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The Mysteries of the Eskaya Tribe

While traveling in the Philippines in December, 2011, I stopped to visit a friend on Bohol named Chekei. She told me about a tribe in the mountains that few people visit called the Eskaya. I asked if she could take me to visit them. The next day we rode her father’s dirt bike into the mountains for over an hour, dodging blankets covered in rice laid on the road by villagers to dry in the sun. Chekei had told me that the Eskaya had unique customs and dances. It was quite the understatement.

The Eskaya Tribe is located on Bohol, an island in the Southern Philippines. According to the last census in 2000 it had a population of around 3000.

They live in a few villages in the mountains and along the coast.

The Eskaya have a unique language and writing system that scholars have not been able to link to any other known language.

They also have a unique oral history (or mythology depending on who you ask) dating back to biblical times. They believe that people originated from a butterfly called Pinya Paypay Pling. In some way (that is not clear to me) the butterfly interacted with a lion and lioness who gave birth to a monkey. That monkey mated with another and gave birth to the first humans. This is depicted in this educational chart from their school.

 

Their written characters are based on parts of the body, as can be seen in this hand-carved wooden depiction.

Both their history and their language are recorded in a series of hand-written volumes.

Much of their history is still only passed on orally, at the school, in their language. The elders in these pictures are among the few who continue to study the language and history.  This man plays traditional folk songs on a ukulele-type instrument.

What is left of this tribe’s unique culture is passed on through a few schools like this one in the mountains.

By teachers like this one.

As in many rural tribes in the Philippines, the attractions of technology and modernism are drawing young people away from tradition and out of their villages, slowly eroding the local culture.

Before long, all that will be left of these cultures are the few books that have been written and pictures like these.

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80 Responses to The Mysteries of the Eskaya Tribe

  1. Micamyx|Senyorita May 30, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    I remember when you mentioned the Eskaya tribe to me. I am from the Philippines, but I didn’t know that they exist! We’re you able to record a video with them?

    • Matt Gibson May 30, 2012 at 2:14 am #

      I did. I got some great video, but I haven’t edited it yet. I’m really slow and bad at with video editing. I’ll get it posted one of these days though.

      • curious_unknown September 6, 2017 at 6:23 am #

        Eskaya wont fade, in the near future its language, history and culture will be taught in schools. But if I am someone with the authority to decide, I would rather keep the existence of this tribe as confidential as possible.

  2. Name yengreb May 30, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Wow,, Seeing one of these tribes is just amazing ! I only heard about the “Agta ” in our province but I don’t know much about their existence ( I think they still live at the mountains in IRIGA )

    • Matt Gibson May 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

      It was an amazing thing to see. Which province do you live in?

      • markanthonycadorna April 21, 2015 at 10:29 pm #

        Sir Matt I would like to ask regarding the Eskaya tribe, on how to become a member of this cultural minority, since I was born in Jagna Bohol, could I enter or join this tribe even though I am not one them? Thank You and Godbless!!

        • Matt Gibson April 23, 2015 at 9:08 pm #

          Hi Mark,

          I’m afraid I don’t know how you could join. But I’m sure that if you visit them they’d be happy to talk with you about it!

          Hope this helps.

          Cheers,
          Matt

        • ANALIE SULLANO November 2, 2016 at 1:10 am #

          NAA SAD SA LUNDAG, PILAR, BOHOL

  3. Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap May 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Awesome photo essay! I’ve heard of Eskaya before, but it’s my first time to come across a blog about it. I’m interested to visit this place. Will send you my queries =)

    • Matt Gibson May 30, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

      Thanks Edgar! I got your email and replied.

  4. Ava Apollo May 30, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Rad post and great pictures. I love cultural immersion when I travel! Lucckyyyyy

    • Matt Gibson May 30, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

      Thanks! Visiting that tribe was one of the best travel experiences that I’ve had. Totally unexpected and awesome.

  5. Eric June 3, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    Thanks Matt, Honestly I never heard any of this tribe in my country, nor it was being mentioned in our history books in school.

    • Matt Gibson June 3, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      The Eskaya are not very well known. Very few people visit their tribe. I think most of the foreigners who visit are interested in studying them.

