(Issue 1 of 17) Indigenous Folks in the Philippines
The Aeta (eye-ta) live in the mountain ranges of the northern part of Luzon in the Philippines. Their arrival to the archipelago is heavily debated among anthropologists and historians.
The consensus is that a land bridge from the neighboring island of Borneo to the now-known island of Palawan allowed them to migrate 20 to 30 thousand years ago (1). They are considered by anthropologists among the earliest –- if not the first – inhabitants of the Philippines.
More specifically, the Aeta are located on the foothills of Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano, in the province of Pampanga. The eruption of the volcano in 1991 displaced the Aeta population to villages in surrounding provinces, exposing them to outside influences.
However, during the Spanish colonial era, the Aeta resisted change, making it difficult for the Spanish to colonize their lands (2). To add, colonizers had a hard time reaching them because they lived in isolated mountainous high-lands. As a result, the Aeta are one of the few ethnic groups in the country to preserve their indigenous traditions, beliefs, and ways of life.
The Aeta traditionally lived in small nomadic groups of up to 5 families. Traditionally, they practice kaingin, a form of slash-and-burn agriculture, farming mainly root crops, bananas, and vegetables (3, 4). Most Aetas practice animism, which is the belief in spiritual beings capable to help or harm human beings (4). When an Aeta member gets sick, it is a common belief that evil spirits are the culprits!
Aeta children (c) Pierre-Emmanuel MICHEL
Today, the Aeta face numerous challenges like displacement, marginalization, and malnutrition.
Left: Aetas hang sign saying "Ancestral Land, No Entry" and "Foreign investors, hands off!!" below a sign that shows approval of cutting trees to construct New Clark City in Tarlac. Right: Aeta children are at highest risk to diseases like dengue and malnutrition due to poor access to water, sanitation, and hygiene.
In late 2019, an ongoing construction of a new “green city” in Tarlac bordering Pampanga disrupts and displaces the Aeta community from their ancestral lands (5). Meanwhile, communities continue to lack access to basic medical care, making the Aeta more susceptible to illnesses such as dengue, diarrhea, and malnutrition. In 2018, non-profit organizations like the Aeta Tribe Foundation work with the Department of Health to mitigate parasitic epidemics among the Aeta communities (6).
Want to learn how you can help our kapwa Aeta? Visit and donate to the Aeta Tribe Foundation at aetatribes.org.
Written by: Gian Carlo L. Baldonado, Cultural Coordinator PACE (c) 2020
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Disclaimer: The series "Indigenous Folks in the Philippines" aims to highlight marginalized indigenous ethnic groups in the Philippines for educational purposes. I do my best to write accurately about my kapwa Filipinos and cite credible sources; but I also recognize that this series do not fully capture the dynamic ways of lives of indigenous groups in the Philippines