February 22, 2024 | Allison Robertson

Tau't Bato: People of the Rock


The Tau't Bato Tribe

The Tau’t Bato—People of the Rock—are a small community that is part of the Palawan tribe. They live in caves in the crater of an extinct volcano, and they still live a primitive lifestyle, even today.

Wearing nothing but bark and cloth, hunting bats inside their caves, and having multiple wives, the Tau't Bato people have an intriguing way of life that has only recently been discovered. 

tribe split image

Who are they?

Tau't Bato is a small subgroup of the Palawan tribes. There are about 500 tribe members today. They speak the native Pala’wan language and practice many of the same beliefs of the Pala’wan.

There are a few different spellings of their tribal name, including: Taaw’t Bato, Tau’t Bato, and Tao’t Bato.

Tao't Bato are small sub-ethnic group that dwells in cavesPacific Press, Getty Images

Where do they live?

The Tau’t Bato live in the Singnapan Basin, a bowl-shaped valley in southwestern Palawan, Philippines. Their location is very remote, and they remain mostly isolated.

They primarily live in caves in a large crater of an extinct volcano that created one of the largest sinkholes in the world. 

Coron Island, Palawan, PhilippinesRay in Manila, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

When were they discovered?

Although it is clear that the Tau’t Bato tribe have resided in the Philippines for thousands of years, they were recently “rediscovered” in 1978—making them the last discovered tribe of the islands.

They had survived for centuries completely isolated from the outside world.

cave tribeKwanza

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What was discovered?

When the first “outsider” discovered the tribe, they were found living inside the crater of an extinct volcano, which was being explored for science, at the time.

The tribes-people slowly emerged from various holes along a giant cave. Since then, we have learned much more about them.

Lost tribe in caves that turned out to be a hoaxBettmann, Getty Images

What did we learn?

After discovering the people, explorers took a closer look inside the caves and found ancient pottery, and petroglyphs, indicating that the Tau’t Bato tribe had been around since the stone age. 

Tao't Bato are small sub-ethnic group that dwells in cavesPacific Press, Getty Images

Why do we call them “People of the Rock”?

Tau’t Bato translates to “People of the Rock”, or “Stone People”. They got this name because they were discovered living in caves, and also because they have been around since the stone age.

cave  in Palawan in the Philippinesmobrafotografie, Shutterstock

What are their homes like?

The Tau’t Bato mostly live in caves for half the year, and wooden structures in fields for the other half.

Their cave structures are built on raised floors inside the caves, though others have set their homes on the open slopes.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

Why do they live in caves?

In the valley, there are only two seasons: wet and dry.

The cave dwellings are more used during the wet season, which runs from June to September, but depending on wind and ocean currents, the wet season can drag on much longer.

The caves protect them from the elements, and provide shelter from unpredictable tropical storms and floods.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

Where do they live during the dry season?

During the dry season each family has its own land and house within the valley. Each home is far away from any others.

Bamboo house near the entrance to ille caveAnyabr, Shutterstock

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What are their dry season homes made from?

Their dry season homes are rather large and made of wooden logs for the walls and furniture, and straw and woven materials for the roof. They resemble a more permanent structure.

Wooden houseCurioso.Photography, Shutterstock

How do they make their structures?

The tribe’s structures—which includes homes, rafts and benches—are built using light materials found around the land, such as saplings, branches, thick logs, and various leaves and plants.

They weave materials together to make a lot of their things.

A bamboo houseNOVAN MUNIR, Shutterstock

What do they sleep on?

They make sleeping platforms and multi-purpose platforms out of woven materials to serve as floors or beds.

Some have acquired clothing and materials through trade which they use as blankets or sleep mats.

Tao't Bato are small sub-ethnic group that dwells in cavesPacific Press, Getty Images

What do they use their homes for?

Unlike other indigenous tribes, the Tau’t Bato regularly use their dry-season houses.

The structures house all of their supplies, and some of them have indoor cooking areas, and separate spaces for floor beds. They spent a lot of time inside their homes during the evenings.

