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The Aeta People of the Philippines: Culture, Customs and Tradition [Philippine Indigenous People | Ethnic Group]

Aeta indigenous people of the Philippines ethnic group


It's possible that "Aeta" is derived from the Malay term "hitam," which means "black," or from its cousin in the Philippine languages, "itom or itim," which means "people." Aeta, also known as Ayta, Alta, Atta, Ita, and Ati in early ethnographic records of the people, were sometimes referred to as "little blacks" because of their dark skin. 


Short and slender, the Aeta are also dark-skinned; their typical height is 1.35 to 1.5 meters; their frame is petite; their hair is kinky; and they have large black eyes. Later migrants are thought to have driven them into the highlands and hinterlands of the Philippines, where they are thought to have been the country's earliest settlers or aborigines.


Negritos are a diverse group of people who dominate the Philippines' archipelago from north to south, despite a perceived lack of inclusive terms to describe them. Philippine Negrito groups is the best term to use when referring to the Agta and Aeto in northeastern Luzon; the Aeta, Ayto and Alta in Central Luzon; the Ati or Ata in Panay and Negros; the Batak in Palawan; and Iraya Mangyan in Mindoro. Remontado of Rizal province, the Remontado of Sibuyan Island in Romblon province, and the Ati are also included in this group.


Baluga or Ita is also known as Remontado or Ita in the provinces of Pampanga and Zambales; in Tarlac they are named Kulaman, Baluga or Sambal, while on Panay they are known by the names Ita or Ati. Aeta also goes by the names Kofun, Diango, Paranan, Assao, Ugsing, and Aita in the province of Cagayan. 


It is common for non-locals to refer to the Agat and Agtan people of the Philippines as "Dumagat" (meaning "seafaring people"). They are known as Mamanwa in Mindanao's northern provinces of Surigao and Agusan. the words man (first) and banwa (forest) combine to form mamanua, which means "forest inhabitants" (forest). However, the Mamanwa have also been referred to as "Kongking," which translates to "conquered" in Spanish.


As a result of their diverse social and geographical contexts, the Aeta have a wide variety of distinct names to call themselves. Aeta groupings have been classified in a variety of strange ways. Non-Aeta groups or neighbors may take offense to a name given by an Aeta group, especially if the given name is considered derogatory. 


The term "Ita" is offensive to certain Filipinos because of their dark skin tone. The Aeta are sometimes referred to as Baluga, which translates as "hybrid," in Central Luzon. As "brackish, half-salt, half-fresh" implies, other Aeta groups find this disrespectful. One subgroup of the Aeta of northern Luzon is known as the Ebuked, which comes from the Filipino term bukid (field) and refers to people who dwell distant from the lowlands. They are collectively known as the Aeta or the Agta. The Agta view the Ebuked as primitive and backward. In the north of Luzon, another ethnic group is known as the Pugut, a term used by their Ilocano neighbors to describe people with dark skin. Goblin or forest spirit are other possible translations in Ilocano.


"Abiyan" means "companion" or "fellow" in local dialect for the Aeta of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur. During the Spanish period, this particular group worked for wealthy Christian landowners, hence the name. The term "Bihug" comes from the Abiyan slang term "kabihug," meaning "fellow at the meal." Workers in Quezon province known as Aeta, who clean coconut plantations and do odd labor for food and cloth, are also called Abiyan. Ata, Atid, and Itim are some of the other names Quezoners use to refer to themselves.


The Aeta population is made up of approximately 30 distinct ethnic groups. There are 117,782 Aeta people in the Philippines or one percent of the country's overall indigenous population. As of 2010, the Agta of Northeastern Luzon had 10,503; the Pinatubo Aeta had 56,265 members in 1997; the Mamanwa had 54,394 members; and the Ati had 9,258, distributed throughout the Visayas, with the majority living on Iloilo and Capiz islands.


It is interesting to note that despite significant social, political, economic, and geological changes, as well as distressing environmental shifts over the last two centuries, the distribution of the Philippine Negrito groups has stayed mostly unchanged. Despite this, they can still be found in parts of Western Cagayan, the Sierra Madres, Central Luzon, the Island Group, and Mindanao.


The Aeta group's diversity is evidenced by the fact that over 30 different Negrito languages have been recorded. However, only 17 of these are currently being used—namely, Abelling, Abiyan, Aeta or Ayta, Aggay, Agta, Atta (aka Ata or Ati), Batak (aka Binatak), Cimaron, Dumagat (aka Umiray), Iraya, Isarog, Kabihug, Mamanwa, Manobo or Ata-Manobo, Negrito, Remontado, and Tabangnon. In order to communicate with the locals, many Aeta have learned the language of the lowlanders they've encountered.



History of the Aeta tribe in the Philippines


It is still a mystery as to the origins of the Aeta, which anthropologists and archaeologists continue to investigate. 30,000 years ago, the Philippines was connected to Asia by land bridges, which brought the initial inhabitants of the country to the Philippines. The Malay peninsula was once connected to Sumatra and the remainder of the Sunda Islands, which could explain these migrations. It's possible that the Aeta dispersed throughout the archipelago that is now the Philippines at the time of their arrival.


drawing Depiction of the Negritos
Depiction of the Negritos, circa 1590 (Boxer Codex, The Lilly Library Digital Collections)


The Aeta are more closely related to Asia-Pacific tribes than to the African group, according to genetic research. There is speculation that the Mamanwa have some unique genetic material not seen in the other Aeta tribes. These people are related to the indigenous peoples of Australia and New Guinea, who are descendants of Africans who migrated south. As an Australoid people, the Aeta are defined as having "enhanced survival value in a hilly tropical climate with inadequate nutritional resources." About 45,000 years ago, the first Australian aborigines arrived on the continent. The Mamanwa are thought to have broken apart from their common ancestor 36,000 years ago. As a result, the Mamanwa people may be the country's oldest ethnic group.


According to Chau Ju-1225 Kua's chronicle, the Aeta were known as the Hai-tan. When thrown a porcelain bowl, they'll leap to their feet and roar in delight, according to reports of these masked assailants perched on tree limbs and ready to take down unsuspecting onlookers. On one of these islands "in some of these mountain regions are blacks inhabited by Indians as a general rule, and whom the latter capture and sell, and even employ as slaves," according to Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a 16th-century explorer. Blumentritt was one of several writers who adopted Colin's theory about the Philippines' first residents being black mountaineers in the 18th and 19th centuries.


Aeta family in their traditional lean-to house made of nipa leaves
Aeta family in their traditional lean-to house, 20th century (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

There are archaeological pieces of evidence indicating that, prior to the Spanish conquest, Aeta peoples lived in the lowlands, but they gradually relocated to the hills and highlands as a result of succeeding immigrants and conquerors like the Spaniards. There is evidence that the Zambales Aeta, for example, lived in the lowlands and along the coasts and rivers of the Zambales River.


The Aeta are known for their resistance to change. Throughout the span of the Spanish administration, the Spaniards' attempts to relocate them to reservations failed. Only when lowlanders established artificial government structures, such as a consejal (city councilor), a capitan (barangay commander), or police, did the political organization of the Aeta change.


With the acquisition of new colonies, particularly the Philippines, in the first decade of the 20th century, the United States became a global force. It was in Missouri, in order to present itself as a global superpower, that the United States created the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. At the time, the world fair was the most ambitious effort of its type ever undertaken. The 47-acre Filipino reservation, which included 100 buildings, cost two million dollars. There were 1,100 individuals from the Philippines living on the reservation. Negritos and Mangyans made up 38 of the ethnic delegates. In the Philippines, the Negritos were supposed to represent those who were the least civilized.


Only the Pinatubo Aeta, who lived around the former US military bases in Zambales and Pampanga, were willing to engage in communication with the visitors from the United States. General Douglas MacArthur commended them after the war for their assistance to the US Air Force soldiers. They were permitted to penetrate the perimeter of the base and participate in scavenging activities there. The American special operations forces used them as jungle survival teachers as well.


Video: Paano nakaligtas ang mga katutubong Aeta sa pagsabog ng Mt. Pinatubo?


Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, forcing the United States to leave the bases. For more than a decade, the Aeta ancestral lands were buried under ashfall and lahar from this volcanic eruption, one of the largest natural disasters of the twentieth century. More than 50,000 people were killed by an earthquake that struck the Pinatubo Aeta on August 12, 1980.


The Aeta people of northeastern Luzon rebuffed attempts in the 1930s to introduce farming to their culture and were driven out of the area. They were able to adapt to social, economic, cultural and political challenges with amazing resilience, developing systems and structures within their society to lessen the impact of change when necessary. The Aeta, on the other hand, have declined in numbers during the second half of the twentieth century. Environmental catastrophes and anti-people sociopolitical and economic policies have put their very existence in jeopardy for decades.


