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Aeta Culture and Tradition

December 14, 2015geelinlovesconan

I would like to share some of Aetas 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 groups 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 peoples 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
fathers 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 ones 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 ones 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.