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Geographically, the Tagalog cultural group covers three regions of the Philippines – all of the National Capital Region, most of Region IV and a portion of Region III. The National Capital Region, which lies at the center of Luzon, is the heartland of the Philippines and covers the following areas: the City of Manila, Kalookan City, Las Piñas City, Makati City, Mandaluyong City, Marikina City, Muntinlupa City, Parañaque City, Pasay City, Pasig City, Quezon City, Malabon, Navotas, Pateros, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela.The Tagalog portion of  Southern Luzon or Region IV comprises Batangas, Cavite, Laguna, Marinduque, Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Quezon, Rizal and Romblon. Palawan is considered part of Region IV though it is no longer considered part of the Tagalog cultural group. Aurora is also part of Region IV, but its population is a mixture of Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Ibanags, etc. The inhabitants of  Southern Tagalog Region, though predominantly still Tagalog in composition, have, in some islands off Luzon like Mindoro, Palawan, Marinduque and Romblon, have mixed and integrated themselves with other ethno-linguistic groups found in these areas.

The Tagalog portion of Central Luzon or Region III covers Bataan, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and some areas of Tarlac and Zambales. Here, the Tagalog have intermingled with the Kapampangans, the Ilocanos and some Aeta cultural groups.

Through the years, the Tagalogs have spread out of their traditional geographical areas in southern and central Luzon and migrated into the Visayas and Mindanao. Hence, the Tagalog have become both a geographically-based cultural group as well as a nation-based culturally-mixed group.

In the 1995 survey, the NCR has 9,940,722 inhabitants; Region IV has also 9,940,722 inhabitants; Region III-Bataan has 491,459 inhabitants; Bulacan 1,784,441, Nueva Ecija 1,505,827, and Zambales 569,266 –totalling 4,450,993 Tagalog for Region III. The total number of Tagalog region residents in the geographical territories of the Tagalog is 23,735,795. This comprises about 34% of 68,614.16 million Filipinos in the entire archipelago (1995 census). This number is a composite of various levels, degrees and nuances of being Tagalog: Tagalog by geographical residence, by birth, by marriage, etc. In fact, the “taal na Tagalog” or the culture-bearer of the indigenous Tagalogs is hard to find these days in the cities. One has to go to the more secluded towns, municipalities and barangays or visit farmlands in order to encounter what the old folks call “mga lumang tao” – referring to the olden degree of  Tagalog who really still reflect the true mold, the noble culture and heritage of the ancient Tagalog. Presently the dominant population of the region speak Tagalog, and are therefore, loosely called “Tagalog” regardless of whether they still have a great understanding of the ancient Tgalog heritage. This group of people , being cosmopolitan in orientation, already show traces of being “Filipino” – an emerging consciousness of national identity among the people.

In terms of language, the National Statistics Office states that Tagalog is indicated as the first language of some 20 million people. This language is considered to be predominantly the basis of the national language called “Filipino” thus, the the notion of equating Tagalog with Filipino.

The word “Tagalog” is believed to have been derived from either one or both sets of contractions: “taga-ilog” and/or “taga-alog”. The prefix “taga” means “coming from” or “originating from” referring to a place of birth or residence. The word “ilog” means river. The word “alog” means a shallow place in a stream where people could wade to cross to the other side. The first word “taga-ilog” is the version in the explanation of the name of the Tagalog that they were river people.

The second word “taga-alog” is related to the first concept and was first articulated by H.O. Beyer who said that the ancient Tagalogs were people of the lowland areas where the “alog” was found.

The Tagalog culture was essentially a river and water-based culture. Fishing and agriculture were predominant means of livelihood. Most of the ancient cultural centers of the Tagalog regions were founded on river banks, specifically near the delta and the “wawa” or the mouth of the river, where the river meets the sea.

Riverine communities, especially those by the delta and river-mouth became centers of trade and commerce. In pre-Hispanic Philippines, some of these trade centers were Maynila, Tondo, Sapa, Pasig through the Pasig River; Talim, Bay, Pila, Lumbang through the Laguna de Bai; Balayan though Pansipit River; Lipa and Taal through Bonbon or Taal Lake.

Relic of the ancient culture of the Tagalog can be seen in the existence of petroglyphs in a rockshelter at Angono, Rizal. Jesus Peralta, who wrote about these Angono petroglyphs for his masteral thesis, states that the petroglyphs could not be exactly dated but were certainly pre-Hispanic in time-frame. This includes the Tagalog among the ancient peoples of the world to have a record of the past preserved as “rock art”.

A more recent artifact discovered in the Tagalog region is the famous Laguna copperplate. Found at the junction of the river mouth of  Sinoloan, Laguna and the lakewaters of the Laguna de Bai, the relic has been deciphered and dated 1000 AD, the earliest date recorded so far to refer directly to actual and specific places of the Tagalog region now considered parts of the provinces of Laguna and Bulacan.

The Tagalog mix many traditions or combine simultaneously two opposing traditions as seen in the phenomenon of “folk Christianity”. For instance, many “folk Christian” festivities may be seen in present-day celebrations of religious feasts such as that of the feast in Quiapo, the feast in Angono, the feast of Sto. Niño in Tondo, the feast of Obando, the feast in Lukban, the feast of Pakil, Laguna, and in some other more feast of the region. The strong sense for praise, joy and celebration among the Tagalogs could be seen in these town fiestas. The spirit of “bayanihan” or group effort is also very evident in the holding of such feasts.

Relics of Spanish colonization amongs the Tagalogs could be seen mostly in the churches that they built. Many Spanish-built churches still exist in the Tagalog region, some of which are the San Agustin Church, the Manila Cathedral, the Lipa Cathedral, the Tayabas Cathedral, the Taal Cathedral, the Pila church, the Paete church, the Majayjay church and many more. Intramuros, a great relic of   Spanish grandeur, built upon the ruins of the Old Maynila of Rajah Soliman and Rajah Lakandula of Tondo, was destroyed, together with its old churches, cathedrals and houses during the Second World War. The “Bahay na Bato” is another relic of the Spanish times combining the traditional “bahay-kubo” concept of the folks with modern wood and stone materials introduced by the Spaniards for house construction.

Jose Rizal is a truly great contribution of the Tagalog people to the Philippines in general. This Tagalog hero – a scientist, educator, linguist, artist, etc. appears great simultaneously in both history and myth. He has captured the hearts and minds of not only of the Tagalog folks, but also the whole Filipino people as well. This also holds true internationally because Germany and Malaysia have formally recognized the greatness of this Tagalog Filipino and international hero.

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About the Author:Grace P. Odal is an Associate Professor I at the Department of Arts and Communication-Colleg of Arts and Sciences at the University of the Philippines, Manila. She serves as consultant on native Filipino rituals for the Asian Social Institute and National Security Council.