Colonial and economic policies in the United States prior to World War II emphasized large-scale commercial logging and mining of the country's natural resources. Extractive industries continued even after the Philippines gained independence from the United States. Mining claims made by large corporations proliferated under the Marcos administration, which was bolstered by a presidential decree in favor of mining. Deforestation accelerated as foreign businesses and Marcos loyalists were handed wood licenses. Even after the EDSA Revolt in 1986, the administrations continued to encourage logging and mining activities.


Nickel mine operations prompted the Mamanwa to relocate to the lowlands in 1986. Mining deposits abound throughout the majority of Mamanwa traditional territories. Among the greatest iron deposits in Asia is Claver in Surigao del Norte, for example. Displaced from the trees that sustained their traditional lifestyle, the Mamanwa struggled in their new locations. Furthermore, the mining operations harmed the natural environment by clogging the waterways. Reversal of the Mamanwa's peaceful way of life was brought about by mining firms entering the Surigao provinces in the 1970s and 1980s.


Illegal and legal logging on the eastern side of the Sierra Madre mountain range has decimated Agta hunting and gathering practices. Because of the loss of forests, Aeta had no access to the plants and animals it needed to thrive. Hundreds of Agta were killed in Quezon province as a result of flash floods and mudslides caused by tropical depressions and typhoons in November and December of 2004.


With the support of social-forestry initiatives like Integrated Forest Management Agreements and Community-Based Forest Management Agreements, the government has attempted to address the issue of deforestation in the country (CBFMA). Nagpana, a forest reserve on Panay Island, was designated as an Ati-only area in 1986. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is in charge of it (DENR). According to the agreement, the Ati are allowed to live in the forest, but they are prohibited from using forest resources for charcoal production or using forest land for kaingin (swidden farming). That's why they've started selling herbal treatments in nearby island provinces like Samar and Leyte and Cebu and Negros in order to make ends meet. As a result, Ati communities have sprouted up in places like Naga, Cebu, and Janiuay, Iloilo.


In 1998, the Batak of Kalakuasan in Palawan signed a CBFMA with the DENR covering 3,458.70 hectares of forest in Barangay Tanabag. It's a deal that Batak see as unsatisfactory because it only lasts 25 years and is only renewable if Batak can meet unattainable standards. Furthermore, the Batak are unsatisfied with their position as DENR subsidiaries because of the CBFMA's lack of security of tenure.


In addition to deforestation, the Aeta has been troubled by expulsion, displacement, serfdom, and mendicancy. Since the government and insurgent New People's Army (NPA) have been engaged in a long-term military war in rural regions, the Philippine Negritos, whose forest habitats are also battlegrounds, have been harmed. 400 Mamanwa households in Taganito, Surigao del Norte were evicted from their ancestral lands in the 1980s by military authorities who accused the Mamanwa of supporting the NPA. Families are being forced to flee their homes as a result of the harassment and expulsion they have been subjected to.


Aeta peoples have also been displaced from their natural grounds by hungry lowlanders in search of food. The Madia-as mountain range, which separates Iloilo and Antique, was the ancestral home of the Panay Ati. When the forest was reduced in the 1950s, the locals turned to swidden farming, selling medicinal herbs for a profit and working as farm laborers. Some Visayans took advantage of the time between planting seasons when Ati ancestral grounds were lying fallow and applied for government land titles for these ancestral holdings. The Ati attempted to retake their ancestral lands, but they were unable to demonstrate legal possession because they did not have the proper documentation.


The Ati in Negros have been reduced to the status of agricultural laborers or tenants, forced to work on land that was once theirs. In the lowlands, people hire them to do things like plow fields, collect coconuts, and cut bamboo into fish traps. A large number of Christian families employ women as maids or farm workers. A few people in Iloilo have taken to begging on the street. So it comes as no surprise that some Aeta (especially the Dumagat) succumb to alcohol. In the Dumagat culture, alcoholism was originally unknown. Lowlanders likely introduced it and unscrupulous merchants reinforced it by providing alcoholic beverages as payment for Aeta work. Even among women, intoxication has become a societal issue.


A Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title issued under the provisions of the Indigenous Peoples' Rights Act of 1997 (IPRA) gives Aeta tribes official acknowledgment of their ancient territories and waters (CADT). It has been possible for certain of the Pinatubo Aeta, Agta/Dumagat, Ati, and Mamanwa tribes to get land titles over ancient lands after enduring a time-consuming bureaucratic process. 400 Mamanwa families, for example, purchased a CADT in 2006 covering 48,870 hectares in Surigao del Norte, including a section of Agusan del Norte.


A formal land claim does not guarantee that indigenous peoples will be freed from their plights. This new income, which amounts to millions of pesos, has sparked friction among Mamanwa chiefs, who have been empowered by the IPRA to negotiate for a one percent royalty of the gross production of mining firms operating in their territories. Even though Quezon province's Agta/Dumagat ancestral lands comprise 164,000 hectares, they have not been safeguarded against illegal logging and the construction of a hydro dam that will eventually bury their forests and sacred sites.


Modern leaders have championed the group's economic, political, and cultural rights in recent times. At the vanguard of the Laiban Dam protests in 2009 was Napoleon Buendicho, a prominent Agta/Dumagat leader in Quezon. Tribal Council Governor Buendicho of the Agta/Dumagat and Remontado of Quezon Province led his fellow Agta in protesting the development of a dam that will flood at least nine barangays in Tanay, Rizal, and General Nakar, Quezon and leave 5,000 Agta homeless. Thirty Ati families headed by Dexter Condez obtained their CADT in 2013 on Boracay, a popular tourist destination. The CADT is located in Boracay's Barangay Manoc-Manoc and covers 2.1 hectares. However, private investors and other land claimants have disproved their claims. In February 2013, Condez was slain, and the Ati ancestral property's outer fences were destroyed. In order to protect Ati and local officials who were implementing CADT, the national government had to designate police authorities. Ati and island civilian authorities continue to face dire threats in spite of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples' issuance of a warrant of execution confirming their land claim.



Pinatubo Aeta


Group of Aeta in Zambales
Group of Aeta in Zambales, early 20th century (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)


The Pinatubo Aeta are members of a group of indigenous groups that inhabit hilly and forested places around the island. They're thought to be descended from the people who lived in the Philippines before the Spanish arrived. They are considered a significant ethnic group by social scientists. In addition to being the largest in number, they have maintained their cultural identity through the ages. 83,234 people were estimated to be members of the Aeta groupings in 1988. Pinatubo was home to the lion's share of this population. The Pinatubo Aeta grew at the same time as the Aeta in other parts of the country declined, a phenomena ascribed to Mount Pinatubo.


Prior to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the Aeta occupied Zambales towns of Botolan, San Felipe, Cabangan, and San Marcelino; Mabalacat, Porac, Angeles, Floridablanca; Capas, O'Donnell, Bamban; and Dinalupihan in Bataan. Aeta is surrounded by the Tagalog, Kapampangan, Ilocano, and Sambal peoples of the lowlands, all of whom speak their own dialects of Tagalog.


Mount Pinatubo, which stood at 1,745 meters above sea level before the explosion of the volcano in 1991, was home to a wide variety of plants, wild fruits, and medicinal herbs. The landscape was also densely forested, with a wide range of tree species. It seemed as if rattan was everywhere. During the day, the air was muggy, but as the sun set, the temperature began to drop. Its terrain was difficult and inaccessible to land vehicles because of its variable topography, rough interior, and rugged interior regions. Trails and streams wound their way through the slopes, connecting several settlements. The hilly region is home to a single river that flows into the West Philippine Sea. During the rainy season, its tributaries cause a lot of erosion in the surrounding villages.


Its lower and higher reaches were home to a variety of barrios and sitios. People living in the mountain's lower grasslands and secondary forests are classified as "acculturated" or "isolated," depending on where they live in the mountain. There were only a few acculturated villages in the Pinatubo region by 1976: Yamot, Mantabag, Kalawangan and Taraw were the only ones left, with Maguisguis, Villar and Poonbato the only others. The Pinatubo Aeta were vulnerable because they were ill-equipped to deal with external pressures after being driven from their ancestral territory. As was to be expected, they were among the most severely affected by the largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century.. Aeta of Zambales lived in 24 villages before disaster: Tarao or Makinang, Manggel and Kalawangan of Zambales; Belbel and Balinkiang of Lukban and Belbel of Belbel of Balinkiang of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of Yamot of As a result of the blast, all of these were left in the dust. Lahar covered lowland areas around the volcano as it erupted, forcing evacuations and stopovers in various evacuation camps for evacuees.


But their incredible resiliency was demonstrated by the fact that their population remained roughly steady even despite decades of displacement. There were 56,265 Aeta in Zambales province in 1997, according to data from the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP). This is close to the population level prior to the 1991 calamity.


