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AP in English: Paraan ng Pamumuhay ng mga Sinaunang Pilipino sa Panahong Pre-Kolonyal

An English version of the Araling Panlipunan lesson "Paraan ng Pamumuhay ng mga Sinaunang Pilipino sa Panahong Pre-Kolonyal" complete with a quick summary and review questions. Based on DepEd AP modules.


  • Quick Summary — what this lesson is all about, in our own words
  • Araling Panlipunan in English — the lesson Paraan ng Pamumuhay ng mga Sinaunang Pilipino sa Panahong Pre-Kolonyal, based on the DepEd module, but in English
  • Review — sample test questions to help you remember what you’ve learned

Quick Summary

Time periods in prehistoric Philippines:

  • Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic period
    • roughly cut stone tools
    • living in caves
    • hunting and gathering
  • New Stone Age, or Neolithic period
    • honed and polished stone tools
    • living in communities near rivers and seas
    • farming, fishing, raising animals
    • pottery
    • labor specialization
  • Metal Age
    • metal tools
    • ornaments
    • backloom weaving

Social classes in pre-colonial Philippines:

  • Maginoo
    • Datu
  • Maharlika (warriors) and Timawa (freemen)
  • Alipin
    • aliping namamahay (serfs)
    • aliping saguiguilid (slaves)

I have a confession to make.

It’s kind of annoying to me that our history lessons focus so much on things that happened during the time when the Spaniards occupied the Philippines. Obviously, it was a time that had a huge impact on us as a country, and even now, we are still trying to shake off the mentalities and the patterns of behavior that have become ingrained in our society from over 300 years of Spanish rule. And obviously it was a time that gave rise to heroes and numerous tales of courage, and those are definitely things that we should learn and be inspired by.

But it’s also very important for us to realize, and to really take to heart, that we are not just a former colony of whoever. The Philippines – or the islands that make up what we now know as the Philippines – had a very real and rich and robust way of life way before the Spaniards came. We Filipinos are not just a product of the last 500 years; archaeological evidence shows that our ancestors have been hunting and using tools in these islands for over 600,000 years. Our roots go deep and they are worth exploring. And maybe, if we had a greater sense of who we were – as a proud and strong and independent people who did not need conquerors to “put us on the map” – then maybe we would have a greater security in who we are now and who we can be.

But enough of that.

Let’s get to the lesson!

This one is about the way of life of Filipinos in the pre-colonial times, that is, before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Trivia time!

Before we go deeper into the pre-colonial culture of the Philippines, let’s talk about two things first.

First: culture = way of life. That’s it. Culture means “way of life.” Well, there are other, longer, more complicated definitions of culture if you want them, but that’s basically what culture means: way of life. So when we talk about the culture of a certain people – in this case, the early Filipinos – we are talking about how they lived: what they did and how they did it.

Second: history. We tend to think about history as all of the stuff that has happened in the past. But if you want to be kind of strict about it, there’s a more specific word for stuff that happened before people began writing things down, and that word is prehistory. You see, when people began to write things down, they then had a way of documenting events as they actually happened. People could write: okay, this thing happened on this date, and that thing happened on that date. And so, now, even if we lived in a much later time than they did, we know about those people and what they did and what happened to them because of those records that they kept. Whereas there are no records of those things that happened before people began writing, so we have to figure out what happened then by piecing together different clues. For example, if an animal bone is found to be 709,000 years old, and that same bone bears marks of the tools used to cut up the animal, then we can safely say that, well, somebody must have been holding those tools, so there must have been somebody here – somebody with the ability to make tools and use them – 709,000 years ago. It’s a reasonable conclusion but it’s not as airtight as it would have been if there had been written records about it; that’s why we distinguish between recorded history and unrecorded history. So, again, everything that happened before people developed systems of writing is known as prehistory.

Now, the boundary between recorded history and prehistory is actually different around the world, depending on when the people in a certain place started writing. Here in the Philippines, we don’t know exactly when the ancient Filipinos started writing, but the earliest piece of writing with a date on it that has so far been discovered in the country is the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, which is from the year 900 AD. And so that’s the year we’re using as the boundary. Everything before 900 AD is considered Philippine prehistory and everything between 900 AD up to our colonization by the Spaniards is Philippine pre-colonial history.

Having said that, this DepEd module actually doesn’t distinguish between Philippine prehistory and Philippine pre-colonial history, so events from both periods of time are included here.

Now, let’s go to the meat of the lesson.

It’s actually pretty straightforward.

Much of our past is divided into ages based on the kind of tools that our ancestors used. That’s the main thing that you have to remember – each chunk of time is named after the type of tools that the people of those days used.

There were two ages:

  1. the Stone Age; and
  2. the Metal Age.

The Stone Age was when we used stone tools and the Metal Age was when we used metal tools.