      • Ines Valles January 2, 2017 at 10:14 am #

        why are you interested in our tribe?

        • Matt January 4, 2017 at 11:47 am #

          I find the language and the effort to preserve it very interesting.

  6. Bohol Interactive June 6, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    Really great articles and photos. Yes, even in our own province the Eskaya tribe is slowly fading away. We hope we could a trip and visit the tribe soon. Thanks for this awesome feature.

    • Matt Gibson June 22, 2012 at 1:18 am #

      Thanks Mr. Bohol 😉 You should definitely go and visit. Its a great experience.

  7. Jo Friday June 17, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    Which part of BOHOL do they live? Are they considered legit by the government?

    • Matt Gibson June 22, 2012 at 1:20 am #

      They live in the eastern mountains. Yup, they are recognized by the government. Unfortunately, I don’t think the government has a lot of spare cash to put nto cultural preservation.

    • ReyCa January 31, 2014 at 4:17 am #

      when i stayed there it was in a mountainous area in Guindulman. 🙂

  8. remy July 10, 2012 at 3:36 am #

    hi sir Gibson. thank you for the blog. im a proud member of eskaya. that is our place, Taytay Bohol.

    • liza baja helton October 2, 2014 at 4:04 am #

      who are you Remy?

    • Romel September 5, 2016 at 10:34 pm #

      Sir how to join in your tribe

  9. remy July 10, 2012 at 3:42 am #

    i currently live here in manila. i really miss the eskaya. i don’t have any information about the updates in our tribe. sir, do you have any video as you visit in eskaya? sir kindly send it to my yahoo account (dj_rhemzy@yahoo.com). i’m looking forward to this. thank you very much and God bless.

    • Matt Gibson July 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

      Hi Remy. Nice to meet you. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! do have some video, but I haven’t edited it yet. When I do edit it and put it on YouTube, I’ll be sure to let you know.

      Take Care!
      Matt

  10. Waegook Tom July 18, 2012 at 1:30 am #

    Wow Matt, this is incredibly interesting. I’ve never heard of the Eskaya tribe before, so this is a great read. Their language looks really unique and that belief system and the educational chart – ahhh I’m geeking out here as a wannabe anthropologist.

    Hopefully the younger generations will be able to preserve some of the local culture, or at least educate future generations about it as they start to modernise.

  11. Abby October 13, 2012 at 6:33 am #

    I can see why this is one of your favorites! WOW — what a story. And your photos are incredible. Absolutely gorgeous.

    • Matt Gibson October 13, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Thanks Abby! I really do love this one. It was a one of those surprises (I was actually looking for a different tribe) that turned out perfectly, and made a huge impression on me. It’s amazing that you can still discover people and places like this!

  12. Dominador Datahan Magarin November 1, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Hi Matt, do you have facebook? can you add me at fb: cupdcambassador977@yahoo.com/Dominador Datahan Magarin?…u may join the Eskayan Datahan Ancestral Tribal Union of Sumatra (EDATUS) group and fan page…:)…Hope to hear more from you…:)

    • Matt Gibson November 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      I just liked the Facebook page. Thanks for the invite Dominador!

  13. Louie Antonette B. Lumactud December 17, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    Hello Matt!

    I am currently doing my cultural analysis for my Sociology assignment. I chose the Eskayans since I was born and raised in Bohol so I was thinking I should do this because I am a Boholano myself. Since the Eskayas are not widely known, I have a hard time looking for cultural essays that talk about them. Fortunately, I came across your site and it is A GREAT HELP! Thank you very much. It helped complete my assignment. More power and God bless! :))

    Louie Antonette

    • Jonathan Tongol Fabian March 5, 2016 at 1:06 am #

      Hello Ma’am , I am also from Bohol and I want them (Eskayan Tribe) to become my focal point of my qualitative research. On what specific municipality can they be found?

      • Ines Valles January 2, 2017 at 10:17 am #

        you can also visit Lundag Pilar

  14. Matt Gibson December 18, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    That’s fantastic Louie! I’m glad I could be of help!

