The Filipino Aetas: All You Ever Wanted To Know About

The Aeta are one of the most prevalent ethnic groups in the Philippines. Nevertheless, anthropologists and archaeologists are amazed at their historical and cultural contributions. One theory in their history is that they are descendants of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines, which may be the reason for their wide population distribution.

Aetas are considered one of the gems of the Filipino race. They have believed to be the first natives of the Philippines. They do have rich cultures and traditions that are very unique. They are highly distinguished due to their beautiful dark complexion, curly hairs, and height.

Aetas has a lot of stories to share. The hidden historical stories influenced and have been a part of the Filipino culture. There are native Filipinos and they deserved distinctions and attention. To know more about the Aetas, please read the details down below.

Who Are The Aetas?

The Aetas are believed to be indigenous and the first natives of the Philippines. According to anthropologists, there was a consensus that they migrated from Borneo island about 30 000 years ago. They are kinky-haired, dark-skinned, and small people who once occupied the forest areas of Mount Pinatubo. However, they were forced to leave the forest when Mt.Pinatubo erupted in the year 1991.

As a result, their cultural and social environment was forever changed. Ethnologists claim they belong to what is seemingly the oldest living race in the world. Today, the Filipino people referred them as “Kulot,” meaning curly hair. They actually appear to have similar manners and characteristics to the Melanesians from the island of Solomon.

What Happened To The Aeta Tribe After The Mt. Pinatubo Incident?

Mt. Pinatubo is a volcano located in Central Luzon; it erupted in the year 1991 and was the 2nd-largest eruption of the 20th century. It threw massive clouds of volcanic material more than one cubic mile and created a tremendous cloud of volcanic ash. It blanketed the surrounding forests, mountains, villages, old plantations, and nearby areas with sulfuric acid. The eruption concurred with a typhoon known as Typhoon Dining, which caused fast-moving mudflows. 

These mudflows destroyed fisheries, livestock, crops, and wild animals in the forest. In addition, the topsoil and rivers were covered by sulfuric acid. So, generally, the violent eruption forced the Aeta people to move down the mountain. They became homeless, their future imperiled. A lot of families were actually separated during the evacuation period. Actually, lots of them are still searching for their families until now, 30 years later.

In 1997, the government in the Philippines awarded 128,000 hectares of ancestral land to the Atea people. However, this land was without electricity, sanitation facilities, water, bridges, or roads. Nevertheless, this land area brings in new economic opportunities for the Aeta people. 

The History of The Aeta Tribe

The Aetas of the Philippines are often grouped with other Negritos, such as the Semangs of the Malay Peninsula, and may also be grouped with Australian Melanesians, including groups such as Australian Aborigines and Papuans. Part of the Melanesians of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji, and the French overseas collectivity of New Caledonia. Australian Melanesians are genetically diverse because they have been isolated from each other for thousands of years, but they all share a high proportion of Denisovan gene flow.

The Aeta, like other Negritos, are descendants of the earliest modern migration to the Paleolithic Philippine Islands about 40,000 years ago. The Negritos entered through the Sundaland land bridges that linked the islands with the Asian mainland. In spite of this, the Aeta, like other modern Philippine Negrito groups, have a significant Austronesian admixture due to intermarriage after Austronesian contact. As a result, the Aeta speak Austronesian languages and follow Austronesian cultural practices.

Practices And Distinguishing Characteristics

Aetas are distinguished by their hair type, height, and skin color. They mostly have curly hair and dark to dark-brown skin. They are indeed among the most skilled when it comes to jungle survival – they even use plants as herbal medicine and possess weapons and tools.

While they are nomadic, they can build houses made out of sticks. The majority of Aetas are animists and practice monotheism. They believe in environmental spirits and actually worship a Supreme Being. They also think that many places in our environment are being governed by good and evil spirits.

As for their clothes, they wear simple and plain attire. Traditional Aetas are skilled in plating and weaving, loincloths for men, and bark cloth or wrap-around skirts for women. They are also into arts and music – using ornaments as accessories and having ensembles of instruments to produce melodic rhythms.

Their Lifestyle

The Aetas are nomads and build temporary shelters made out of sticks driven to the ground and covered with palms of banana leaves. Yes, they live in houses made of cogon grass and bamboos. However, slash-and-burn farming, mining, illegal logging, and deforestation have caused the tribe’s population in the country to firmly decrease. The Philippine government gives them little or no protection.

As a result, the Aeta people have become nomads because of their lifestyle and culture’s economic and social strain. And it has remained unchanged for thousands of years before. As hunter-gatherers, adaptation plays an essential role in the Aeta community to survive. This often involves learning about the tropical forests in which they live, the cycle of typhoons that traverse the area, and other seasonal climate changes that affect flora and fauna of the area.

The dry season for numerous Aeta communities means intense work. They hunt and fish more, but the beginning of the dry season also means swiddening the land for the incoming future harvest. While the land clearing is done by men and women, the Aeta women tend to do most harvesting.

During this period, they also did some business transactions with non-Aeta communities living in the neighborhood, where they tentatively settled to sell the food they gathered or work as temporary field laborers and farmers. 

While dry season usually means abundant food for Aetas, the rainy season provides the opposite experience, considering the struggles of wet forests and traversing floods for gathering and hunting. The Aetas use different tools in their gathering and hunting activities, including tools like bows, traps, knives, and arrows.

In particular, Aeta people are trained for hunting and gathering at the age of 15, including the women. While both men and some women normally use the bow and arrow, the women prefer knives. They frequently hunt in groups or with their dogs to increase social and efficiency reasons. Additionally, when it comes to gender, Aeta communities are more egalitarian in practice and in structure.

Unfortunate Displacement and Colonial Resistance

Since they are habitually scattered in mountain areas, the Spaniards had trouble introducing Catholicism to their population. They essentially resisted change and made it difficult for the Spaniards to colonize their area. This is also truly one of the reasons they have been able to maintain their cultural beliefs and traditions to this day.

The majority of Aeta people can be found in the northern part of Luzon. Historically, they have lived near Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales for many years. However, when Mt. Pinatubo erupted, it destroyed the Aetas. As a result, the Aeta were modernly influenced by common Filipino culture and traditions. Some Aeta is already married to Filipinos. Most of them also go to school today.

Conclusion | Final Thoughts

In the Philippines, the Aetas and other indigenous tribes belong to the marginalized sector of the country. They are often forced to evacuate because their homes were destroyed by slash-and-burn farming, illegal logging, and mining. Therefore, these incidents forced them to move away from their home or ancestral lands. Overall, the Philippine government has enforced mandates and laws, such as the 1997 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but it is actually not enough to protect them and help address issues such as livelihood support and employment.

Regina and Joe

Hello! It's Regina and Joe here. Like many other couples, we met online and after a long-distance relationship, Joe decided to move to the Philippines, where we married and live together since 2017. In this blog, we will teach you how to enjoy the Philippines to the fullest and what to expect from Filipino culture. Who more than us can understand both the West and the East?

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