You can easily remember which one came first because, if you imagine the prehistoric times, which would be easier for our earliest ancestors to pick up and use? It would be stones, right? They could literally just pick up the stones around them and use them. It was only much later that somebody was able to dig up some metal and realized that they would make much better tools. So: stone age first, metal age next.

Now, our Stone Age is further subdivided into two periods:

  1. the Paleolithic period, or the Old Stone Age; and
  2. the Neolithic period, or the New Stone Age.

That is even easier to remember because, obviously, old comes before new.

So, in order, from the very earliest to the latest, we had:

  1. the Old Stone Age, or Paleolithic period;
  2. the New Stone Age, or the Neolithic period; and
  3. the Metal Age.

What is the difference?

During the Old Stone Age or the Paleolithic period, our ancestors lived in caves. They survived by hunting and gathering – that is, they hunted animals like the extinct Rhinoceros philippinensis* and they gathered wild food like plants and insects and mushrooms…anything edible. The tools that they used in those times were roughly cut stone tools.

( * More accurately, the Nesorhinus philippinensis )

Over time, though, our ancestors figured out ways to improve the tools that they were using. The tools were still made of stone, but our ancestors made them sharper and more useful by grinding them, polishing them, and hammering them into precise shapes, depending on what they were going to use them for. This period of stone tools becoming more advanced is known as the Neolithic period or the New Stone Age.

And it wasn’t just the type of tools that changed during this time. Instead of living in caves and moving around all the time in search of food, people began to settle in areas next to rivers and seas. Instead of just gathering wild plants, people began to actually raise crops in farms with the help of their more advanced tools. And instead of just hunting for wild animals, people began to find ways to have a more steady supply of meat – by fishing and by domesticating animals that they then raised and bred in their farms.

Of course, now that our ancestors had all these different ways of obtaining and producing food, they then had to find a way to store all the food that they had. And so they started making bowls and pots and jars, which they used not only to store food but also to cook them and serve them. (They also used jars for storing other things like, believe it or not, the remains of their loved ones. Yep, burial jars were a big thing in prehistoric Philippines, and the most famous of them all, the Manunggul Jar, dates back to the Neolithic period.)

And because our Neolithic ancestors were not just hunting and gathering anymore, but doing wildly different things like pottery and farming and fishing and building boats and making tools and all these other things that required specific skills – and because they had settled next to each other near rivers and seas, forming the first communities and making it easier to assign particular people to particular tasks, and not have to do everything by themselves – the Neolithic period was the start of labor specialization.

So that was the Stone Age.

No one quite knows how it happened (because: prehistory!) but our ancestors eventually figured out that certain “rocks” that they dug out of the ground weren’t actually stone but something else, and that this different material was actually more suitable for making tools, because they could be hammered flat and sharpened, or bent and formed into shapes, in a way that was much, much better than stone tools ever could be. Thus began the Metal Age, when our ancestors began to use tools made of metal.

The discovery of metal and the invention of metal tools opened up a whole world of possibilities for our ancestors. It sped up developments in agriculture and transportation. It led to the creation of tools that were much sharper, such as knives and spears, which were not only useful for catching and gutting food but also for self-defense. It was also during the Metal Age that our ancestors started using a backloom for weaving. And metal was used not just for practical things but also for ornamentation. The Spaniards who arrived in our country were even surprised to find natives using gold to adorn their teeth.

But! Let’s not get to the Spaniards just yet.

We’ve now crossed over from prehistoric Philippines to pre-colonial Philippines, to the time just before the Spaniards arrived.

As our ancestors’ tools developed, so did the ways that they related to and worked with each other.

They started out by living in caves, then they started gathering in settlements near rivers and seas, and over time they organized themselves into communities – called barangays – that became more and more complex in terms of social structure.

Three social classes eventually emerged within the barangay:

  • The Maginoo was the highest social class. They were the nobility, and it was from among them that the Datu, the ruler of the barangay, ascended.
  • The middle class consisted of two main groups: the ordinary freemen, or the Timawa, and the warriors, or the Maharlika. Those among the maharlika who were known to be particularly great warriors were called Bagani.
  • The lowest class were the Alipin, or the dependent class, which also consisted of two main groups: the serfs (aliping namamahay) and the slaves (aliping saguiguilid).

The town crier of the barangay – the one responsible for announcing laws and making other pronouncements during gatherings – was called the umalohokan.

And that’s it for this lesson! It was a long one, we know, and ideally, we should be able to devote more than just a single quarter of the year to this long and interesting time in Philippine history, but we hope that these snippets of information – these short glimpses into the past – will inspire you to find out more about ancient Philippines when you have the time.

Araling Panlipunan in English (Lesson Based on DepEd Module)

Our Filipino ancestors had a rich culture even back in the pre-colonial period – before dayuhan such as the Spaniards came – and it was evident in the way that they lived.