  15. Ailsa Quinn June 20, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    My daughter is volunteering in Bohol(from Scotland) and is going to see the Eskaya people tomorrow. It was so interesting to see your pictures and read some of the history. Now I can imagine where she is. Thanks

  16. Bethaney - Flashpacker Family July 20, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    How fascinating! We’re actually planning on going to Bohol so I wonder if we could pay them a visit also.

  17. Matt Gibson July 20, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

    It’s a pretty great trip, but not a place you could find without a knowledgable local guide. You could probably try to find one in Tagbilaran.

  18. Christoffer Moen July 21, 2013 at 1:53 am #

    That photo tight there of the smiling lady is gorgeous. Wow what a interesting piece and must have been quite a fascinating experience spending time and learning all these things from them. I particularly loved that bit about their belief in human origin. I hope some of the young ones stay and continue to pass on their unique tradition/culture. Have you been back to visit them again?

  19. Matt Gibson July 21, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    No, I haven’t had the chance to go back yet. But I definitely will if it comes up.

  20. Matt Gibson August 7, 2013 at 12:59 am #

    Alisa, I’d love to hear abut your daughter’s trip. If she’d like to talk or write about it I’d love to hear from her.

    • liza baja helton October 2, 2014 at 3:57 am #

      hello matt Gibson, may i know you where you are now?

      • Matt Gibson October 2, 2014 at 4:47 am #

        I’m in Taiwan right now Liza, but I will be going to Thailand soon.

  21. Kiezel Abarquez August 24, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    Hi! I would just like to ask, do you have any documentary or videos regarding Eksaya’s culture? We have decided to make Eksaya as our topic in our film documentary with the theme “Filipino Culture in the Advent of Globalization”. The said film documentary will focus on Eksaya’s changing customs and traditions brought by globalization. However, there are only few supporting videos and pictures in the internet.
    Kindly contact me. Here’s my yahoo acoount: kiezelannabarquez@yahoo.com
    Thank you. 🙂

  22. Joseph L Moraga November 21, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    Thanks for this post about our tribe. I belong to this tribe from my mother side but, honestly I was only able to visit my mother’s place for less than 5 times when I was young. As I climbed to the ladder of success…, I will pay tribute to our tribe.

    God bless!

  23. Jay B. December 4, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    If only more indigenous peoples tribes were so committed to preserving their traditions, culture and art and pass them on to the next generations with such a dedication..I guess not many people are aware of them so it feels rather special to have this bit of knowledge about them. Very unique community, reminds me of Mongolia´s Reindeer people (Tuva) in this regard..

  24. Matt Gibson December 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    I agree. I actually just came across some video that I shot while I was there. I really need to post it!

  25. Pauline Tejano January 13, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    Hi Sir Matt! I am currently making a monograph about the Eskayas… I was able to visit them last Dec. 15 and will definitely be back, they were so warm and they really are hungry for attention from the locals… They have so much to offer, their unique culture….
    I saved that photo of the smiling lady on my iphone and I was very glad to see her when i went there. I also had a photo op with her.. 🙂 And I also saw your name on their logbook…

    • Matt Gibson January 13, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

      I love making such personal connections from across the globe. So glad you got to visit! I’d love to see your work when it’s finished!

  26. vicodar August 11, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Eskaya tribe are actually native to the province of Bohol. The dialect called eskaya was passed on from one generation to the next generation. Nobody exactly knows the origin of this language. Since we and our great great grandparents lived in their neighboring barangay Mayana, they told us some of the sketchy details. Even my childhood classmates during primary grades residing in Taytay did not know how to read the writing. There are some stories as told by our parents before but nobody seems to take care. One of the stories pointed to a man with a superhuman ability (not a native of that area) came and taught old folks to read and write.

  27. Matt Gibson August 11, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    Thanks for the information Vicodar! It’s amazing to hear from somebody who lived near and knew about them! I would really like to come back and learn more one day.

  28. Jim Donard Labastida September 3, 2014 at 12:46 am #

    Wow… It’s a great honor to know that their is still tribe remaining in bohol… Hopefully you might also record some tribe here in mindanao….

  29. alilah palaca September 15, 2014 at 5:34 am #

    i am a member of ESKAYA TRIBE in Bohol,we are trying hard to retain our culture, language, and belief but the reality is that the world is moving fast.We can’t prevent our fellow tribes to move forward with the world.We need help,we cant do it on our own.

