The eight indigenous tribes of Mindoro have known no other home since prehistory, although their ancestors probably migrated from Indonesia. (The seventh-largest island in the Philippines, Mindoro is part of the MIMAROPA Region and is divided into two provinces, Oriental Mindoro and Occidental Mindoro.) The tribes, which are referred to by the general term "Mangyan," comprise the Alangan, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunoo, Iraya, Ratagnon, Tadyawan, and Tawbuid. The Mangyan population in the Philippines is over 100,000, and the great majority have grown roots in Mindoro.
The Iraya Mangyans live in Occidental Mindoro, mainly in the towns of Abra de Ilog, Mamburao, and Paluan. Some populations of Iraya are also found in the Oriental Mindoro towns of Puerto Galera, San Teodoro, and Baco.
The Iraya are usually not concentrated in just one specific area; they live in various barangays* of a municipality. Their population in Puerto Galera, northwest Mindoro, is a typical example. Barangay Baclayán, which is about a one-hour walk from Santo Niño, has around 600 Iraya. The barangay has a health clinic and a school, and a very active community.
Other barangays in Puerto Galera have substantial populations of Iraya: Sitio Talipanan Barangay Aninuán, located about two kilometers from San Isidro (White Beach) and Anilao, also has several Iraya residents. Other small pockets of Iraya are found along the Puerto Galera-Calipan road.
The diet of the Iraya consists mostly of rice, banana, beans, papaya, corn, squash, sweet potato, and other root crops.
Traditionally, the Mangyan are animists and are known to be superstitious. Today, however, many Iraya are Roman Catholic, Evangelical Christian, and Iglesia ni Cristo, which is attracting a growing number of converts from other faiths.
Many Iraya in the Puerto Galera area come donw from the mountains and join the town's Christmas season festivities. They sell their handicrafts and trade with the other locals for food and goods.
The Iraya language is an Austronesian language belonging to the northern Mindoro group. The known dialects of Iraya are Abra-de-Ilog, Alag-Bako, Pagbahan, Palauan-Calavite, Pambuhan, and Santa Cruz. Each dialect is distinct, but the basic vocabulary and grammar of everyday speech are the same. Tagalog words are also used by the Irayas living in the border areas between the foothills.
Even though there remains a healthy number of Iraya speakers to this day, certain alarming developments could jeopardize the future of the language in some parts of Mindoro. A good example are the Irayas of Baclayán. Many of the youth can only muster a smattering of Iraya, as Tagalog is slowly replacing their native language. And few show interest in preserving their language, as perhaps it is no longer useful to them.