The Philippines’ pre-colonial past can be divided into several different periods:

  • the Stone Age, which is further divided into the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age, and the Neolithic or New Stone Age, and
  • the Metal Age.

These periods are so called based on the types of tools being used by humans from those times.

Stone Age

Ancient Filipinos learned that they could make tools out of stone.

During the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age (500,000 – 6,000 BCE) our ancestors dwelt in caves and used roughly hewn stones as tools. They lived by hunting and gathering food. It is believed that the Tabon Man (Taong Tabon) lived during this time.

Other findings from this time period include the bones of large animals such as wild boar and deer that lived 4,000 to 8,000 years ago. These remains were found in Guri Cave, which is still part of the Tabon Complex in Palawan. Anthropologists concluded that humans had, by this time, become better at hunting than the Tabon Man.

The early Filipinos further developed their lifestyle according to their needs and environmental challenges during the Neolithic or New Stone Age (6,000 to 500 BCE). Due to the lack of food around them, the ancient people left the caves and began to live by the seas and rivers. They honed and polished their once rough stone tools.

With these tools, they started farming and raising animals. They used irrigation techniques to cultivate rice, taro, nipa, and others. Now, having a secure source of food through fishing and farming, the ancient Filipinos became more likely to stay in one place.

It was also during this time that the ancient Filipinos learned to make jars and pots, which they used for various purposes, including storage of extra food and as a vessel for the bones of their deceased.

As their way of life developed, the early Filipinos began to have labor specializations such as farming, fishing, and hunting, as well as weaving, boat building, and pottery.

Metal Age

With the passage of time, our ancestors discovered the use of metal.

This period is called the Metal Age. It is divided into two: the Maagang Panahon ng Metal (Early Metal Age) and the Maunlad na Panahon ng Metal (Advanced Metal Age).

Note: Unlike in other areas, it is said that the Philippines did not have a distinct Bronze Age. This was probably because of a lack of a local source of tin, which, along with copper, is needed in order to make bronze. Rather, what bronze we had is believed to have been a product of trade between the ancient Filipinos and other Southeast Asian merchants.

“The earliest metal tools in the Philippines are generally said to have first been used somewhere around 500 BC, and this new technology coincided with considerable changes in the lifestyle of early Filipinos. The new tools brought about a more stable way of life, and created more opportunities for communities to grow, both in terms of size and cultural development. Where communities once consisted of small bands of kinsmen living in campsites, larger villages came about — usually based near water, which made traveling and trading easier. The resulting ease of contact between communities meant that they began to share similar cultural traits, something which had not previously been possible when the communities consisted only of small kinship groups.” (Prehistory of the Philippines)

During the Advanced Metal Age, our ancestors further improved their metal tools. This is evidenced by the discovery of sibat (spears), kampit (clamps), gulok (bolos), and kutsilyo (knives) in Kalanay, Masbate and Novaliches, Quezon City.

Ornaments such as ling-ling-o and other jade artifacts from this time have also been unearthed.

It was also during the Metal Age that ancient Filipinos – such as groups in Bontoc, Ifugao, and some parts of Mindanao – began weaving using a backloom.

Pre-Colonial Filipino Society

As their standard of living became higher, our ancestors’ social structure also began to change.

The social, political, and economic unit of pre-colonial Filipinos was the barangay. This term comes from the balanghai or balangay, the boats used by the earliest Filipinos.

Three classes or levels of society emerged.

The highest class was that of the Maginoo (Tagalog) or Datu (Bisaya). A member of the barangay can become a datu if he was smart and brave and if he had inherited wealth.

The Maharlika (the warrior class) and the Timawa (freemen) made up the second class.

The maharlika helped the Datu with the defense and maintenance of peace in the barangay. Some maharlika who were known to be particularly great warriors were called Bagani.

The timawa were either freemen or people who had been freed from slavery. They were entitled to their harvest without having to pay tribute to the datu. (The term timawa initially referred to the feudal warrior class of ancient Visayan societies.)

The “lowest” class of society consisted of the Alipin (Tagalog) or Oripun (Bisaya). Becoming an alipin was often payment or punishment for committing a crime. Alipin served the datu and gave an annual tribute or tax.

The datu enforced the laws of the community or barangay. There were two types of laws: the written ones and the unwritten ones. The written laws pertained to matters such as divorce, crime, and property. Women enjoyed the same rights as men. Laws were announced to the community during gatherings by a person called an umalohokan, a town crier or tagapagbalita.