    • Romel September 5, 2016 at 10:38 pm #

      Hello maam alilah how to join in your tribe ?

  30. Sinofhoda September 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    wow…I’m from bohol, but first time for me to hear about Eskaya Tribe, what a nice blog. I hope someday I can visit this place. Thanks for posting and sharing Matt. God Bless

  31. Pogi Boy September 28, 2014 at 9:20 am #

    Wow. Ancient alien theorists would probably love to study this tribe’s culture and history. Seems tailor made for their beliefs.

  32. emman muring September 28, 2014 at 10:11 am #

    yes.of course they are located in mountain areas of Duero Bohol called tatay.I always go here almost every fiesta during my childhood just by walking for 2 hours from our barangay.they are our neighboring barangay in abachanan sierra bullones Bohol.glad to know someone like you featuring these place.rich in culture and tradition.I’m now working in Bohol.also by Canadian employer.Nice job

    • liza baja helton October 2, 2014 at 4:24 am #

      Oh i’m shocking, this is my uncle place Fabian baja he is the one founder of taytay Duero bohol,
      Thanks for Publishing this Area and also the Eskaya tradition,i was attending
      eskaya lesson but i cant very hard to me..

      • Socisa Baja February 2, 2017 at 9:37 pm #

        Hi Liza, my name is Socisa Baja from Jagna, Bohol. We must be related too..wowow…My brother Joseph Baja wants to become a member of Eskaya tribe. How he go about? I guess going to Taytay, Duero and meet Fabian Baja. We probably are related too. What small world after all. I am hoping for a reply from you. Thank you so much.

  33. Vince Sajol September 29, 2014 at 1:17 am #

    You should visit also the other village, like Brgy. Biabas, Brgy. Lundag, Tambongan, Brgy. Cataub. not only brgy. Taytay. Because they are also belongs to Eskaya Tribe.

  34. Anna Palban September 29, 2014 at 4:30 am #

    Hi Sir Matt 🙂 Thank you for this article. You conveyed one of the beautiful and treasured culture in Bohol. I am a Boholana and currently a Human Resource Staff in Tagbilaran City. Recently I had an interview with a Eskayan applicant, there preserved tribe was very interesting and amazing since it was my first time to know that there tribe exist here in our Province. I am glad you posted an article about them. Warmest thank you from Bohol

  35. jocelyn bayron miralles October 5, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    HiI Matt! I am also a Boholano. I also heard that there is an Eskaya Tribe in the upland Barangay of Taytay, Duero Bohol. I want to know more about them. Our Public Utility Vehicle called “BERNOR” used to traversed the upland Barangay of Mayana, Jagna, Bohol. People from Taytay rode our vehicle just to get to their place. After reading your article, Eskaya tribe really recalled my childhood days. I think the Eskaya Resort in Panglao is named after said tribe in Bohol.

  36. Reigh P. Monreal October 8, 2014 at 4:14 am #

    The Eskaya Community is actually not a tribe on the same level as the Mandaya, Talaandig, and Higaonon, to name a few of the tribes of Mindanao. Its development into a cultural community was marked by certain periods in Philippine history. Its founder is Mariano “Anoy Datahan” from Loon, Bohol.

  37. May Butalon August 12, 2015 at 10:00 pm #

    Hi Matt Gibson!

    Thank you for making such wonderful blog about the Eskaya tribe. I am truly happy to read this. I am actually a native of the Eskaya Tribe. The founder Mariano “Anoy” Datahan is my great grandfather. I am really proud to say that we have a very unique culture and is greatly preserved by the natives.
    Thanks again and God Bless you!

  38. Ronan November 24, 2015 at 7:27 am #

    For me, I will consider them NOT just a merr tribe (sub-Ethnic) but as an Ethnic Group itself or Ethnolinguistic Nation.

    I may say, they are one of the more than 175 Ethnolinguistic Nations in Filipinas.

    More reason why I support Federal-Parliamentary System and Form of Government.

