The Philippines has developed a mixed culture from the blending of foreign influences with native elements. Today, the Muslims, and some of the isolated tribes, are the only people whose culture remains unadulterated by Spanish and American influences.

Although traditional theatre, literature and kundimans (love songs) in the national language have experienced a resurgence since Cory Aquino's People Power movement, visitors are more likely to witness beauty contests, lurid soap operas, violent and sentimental Filipino movies, and local bands perfectly imitating Western pop tunes.

About 10% of Filipinos (the so-called cultural minority groups or tribal Filipinos) retain their traditional culture. There are some 60 ethnological groups, ranging from the Badjao of the Sulu archipelago, who are sea gypsies, to the head-hunting Kalinga in the north of Bontoc.

The Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. Over 90% of the population claim to follow Christian faiths. The largest of the minority religious groups is the Muslims, who live chiefly on Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago. There is also a Philippine Independence Church, some Buddhists, and a small number of animists.

The geography and history of the Philippines have conspired to produce a multiplicity of languages, some 80 dialects in total. The concept of a national language developed after the Spanish-American War in 1898 and Tagalog was declared the national language in 1936. There were several other contenders for this role, including Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Ilocano. A compromise reached in 1973 confirmed Pilipino as the national language. This is based on Tagalog, but has linguistic elements of other Philippine languages. Despite this, English remains the language of commerce and politics in the Philippines.

Filipino cuisine has Chinese, Malay and Spanish influences. Popular morning and afternoon snacks are called merienda, and pulutan (small morsels) are served with alcoholic drinks. Barbecued sticks of meat or seafood are popular evening snacks. Standard dishes, always served with rice, include meat and vegetables cooked with vinegar and garlic, grilled grouper, meat stews and a huge variety of soups - rice, noodle, beef, chicken, liver, kneecap, offal and sour vegetable. Side dishes include strips of unripened papaya, fermented fish or shrimp paste and bite-sized pieces of crispy pig skin. Halo-halo is a dessert made from crushed ice mixed with sweets and fruits and smothered in evaporated milk.

Fine Arts

Until the 19th century, painting and sculpture in the Philippines were strongly influenced by the Roman Catholic Church. More recent paintings generally have secular themes or are abstract in style. Famous painters include Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, whose works are in Romantic and Impressionist styles; Fernando Amorsolo, known for his landscapes; Fabián de la Rosa, who specialized in portraiture; and Carlos Francis.

Philippine literature before the arrival of the Spanish consisted of oral folk stories and proverbs passed down in the various languages of the islands. Literature under Spanish influence was primarily religious, and it developed further under American influence to include short stories and drama. Among the writers of the Philippines are the novelist and national hero José Rizal; Francisco Balagtas, a poet and philosopher; José Garcia Villa, a poet and the outstanding short-story writer; Carlos P. Romulo, a journalist and diplomat; the poet and playwright Claro Recto; poet, novelist, and playwright Nick Joaquín; and Pas Marques Benitz, a short-story writer.


The dominant musical culture in the Philippines reflects centuries of European and US colonial rule. Western classical and popular forms are common, especially a kind of popular music influenced by Spanish folk and popular music, using plucked guitar-like instruments. American influence has also stimulated performance of jazz and electrified popular music, much of which is sung in Tagalog.

Indigenous music is found mostly on the northernmost and southernmost islands. In the north, several indigenous peoples maintain traditions similar to those of the indigenous peoples of Indochina. Gangsa, or flat gongs, are played by men only, usually in ensembles. Each person holds one gong, and a complex, layered texture of sound is created through the interlocking musical parts. Special effects are created by handling the gongs in certain ways, such as waving them in the air for a resonating effect. These gongs are accorded high economic value and status. Prominent members of the community are often honoured by being allowed to initiate gong performances. Those who are not allowed to touch the gongs often adapt gong music to other instruments.

In the south there are bossed gongs similar to the gamelan instruments of Indonesia. The Muslim minority has greatly influenced other groups, who generally sing with a high, tense, and nasal vocal quality. In Muslim communities, the famous kulintang gong chime set is often combined in ensembles with the gabbang xylophone, the ganbang doubled-headed drum, and agung suspended bossed gongs. The latter are played only by men, while the kulintang is played by boys and women, who have highly developed playing and improvisational techniques.

Libraries and Museums

In addition to university libraries, the major libraries of the country are the Manila City Library, the National Library, and the library of the Science and Technology Information Institute, all located in Manila. The Lopez Memorial Museum and Library in Pasay has collections of paintings by major Filipino artists, as well as the letters and manuscripts of writer and patriot José Rizal. The Santo Tomás Museum in Manila has major archaeological and natural-history collections, illustrating the history of the islands. The National Museum in Manila has divisions of anthropology, botany, geology, and zoology, along with art collections and a planetarium.