The Pinatubo Aeta have also lost their original language, like other Aeta tribes. Those who live on the coastal plains near Mount Pinatubo can now communicate in the Sambal language, which is spoken by lowland people. Those Aeta who live in Pampanga speak Pampango, whereas those who live in Bataan speak Tagalog on Mount Pinatubo's Batan side speak Tagalog. However, the Aeta people of Pampanga and Tarlac still speak a language known as Ayta Mag-anchi. There were some communities in Pampanga that spoke it before Mount Pinatubo's erupting ash cloud engulfed the region. Many barangay residents in Capas, Tarlac, spoke Ayta Mag-anchi as well. Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and San Clemente were the places where native speakers of the language could be found after the volcanic eruption.



Way of Life of the Aeta



The indigenous Aeta economy has traditionally included hunting and gathering food. The Aeta, except for those in Tarlac who knew how to produce rice, were nomadic hunters and fisherman in the 1880s. Fishermen used bows and arrows and dogs to harvest fish, and domesticated dogs to hunt for food like snakes and frogs. Wild fruits, vegetables, and honey were collected by women. 


Chinese and Christian Filipinos exchanged beeswax and arrowheads for tobacco and betel. It was common for the Aeta to employ three types of arrows for different types of games. This quiver was made of bamboo and contained arrows tipped with poison made from roots and herbs. They like to hunt at night using a flashlight that is attached to their hands with thick rubber bands during the dry season. The animal's eyes are clearly visible in the beam of light. After then, the light is dimmed to make it easier to creep up on the prey. A second time, the arrow is elevated and pointed directly at the animal.


Group of Aeta deer and hog hunters
Group of Aeta deer and hog hunters, 20th century (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)


A wide range of traps and hunting methods are employed by the Mamanwa. During the rainy season, from November to April, hunting is at its peak. To catch deer, pigs, monkeys, iguanas, and other large animals, the Mamanwa used bayatik (spear traps) and gahong (pit traps) in the forest.


Group of Aeta rowing their banca on a river
Group of Aeta rowing their banca on a river, early 20th century (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)


We've seen a wide variety of fishing methods in action. Both freshwater and ocean fishing are practiced by the Aeta of Antique in Panay. Everyone in the neighborhood uses their bare hands to catch gobies, shrimps, and crabs. Building watertight dams with the help of parents, children redirect the flow of an adjacent river toward the main body of water. Fish, eels, and shellfish are harvested from the riverbed by hand once the water has receded. Aeta Pinatubo uses more modern methods. They use a metal rod attached to a rubber band to catch fish as they swim. The Ati of northern Negros has been spotted using hazardous fishing methods, hurling explosive lime bottles into the water.


Several Aeta tribes rely on honey-gathering as a major source of income. Pinatubo Aeta and Ebuked Agta eat honey as a delicacy. Besides nectar and honey, the Pinatubo Aeta also devours immature bees and pollen from hives. Prior to 2010, the Aeta Magbukun of Mariveles, Bataan were heavily involved in the honey-harvesting practice known as "pamumuay." It takes Aeta dads or elder brothers a week on a luwak (backpack) to go to the forest and get honey. In the height of pamumuay season, boys skip school to join their mothers in harvesting big trees. Traditionally, honey is packaged and sold by women in repurposed whiskey bottles. Around 3.4 to 7 liters of honey per week can be harvested by an average Aeta Magbukun household during tag-pulot (honey season), which starts in mid-December and lasts until May. It's a good time to be them during Tag-pulot, because they can afford to pay their bills with their weekly income of roughly 3,000 pesos.


Rattan gathering is a key source of income for the Dumagat and is mostly carried out by men. They don't have a set work schedule and meet every day. Rattan stems are gathered from the forest, cleaned and scraped, and then split into long, narrow pieces as part of the work cycle. Rattan is delivered by the hundreds by the Dumagat to the merchants. The Dumagat receives a basket of products containing sugar, rice, salt, soap, and betel nut from these merchants, who reside in the lower regions. The Dumagat have no idea how much their job is worth in terms of money. Their incomes are frequently insufficient to cover their basic needs. Since the Dumagat cannot pay the hefty interest rates, they are compelled to take on debt from merchants. Due to the merchants' constant need to collect more rattan as payment, the vicious debt repayment cycle never stops.


The Agta are commonly described as commercial hunters and gatherers. Instead of hunting and gathering as a means of subsistence, those who engage in commercial gathering do it as a means of bartering their labor for carbohydrate-rich foods. It's likely that Kaingin is a very new addition to their way of life. As recently as 1975, for example, the Casiguran Agta were spotted engaging in the practice.


The Ati of the Visayas, who lived in permanent farming towns in the early 1960s, practiced agriculture. For food, the Ati settled in these areas and grew a variety of crops such as corn, wet and dry rice and abaca as well as sweet potato and cassava.


Systematic food production is new in the Ati case study. Although the Aeta have a subsistence economy, they are being drawn into the cash economy of most Filipinos. Hunting and gathering may give way to agriculture because forest grounds are disappearing rapidly, lowlanders are moving into the ancestral domain of Aeta, and cash crops offer an attractive alternative source of income. Agricultural dependency increases as the Aeta become more involved in a monetary economy. To make a profit, the Batak of Palawan, for example, collect rattan cane, wild honey, and bagtik, a resin made from Agathis philippinensis, among other things.


Historically, bagtik or almaciga are used as house torches in the Philippines. To create varnish and paints of the highest quality, linoleum adhesive, waterproofing compounds, and adhesives, tapping resin became a need after World War II. For centuries, the Batak have been masters of resin gathering, utilizing a process that does not harm trees, unlike the destructive methods used by lowlanders.


Aeta can earn money in other ways as well, of course. In weaving and plaiting, the Aeta have a talent. Handicrafts are made to meet the everyday necessities of the community, as well as for personal decoration and exchange with outsiders. Winnowing baskets, armlets, small bags, and mats are all products made by the Mamanwa and Agta tribes. Bartering and trading honey and tamed animals, as well as selling medicinal plants and roots, are common pastimes among the Ati of the Visayas. The Pinatubo Aeta are known for their mastery of metalwork, making it their most highly skilled vocation. A majority of the work is done by males, but women and children may also participate in the process.


The Aeta are still getting to grips with the idea of land ownership and formal titles. With the support of lowland allies in government offices, certain communities like the Mamanwa of Agusan have been able to gain land titles. However, the land is usually sold soon afterward. Due to the fact that traditional Aeta tend to be short-term foragers, this is the case. They've been conned into selling their titles for food, clothes, and trinkets, or putting them up as collateral for debts.


It is possible for the Aeta to be empowered by legislation such as the 1997 IPRA and Executive Order 247, which safeguard indigenous peoples' rights. Using natural resources and genetic materials in ancestral domains with legal titles in the Philippines ensures that monetary and non-monetary profits are shared, according to Philippine law. It is common for laws to govern and prescribe profit-sharing for the scientific and commercial usage of plants and animals. In exchange for allowing mining corporations to operate in their ancestral territory, the Mamanwa are entitled to take a one-percent portion of the gross revenues. The Pinatubo Aeta also want a piece of the money generated by visitors to the area around Mount Pinatubo. Subic Freeport and the Aeta of Zambales and Bataan agree on financial and non-monetary benefits from the utilization of their ancestral lands.' Negotiations might take a long time, but the payoff is worth the effort. Civil society and government organizations help Aeta groups negotiate with businesspeople, especially large corporations and international investors, because the Aeta groups need unique assistance in negotiating with businessmen.



Indigenous Aeta's Self-Identity, Sociopolitical Structures, Political System and Self-Determination at the Local Level in the Philippines


The Aeta's political system is mostly built on respect for elders who are in charge of judicial matters and are responsible for maintaining the band's peace and order. Aeta characteristics like honesty, openness and a lack of interest in gaining authority and influence for one's own benefit have resulted in an informal system.


We can think of it as an open-minded democratic political group. The main responsibility of the chieftains, who are often elders, is to keep the band in good order. Tradition serves as the foundation for the generally recognized rules and regulations. It is up to the pisen (elders) of Palanan, Isabela, to decide on critical communal issues. Panunpanun is the Ati term for this group in southern Negros. The panunpanun's leader is the group's eldest member. He or she must also be a good advisor, a good arbiter, and a mananambal (eloquent speaker).


An Aeta chieftain with top hat and his community in Bataan
An Aeta chieftain, center with top hat, and his community in Bataan, early 20th century (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)


However, it is still up to each individual to accept the judgments of the elders or chiefs. Members of the Agta band in northern Luzon are never forced to follow the advice of their leaders. They persuade through examples of good deeds.


