Armed with backpack and a camera in hand, I found myself at a bus station in EDSA at 5 in the morning. The next thing I knew, a ritual was happening before us: Aetas singing and dancing around a bonfire… then Miko decided to join in.
The Aetas welcomed us into their homes with sincerest hospitality. They let us sleep with them, and they fed us not only with their unbelievably delectable fresh food but also with accounts of their history and culture. And this is their story.
The Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991 wipe out hundreds of lives and thousands of homes surrounding the area. Among the mostly perished is the Aeta community in Tarlac. This has forced the survivors to adapt to new ways of life and find new settlements in nearby communities like Sitio Alunan. This radical change in lifestyle has led to the slow deterioration of their culture.
More than two decades following the eruption, the Aetas in Tarlac are still struggling to preserve their cultural heritage.
The Aetas are known for their bahag, a piece of garment used to cover their private parts. However, with the unintended adaptation they had to undergo throughout the years, this tradition has slowly been neglected. They are now a modernly-clothed community.
Apart from the bahag, Aetas are also known for their distinctly reflective eyes—wide and filled with life.
Immediately after the eruption, surviving Aetas were placed in evacuation centers where hundreds of donations were brought in. Deprived of natural resources, they relied on relief goods to satisfy their hunger. However, unaccustomed to non-organic good, dozens of Aetas suffered from food poisoning while a large sum lost their lives. What we thought could sustain them led them to their death.
Unlike most people, Aetas do not store and preserve food. They depend on fresh vegetables which they gather around their home all their lives. Before meal, men gather firewood and edible plants for cooking.
We even joined them in this gathering.
Their leaders organize a weekly cultural night where they congregate around a bonfire (pagdadapog) as a community, say their prayers (dororo), offer a sacrifice (talbeng) and dance around in their bahag. Along with their nightly conversations (lambungan), all aforementioned serve as immediate solutions to their dying heritage.
Although these practices may only be temporary solutions to their pervasive situation, the community is hoping for the best. When all has been said and done, one thing will remain certain about them: The Aetas is a remarkable group of people full of vitality who will forever be proud of their rich Filipino heredity.
(If you want to know more about the Aeta tribe in Tarlac, you can experience this yourself with Tribo Co. Kultura Kamp.)