Every now and then a project comes up that I get really excited about. When I was asked to photograph the newest Philippine World Heritage Site, Mount Hamiguitan, I knew right away that this would be an amazing project to work on. Mount Hamiguitan is the only Heritage Site in Mindanao and was inscribed in 2014 after local initiatives strongly advocated and worked for the park to become listed under UNSECO. The park’s biologically diverse flora and fauna, high number of endemic species, and unique pygmy forest are a few of the key characteristics for which the site was listed.

Human history started in the Philippines when the first people arrived to the islands some 25,000 years ago. Today, these indigenous peoples are known by different names on various islands, but the Spanish classified them generally as “negritos” because of their dark skin. In the western Visayas, the negritos call themselves Ati and can be found primarily on the islands of Panay, Guimaras and Negros.

One week prior to my departure to Tawi-Tawi I received an email from the US Embassy in Manila. “U.S. citizens should continue to defer non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago, due to the high threat of kidnapping of international travelers and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there.” This region of the Philippines never gets good press and honestly has a very negative reputation among most people here in the country.

Oman is a place I knew very little about before making my way across the UAE border into this fascinating country. Without much research or even much of a plan, I purchased tickets into Dubai with the idea of finding an ideal place to explore in the Middle East. Our time in Oman was a refreshing change of atmosphere for us and was filled with many unforgetful interactions with its people.

Every year in the Cordillera mountains of Luzon a ritual is held to celebrate the end of the rice harvest season. Over a two day period, three barangays gather to give thanks and blessings of post harvest with the celebration culminating in a “punnuk” (tug-of-war) which is held in a river flowing through the heritage rice terraces. Throughout the two day period all processes are performed by a “ritual specialist,” a person ordained specifically to administer the various blessings required.

Considered as one of the 18 indigenous ethnolinguistic Lumad groups in Mindanao, the native Mansaka continued their way of life during the hundreds of years of migrations and inter-marriages of the Malays, Indonesians and the Chinese. Although the Mansaka people evolved over time, they were never heavily influenced by the Spanish during their colonization.

When Gilbert Bargayo was a child he had a dream that called him to act out real life crucifixions. Every year since 1996 he has carried out this dream, becoming somewhat of a local icon and helping others reflect on their own sins during Holy Week. In preparation for his crucifixions Bargayo fasts for one month eating only fruits and vegetables. His companion, Bimboy Carpintero, has been Bargayo’s nailing man for every crucifixion he has done.

Three weeks in the Cordilleras of Luzon and I feel like I have only scratched the surface of experiencing the rich cultures that make up the Igorot people. The Igorot people live in six different provinces with over 20 tribes all speaking different languages, practicing different rituals, and have different beliefs and cultures. Visiting the Cordilleras was like stepping into another country for me, a drastic change in geography and people’s general positive outlook and attitude toward their own way of life.

The indigenous Mangyan are composed of eight different groups (Iraya, Alangan, Tadyawan, Tau-buid, Bangon, Buhid, Hanunoo and Ratagnon) all living on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines. These eight groups are distinctively different including their languages with “Mangyan” being used as a collective term for the indigenous peoples found on Mindoro.

Things often do not turn out the way you might expect them to. Such was the case during my recent trip back to the Sierra Madres. I returned to a part of Isabela and Cagayan provinces to visit some old Agta friends from last year.

Lao Cai province of northern Vietnam borders the Chinese border and is home to a number of different ethnic minorities that have lived in the area for centuries. We flew into Hanoi and decide to head straight to Lao Cai Province after a couple of days in this fast pace city. My initial inclination is always to go as far away from tourist hotspots as possible.

Singnapan Valley in southern Palawan was a place I had wanted to visit for a long time. The remoteness of Singnapan valley is what first caught my attention and then the interesting stories that the people there live in large caves during the rainy season. I had the privilege of spending some time with the Tau’t Bato people whose name means – Dwellers of the rock.

The Tagbanua people are descendents of some of the oldest people in the Philippines likely coming from Borneo and historically had strong relations with Brunei. Today there are various subgroups of the Tagbanua throughout the province of Palawan. The Calamian Tagbanua (those living on Coron Island and on mainland Coron/Busuanga and surrounding islands) have adopted a sea oriented way of life, living off of the ocean and its resources.

The Bukidnon plateau is home to seven of the 18 different indigenous groups found in Mindanao. After doing some research I decided it would be a great place to visit for starting the Katutubong Filipino Project. Although our travel to Bukidnon was fairly short we learned a lot about the Lumad people (the Visayan word collectively used for all indigenous people in Mindanao).

The Agta and Dumagat are a subgroup of the Aeta people, who are more commonly called Negritos here in the Philippines. The Aeta are thought to be among the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines, preceding the Austronesian migrations. The Agta people live in the forest or close to the shore, frequently migrate to either location as they are still semi-nomadic people.

Self flagellation practices were adopted by Filipinos during their Spanish colonization almost 500 years ago. Flagellants are practitioners of an extreme form of mortification of their own flesh by whipping it with various instruments. Today, you can still see some Christians practicing flagellation in the Philippines as a form of devout worship and personal sacrifice, sometimes in addition to self-crucifixion. In the Philippine province of Quezon there are still a number of men who wear elaborate costumes while preforming their act of self flagellation.

Considered as the prime and oldest of all Christian relics in the Philippines, the image of the Santo Niño continues to shine as the guide that attracts the hearts of the Filipino people. Every January, an annual festival is held in Cebu City to honor the vision of the Santo Niño, called the Sinulog. The Sinulog is also a dance ritual that commemorates the Cebuano people’s pagan origin, and their acceptance of Roman Catholicism.