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Aeta Culture and Tradition

I would like to share some of Aeta’s culture and traditions when I conducted an ethnography in Zambales, Philippines.

Culture

  • What historical or cultural contributions has the Aeta community shared to the Philippines?

The Aeta tribe is one of the most widespread ethnic groups in the Philippines. Their history and cultural contributions continues to perplex anthropologists and archaeologists. One theory of their history is that they are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines and because of that, may be the reason behind their wide population distribution. The consensus is that they crossed from the island of Borneo between 20,000 to 30,000 years ago using a land bridge partially covered by water around 5,000 years ago. Whatever the migration path was, they are among the first – if not the first – inhabitants of the Philippines (Waddington, 2012). They are traditionally hunter-gatherers and are among the most skilled in jungle survival. One example is during the American war in Vietnam and the US naval base was close to the Aeta community at Pastolan Village, many Vietnam veterans were trained there. Also, Fox said that Aetas have the inexhaustible knowledge of the plant and animal kingdoms, not only recognitions but also the knowledge of the habits and behavior of each. This inclusive knowledge is the product of their way of life (ibid; 187-188). These days, Aetas have many outside influences on their traditional culture and lifestyle. Some influences include religion and inter-marriages. Still, our host during our stay in the village, Nanay Lourdes, is evidently proud to be an Aeta. According to her, the Aetas have shown resistance to change and the attempts of the Spaniards to resettle them failed. Those people wanting to get a glimpse on the community always look for their people, especially in the American times. “Mahal talaga nila ang mga Aeta,” as quoted by her. While resisting change from other societies, they have adjusted to social, economic, cultural and political pressures with resilience and have created structures within their culture to counter change.

  • What are some of the Aeta values or traditions that you impart to your descendants? How do you teach new generations your group’s history and beliefs?

In terms of values, Nanay Lourdes stressed about how Aetas are resilient, just like how the tribe resisted the Spaniards. She also mentioned that one good trait of an Aeta is how they easily quell whatever quarrels and misunderstandings they would have. Aetas, are also hardworking and believes on “kailangang magbanat ng buto”, as quoted by her. They do not want to be seen begging for alms and brought up the topic that those Aetas living in Manila were captured by syndicates, thus messing up people’s thoughts on their tribe. Because of the inter-marriages and the diffusion of the modern influence in their community, the ethnic group was slowly decreasing. She said that there are only very few left in the village that has not married an outsider. Also, natural disasters and exploitation of their land for natural resources have acted over the years to displace them. When asked about how they teach new generations of their beliefs, the knowledge of traditions is also left behind the mind and was not usually practiced anymore. Still, some of the examples of those still recalled are their language called Ambala and the knowledge of Aeta dances. She informed us that a very long time ago, some people taught her those and there was a reference book of the language. Her husband and kids partly understand some basic phrases, but they do not know how to speak or write it. She also teaches new generations how to make a traditional bow for kids, how to fish in the river, and how to navigate forests so that they could see the beautiful landscapes strategically.

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Nanay Lourdes and his granddaughter, Senet showing her picture frame of his father’s experiences.
  • Can you show and explain some artifacts (pottery, literature or art forms) from your community?

Nanay Lourdes does not have any artifact that can be considered as a representation of the Aeta community for generations. Aetas, being skilled as hunter-gatherers back in the days do not make any potteries or the like. When she was still young, her father practiced kaingin, or gasak, as what they call it, which was according to Fox, since the decrease in soil fertility compels them to look for other cultivable fields (1952: 186). It caused her to learn planting as livelihood. Their language, Ambala, was just spoken by those who were taught in the past by the other Aetas in the community. Unfortunately, very few have the knowledge of the language because of the exogamous marriages and the diffusion of other languages by the Tagalogs and other provinces. Her property of the book about Ambala that she mentioned was also nowhere to be found. However, she showed us a picture frame depicting her father, who was a former chieftain of the village, together with other leaders in a leadership seminar in Baguio. Some of the skills that were still remembered by Nanay Lourdes are when they were still at a young age that they use bamboo as a reservoir of water as well as a means of getting water.

Traditions

  • Do you practice certain cultural art forms (e.g. art and literature, dances, songs, tattoos)? How do you practice them or show them to others?

There are some unique Aeta cultural art forms like the dances Nanay Lourdes have said. Some examples of dances, according to her, are the fishing dance, courting dance, and the monkey dance. However, she does not take part in any of those dances. The songs that she has grown up to are ones in Tagalog, and musical heritage or ensembles were not mentioned. Older Aetas may know some Aeta songs, she said. They do not practice symbolism and do not associate symbols in their bodies, and when asked about tattoos, she just said that the youth just acquire tattoo only when they like it. Body scarification, a traditional form of visual art, though practiced in the past, is not popular in these days. She even mentioned how those who just got out of jail were the ones who have tattoos. Because of the subsistent economy that they live today, other Aetas have the skill in weaving and planting. They also use ornaments typical in their standard of living. Their clothing was simple, yet she felt proud and said that other communities mentioned that those living in their village wore elegant clothing in the present.

  • Can you give some uniquely Aeta traditions/beliefs (e.g. burial practices, superstitions, religious activity/beliefs)?

Nanay Lourdes mentioned many beliefs that they have been accustomed to, though some of those she is now skeptical. Some were ridiculous when one first hear it, like one should not fart in front of one’s in-laws because one would have to pay money to the in-law. Another example is when it is thundering, one should not inject anything on one’s animals. She also mentioned that when Good Friday comes around, they pray to Apo Bukot. When asked who he or it is, she said that Apo Bukot is a human that was enchanted, and they pray Aeta prayers to him. She mentioned that maybe her great-great-great grandfather might be acquainted to him, and if one wants to see or feel him, he would make an appearance. She believes that spirits of the dead can whisper to one. She also mentioned about kagon, which is a healing ritual using song and dance to get the spirit out of the body. Their prayers mostly consist of healing and their spirituality is best manifested in their concept of health and disease (Miclat-Teves, 2004, p. 7). They also believe in the heavenly god, and they call him Apo Diyos. The missionaries’ journey in attempt to spread Catholicism and Christianity led to mixed religions in the village even when she was young. Because of diffusion of many beliefs, some claimed to be monotheistic while other Aetas are animists and still stand to their belief of spirits. Their burial practices in the past were described by her as simple, where you wrap a a corpse in a mat and just put it in a hole. However, what she grown up to is the modern burial practice in the present. In all forms, when someone died, others should offer prayers before he would be buried. In the present, there may be a pastor, depending on the religion. There is also a clear link between prayer and economic activities, like before or after a hunt that may be depicted as a sign of good luck.

References

Miclat-Teves, A. (Ed.) (2004). The Pinatubo Aetas: a Brief Socio-Cultural & Historical Profile. The Aetas Land and Life, 3-9.

Waddington, R. (2002), The Aeta People. The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved from
http://www.peoplesoftheworld.org/text?people=Aeta

Photos taken from: https://www.facebook.com/ayranikolle.gamus/media_set?set=a.840288429401883.1073741826.100002622008511&type=3

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