“The early polities of the Philippine archipelago were typically characterized by a three-tier social structure. Although different cultures had different terms to describe them, this three-tier structure invariably consisted of an apex nobility class, a class of “freemen”, and a class of dependent debtor-bondsmen called “alipin” or “oripun.” Among the members of the nobility class were leaders who held the political office of “Datu,” which was responsible for leading autonomous social groups called “barangay” or “dulohan”. Whenever these barangays banded together, either to form a larger settlement or a geographically looser alliance group, the more senior or respected among them would be recognized as a “paramount datu”, variedly called a Lakan, Sultan, Rajah, or simply a more senior Datu.” (History of the Philippines)

Further Reading


Sample test questions to help you remember what you've learned. Our goal here is for you to LEARN, pressure! Feel free to go back to the text if there's something that you've forgotten. However, if you'd like a printable version of these questions so you can really test your memory, you can download the PDF worksheet here:

Pick the best answer.

1. During which time period did the ancients learn the use of roughly cut stone?

a. Neolithic Period

b. Paleolithic Period

c. Early Metal Age

d. Advanced Metal Age

2. Which of the following did the ancient Filipinos learn during the New Stone Age?

a. live in caves

b. farm and raise animals

c. hunt and gather food

d. use rough cut stones

3. The following metal tools further improved the lives of the ancient Filipinos, EXCEPT?

a. spears

b. clamps

c. knives

d. dishes

4. What was the social, political, and economic unit of the Filipinos in pre-colonial times called?

a. city

b. barangay

c. family

d. province

5. What was the name of the highest class of people in pre-colonial Filipino society?

a. alipin

b. timawa

c. maginoo

d. maharlika

6. They are known to be the best warriors among the maharlika.

a. bagani

b. bayani

c. pulis

d. sundalo

7. Which of the following was not within the scope of written laws during the precolonial period?

a. property

b. divorce

c. crime

d. education

8. Who was designated by the datu to make announcements and updates to the barangay, especially during gatherings?

a. bagani

b. gat

c. lakan

d. umalohokan

9. The lifestyle of ancient Filipinos improved when they learned which practice?

a. boating and sailing

b. use of rough stone tools

c. nomadic way of living

d. agriculture

10. Developing secure sources of food through fishing and farming led the ancient Filipinos to __________.

a. live in caves

b. switch to hunting and gathering

c. hoard gold

d. establish permanent residences

11. The following were ways for a person to become a datu, EXCEPT?

a. pass a ritual test

b. descend from a clan of datus

c. marry a datu’s daughter

d. having bravery, intelligence, and inherited wealth

12. The word barangay is derived from the word balanghai or balangay, which refers to a __________.

a. wagon

b. boat

c. primitive aircraft

d. none of the above

True or false?

_____ 1. Women did not have rights in Filipino pre-colonial society.

_____ 2. The Neolithic Age is also called the New Stone Age.

_____ 3. Alipin had a good life because they were the highest class of people in pre-colonial society.

_____ 4. Filipino culture was enriched by contact with foreigners.

_____ 5. A better standard of living led to specialization in labor.


1. Development of transportation

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

2. Dwelling in caves

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

3. Learning to farm and raise animals

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

4. Use of rough-cut stone tools

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

5. Learning to make spears, knives, and other weapons

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

6. Use of backloom weaving to make cloth

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

7. Permanent settlements

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

8. Starting to make jars and pots

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

9. Creating jewelry and weapons made of bronze

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

10. Living near rivers and seas

a. Paleolithic period

b. Neolithic period

c. Metal age

Extra questions

The DepEd module for this lesson did not really cover these topics but included these questions, so they can be a good springboard for further research or a more detailed discussion.

1. The following are rights enjoyed by Ifugao women except one. Which is the exception?

a. vote or choose a leader

b. possess wealth

c. take the place of a datu

d. choose a marriage partner

2. Which of these was a way of strengthening agreements between barangays?

a. conquest

b. purchase

c. blood compact

d. espionage

3. How did the datu make decisions when giving judgment to offending members of the barangay?

a. They were killed immediately.

b. Tribal priests called on their gods.

c. A referee was hired.

d. The wrongdoer was subjected to trials.

4. This was accomplished by representatives of two parties cutting their arms with a knife, pouring drops of blood into a cup filled with wine or other liquid,
and drinking from the mixture.

a. sanduguan

b. katalonan

c. umalohokan

d. bagani

5. Women who served as spiritual leaders in ancient Filipino societies were called _____.

a. bagani

b. timawa

c. katalonan

d. umalohokan

6. Freed slaves were called __________ (though the term was first used to refer to the feudal warriors of ancient Bisaya societies).

a. timawa

b. maharlika

c. alipin

d. datu

7. Alipin who had their own homes and only served the datu during occasions were called __________.

a. horo-han

b. aliping namamahay

c. alipin sa gigilid

d. gintubo

8. Alipin who did not have their own homes and were completely dependent on their masters were called __________.

a. horo-han

b. aliping namamahay

c. alipin sa gigilid

d. gintubo

Araling Panlipunan in English

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