenous Music and Dance

There's something magical about music and dance, isn't there? They speak a universal language that transcends borders. When we explore indigenous art forms in the Philippines, it's impossible to overlook the vibrant music and dance traditions that pulse through the archipelago.

Let's start with a rhythm that beats at the heart of Philippine indigenous music — the 'Kulintang'. This is a traditional ensemble that features a series of gongs and drums. The resulting sound is a mesmerizing melody that can be soft and soothing or vibrant and invigorating. Imagine sitting under the stars, listening to the rhythmic pulse of the 'Kulintang'. It's an experience that connects you, not just with the music, but with the rich history and culture it represents.

And where there's music, there's dance. Some of the most captivating dances in the Philippines are steeped in indigenous tradition. Take the 'Tinikling', for example. It's a dance that mimics the movements of the 'tikling' bird as it hops between grass stems and bamboo traps. Watch a performance, and you'll be struck by the agility and coordination of the dancers as they weave in and out of clapping bamboo poles. It's a sight that leaves you in awe of the talent and dedication it takes to master this art form.

Or consider the 'Bangka' dance. This is a communal dance that tells the story of daily life in a fishing village. The dancers move in unison, their bodies swaying to the rhythm of the waves. It's a dance that celebrates community, resilience, and the bond between the people and the sea.

These are just a few examples of the indigenous music and dance forms in the Philippines. They are an integral part of the cultural fabric, serving as a bridge between the past and the present. So, whether you're tapping your feet to the beat of the 'Kulintang' or being swept up in the energetic 'Tinikling', remember that you're partaking in a tradition that has been passed down through generations.

Philippine Textile Art

Let's continue our journey through indigenous art forms in the Philippines by turning our attention to an art form that is both beautiful and functional — textile art. From clothing to home decor, textiles play an important part in daily life, but they are also a canvas on which artists can express their creativity.

Take the 'T'nalak' fabric, for instance. This is a type of woven cloth created by the T'boli people of South Cotabato. It's made from abaca fibers and dyed using natural colors. The process of making 'T'nalak' fabric is a labor of love. It requires patience, skill, and a deep understanding of the traditions and techniques that have been passed down through generations. But the end result is worth the effort. The intricate designs and vibrant colors are a testament to the talent and creativity of the weavers.

Another fascinating example of Philippine textile art is the 'Inabel' fabric from the Ilocos region. This handwoven cloth is known for its durability and versatility. It can be used to make everything from blankets and towels to clothing and bags. What sets 'Inabel' apart is the variety of patterns and motifs that adorn the fabric. Each design holds a special meaning and tells a story about the culture and history of the Ilocos people.

These are just a couple of examples of the rich textile art tradition in the Philippines. Each region, each tribe, has its own unique style and method of weaving. So, the next time you wrap yourself in a 'T'nalak' shawl or admire a piece of 'Inabel' fabric, take a moment to appreciate the skill, dedication, and artistry that went into creating it. After all, textile art is more than just a craft. It's a form of storytelling, a way of preserving culture and history, and a vibrant expression of the diverse indigenous art forms in the Philippines.

The Art of Philippine Wood Carving

Now, let's move from the loom to the chisel and explore another amazing indigenous art form in the Philippines — wood carving. The Philippines is home to an abundance of beautiful, durable wood, making it a natural choice for artisans throughout the country.

One of the best places to see this art form in action is in the mountain province of Ifugao. The Ifugao people are renowned for their intricate carvings, particularly the 'Bulul' statues. These sculptures, often carved from a single piece of wood, represent rice deities and serve as guardians of the grain. The 'Bulul' is not just a showpiece, but a symbol of the community's deep respect for nature and their ancestors.

Down in the southern region of Mindanao, the Maranao people show their artistic prowess through 'Okir', a unique carving style featuring flowing geometric patterns and motifs. Often used to adorn furniture, doors and musical instruments, 'Okir' carvings are a visual feast, showcasing the Maranao's rich cultural heritage and artistic talent.

What's fascinating about Philippine wood carving is how each piece tells a story. Whether it's a 'Bulul' statue watching over the rice fields, or an 'Okir'-adorned chest containing a family's treasures, these works of art are steeped in tradition and meaning. They offer a tangible connection to the past, while continuing to inspire new generations of artists.

As you can see, wood carving is more than just an indigenous art form in the Philippines. It's a testament to the country's rich cultural heritage, the creativity of its people, and their deep respect for the natural world. So next time you stumble upon a piece of Philippine wood carving, take a moment to appreciate the story it tells and the hands that crafted it.

Preserving Philippine Indigenous Art Forms

With all the different indigenous art forms in the Philippines, it's crucial to talk about the elephant in the room — preservation. As our world becomes more digital and modern, it's easy for these traditional art forms to be left behind. Luckily, there are several initiatives in the Philippines working hard to keep these cultural practices alive.

One great example is the 'Schools of Living Traditions' (SLT). Established by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, SLTs are community-based institutions that teach the younger generation about indigenous art forms. From weaving to wood carving, these schools ensure that traditional practices continue to thrive in the modern world.

There's also the 'Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan' or the National Living Treasures Award. This prestigious honor is given to individuals or groups who have significantly contributed to their community's artistic heritage. By recognizing their efforts, the award not only inspires these artists but also brings attention to their work.

Then we have museums and cultural centers like the 'BenCab Museum' in Baguio City and the 'National Museum of the Philippines'. These institutions regularly hold exhibitions showcasing indigenous art, providing a platform for artists to share their work and for visitors to learn about these cultural treasures.

Preserving indigenous art forms in the Philippines is a collective effort. It involves artists, educators, government institutions, and even you. By learning about these art forms, supporting local artisans, or even just spreading the word, you can help keep these traditions alive for future generations to enjoy.

So, are you ready to take part in preserving the rich tapestry of indigenous art forms in the Philippines?

If you enjoyed exploring the Philippines' indigenous art forms and want to learn more about traditional art techniques, check out the workshop 'Classical Painting in the Modern Day' by Eric Drummond. This workshop will provide you with valuable insights on how to incorporate classical painting techniques into your modern art practice, creating a fusion of tradition and contemporary styles.