They have also disrupted the tribal political structure by forcing them to elect members of the Aeta who serve in quasi-legal posts like councilors, barangay captains, and paramilitary officials who serve as a conduit to the outside world and not necessarily as leaders of the tribes themselves. Civic and religious groups in the lower regions have assisted some Aeta groupings in consolidating and pursuing their rights.


Native American rights are protected by the 1997 IPRA, a landmark law that was passed in 1997. As a result of the law, traditional Aeta leadership and sectoral organizations are being revitalized and strengthened. Their elders can accept or deny projects or activities inside their ancestral lands, as CADT holders, because they have the authority as CADT holders. Pastolan Aeta, for example, covers 4,200 hectares, some of which are located in the Subic Bay Freeport area. It is the Aeta's right to implement the IPRA law, which ensures them control over the Subic Base Management Authority (SBMA), the area manager, through their elders council.



Aeta Tribe Social Organization, Customs, and Tradition


With an average size of 10 families or 50 people descended from a common ancestor, the Aeta live in tiny groups. A lack of social stratification or classes is also evident.


In Aeta society, the nuclear family is the main social unit, however widows and widowers receive special attention. They appear to have equal rights and responsibilities as a couple, and their relationship appears to be pleasant. Parents and children have a solid relationship, and children are valued. As a result of this, the children show respect for their older relatives—their parents, aunts, and uncles.


Aeta Batak mother and her two children Indigenous people of the Philippines
Batak mother and her two children, 2014 (Henson Wongaiham)


Lowland culture has influenced traditional marriage traditions. Elders used to have a strong influence over how people got married in the past. When they were first introduced, they could only be organized by the couples themselves.


The Aeta mostly practice monogamy, although some communities allow polygamy. Among the Agta, it is customary to marry someone from a different ethnic group, a practice that may be widespread. The act of incest is frowned upon. First cousin marriages are common among the Pinatubo Aeta, but only after a rite known as "separating the blood."


The Dumagat have a tradition of courtship. Dropping ilador tibig leaves along the path where she gathers water is a way for a boy to show his feelings for her. The places where the bamboo leaves were dropped indicate whether or not she likes him. If she doesn't, she'll cover the ilador tibig with other leaves. Afterward, the boy would sing for her at her house. A gift in cash or in kind, such as a bolo or dress, must be given to the girl's parents if she is the youngest of her sisters.


By the time a young man reaches the age of 20 and a young woman reaches the age of 16, they can get married. All grooms must pay a bride-price in the form of a "arrow-bow bolo," "cloth," or "homemade firearm" in addition to money. By donating a piece of their bandi to the girl's family, the boy's family arranges for him to marry her. Alternatively, the male could be compensated by providing services to the girl's family. After the couple's marriage, the boy or his family may pay the further installments. When the wife's family fails to pay the bandi, it might cause strife among the Pinatubo Aeta. Elopement with someone who was not previously contracted is another source of the difficulty.


Aeta wedding ceremony
Aeta wedding ceremony, 1904 (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)


Every Aeta chapter has its own unique wedding ritual. When it comes to Dumagat weddings, the Dumagat sakad (a series of around three official meetings between the two groups) takes precedence over the kasal (wedding eating and drinking). It is customary in the Abiyan culture for the boy and girl to smoke a cigarette made of grass, which is then lit and given to them by their family members. Abiyan wedding traditions include the preparation of a betel combination for the couple to suck on.


The bride-to-be lives in the home of her husband-to-be. However, further studies demonstrate a shift in people's preferences for where they live. Whether or not the chosen location is close to one's parents, newlyweds prefer to reside in areas with agricultural land.


If both parties agree, divorce is possible. Laziness, cruelty, and unfaithfulness are all acceptable reasons for divorcing your spouse. In the end, the decision is made by a joint council of both families. The children are taken away from the guilty party. If the lady is to blame, the bandi must be returned to her. After a divorce, both parties are free to remarry.


The Aeta tribes consider intermarriages with lowlanders to be acceptable because of the social standing that may be achieved through such unions. Physical differences between the Aeta and lowlanders are thought to be reduced by these measures. Nearly all lowland men married Aeta women in Negros Island by 1974, but the Batak rarely married someone from Tagbanwa.


A pregnant woman's safety is guaranteed in their community. The safety of an unborn child necessitates restrictions on pregnant women. She should avoid tying knots or treading on cordage during childbirth, according to the Pinatubo Aeta. She must not be there when the stored tubers are dug out in order to avoid an early birth. Twin bananas and other oddly shaped fruits should not be eaten by her since they could cause a freak to develop in her.


Aeta women typically have an easy time giving birth and can return to work within a few hours of the delivery. A worldwide practice, massage, has been around for a long time. When it comes to childbirth, Aeta women of northern and eastern Luzon prefer to sit or kneel, unless there are significant complications and lying down is preferable. The birth of a child is open to all who wish to be present. A bamboo blade with a fine point is used to sever the umbilical chord. A loincloth is used to wipe the newborn after it has been wrapped in a little piece of cloth, laid by the mother's side, and smeared with ashes. That's because fire and ashes, which the Aeta believe protect them against evil, illness, and the cold.


Postnatal practices handle the umbilical cord and placenta symbolically. In the event that the infant becomes ill, the umbilical cord can be rendered inert and administered as medicine. Even in the privacy of your own home, it can be displayed in the form of an ornament. Hanging it dry and throwing it in the water can also help the child's development. The placenta can be disposed of in a variety of ways, including burying it under the house or returning it to the location of birth. The placenta is thought to cause illness or death if it is not properly disposed of.


Male circumcision is practiced by the Aeta, in which the foreskin is sliced open rather than cut off. Circumcision in the Dumagat language is referred to as bugit. An indication that a boy's role as a husband-to-be is about to change, young men between the ages of 11 and 16 are circumcised. The Agta of northeastern Luzon believe that a boy becomes a man when he or she kills or captures a wild animal on his or her own. The boy's father now considers him a man and allows him to date a girl from another tribe.


The commencement of menstruation marks the beginning of a girl's adolescence. In other words, when she has her first period, it's time to start dating, get engaged, and get married. It's customary for mothers to give their daughters crimson headbands when they've had their first menstruation as a mark of respect.


Even though the Aeta groups differ in their funeral customs, the following characteristics are found in all of them: Mourners leave material artifacts beside the cemetery to ensure the deceased's continued goodwill, and the burial site is abandoned after the grieving period.



Religious Beliefs and Practices of Ethnic Filipino Aetas


Disagreements abound in regards to the religion of Aeta's predominance. According to the monotheistic Aeta tribes, who believe in a supreme deity who rules over all other spirits or deities, there is only one god. Pinatubo Aeta revere Apo Namalyari, whereas Mamanwa devote themselves to Magbabaya.


Mamanwa faith healer
Mamanwa faith healer (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo in De la Torre 2005)


Researcher E. Arsenio Manuel claims that the Agta have an all-powerful deity they worship called Gutugutumakkan. The gods of hunting, forests, and the sea, Pawi and Sedsed, were all mentioned by Manuel as lesser Agta deities.

Among the Aeta, the "great creator" manifests itself in four different forms: For Tigbalog and Lueve are responsible for the creation of life and action; for Amas is responsible for bringing people together in sympathy and love; for Binangewan is responsible for the deterioration of health and death. The balete tree is home to these ghouls.

AETA Culture Mamanwa leader blessing the offerings at the inauguration of the Mamanwa Cultural Center
Mamanwa leader blessing the offerings at the inauguration of the Mamanwa Cultural Center (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo in De la Torre 2005)


Also, the Aeta are animists, as well. Environmental spirits, such as anito and kamana are revered by the Pinatubo-Aeta. These people believe that the environment is inhabited by both good and evil spirits, such as the spirits of rivers, seas, mountains, hills and valleys, as well as others. Environmental spirits are known as taglugar or tagapuyo by the Ati of Negros Island (from or inhabiting a place). They also have a strong belief in the spirits of health and well-being.

Their reverence for the natural world is a reflection of their belief in environmental deities. Only if absolutely required do they cut down trees. They don't clear anything they can't grow. Because they feel that wasting nature's resources is a form of disrespect to the spirits, they avoid doing it.

It is the Tanabag Batak's kabatakan (ancestral territory) that they refer to in this idea. In Batak tradition, an illustrious ancestor named Esa is credited with defining and naming every site in the ancestral lands while on a hunting journey. A total of seven lukap exist inside the Batak universe (layers). Kabatakan is claimed to be located in the midst of the universe's three layers.

According to the Agta, kalidua exists in all living things, including plants and animals (souls). As far as we know, Agta agree that the soul enters the body during lihe (conception). When a newborn reaches a particular age, the soul and the body begin to merge together, forming a whole. The soul can travel outside the body when the body and soul are connected. A person's soul leaves the body for the last time during natay (death). 