    • Anthropologist April 11, 2017 at 8:51 am #

      You are very much correct Ronan. There are many sub-ethno linguistic groups within the larger Malayo-Austronesian family that spans Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Taiwan (indigenous).

  39. Jonathan Tongol Fabian March 5, 2016 at 1:18 am #

    WOW! HELLO GUYS!
    I am Jonathan Fabian from Talibon, Bohol currently studying in Manila. In two months from now I will be doing my qualitative field research and I want Eskaya Tribe to become my subject.
    My questions are:
    1. On what specific municipality or area can they be found?
    2. Can I have a related literature or study of yours? (For elaboration and defense purposes)

    I AM HOPING FOR YOUR POSITIVE RESPONSE
    THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS
    Especially to Sir Matt Gibson

    AS A BOHOLANO I REALLY WANT TO STUDY SOMETHING THAT OTHER BOHOLANOS COULD BE PROUD OF AND SOMETHING PURPOSIVE AND DIRECTED.

    • Matt March 6, 2016 at 7:19 pm #

      Hi Jonathan,

      I’m not sure exactly where they are located.

      When I found them I was staying with a friend near Duero/Anda.

      We rode a motorcycle into the mountains for over 1 hour to reach the
      village.

      If you were to visit that area and ask people, I’m sure you could find out
      where to find the Eskaya.

      I’m afraid that I don’t have any literature or studies about the Eskaya.

      Good luck with your studies!

  40. Jones Germanni June 26, 2016 at 4:51 pm #

    Wow! Interesting! The old man holding the “ukulele” looks straight up like my late grandfather, Andrés. What dialect do they speak? Is it similar to Cebuano? I was born in Bohol and lived there until I was 4 years old. Oddly enough, I retained the language.

  41. Dorothy Datahan July 20, 2016 at 12:55 am #

    I am a proud great grand daughter of the Eskaya Tribe Founder the Late Mariano ” Anoy” Datahan. I am currently living here in Angeles City, Pampanga. I would live to visit the place someday. Thanks for this great article Matt! ?

    • Dorothy Datahan July 20, 2016 at 12:55 am #

      *love

      • celoy amen penaso July 25, 2016 at 12:37 am #

        im also from guindulman and i wanted to meet my roots there , hoping to see them in person

  42. Roel Datahan August 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm #

    Sir Matt thanks….they really are my roots.. For those who wants some info then just email me at datahanroel@gmail.com

  43. Andrew Hewitson September 19, 2016 at 5:54 am #

    This is such a dope post – keep up the awesome work!

  44. Anthropologist April 11, 2017 at 8:48 am #

    I am an anthropologist, it is interesting their tradition speaks about a Lion and Lioness, there are no lions in the Philippines. The only variation of the Asiatic lion is found in South Asia. The closest depiction/story/myth a lion was borrowed from Indian mythology by Indonesians in Sumatra, Java and Bali Islands, as well as by ancient Cambodians and Vietnamese. It may be possible they originated from those Islands or regions and moved to the Philippines. Just a theory. Would be interesting to study their culture and history more closely. Their language and writing system needs to be studied by someone with extensive knowledge of ancient west Asian, South Asian and East Asian, ancient writing systems to do a comparative analysis.

  45. Anthropologist April 11, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    Just an add on, a lot of the “modernization/cultural” influence of West can be minimized, if there is much less influx of Westerners into the region in the name of tourism.

  46. April Grace Baculio April 16, 2017 at 11:45 pm #

    I am a member of the eskaya tribe we are direct descendants of Mariano Datahan or whom we call Papa Anoy. I haven’t met him personally I was just able to see and hold his statue when we went to Bohol for a reunion last (idk when was that). However, my grandmother who was a child back then has a lot of stories about Papa Anoy and their family. Our grandmother used to tell us those stories when we were children.

  47. Marifi June 20, 2017 at 1:46 am #

    I read somewhere that they descended from the builders of King Solomon’s temple…

  48. Agness of aTukTuk July 28, 2017 at 12:21 pm #

    Wow! I’ve learned so much from your post! Is there any other way to visit the tribe other than a bike?

    • Matt July 28, 2017 at 1:22 pm #

      Nope. You definitely need a motorbike or a car (maybe a truck is better).

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