Genetic ancestry of Filipino people


Genetic ancestry of Filipino people

1. Filipino Negritos: Pre-Austronesian from an African wave

Human presence in Southeast Asia dates back to at least 40,000 years ago. The Negritos in the Philippine Islands, Peninsular Malaysia, and the Andaman Islands are thought to represent the descendants of the pre-Austronesian out-of-Africa migration wave. [Nature

Hence, the first wave of people groups from Africa reached the Philippines through an ancient landbridge called Sunderland. Their DNA remains traced among modern-day Filipino groups such as the Ita, the Ati, and the Man Manoir.

However, modern Filipinos only have 1-2 of their DNA because most Filipino ancestry comes from Taiwan (Austronesian migration), which started over 4000 years ago.

2. Austronesian ethnicity (Taiwan)

Austronesian peoples (Austronesian-speaking) include large groups of people from Taiwan (indigenous Chinese), Southeast Asia, Micronesia, coastal New Guinea, Polynesia, and Madagascar.

Austronesians originated from a prehistoric seaborne migration (or Austronesian expansion) from “pre-Han Taiwan” around 1500 to 1000 BCE. They reached the northernmost Philippines, specifically the Batanes Islands, by about 2200 BCE.

Smaller groups from Malaysia and Indonesia (Southeast Asia) relocated to the Philippines some 5,000-6,000 years ago, although some Ami tribes (Taiwan) were earlier settlers some 8 to 10,000 years ago.

Austronesian ethnicity is evident in the similarity of some words and numerals. Here are examples:

Paiwan (Indigenous Taiwan, closest to the Philippines)Malagasy (Madagascar, farthest from the Philippines)CebuanoTagalog
The Filipino language was highly influenced by its Austronesian roots, but it is still distant compared to the original Austronesia language family used by the Indonesian, Malay, and Timor Islands.

Taiwan vs. Spanish ancestry

The modern groups with the highest component of this Austronesian ancestry are the Igorots in Luzon, who display many similarities to other Austronesian groups across the Pacific.

Despite what many people believe, the genetic influence of Spanish ancestry among Filipinos is quite small, representing only 2% of the total population. This genetic component is mostly found among Bikolanos and Spanish Creole-speaking Chabacanos.

In contrast, Chinese ancestry has a much greater presence, with more than a quarter of the Filipino population having Chinese origin.

3. Chinese origins of Filipino

Filipinos are often considered ethnically Austronesians (Malay, Indonesian, Pacific Islanders). However, other gene tests indicate a stronger Chinese descent.

Pinoys, particularly those from the northern parts, are more Chinese than their Malay or Indonesian counterparts in the South East.

The Filipino genetic makeup is almost exclusive to East-Eurasian origin, with the majority being of Fujian ancestry (associated with Native Taiwanese and Austronesians). At the same time, the Spanish/European admixture is a mere 0–5%.

A. Out-of-Taiwan model

The Filipino genes are closely related to Taiwan’s Ami tribe

There are 16 diverse Taiwanese tribes (nine are indigenous), and only four have contributed to the Austronesian diaspora outside the island. Austronesians (Malay race) comprise 2% of the Taiwanese population.

The Amis represents 37.1% of Taiwan’s total indigenous population. Their closest genetic relatives appear to be the native Filipino people who arrived in 2200 B.C. from Batanes and rapidly spread downwards. [Mijares]

A “Chinese Taiwan” came into a full circle when the Republic of China (Nationalist government) retreated to the island in 1948, along with 2 million Chinese.

B. Filipino Han Chinese ancestry

The most frequently occurring Y-DNA haplogroups among modern Filipinos are haplogroup O1a-M119. It is found with maximal frequency among the indigenous peoples of Nias and Mentawi Islands (West coast of Sumatra), Northern Luzon (Especially Batanes), China, and Taiwan.

Before their arrival in Taiwan, the Han Chinese traders have been interacting with indigenous Filipinos since the 9th century, engaging in trading and bartering.