Because they believe in an afterlife, they don't see heaven or hell in the same way that Christians do. Because mortal souls continue to join immortal spirits, the supernatural universe is ever-expanding in their eyes. Low-lyers in particular, particularly those by the shore, have formed an Aeta concept of hell known as espidno, which comes from the Spanish term for inferno.

There is no need for a special occasion for the Aeta to pray, but there is a definite correlation between prayer and economic activity. Before and after a pig hunt, the Aeta dance is performed. On the night before they go out to pick shellfish, the women of Aeta conduct a dance that is equal parts apologies to the fish and charm. Preparation for and return from honey missions are marked with a bee dance performed by the Aeta men.

Other dances and rituals, such as those relating to illness and disease, are also prevalent. For those who have recovered from an illness, Negros' Aeta execute the daga or dolot. When a father drowns, the solondon is used to save his sons from the same fate. To prevent the spread of an epidemic, like cholera, flu, or dysentery, there is a ceremony called the sakayan. The luya-luya, a ritual performed with ginger roots, is used to treat a child who is suffering from a fever.

The Pinatubo Aeta's anituan is a type of seance in which a manganito (medium) communicates with the spirit causing disease in order to cure the patient. As a result of the ritual, mortals and supernatural beings can better communicate and clear up any misunderstandings that may have arisen between them.

Among the Tanabag Batak, the shaman is the male babalian. As a medium, he can communicate with the other side and foretell the future. He has the ability to heal the sick and perform rituals to repair cosmic imbalances with his supernatural powers. Shamans today, on the other hand, acknowledge that their abilities are being tested in new ways. Changing weather patterns are causing the Tanabag Batak to abandon their traditional ways and consume resources in an unsustainable manner in order to survive in the modern world. This interferes with their bond with the spirit guardians of their wildlife and vegetation. This commercialization of wild pig meat and honey is believed to have enraged nature spirits, disrupting their society's equilibrium as well as causing ecological harm.



Aeta's Way of Living: Dwellings and Community Settlements 


When it comes to good woodland locations for settlements and encampments, the Aeta have a keen eye. During the rainy season, seek shelter in the lee of a hill where you will be shielded from the wind and rain. There is a lot of open space in the heart of most neighborhoods, which is usually between 10 and 30 meters wide.

All of the buildings are built around a central clearing, which is utilized for dancing and other socializing activities by the families who live in the area. Ragay, Camarines Sur's Agta people build their homes around a 12-meter circular space in the jungle, each hut under a tree and facing inward.

A central open space in the Mamanwa communities near Surigao del Norte's Lake Mainit in Mindanao's Mindanao is used for festivals and rituals. Flies and lack of food in the Mamanwa transfer site imply the presence of a disease-breeding habitat.

Aeta hut nipa house in Morong, Bataan
Aeta hut in Morong, Bataan, 2017 (Nico Anastacio)



The Aeta traditionally lived in lean-tos called pinanahangs. As a screen from the elements, the Agta of Palanan's lean-to is made of sturdy but light branches as well as palm fronds. It's an architectural marvel because, despite its flimsy appearance, the tripod-shaped building can endure strong winds and rain. These are temporary structures built along streams, coasts, or riverbanks during the dry season. In the rainy season, this shelter is easily moved to higher ground, with the floor elevated to knee-high level, to guard against moisture and humidity while allowing for better air circulation.

For the time being, the Casiguran Dumagat are living in lean-tos, which are low, unwalled huts that measure more than 4.5 square meters in floor area. As compared to the Agta living downstream, the Ebuked Agta of northern Luzon constructs more spacious and ornate lean-tos. Leaves are placed under mats to provide cushioning in the sleeping places, which have jutting rocks removed and the dirt flattened.

They use the lean-to as community housing in Mindanao, where the Mamanwa live. Windscreens are joined together to form an A-like tent, which is left empty in the center for social events such as ceremonial dance. Wild banana, coconut fronds, grass, and bamboo are used as flooring in the Mamanwa's modest shelter, which serves as a single-family residence. The house is held together with rattan.


Mamanwa house Aeta house indigenous houses in the Philippines made of leaves
Mamanwa house (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo in De la Torre 2005)


The Mamanwa hut uses a windshield called a dait-dait. The Mamanwa make a bed from of leaves and short branches because it lacks a platform. After spending a long time there, they begin to alter the fundamental construction and build a platform. The Pinatubo and Panay Aeta also manufacture this style of windscreen. With no dwelling platform, the typical hawong (lean-to) created by the Aeta Pinatubo has two sloping sides and either one or both of the ends of the structure are open.

There are many who see the lean-to as a living representation of the Aeta's way of life. Although the Aeta of Pampanga and Zambales have begun to build more permanent homes, such as stilt houses, with structures erected above the ground on wooden poles with thatched roof and walls, it is still popular among Aeta communities.

Because of their transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers, Casiguran Dumagat dwellings have also been altered. Casiguran Dumagat currently live in low-walled homes that resemble those of lowlanders. In comparison to the typical lean-floor to's space of less than 2.3 square meters, these houses have a floor space ranging from 2.5 to 9.3 square meters. Materials like cogon, coconut fronds for roofs and grass and bark for walls are used, as well as flat wood for the floors. One or two rooms can be found in each of the houses that are elevated above the ground.



Aeta Arts and Crafts


Etchings on everyday Aeta instruments and implements are the most popular type of visual art. Many household items, such as pots and pans, cutlery, and ornaments, have their outer surfaces treated in this manner. Incised angular motifs adorn bamboo combs. The shafts of arrows are decorated with geometric patterns.

Mamanwa man carrying tampiki or rattan basket in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte Aeta man
Mamanwa man carrying tampiki or rattan basket in Kitcharao, Agusan del Norte (Photo by Jimmy A. Domingo in De la Torre 2005)


Weaving and plaiting are also two of their specialties. Their nego (winnowing baskets) and duyan (rattan hammocks) are among the best in Aeta production. The Ilocano, Cagayano, and Isneg weave their baskets in a single weave, whereas the northern Luzon Aeta always use a double weave. Strips are either woven two by two at the bottom and one by one on either side of the Aeta's twilled, checker close, or open worked weaves, all of which have strips woven two by two on the bottom. Their approach to basketmaking is unique in that they always start with an old basket and use it as a mold to create a new one. This simple one-over-one construction has been used by the Aeta of northern Luzon to weave double-walled baskets made of banban, which is around 2 millimeters wide. In order to achieve double-walling, a banban's skin for the interior must be done in a plain weave, while the skin for the exterior must be woven with fine nito strips. Sizes range from little bowls with diameters of 18-20 cm to big burden baskets that may be carried on the back. The baskets have a square base and a round mouth. The lip of the basket is frequently laced with a strong rattan or nitovine rim.

The Zambales Aeta manufactured a market basket with a handle made of smoked and natural bamboo in the 1970s. Even the finishing braid on the rim has a lot of fine detail, and there is symmetry in the weaving of the black and natural bamboo fibers. Sturdiness is ensured with a split rattan handle that reaches the bottom of the basket. It's decorated with a braided collar and a wrapped handle. Winnowing baskets and mats are woven primarily by women, whereas armlets are made solely by men. Some raincoats are constructed of palm leaves and have a fan-like top that spreads out like a fan around the wearer's body, except in front where their waistline is high.

Aeta bamboo combs etched with geometric designs
Aeta bamboo combs etched with geometric designs (Illustrations by Emilio Baylon Jr., 1994)



Northern Luzon's Agta are known for carving their bow shafts, which are subsequently stained with soot to make a striking pattern of black and white. Northern Luzon Agta uses a bolo to initially scrape the portions that need to be blackened. In order to protect the scraped portion of the shaft, a thin layer of beeswax is subsequently spread over its surface. The carved surfaces are then blackened by suffusing the beeswax with soot. At least one-third or even one-half of this rudimentary carving can be seen on arrowheads. It may only cover the area where the feathers will be fastened, depending on the model.


Pinatubo Aeta leader wearing beads necklace
Pinatubo Aeta leader, 2016 (Izzy L. Libo-On)


They don't wear a lot of jewelry or accessories. Young women frequently don wraparound skirts. Elder men and women wore loincloths and bark cloth, respectively. In the Agta culture, elderly ladies wear a bark-cloth strip wrapped around their waist and fastened to a string. Lowlanders' shirts, slacks, and sandals are now worn by most Aeta who have come into contact with them in the past few decades. The Pinatubo Aeta anitu or shaman wears a red cotton G-string for ritual dances.

A variety of plant species, including namuan (Artocarpus sericicarpus), inbalud (Ficus sp.), dila, and salugen, are used by the Batak to manufacture bark textiles (Antiaris toxicaria). Bark clothing is now only worn by the seniors during rituals due to the influence of lowland culture.

