Recent findings published in the American Journal of Human Genetics have shown that Australian Aborigines have a Siberian ancestor common to New Guineans and an indigenous tribe in the Philippines known as the Mamanwa.

DNA was extracted from a finger bone excavated in the freezing temperatures of Siberia to analyse the vast movement of people to tropical parts of Asia and Australia more than 40,000 years ago. The little finger bone, uncovered from a cave by Russian archaeologists in 2008, holds the key to explaining how humans intermixed since they left Africa.

Examining the finger's nuclear genome, researchers from the Harvard Medical School and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology concluded that Denisovans, a primitive group of humans descended from Neanderthals, migrated from Siberia to tropical parts of Asia. They contributed DNA to Aborigines in Australia along with present-day New Guineans and an indigenous tribe in the Philippines known as Mamanwa. The researchers concluded that Denisovans (who migrated to South-East Asia and Oceania in the first wave) interbred with modern humans in South-East Asia 44,000 years ago, before Australia separated from Papua New Guinea.

The Mamanwa population in the Philippines split from the Denisovans before the New Guineans and the Australian Aborigines. Later migrants have relatives in East Asia, who are now the present population of South-East Asia. These findings have certainly helped fill in some empty pieces in the evolutionary puzzle that began after early humans left Africa and reinforces the view that humans have intermixed throughout history.



Mamanwa lady and Mamanwa dwelling

The Mamanwa people of the Philippines were once considered a Negrito group (a class of several ethnic groups that inhabit isolated parts of Southeast Asia), but now are thought to comprise an older group entirely distinct from other Filipino populations. Mamanwa (also spelled Mamanoa) means 'first forest dwellers', from the words man (first) and banwa (forest). They speak the Mamanwa language (or Minamanwa), an adaptation of the language of a dominant nearby group. The Mamanwa language is a Central Philippine language spoken in the provinces of Agusan del Norte and Surigao in Mindanao, Philippines. It had about 5,000 speakers as of 1990.

Some Mamanwas have the characteristics of the New Zealand Maoris and the Papuans in their general physical features of slenderness and height. The Mamanwas are genetically distinct from other ethnic groups in the Philippines exhibiting curly hair and much darker skin tones.

The Mamanwas are a respectable people who have a distinctive way of worship. They show respect on things and places which are beyond their comprehensions. The sun, moon, stars, big rocks, mountains, rivers, seas and lakes have special places in the hearts and minds of the Mamanwas. Anything that gives goodness and food to them is to be respected. The lights from the heavenly bodies, the fishes from the waters, the big rocks that sometimes become their temporary homes in their nomadic lives are to be honoured by them. The mountains that give them food like wild berries, fruits, birds, animals and reptiles are likewise given respect. For them, things and places that are sources of foods seem to be gods.

Some old Mamanwas of today tell of their ancestors' early habitats along river mouths, seashores, islets and islands. They cannot, however, pinpoint particular areas as their permanent settlements for they did not have any. They transfer from place to place and travel as far as their minds could imagine and their feet could carry them. The transfers usually happen in case of deaths for it was the old customs to pack up and leave the place when death occurs even if their plants are ready for harvest.



Mamanwa dwellings

The Mamanwas have the characteristic habit of building constant and eternal fires at the sides or under their makeshifts. The purpose is to drive away mosquitoes and flies, their most dreaded insects. Until now, some Mamanwas still believe that flies bring bad omens. To them, these insects are harbingers and heralds of deaths as the old Mamanwas said. One of the causes of their being nomadic is the prevalence of flies. Although the above custom is ebbing with the advent of Christianity, many still cling and adhere to the belief of building fires to drive the evil spirits away.

The Mamanwas have a ritual for the full moon. From moon rise in the early evening to the setting of the moon, they dance their moon dance - generally regarded as a form of spirit dance which involves a repetitive chant.

The political system of the Mamanwas is informally democratic and age-structured. Elders are respected and are expected to maintain peace and order within the tribe. The chieftain, called a Tambayon, usually takes over the duties of counselling tribal members, speaking at gatherings, and arbitrating disagreements. They believe in a collection of spirits, which are governed by the supreme deity Magbabaya. The tribe produce excellent winnowing baskets, rattan hammocks, and other household containers.

The Mamanwas are not fond of weaponries and seldom wear necklaces, armlets, and other trinkets. They only wear the ordinary rubber bands in lieu of the bracelets but the rubber bands are never considered by them as adornments.

The Mamanwas are concentrated primarily in Kitcharao and Santiago; however, they are quite mobile, and continually relocate. As hunting has declined in importance, the bow and arrow have largely fallen into disuse. The Mamanwas receive some of their subsistence from other groups with whom they have labour arrangements. Settlements consist of three to twenty households arranged in a circle in a high ridge or valley. The houses generally lack walls. Communities are kin-based, with leadership vested in the oldest and most respected male.

By habit or compulsion, the Mamanwas do not mix with the Manobos. The Manobos are another early tribal group who belong to the original stock of proto-Philippine or proto-Austronesian people who came from South China thousands of years ago. The different Manobo languages belong to the Philippine subfamily of the super family of languages called Austronesian. In this respect they may well be part of the early Polynesian migration to the Pacific/Oceania region.

There is a wide glass wall which traditionally separates these ethnic groups. The modern Mamanwas, however, like the Manobos, mix with the lowland people they call Bisayans. The big difference, however, between the two cultural minorities is that the Mamanwas are lesser in number and more scattered and nomadic than the Manobos. The Mamanwas are a different breed of people in their looks and physical features compared to the lowlanders and the upland living Manobos. Unlike the Manobos, the Mamanwas did not adopt the lowlanders' way of living. They have retained for centuries their indigenous culture which to an outsider is often very difficult to understand. The speak their own dialect and do not go to school to learn either Filipino or English.

Like the Manobos, the Mamanwas are python meat-eaters. Bagging one of a sizeable python would mean a fiesta for the tribe and the neighbouring tribal settlements which could hear the beatings with messages of the agong. They congregate and partake of the commonly broiled or roasted python meat. (Python meat is a delicacy of the Mamanwas who are experts in trapping or killing this dangerous reptile.)

A big snake or python would also mean money for these people. Not a few lowlanders would buy and eat python meat that the Mamanwas trap. Aside from the meat, the Mamanwas get the skin and bile of the reptile, the latter is used for medicinal purposes along with the extracted lard from the fatty meat.

Austronesian People

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