Some postulate a 30–40% partial Han ancestry among Filipinos.

Han Chinese generally assimilated into the Austronesian population (Ami tribe of native Taiwan). They arrived in Taiwan in the late 13th to early 17th century.

  • A 2014 study shows all ISEA (Island Southeast Asia) populations had genes originating from the aboriginal Taiwanese. [Nature]
  • A 2020 study traced the origins of Guam’s first inhabitants to Taiwan and the Philippines based on DNA samples collected on the U.S. territory. [PNAS]
  • In other genetic tests, Eskimos and Navajos Indians of North America belonged to the same cluster of the Ami tribes. 

The connections between Filipinos and the Chinese run deep with shared cultural practices, beliefs, and dishes.

C. Shared language and culture from Chinese

Using chopsticks is the easiest way to associate with groups of people of Chinese ethnicity. Even though it is not native to Filipinos, we share about 2,000 or more Chinese words (Hokkien, which is widely spoken in Taiwan), traditions, and dishes.

Filipino terms of respect used by younger members of Filipino family members to address older siblings originated from the Chinese (Hokkien):

Hokkien (Fookien)Tagalog (Traditional)
A-Che or Ah-Chi (eldest sister)Ate
Ku-A or Ah-Hia (eldest brother)Kuya
Di-Chi (2nd older sister)Ditse
Di-Ku (2nd older brother)Diku
Sa-Chi (3rd older sister)Santse
Sa-ku 3rd (older brother)Sanku

Out-of-Taiwan model challenged

A 2008 genetic study by Leeds University challenged the idea that ISEA came from Taiwan (“Out-of-Sundaland” hypothesis).

A study by Larena et. al. indicates that the Cordillerans migrated into the Philippines. Some are the least admixed East Asians with an ancestry shared by all Austronesian-speaking populations, challenging “an exclusive” out-of-Taiwan model.

Apparently, East-Eurasian (who diverged from Australo-Melanesians) first populated the Philippines about 35,000 years ago. Therefore, later Austronesian expansion into (insular) Southeast Asia and Polynesia was outgoing from the Philippines rather than Taiwan.

D. Assimilation of Chinese during the Spanish colonization

Chinese migration continued during Spanish colonization. Several of them settled and assimilated with the local Filipino-Spanish culture.

Eventually, a small Chinese community developed, particularly in Binondo and Laguna. Many became local artisans and wealthy Sangleys who even acquired the Don and Dona titles.

In 1798, almost 300 years after Spain colonized the country, the local Spanish government conducted a census. The result showed that 33% of the population in Luzon, the largest, were Mestizos of Spanish, Mexican, Latino, and Chinese (Sangleys) ancestry.

Hispanic Chinese surnames

In 1787, Chinese mestizos were about 2,793 out of its local Chinese population of 6,490. Intermarriage continued between Chinese and local natives increasing Chinese mestizos.

Hence, some Spanish-sounding surnames, such as Cayetano, Villanueva, and Tomas, were listed as Chinese mestizo in an 1852 barangay record in Bacolod.

In short, having a Spanish surname does not assume Castillian descent but rather Chinese. After all, the Spanish ethnicity among Filipinos is a minuscule 1.5 to 3%.

Spanish nationals who immigrated to the Philippines during Spanish colonization were insignificant.

modern filipina

Spanish ethnicity is a minuscule 1.5 to 3%.

Claim: Distinction between Indonesian and Malay ethnicity

Genetic tests conducted by researchers worldwide show Filipinos are ethnically and genetically distinct and separate from their Malaysian and Indonesian neighbors, despite having similar features and dialects.

  • Filipinos do not cluster with Indonesians in genetic tests.
  • Indonesians are primarily Austroasiatic since they cluster with Austroasiatic.
  • The average Filipino’s genes only have a minuscule 1.5% Austroasiatic genes, which were also contributed by Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Malaysians who settled in the Philippines a few hundred years ago.

Therefore, the average Filipino genes consist of ancient East Ancient (north) and old East Asian (south), two genetically distinct peoples.


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