Abandoned bamboo hutCarlyZel, Shutterstock

How do they provide heat and light?

The Tau’t Bato rely heavily on fire to provide them with warmth and light, as well as keeping them dry during the wet season, and of course to cook their food.

While in the caves, a fire is almost always burning.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

What else do they use fire for?

The Tau’t Bato regularly burn grass to keep mosquitos away from their homes.

Malaria is still a huge concern for the natives of the area, so keeping the area as bug free as possible is a priority.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

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What do they wear?

The Tau’t Bato wear simple, minimal clothing, and do not wear shoes.

The men are still wearing G-strings made of bark and cloth while the women are wearing a skirt made of a piece of cloth to cover their lower body. The children stay uncovered.

Since trade began, many of the tribe members have acquired small bits of modern-day clothing.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

How do they wash?

For the people who have clothing, it is washed in the waters close by (where they also bathe). They do not have soap, so most of their clothing remains dirty and ragged—which is one of the reasons children do not wear clothing.

Most of the elderly community also choose traditional coverings over western clothing.

Cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

What do they eat?

The Tau’t Bato have numerous crops that they feed from, including: cassava (their main source of carbohydrates), sugarcane, garlic, sweet potato, and several varieties of vegetables, including garlic, tomatoes, beans and more.

They also regularly enjoy fish, wild pigs, and other small animals.

Tao't Bato tribe in Singnapan Valley harvest ripe durian...Pacific Press, Getty Images

How do they farm?

The Tau’t Bato people are swidden farmers (slash-and-burn agriculture) with multiple crops.

They burn down large fields and allow the burned plants to compost into organic matter which they then build their garden upon.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

How do they hunt?

Traditionally, the Tau’t Bato people used blowguns to catch their prey. They also used spring traps to catch wild pigs, and spears for fishing.

Homemade “bat catchers” are used to trap bats in their caves for food during the wet season.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

What is their family-structure like?

The Tau't Bato practice marriage groups or "ka-asawahan", which serves as the basic social unit among them.

Typically, they’re made up of a man and his wife (or wives), and their children. Though sometimes, more than one family unit will live together.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

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When do they live together?

When more than one couple lives together in a single cave it is called "Bulun-bulun". This is often done when sharing of goods is preferred, such as food and equipment—usually during the wet season.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

What is marriage like?

Marriages are arranged at a young age, and require a dowry of some sort given to the woman’s family in order to marry.

Young girls who are married to older men are usually second or third wives. A man can have as many wives as he desires.

Tau't Batu tribeVia Decouvertes Production, Tau't Batu (2014)

When does marriage take place?

Typically, marriages take place once the woman reaches puberty—as early as 10 years old, approximately. Though there is no age requirement for marriage.

The men are usually several years older than the women.

Tau't Batu tribeVia Decouvertes Production, Tau't Batu (2014)

When do they have children?

Married couples typically consummate the marriage once the girl has reached puberty. At that point, child baring can happen any time, and will continue as long as their body allows it.

There is no contraception, obviously. Though some believe similar tribes use the moon phases for tracking fertility.

cave tribeRaffy Vicente, Flickr

Do they celebrate birthdays?

Actually, most of the Tau’t Bato tribe do not know their ages. This is not something they keep track of.

They only know their stage in life based on the size of trees that grew alongside them, or the time of year it was based on the season or the harvest.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

Are men and women treated equally?

For the most part, it is believed that the men and women are rather respectful of one another, however, since the women are essentially “bought” by the man, the women are often tasked with carrying the heavy loads, or performing more difficult tasks.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

How do they raise their families?

In a Tau’t Bato family, everyone pitches in. The children take care of each other, and any able-bodied family member takes part in planting, harvesting, hunting, and using materials to make things.

cave tribeRaffy Vicente, Flickr

How do they have fun?

The Tau’t Bato people are known for their love of music. They know how to play two musical instruments known as "Kubing" and "Kudlong" in addition to the gong.

格鲁吉亚AbkhartsaSān liè, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

What do the kids play with?

