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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Precolonial Philippines Part 3: Early Upper Class Baro and the Intercultural Connection

Upper class outfits differed from the rest of precolonial Tagalog society. Upper class men’s barongs were shorter cropped jackets that ended just above the waist made of fine linen or Indian muslin. The jackets were collarless and had short sleeves.

These men covered their bottoms in richly dyed linen cloth usually adorned with gold edges. The cloths covered the waist down to mid-thigh, also covering in between the legs, and were fastened at the side. They also wore cloth headbands, gold or precious stone necklaces and large patterned gold bracelets.

Since there are no photos or artist renderings of Tagalog upper class men from this period - about 13th or 14th century, we use these photos below of upper class Bagobo men from early 20th century Mindanao. Aside from the fabrics and patterns in these pics, they illustrate virtually everything described above.

Bagobo man from Cotabato, Mindanao circa 1904-5. 📸 by Dr. William R. Eastman, Sr., Captain, US Army Medical Corps.

Bagobo man from Cotabato, Mindanao circa 1904-5. Photo by Dr. William R. Eastman, Sr., Captain, US Army Medical Corps.

upper class Bagobo man from around the 1910’s. 📸 by Haeckel collection/ullstein bild via Getty Images.

Despite separations by ethnicity, language, region or island, there were many similarities in the shape, form and design of clothing, how they were made, and parallels in weaving design and imagery among tribes and groups. Make no mistake, the Philippine archipelago was not a cohesive nation during precolonial times. But there was a connection amongst the people of these islands. Civilizations and cultures learned and borrowed from one another. Useful technology spread, and so did clothing production and design.

Tracing the Barong Tagalog back to its earliest known forms connects Tagalogs to the rest of the Philippines. Despite being on opposite ends of the archipelago, Tagalog and Bagobo people have a lot in common.

Since indigenous people from northern Luzon and ethnic groups from Mindanao were further away from Spanish occupation and were able to resist colonization, they largely kept their cultures and traditions, thus explaining why 20th century pictures give us a decent glimpse into pre-16th century Tagalog clothing. Though not exact depictions, they are good reference points to what the Tagalog people, who experienced dramatic culture shifts during over 300 years of Spanish occupation, used to look like.