The Aeta of Quezon, eastern Bulacan, Rizal, and Camarines are known for their body scarification, which is a type of visual art. They inflict wounds on the back, arms, breasts, legs and hands and then aggravate the wounds as they heal to generate scars, using fire, lime and other ways.

When it comes to scars, there's always a left-side counterpart to the right. The one on the left mirrors the orientation of the one on the right. The scars on the other side go in various directions if the wound is oblique. A person's body does not have a set number of scars that can be counted on one hand. Scars on the upper arms and upper thighs of the Camarines Norte Aeta include a betrothal mark. Despite its widespread use, anthropologists feel that body scarification is a foreign technique.

The chipping of teeth is another "decorative disfigurement." During late puberty, the Dumagat mutilate their teeth by filing them down with a file. The top six incisors and canines will be sawed and flattened to the gum line. For a few years after the procedure, the teeth are stained black. For the Aeta, such disfigurements are a form of self-expression rather than a religious or spiritual one. In Camarines and Quezon, a splinter of bamboo is inserted into a hole drilled in the septum of the nose.

The Aeta are known for their use of ornaments that are typical of those who live on a limited budget. Earplugs made out of flowers or discarded leaves are commonly used on special occasions. Braided rattan girdles, necklaces, and neckbands are worn often, often with wild pig bristles integrated.

For those who don't have access to glass or stone beads, the women wear stitched seed necklaces (Croix lachryma). Any of the three hues or a combination of the three might be used to create eye-catching contrasts in the seeds' appearance. Ornaments may also serve as a means of survival. During times when food is scarce, dried wild berries are strung around the neck and can be consumed if necessary.

To protect their ears, the Agta of Palanan put on perishable trinkets like flowers and leaves, and a band of cloth wrapped around their head and under their jaw. Palanan Agta men and women both wear earplugs with motifs carved into the shell that are known as subeng.

Bracelets and necklaces made from the Calamus siphonospathus plant are used by Aeta males in Zambales, Philippines. When worn, the long bristles from wild boars protrude perpendicularly from the legs, creating an interesting visual effect. The wearer of this item is considered to be as tough, strong, and swift as a wild boar. These skin and hair sections of wild boars are tied or hanging from the wrists and legs of Aeta.

An excellent example of Aeta decoration is the comb, which is a segment of bamboo between 12.5 centimeters and 25 centimeters long and 5 to 7.5 centimeters in width. The comb's teeth have been painstakingly sculpted. The outer convex surface is etched or embellished with curvilinear incisions in a variety of patterns. Attachments to the comb's spine include lengthy tail feather plumes from mountain cocks and other birds, as well as fibers and threads.



Cultural and Oral Literature of the Aeta People


There are several examples of Aeta literary arts that are passed down through oral tradition.

Riddles in northern Cagayan province's Aeta language are typically two lines long and rhyme assonantally.

Muminuddukam
A ningngijjitam. (Pinnia)
(It wears a crown but isn’t a queen
It has scales but isn’t a fish. [Pineapple])

Assini nga pinasco ni Apu
Nga magismagel yu ulu na? (Simu)
(There is a cave with a bolo in it
Full of bones it isn’t a grave. [Mouth])

Ajjar tangapakking nga niuk
Awayya ipagalliuk. (Danum)
(When you cut it
It is mended without a scar. [Water])


Aeta Mythology: The Legend of Creation


Aeta legend King Manaul escaping from captivity Illustration
King Manaul escaping from captivity (Illustration by Harry Monzon)


There was no earth in the beginning, according to an Aeta creation narrative that is also known to the Mangyan. Manaul, a winged king who had been imprisoned by his vengeful opponent Tubluck Lawi, managed to escape. 

For not being able to locate somewhere to sleep, King Manaul vented his fury at both the sky (with fierce winds) and the ocean, which responded by unleashing tremendous waves. 

Manaul, on the other hand, was nimble and light on his feet. The battle carried on for years before both parties grew tired and agreed to compromise. Then Manaul requested for light, and he received thousands of fireflies in response. 

All kinds of birds were provided to him as counselors when he requested for them. In contrast, Manaul pounced on the chicks and small birds with equal ferocity. 

The fireflies were devoured by the owls and other huge birds, who in turn fed on them. Angry at the owls' disrespect, Manaul replaced their eyes with larger ones and ordered the birds to stay awake all night as a form of punishment. 

Angrily stamping his feet and spitting out lightning, thunderbolts, and winds, the king of the air lashed out at Manaul for what he had done to his advisers.

Also, King Captan of the Higuecinas, a genius among seafaring people, attempted to smash Manaul by throwing massive rocks and stones from the skies. Because he kept missing, land began to form.


Several Aeta tribes have their own versions of mythology involving the moon and the sun. 

For the Aeta people of Aparri, Cagayan, the moon is both a god and a celestial companion. Because the Mamanwa revere the moon, they limit the use of open flames when it is rising. In order to scare away the serpent that is thought to have eaten either the moon or sun, they make a lot of noise during an eclipse. During an eclipse, the Aeta of Zambales likewise create a lot of noise in order to regain the moon.

As far as the Mamanwa are concerned, there was just one type of human being at first. Fires broke out on Earth after lightning struck. The Mamanwa are the descendants of those who were burned black. Aeta of Capiz, Panay say their ancestor was cursed because he laughed at his sleeping father while the other two were asleep. His complexion went dark and his hair became kinky as a result of the sun's rays. The world would not have burned had it not been for the Aeta of Bulacan, a massive ape who had stolen fire from the supreme entity Kadai. Those that escaped downstream became Malays, while those who were burned became Negritos as a result of the panic.



Musical Instruments of the Aetas


The flute, the mouth harp built from a sliver of slit bamboo, a traded metal gong, and the bamboo violin are some of the instruments found among the Aeta.

In 1931, Romualdez (1973) discovered instruments among the Aeta tribes. The Aeta's kullibaw is a bamboo mouth harp. The Aeta of Zambales bansik is a four-hole mountain cane flute. There are two strings to an Aeta of Batan "kabungbung" (guitar) created from a single bamboo "node," which is then cut open at one end, creating two cords that are tensioned by "bridges." A resonant hole is carved into the underside of the two cables. The Aeta of Tayabas' gurimbaw has a busog bow, a bias joint, a gaka string made of lukmong vine fibers, and a kuhitan coconut resonator. Similar to other Mindanoo tribes, Mamanwa use aydluing, a long guitar with numerous strings.


Aeta man playing the kullibaw in Floridablanca, Pampanga
Aeta man playing the kullibaw in Floridablanca, Pampanga, 1990 (CCP Collections)


One of the instruments found by Garvan (1964) was an instrument resembling a bow-shaped bamboo lute in central Camarines; the other instruments found by Garvan (1964) were the long bamboo drums, the nose flute, and a bamboo lute.

During weddings and other celebrations, the Agta of Peablanca, Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon play a variety of instruments. Metal plates or basins can be used in place of the traditional bronze gassa gongs. The patagong, a quill-shaped bamboo tube with a length of 4.5 cm and a diameter of 5 to 7.5 centimeters at the node, is a common accompaniment to these. More than half of the bamboo is sliced away from the center of the bamboo tube along the vertical grain. A quill-like shape is eventually formed by the remaining segment. Two patagong are struck with the tongue-shaped tapered tip held by the same player. In order to adjust the pitch and timbre of the instrument, the finger is placed in a hole on the handle. Along with the tongtong, a long and slender stamping tube measuring 37.5 to 50 centimeters in length and 5 to 7.5 centimeters in diameter, the patagong is performed. A node seals the bottom and leaves the top open. The base is struck against a hard surface, such as wood, stone, or cement, to make a hollow sound.


Group of Aeta performing the binabayani in Floridablanca, Pampanga,
Group of Aeta performing the binabayani in Floridablanca, Pampanga, 1990 (CCP Collections)


The Peablanca Agta play the timawa, a 42.5 centimeter-long melodic bow made of mature reed known as bikal, to communicate melancholy or comfort someone. a vine known as lanut is responsible for its two strings. One end of the bow is held in the mouth of the musician as he or she strums the strings. The instrument's reverberation is amplified by the instrument's mouth. In addition to adjusting the shape of the lips or blowing through the timawa, the player can also produce varied pitches.

Aeta woman playing the gitara guitar
Aeta woman playing the gitara (Koryn Iledan)


This large bow, called the busog, is used for hunting and music in Palanan, near Peablanca, in Isabela. Sakon, a palm tree trunk, and dappig, a vine, make up the 1.5-meter-long creature's body. The busog is played by attaching one end of the instrument to a winnower that has been placed upside down on the ground. At the winnower's end, a tin or porcelain plate is inserted between the string and the bow. The thumb of the other hand strums the string swiftly as the musician holds the bow 15 cm from the fixed end.

