The word is Spanish for "little Negro" and was given by early explorers who thought that the Negritos were from Africa. Nevertheless it has been used for the past more than 300 years to denote the generally short-statured, peppercorn-haired, dark-skinned people found in small surviving pockets all over tropical Asia and perhaps beyond.
The theory of the connection to Africa collapsed the moment the first unbiased scientific observers met living Andamanese Negritos face to face. Apart from dark skin and curly hair, they have little in common with any African population, including the African pygmies. There are, however, a few fascinating connections to the Khoisan of South Africa. While we can thus be quite sure that the Negritos are not Africans (except in the way all of us Homo sapiens originated in Africa) - Clear archaeological evidence found so far of Negrito settlements in the Andamans does not go back more than 2,200 years but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Besides, there is now little doubt that the Negrito race represents an ancient, if not the most ancient, component in the prehistoric peopling of Asia by anatomically modern humans. As such they could go back 70,000 years. The Negritos of the Philippines could make fire, whereas the Andamanese could not, as of 1911.
They are distinct from the Formosan-Indo-Malay peoples who arrived in boats or balangay (see Barangay). The current mainstream Filipino at times commemorate the Negrito and the Spanish by dressing up as these peoples, during local celebrations. (See Antique, Philippines for the 1212 purchase of rights, by some Malay peoples, to settle on the island of Panay from the chief of the Negritos there).
For the Negritos themselves the term has no meaning since they know themselves only by their local tribal names and are not (yet) aware that they may belong to a people called "Negrito". (See List of Philippine-related topics#Tribes and ethnic groups for a systematic list of their tribes and peoples, and Andaman Islands for a description of the Andamanese tribes.)
The term "Negrito" is regarded by some as a misnomer. However, it is of long historical standing and there is no feasible alternative. "Black Asians" has been proposed but this would include the Negritos along with the Melanesians, Veddoid and some other Asian people, giving undue importance to the minor genetic trait of skin colour and ignoring more profound genetic and other differences between these groups.
We think that until the Negritos themselves are aware of their situation and in a position to decide the matter for themselves, the term should not be changed. Non-Negritos should not arrogate to themselves the right to rename a people without their knowledge and consent. One has to consider "Negrito" to be a perfectly acceptable term as long as it is used without derogatory intent.