The Philippines, reported home of several terrorist groups and the site of innumerable bombings in recent years, presents a rather bright contrast to other countries in Asia. The Philippines includes over 7,100 islands, but most of the land area is shared among the 11 largest islands. The majority of Philippine people are of Malay stock, descendants of Indonesians and Malays who migrated to the islands long before the Christian era. The most significant ethnic minority group is the Chinese, who have played an important role in commerce since the ninth century, when they first came to the islands to trade. As a result of intermarriage, many Filipinos have some Chinese and Spanish ancestry. Americans and Spaniards constitute the next largest alien minorities in the country. About 90 per cent of the people are Christian; most were converted and westernised to varying degrees during nearly 400 years of Spanish and American rule. The major non-Hispanicised groups are the Muslim population, concentrated in the Sulu Archipelago and in central and western Mindanao, and the mountain groups of northern Luzon. Small forest tribes live in the more remote areas of Mindanao.
About 87 native languages and dialects are spoken, all belonging to the Malay-Polynesian linguistic family. About 40 percent of the population lives in poverty while a wealthy minority holds most political power.