Plawta is a transverse bamboo mouth flute regarded as Agta's second instrument. It has a diameter of 1.9 centimeters and is around 30 centimeters long. When the player blows into a hole, the end closest to the hole is a closed node. Six fingerholes make up the plawta, which is typically played at night. To accompany their dances, the indigenous Pinatubo Aeta use a drone guitar known as gitaha.


Aeta's Traditional Songs 


In the Aeta, there are a wide variety of songs, some of which are solemn and others that are upbeat and fast. The singing may be done standing or sitting, with the singers facing each other in a circle, while those who play the gong or other instruments sit outside the circle.

The aliri, an improvised love song from northern Luzon, was first recorded in 1925. The boy or girl can make up their own verse in response to the other party's verses even if many of the strophes of this song have been fixed. The fixed verses can be chanted in any situation, including when working, resting, going through the forest, or sleeping.

The ablon, sung by the Dumagat of Casiguran, Quezon, is a song in which the vowels are held in place as the larynx is tapped. A chant invoking the spirit Limatakdig to help the sick is called a magablon in their culture. Singing the sebkal begins on an ominous high note before plunging into low-pitched monotone chanting at the end. This song is sung with a significant emphasis on triplets.

Different songs are sung by the Agta in Peablanca, Cagayan Valley. It is a solo hunting song called the "aget" (wild pig). Four melodic phrases, each with a pause at the end, make up the piece. Its tune has a metrical flow:

Umanga kitam didiya takawakanam
Nge kitam manggeyok ta aget
Ta isulit tam tatahiman tam
Ta wan kitam nga makaddimas nga Agta.

(Brother come,
Let’s hunt wild pig,
To barter for something good,
So that we will not be hungry.)


What is the song called "Kakanap?" It is sung by two Agta. In the kakanap, each melodic phrase is six syllables long. The sentences are sung one after the other, except for the final phrase, which is performed jointly. A Christian kakanap is as follows:


Eeyoy, eeyoy

Anu oy, anu oy

Itta ay kofun ko

Had en o, had en o

Awem ay maita

Atsi o, atsi o

Te itta in teyak

Had en o, had en o

Apagam, apagam

On man tu, on man tu

Ayagam, ayagam

On mina, on mina

Petta kofun hapa

Anu kan ngagan na

Hesus kan Hesus kan

Onay o, onay o

Kofun tam hapala

Onay o, onay o.


(My friend, my friend,

What? What?

I have a new friend

Where? Where?

This one you can’t see.

Why? Why?

He is with me here.

Where? Where?

Try to look for him

Where then? Where then?

Now you call him.

I wish I could.

So you can be friends too.

What’s his name?

Jesus is his name

Is it? Is it?

Jesus is our friend.

O yes! O yes!)


The magwitwit is an Agta fishing song sung solo in metrical rhythm


Angay nge taka
alapan nga magwitwit tahayaw
Tahikaw posohang ku
nga magwitwit tayaw
Tatoy dimumemat nga
ibayku magpawitwit
Tahikaw pasohang ku
nga magwitwit tahayaw

(Brothers come
let’s go fishing
because someone came to ask a favor
that I catch fish.
I would want you to help
come help me catch fish,
because someone came to ask a favor
that I catch fish.)


An example of a lullaby is the adang, sung by the Agta of Palanan, Isabela. The soloist sings the adang accompanied by the busog. Rendered in verse with eight syllables per melodic phrase, the song has an arpeggiated melody in ascending and descending contour.


Annin ne annin annin

bemahana a pala pala

Guduhunga ipagtatoy

unduhunga tema tema

Guduhunga tama tama

nungsuhunga palagi da

Lakahana pagi pagi

Wanahaney anni anin

Bamahana Nene, Nene, Neneheneng

Annine, anni, annin

bemahana lallakbayan

Bankahana nema nema

Cuduhunga ema ema

Nungsuhunga Nene,

Nene, Neneheneng.


(Oh! Oh! Oh!

My! the waves.

The child went boating

in the sea.

The shield traveled

because she was left alone

so she left

far away, oh! oh!

My! Nene, Nene, Neneng!

Oh! Oh! Oh!

My! she traveled

by boat alone

The child traveled o’er the big waves

Nene, Nene, Neneng!)


In the town of Malay, Aklan, the pamaeayi, which is the practice of obtaining parental approval for marriage, may occasion the song “Kuti-Kuti sa Bandi”


[Woman]: Kuti-kuti sa bandi,

[Man]: Kuti sa bararayan;

[Woman]: Bukon inyo baray dya,

Rugto inyo sa pangpang.

[Man]: Dingdingan it pilak,

Atupan it burawan;

Burawan, pinya-pinya,

Gamot it sampaliya.

Sampaliya, malunggay,

Gamot it gaway-gaway;

Gaway-gaway, marugtog,

Gamot it niyog-niyog.

Hurugi ko’t sambilog,

Tuman ko ikabusog.


(Woman: Scrutinize the dowry.

Man: Scrutinize the house.

Woman: This is not your

house! You live across the river.

Man: Its walls will be made of silver,

Its roof made of gold,

As golden as the pineapple,

And the root of the bitter melon.

Bitter melon, malunggay,

The root of gaway-gaway;

Beat the drums now

And let’s start the feast!

Drop me some coconuts,

For I am thirsty and hungry.)


There are few surviving traditional vocal styles of the Aeta Magbukun, an Aeta group in Bataan, Philippines. It is also utilized in talinhagan, a song that reflects the dying person's final wishes, and in kagun, a healing rite, where the uso is the melody structure used. The amba is the song sung by the bride and groom as they make their way around a fire in the middle of the event. An ingalu is a song of mourning for the departed. There is a song sung by a parent to summon their children for an errand, which includes a shout. Similarly, the Aeta Magbukun perform popular songs learned from lowlanders, but in their language.

The uso has a free meter consisting of three short musical phrases. These musical phrases are sung repeatedly but in different sequences. The uso may be sung on different occasions and could speak of a number of topics.

Inan uning kulalu ung’
Ha ko ha ay takay laman ningbunlong
Hua ay iya makukokabukilan
tamaangwaking a gong ditan
Hako ay naluluwa ikon nako pon nanangan
Ha ay papatulo talon ti hua mata
Pa-rung hm hm
Pampanikibat na-an ay
Sumaukan laos ti kaya kong pakidungo
no lu ako ay
ako’y magpapa a ganbag song kahit ta
malantong
Kaya kong ipagpalit apunan un
Kungi kong diling masakit ti lalamunan ay
ibularlar ko alaw ay iniong ay atong

(The birds are chirping
I ate a foul-smelling bagoong
Hay
I am going to the mountains to get ubod,
which I will barter for my dinner.
I am hungry, I have not eaten
If only my throat weren’t aching
I will tell.
Oh, mother, oh, father,
will spank you
Hay
I think my body is exhausted.)

The following is an excerpt from an amba:

Ho wa ay kay ti ho ni ko panghuyutan
Ay yo hay yo
pan yambutan nining almungan
yabi ya bing ya saunghaay
kay ti ing panghuyutan
pam yam butan alimungan
ng u mi ya aw kulyawan
Ay-yay pangambutan alimungan

(This is where she caught up
Ay, hay.
My love caught up with me.
Late in the night did I go
to our meeting place.
Ay, hay, love caught up with me.
When the kulyawan cried
my love caught up with me.)

The ingalu or lament for the dead is sung during the wake:

Haqaroq
Aruq uy baking ka iq nang
Hanggaang ta tala as tasa ay
Aruy hinlunabing ing ka long au lo
Lin bak nuq ay ti a rap ti a anang diok.

(Aru,
Why mother?
She said,
You are pitiful.)

Songs chanted by Mamanwa spirit mediums are called tod’om or tud’om. These shamanic songs are performed during the kahimonan (boar sacrifice ceremony). Chanters sing the messages of the spirits during the sacred ceremony, which may last for more than one day. Through the tod’om, the boar as sacrifice animal is appeased:

Tatadi’i di’im
Na di ta nga dididi’i
maninga domobang di’i
Hi nadida nga kangi di’i
Eh iy di nga o’oh
Ada di ka busaw o
Patongo o kami
nga nag alima nga di toni bayo
Nami ni ngi di toni

(Do not worry that you
are placed on the sacrificial platform
as offering
at bagobayan om
Ha do not wish ill
or pronounce
a curse even if om
you await death until
each and all
of us have offered dances
to the spirits di’i
Do not be hurt that di’i
you will be killed o’oh
Do not hex or
get even with us
because no one
is to be blamed)

At some point during the long ceremony, another spirit enters the medium and warns the people against showing any disrespect for the supreme spirit that they are privileged to hear:

Wawa dadi danga ingidi’im
Omoyo san-o sagaya’on o dingi dingi
Bongo nado di banang
posan di kasan bobayang nga’on
Tabangga nga dowa nga’om.
Ha iba nga ibato di tana
a gingi ingi ingi nga
Linongta tanga tanga
ingi ingi dingim
Ha nayon ngo ngo
nga di na inda
nango di dingin
Na nga’o nga’o da dina
ona o pona din donga ongo diga o

(This is the first time
my voice dingi dingi
is recorded, that
my presence at bagobayan
is being recorded.
I wish to say that
this voice should not
be made fun of
ingi ingi dingim.
What I have
pronounced are the
words dingin
of the highest
of all the spirits.)

