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      Cuyo is a tiny island municipality which lies in the southern part of Mindoro and between the northeastern part of the mainland and Palawan and Panay. It has a total land area of 4,309.62 hectares; 2,504.83 hectares cover the mainland and 1,804.79 hectares represent the island barangays.

       In terms of political boundaries, the municipality is divided into 17 barangays with an area ranging from 36.19 to 738 hectares. Seven (7) or 11.20% of these are in the poblacion mainland, four (4) or 46.93% in the rural mainland and six (6) or 41.87% are island barangays.

       Through a small place, the municipality has a total population of 15,294 with 7,624 or 49.85% registered female and 7,606 or 49.73% male (ratio of 100:100). The population growth rate of the island is low at 0.36% annually specially where travel is limited to water and air transport. The island has the highest concentration of population at 360 persons per square kilometer compared to the provincial density of 35 person per square kilometer. Both young and adult populations predominate the area with an average of 37.4% for 0-14 and 25-64 age level. More than half (55%) of the population belongs to the productive or working age group.

       According to legends, Cuyo was first occupied by chief Matu-od, a brave Malay who landed at Tabunan, Suba on big bancas called sakayan.

       Cuyo is the oldest town in Palawan with a culture of its own which has been preserved all these 350 years; and a dialect spoken by 43% of the estimated 300,000 Palaweños. Around its islets are rich fishing grounds. It is estimated that of about P200,000.00 worth of fish caught annually in Palawan, 50% comes from the waters around Cuyo Islands.

       In 1773,  the unofficial population of Cuyo was 2,846 out of a total of 10,760 in the entire province of Paragua.


       Despite its age, Cuyo has held back the hands of time and preserved its cultural heritage i.e., ati-ati, comedia, sinulog, sayaw, inocentes, erekay, birso, banda y tipano, chetas, tambura, birguere pondo-pondo, curatsa and others.

       Ati-ati is an all male ensemble of drummers and tipano (flutes) which includes a clown. They paint their faces and wear headdresses woven from chicken feathers. It is also the occasion, falling on the latter part of August, when the image of St. Agustin is paraded around the island. The ati-ati (they number several groups because each barrio has its own participation) would dance in front of the saint in a suggestive and war-like instance as if to fight and challenge him as they represent themselves as barbarians and savages coming down from the boondocks. As the image enters the church at the end of the procession they form two rows and there they lay prostrate in humble surrender and to ask forgiveness for their deeds.

       The comedia is larger than the ati-ati and is more refined and sophisticated. The participants are dressed in colorful costumes. It is a musical and verse parody, and usually the scenario is the never ending conflict between the Christians and Muslims. The lines are said in a sing-song manner, but when the occasion demands it, they raise their voices loud and clear to the accompaniment of the drums and tipanos. The fighting sequences are long and noisy, and only the entrance of the “princess” can hush them. The show lasts for over an hour and only the rich can afford to have this performed in front of their houses because the fee is high for a group of fifty.  The comedia is also celebrated during the month of August.

       Every December, the tamburas (carolers) serenade each house for a fee with native songs on the nativity. When the host permits, these tamburas, composed mostly of girls, accompanied by a complete string orchestra of guitars, violins, banjos, etc, and dances for five centavos a dance. This is popularly known as cinco-cinco (five-five) but due to inflation the rate has soared to twenty ( viente-viente). Both the male “oligarchs” and the “mass,” especially the older ones, enjoy this aspect of the cultural heritage of Cuyo.

       The sinulog is similar to the ati-ati in that it features half-naked males who play the role of Indians with painted faces and fancy headdresses. They dance and recite verses as they go along in a sing-song style. Their execute fast warlike dances.

       The inocentes is a group of 10 dancers who sing  in the vernacular. They wear masks made of coconut fibers with leaves of grass strewn all over their costumes. Their orchestra consists of a drum, a flute, a guitar and other supporting instruments. As is the tradition, a clown is always present.

       The sayaw as the name suggests, is a marked contrast to the sinulog, in that its movements are more graceful and the music touching and exotic. They dance the pondo-pondo, the curates and other native dances in their repertoire to the accompaniment of a guitar, a drum and a tipano. They also sing and recite bersos. The women wear patadiong while the men dress like Indians with coconut leaves and headdress.

Significant Feature

       A Cuyono holds a personal view of the universe. The universe is directly controlled by personal beings other than and different from himself.

       A major goal for all family members is an integrated and prosperous Cuyono family. Every member strives for economic efficiency for himself and his family.

       Membership in a family connotes personal involvement, cooperation and responsibility. Social control emanates from the family whose primary concern is the welfare of the extended group. In the same manner, offense against a family member is viewed as an insult and threat to the whole family.

       Polite language is always observed. This is evident in the use of honorifics. Bluntness of speech is frowned upon and one who uses it is considered devoid of etiquette.

About the Author:
Marcelino “Jojo” L. Tabago is an Assistant Professor IV and the Assistant Dean of the Institute of Education, State Polytechnic College of Palawan.