Barangay originated from the word “balangay”, a kind of sailboat that originally brought settlers of Malay stock from Borneo to the Philippines. It is known as the oldest watercraft found in the Philippines, carbon dated to 320 AD.
In the early Filipino settlements, the real social unit in the Philippine society is the barangay. It is a kinship group which evolved out of the manner the archipelago was colonized by early people.
The individual boatloads that settled in the Philippines consisted of a kinship group, a large family group whose head, the master of the boat, retained power as leader of the village established by his family. He was called datu who ruled them and led them in war and who they obeyed and respected.
Barangay villages sometimes grew to include some 30 to 100 families, each family ruling a small “kingdom” called barangay which remained isolated from one another. These boatloads settled along the coastal and riverine areas, keeping pretty much to themselves as communities. Except on the Muslim island of Mindanao, no larger political grouping emerged. This fact greatly facilitated Spanish conquest of the Philippines in the 16th century, since resistance remained uncoordinated and sporadic. The Spaniards retained the barangay as their basic unit of local administration in the islands.
The Spanish colonizers, who were a mere handful, were able to subjugate a large portion of the country because there was no real unified resistance against them. In fact, the Spanish were able to obtain allies to fight other groups. Rivalry and competition between barangay kinship groups were a feature of pre-Hispanic Philippine society. In some cases, as among the Ifugao in the mountain provinces, village rivalry developed into head-hunting affairs where the death of someone in a group could only be avenged by the taking of the head of a member of a rival village.
A large number of these barangays would form a single town, or at least would settle not far from each other, for the sake of mutual defence in case of war. They were not, however, subject one to another, but bound together by friendship or kinship; and the chiefs, each with his barangay, fought side by side in the wars they waged.
Today, the kinship groups remain very much as in pre-Hispanic days with many cultural minority groups scattered in remote areas throughout the archipelago. The basic community unit, called barrio, is very much a barangay kinship grouping at its core. However, even in towns and cities, the kinship group is alive and well. Filipinos think in terms of the old barangay and they identify a person within the context of the kinship group to which he belongs.
Filipinos were closely bound by family ties, and the father was always head of the family. Filipino women were given many privileges and held a respected place in society. The mother could own and sell property and named her children. If a chieftain had no sons, his eldest daughter became chief. All women were astute traders and merchants.
In my family, we were brought up that in case of my father’s absence, I, being the eldest, take over as head of the family. When we have family problems, my phone will be ringing off the hook because all my three brothers will defer to me for my decision. It is the way in my family and my husband, an American, is amazed at how this thing works.
Nobles carried titles and the highest person in the nobility was the Rajah. The people owed their Rajah total obedience. They paid taxes to him and fought his wars. The rajahs were usually able rulers, and often made agreements with other rajah for the common welfare and protection of their people. Often several barangays cooperated in this way.
Nowadays, a barangay or baranggay, formerly referred to as barrio, is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village, district or ward. In metropolitan areas, the term often refers to an inner city neighborhood, a suburb or a suburban neighborhood.
Barangay elections in the Philippines held on May 14, 2018 elected the Punong Barangay, more commonly known as barangay captains, and members of the Sangguniang Barangay, or barangay council, in 41,948 barangays (villages) throughout the country whose terms started on June 30, 2018.
The Philippines by John Cockcroft
Culture Shock Philippines by Alfredo & Grace Roces