Aeta's Dance Rituals


In all Aeta groups, dancing is commonplace. Men and women may form an outside ring to enclose the female dancers and enjoy dancing under the stars on a lovely moonlit night. Men and women dance to the beat of their instruments while moving in opposite directions.

Aeta men performing the borokil dance
Aeta men performing the borokil, 2014 (Koryn Iledan)


The Aeta's dances can be divided into two categories: celebratory and ceremonial. When you're getting together with friends, celebrating a successful hunt, or just having a nice time, you might want to engage in some festive dancing. This includes the Pinatubo Aeta's binabayani, the Agta's borokil, and the Iriga Aeta's war dances. It's not uncommon for ceremonial dance to go on into the early hours of the morning.

Monkey dance by an Aeta of Masikap Village, Botolan, Zambales
Monkey dance by an Aeta of Masikap Village, Botolan, Zambales, 1978 (The Dances of the Emerald Isles by Leonor Orosa-Goquingco, Ben-Lor Publishers, Inc., 1980)


Two dances for the deceased are performed by the Abiyan of Camarines Norte: the hayang and sayang, which are both ring dances performed by the entire community around a bonfire near the cemetery during the katapusan, which is the 40th day after a Christian burial.

Monkey dance by an Aeta of Masikap Village, Botolan, Zambales,
Monkey dance by an Aeta of Masikap Village, Botolan, Zambales, 1978 (The Dances of the Emerald Isles by Leonor Orosa-Goquingco, Ben-Lor Publishers, Inc., 1980)


All of the Aeta communities in the Philippines have their own variation of the anituan (curing rite). During the anituan, the medium is in a trance and casts a hypnotic spell over the audience, which is a dramatic performance. Later, the audience and the "caught" spirit that is causing the disease engage in a discourse.

Monkey dance by an Aeta of Masikap Village, Botolan, Zambales,
Monkey dance by an Aeta of Masikap Village, Botolan, Zambales, 1978 (The Dances of the Emerald Isles by Leonor Orosa-Goquingco, Ben-Lor Publishers, Inc., 1980)


Shamanic rituals are held in the baylan's house during the full moon for the Mamanwa binaylan, or binulusan or tambajon. As the participants chew betel nuts, the baylan chants the tod'om, calling on the abyan (spirit world). Ancestral spirits are summoned by the baylan, who is usually a man. The supreme god Magbabaya (or Tahaw) arrives to transmit messages through the holy songs, and he begins to dance in a trance while singing the tod'om. Some coming tragedy or pestilence is foretold by another ghost when Magbabaya is absent. To spare the people, a baylan implores spirits. After being promised protection by the spirits, the baylan says "Kay hendadwod Malaser De" (I'll be there for you) (The spirits will protect them as it had been protecting the village before). In time to the kudlong and gimbar, the baylan begins to sway (drum). As a gift to Magbabaya, the locals butcher a white pig and sprinkle its blood on the baylan's oyagdok (altar). When it's time to eat, everyone gathers around the roasted pig to sing and dance till morning.

Video: Aeta's Ethnic Dance in Mt. Pinatubo | Matanglawin - ABS-CBN News Youtube Channel

Aeta mimetic dances depict a variety of tasks. The Aeta of Zambales still do a potato dance in which they pretend to be stealing potatoes from a field. Pinnehug and pinapanilan are two Aeta bee dances that tell the story of honey-gatherers who get stung by bees because of their overzealousness. Frenzied leaps are part of its routine.

These other Aeta mimetic dances are bolo and bow and arrow duel; torture; and lovers' encirclement.

They replicate animals in their natural habitats with the talek of the indigenous peoples of the Aeta region of the Philippines. Many different types of the talek exist, such as the talek bake, talek lango, talek barak, and talek paro (for the monitor lizard) (shrimp). To create this illusion, the talek barak uses two real lizards, one climbing up bamboo poles and the other clinging to rocks and trees for support, before eventually relaxing at the end of the day.

Festivals like the Dumagat folk festival in Norzagaray, Bulacan, feature Aeta music, dance, theatre, and visual art. The males wear colorful woven loincloths, and the ladies wear loose shirts, bright wraparound skirts, and small bits of wood and flowers for jewelry. To begin the festival, we begin with a subkal, which has no fixed lyrics and relies on the participants' own feelings. The song's pandango melody, played on a local guitar with a 3/4 time signature, remains constant throughout. After the pandango, the audience is treated to a war dance known as arnis-arnisan, derived from the ancient art of arnis, or self-defense. Warriors move slowly at first, using 60-centimeter rattan rods. As the song progresses, so do the movements. When a fighter delivers a fatal strike or successfully blocks or evades the strokes of their opponent, the audience erupts in applause.

First performed in 1860, Francisco Baltazar's La India Elegante y El Negrito Amante (The Elegant Indian and Her Aeta Suitor) is an original one-act play in verse by the writer. Capitan Toming, an Aeta protagonist, woos Menangge, his love interest, by dressing up in a variety of outfits, including his native G-string. Ultimately, he stands up for his ethnicity and chastises Menangge for judging people on the color of their skin rather than their character. To Menangge, Toming's honesty is enlightening and endearing.



Documentaries, Films and Videos Featuring the Aetas


The Aeta has already been the subject of travelogues, ethnographic films, educational videos, documentaries, and even a few feature films.

Batak were featured in a GMA Network-produced episode of I-Witness called Batak: Ang Naglalahong Tribo in 2013. The episode focused on the high rate of child mortality among Bataks. Batak boys in one village still hunted for wild pigs and flying squirrels, despite reports of children tying ropes around their bellies in order to numb hunger pangs. They firmly believed that the forests would continue to provide for them.

Batak: Ancient Spirits, Modern World (Films for the Humanities & Sciences, 2000) follows a sociocultural anthropologist's journey as he immerses himself in the daily life of the Batak people of Palawan, Philippines. The film examines the Batak people's struggle to maintain their cultural traditions and sense of identity while also coping with the effects of globalization and other modern-day pressures. 

Artiso Mandawa co-directed Palawan: Our Struggle for Nature and Culture, 2012, which was directed and produced by Dario Novellino under the Aldaw Network. In this documentary, the damage caused by large mining companies in Palawan is examined through the lens of Batak myth and folklore.

To get an idea of the Mamanwa Peoples, Rino Bersalona directed an educational video that was produced by PAFID Mindanao in cooperation with Fundacion Desorrollo Sostenido and the Ministry of External Affairs. A young Mamanwa woman explains the importance of Mindanao's cultural revival and land security. The kahimonan ritual is being performed for the first time in 30 years in order to bring the Mamanwa people together. 

Ellen Red's travelogue for Inside Mindanao, Lake Mainit, was published in 2010. For the Mamanwa and other inhabitants of the lake, the lake serves as a biodiversity hotspot and a primary source of food and nutrition. 

On the other hand, Viewfinder produced by Al Jazeera for cable television presented The March to Philippine Progress, a film by Ditsi Carolino, in 2014. There were 120 Dumagat protesting a government development plan that would destroy fertile lands and fisheries, forcing 3,000 families to leave their homes, and the film tackled that.

Pablo S. Gomez's comic book story, Baluga, was adapted into a film by VP Pictures in 1969. The film stars Rosemarie Sonora as Digna, a dark and kinky-haired Baluga, alongside Pepito Rodriguez as Oscar, a lowlander who loves her unconditionally.


Aeta children Scene from Brillante Mendoza’s Manoro
Scene from Brillante Mendoza’s Manoro, 2006 (Center for Kapampangan Studies)


Manoro (The Teacher), 2006, is a feature documentary about an educated Aeta girl who embarks on giving literacy training to Aeta elders so that they may participate in the 2004 presidential elections. Directed by Brillante Mendoza and produced with support from Holy Angel University’s Center for Kapampangan Studies, the film won the CinemAvvenir Award at the 2006 Torino Film Festival and the Best Film in the 2006 Cinemanila International Film Festival.

Earl Bontuyan is the writer and director of Cinema One Originals' 2011 film Sa Ilalim ng Tulay (Under the Bridge). The film tells the story of an Aeta family that relocated to Metro Manila, where they experienced both joy and sorrow.









_____________________________

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