The Tau’t Bato use charcoal to draw petroglyphs inside their caves, leaving beautiful markings around the valley.

Aside from that, the children also enjoy playing with bugs and creatures that make their way into their homes, such as: praying mantis, beetles, locusts, and even live bats before they are cooked for dinner.

Do they practice trade?

Trade among the Tau't Bato is done through "Sambi" (barter) or "Dagang" (monetary exchange). Trade is specifically for marine fish, and forest products such as almaciga and rattan. More recently, clothing has become a common trade item.

The Tau’t Bato often provide basketry, and various fruits as their trade product.

cave tribeVictor Paul Borg / Alamy Stock Photo

How is trading done?

After harvest, they make their own backpacks where they place up to 30 kilos of fruits and then walk for 5 long hours to the market of Sicud, Palawan, where they sell their fruit and buy fish to bring back home.

Tao't Bato tribe in Singnapan Valley harvest ripe durianPacific Press, Getty Images

Who do they trade with?

Most of their trade is within other tribes in neighboring territories, such as the Candawaga people. However, they only interact with other tribes and people for trade purposes—not socially.

Palawan indigenous peoplesUSAID Biodiversity & Forestry, Wikimedia Commons

What are they most known for?

Aside from living in caves, the Tau’t Bato people are known for their basketry. They weave baskets of all sizes and use them for carrying goods to and from the market.

They also use woven baskets as storage, bowls, hats, and shelters.

Hands of indigenous woman making traditional basketPINZONOOB, Shutterstock

What are their beliefs?

The Tau't Bato people have their own religion which centers around spirits. They believe they must serve and appease these spirits to gain blessings and not be put under curses.

cave tribeHemis / Alamy Stock Photo

What do they do when a member passes?

When a family member passes, the entire family unit will move to a new home or cave. It is less of a spiritual thing and more of an emotional thing—they prefer to “leave sad memories behind.”

cave tribeHemis / Alamy Stock Photo

Do they have any habits similar to modern society?

Yes, the Tau’t Bato tribe regularly smoke tobacco. It’s not just the adults either, young children will often roll and smoke their own. It is said that they do this to help keep away mosquitos.

They roll the dried tobacco in leaves and light it using the fire pit.

cave tribeJacob Maentz, Jacob Images

Do they accept modern-day supplies?

Although trade is slowly providing more variety of items to the once isolated tribes in the valley, the people choose carefully what they trade for.

Some have acquired clothing, backpacks, and supplies that help manage food. 

Tao't Bato tribe in Singnapan ValleyPacific Press, Getty Images

Who can visit them?

The Philippine government heavily guards the area, encouraging the western world to allow the tribes in the valley to live in peace.

However, permission can be granted to visit the tribe for research purposes.

cave tribeSteve Lansing, The Leaky Foundation

Do people visit often?

No, it is very difficult to get permission to get close to their territory. Some people have been granted access, and this is where our information is sourced from.

The serious threat of malaria is a concern for western folk, as well as introducing illness and disease to the tribe.

cave tribeYodisphere, Philippine Travel

Do the Tau’t Bato like outsiders?

The tribe is not hostile toward outsiders, but most of them will hide away if they see someone they do not know.

They are also known to reject offerings from outsiders, both in fear of what it could be, but also in preference of their own supplies—such as fire starters.

cave tribeSurvival International

Are they at risk?

The Tau’t Bato tribe was only discovered less than 50 years ago, so they have not been at much risk until now.

The government has closed off the area to outsiders, however some mining companies are sneaking their way in, which poses a significant threat to the tribes that reside there.

mining companies jungleRozi Afdi, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

The Tau’t Bato tribe have lived in complete isolation since the stone age, relying on only themselves and the environment for survival.

However, since being discovered close to 50 years ago, the tribe has slowly started acquiring modern goods, such as clothing and tools. Though this continues to be minimally accepted.

Even so, they remain a fairly isolated tribe in their remote valley, taking shelter in caves and living off the land as much as possible.

Tau't Bato tribe Kwanza

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4


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