Music and rhythms among the Negritos

If you could express your feelings by breaking out in a song, what genre would that song take?

For the Negritos, music is such an inherent part of their life that songs are usually sung, even as they engage in their daily routine, to express feelings of joy, love, and sorrow. As we cap off the celebration of the #LinggoNgMusikangPilipino, the #NationalMuseumPH brings you the different types of music among the Negritos.

The music of the Negritos is usually characterized by singing either in a repetitive tone or an improvised one, with impromptu lyrics being thought of based on the feelings evoked in the song. The amba, a song that conveys happiness, has a sweet-sounding melody that is repeated from memory but can be enriched by singing in varying intonations for select parts. Usually sung at weddings, it is set to the rhythm of clapping hands or flat gongs.

On the other hand, sorrow and grief are expressed through the undas. As the community sings the undas, they come towards the bereaved and lay offerings on the bow and arrow beside him. Even just a few grains of rice can be given, signifying the simple and communal life of the Negritos.  

Love is expressed through the uso or the aliri. Uso is a courtship song characterized by a four-count beat and sung alternately by a man and woman. Four dancers clap to the first and third beat during the song’s duration while two players beat the gongs. Likewise, the love song aliri is sung alternately by the two genders. However, in reality, its practice is not bound to this form. Single or married, anyone can sing the parts for the man or woman, even while doing daily activities such as walking, working, or idling. 

Aside from the gong, other musical instruments played by the Negrito are the bangsi (long reed mouth flute), kulibao / barimbo (Jew’s harp), tabung-tabung / kabong-bong / kabubung (bamboo zither), tibawa / pattanggo (clapper), and guitar. Visit the 360 virtual tour of the “Biyay: Tradition, Ecology and Knowledge among the Philippine Negrito Communities” Gallery and learn more about the material culture of the Negritos:




Text and poster by the NMP Ethnology Division

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