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The Aeta are an indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts of the Philippines. Aetas are considered as the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines, preceding the Austronesian migrations. They are nomadic and build only temporary shelters made of sticks driven to the ground and covered with the palm of banana leaves. The well-situated and more modernized Aetas have moved to villages and areas of cleared mountains. They live in houses made of bamboo and cogon grass. Aetas are found in Zambales, Tarlac, Pampanga, Angeles, Olongapo, Panay, Bataan and Nueva Ecija. But because of the Mount Pinatubo eruption, some of them move to resettlement areas in Pampanga and Tarlac.

The different names referring to Aeta like "Ayta", "Agta", "Atta"/"Ata", "Ati" and "Ita" were probably derived from the root word "it", which in many Philippine languages means "black", as it means from the Tagalog term 'itim' and Visayan term 'itom'. Aeta people tend to have curly to kinky hair, flat noses, thick lips, big black eyes and dark skin.

The Aetas became commonly known through Spanish colonial rule as Negritos. Various Aeta groups in northern Luzon are known as "Pugut" or "Pugot," a name designated by their Ilocano-speaking neighbors, and which is the colloquial term for those with darker complexions. In Ilocano, the word also means "goblin" or "forest spirit."


Aeta Family

One theory of the Aeta's history suggests that they are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines who arrived through land bridges that linked the country with the Asian mainland some 30,000 years ago. These migrations may have occurred when the Malay Peninsula was still connected with Sumatra and other Sunda Islands. At that time, the islands of what is now the Philippines may have been connected, making probable the dispersal of the Aeta throughout what is now an archipelago.

In the areas where the Aeta lived, artifacts were found to provide archaeological evidence that the they lived in the lowlands during the prehistoric times. These evidences also show that they gradually retreated into the hills and forests when immigrants and conquerors pushed them into the forests.

They were very resistant to changes. The Spaniards attempted to settle them in reservations, but they failed. When the Americans came, their political structure remained undisturbed. Resisting change from the outside for hundred of years, the Aeta showed great resilience. They have adjusted to social, economic, cultural and political pressures by creating systems and structures within their culture to buffer the impact of change. However, the Aeta have been declining in number since the latter half of the 20th century because of the threats to their existence. Poor lowlanders seek food in forest areas, displacing the Aeta. Due to forest depletion, the flora and fauna in their areas became unavailable. And disaster like the Pinatubo eruption have destroyed and buried the lands of the Aeta in ashfall and lahar.

The Aeta experienced vast expulsion, relocation, feudalism and beggary. The Aetas in Negros became agricultural laborers on tenants working in lands that were formerly their own. They were hired to plow fields, gather coconuts or cut bamboos. Women were hired to weed fields or serve as maids in Christian families. In Iloilo, some became beggars in the streets.


Aeta in Hunting
Aeta resting in a lean-to shelter


Aeta communities have adopted the language of their Austronesian neighbors, the more reclusive ones developing their own over time. These languages include, in order of number of speakers, Mag-indi language|Mag-indi, Mag-antsi language|Mag-antsi, Abellen, Ambala, Ati, and Mariveleño.

Religion, Beliefs and Practices

Many claim that the Aeta are monotheistic - that they believe in a supreme being who rule over lesser spirits or dieties. The Pinatubo Aeta worship Apo Namalyari while the Mamanua believe in the supreme Magbabaya. According to E. Arsenio Manuel, an anthropologist, the Agta believe in a supreme being they call Gutugutumakkan. There are four manifestations of the "great creator" who rules the world: Tigbalog is the source of life and action; Lueve takes care of production and growth; Amas moves people to pity, love, unity, and peace of heart; while Binangewan is responsible for change, sickness, and death. These spirits inhabit the balete tree.

The Aeta are also animists. The Pinatubo Aeta believe in environmental spirits such as anito and kamana. They believe that good and evil spirits inhabit the environment, such as the spirits of the river, the sea, the sky, the mountain, the hill, the valley, and other places. The Negros Ati have believe in their environmental spirits taglugar or tagapuyo, which literally means "inhabiting a place".

The Aeta dance before and after a pig hunt. The night before Aeta women gather shellfish, they perform a dance which is half an apology to the fish and half a charm to ensure the catch. Similarly, the men hold a bee dance before and after the expeditions for honey.


Their traditional clothing is very simple. The young women wear wraparound skirts. Elder women wear bark cloth, while elder men loincloths. The old women of the Agta wear a bark cloth strip which passes between the legs, and is attached to a string around the waist. Today most Aeta who have been in contact with lowlanders have adopted the T-shirts, pants and rubber sandals commonly used by the latter.


Aeta women are known around the country as purveyors of herbal medicines.


The most common form of Aeta visual art is the etching found in their daily tools and implements. Bamboo combs are decorated with incised angular patterns. Geometric designs are etched on arrow shafts.

They are also skillful in weaving and plaiting. The Mamanua produce excellent nego or winnowing baskets, duyan or rattan hammocks, and other household containers.

Women exclusively weave winnows and mats. Only men make armlets. They also produce raincoats made of palm leaves whose bases surround the neck of the wearer, and whose topmost part spreads like a fan all around the body, except in front, at the height of the waistline.

The Aetas generally use ornaments typical of people living in subsistence economies. Flowers and leaves are used as earplugs for certain occasions. Girdles, necklaces, and neckbands of braided rattan incorporated with wild pig bristles are frequently worn.

Another traditional form of visual art is body scarification. The Aetas intentionally wound the skin on their back, arms, breast, legs, hands, calves and abdomen, and then they irritate the wounds with fire, lime and other means to form scars, which are arranged symmetrically.

Other "decorative disfigurements" include the chipping of the teeth. With the use of a file, the Dumagat – another sub-tribe who belong to the Aeta family - mutilate their teeth during late puberty. The teeth are dyed black a few years afterwards.


The Aeta have a musical heritage consisting of various types of agung ensembles - ensembles composed of large hanging, suspended or held, bossed/knobbed gongs which act as drone without any accompanying melodic instrument.

Some of the musical instruments found among the Aeta are the traded bronze gong, bamboo violin, kullibaw (jew's harp made of bamboo), bansik of the Zambales Aeta (four-hole flute made of mountain cane), kabungbung of the Bataan Aeta (guitar made of one closed node of bamboo), gurimbaw of the Tayabas Aeta (has a bow called gaka made from fibers of the lukmong vine, and a coconut resonator called kuhitan) and the aydluing of the Mamanua (long guitar with several strings).


The Aetas are a traditionally nomadic people, with the Aetas of Panay being known as the most mobile, but are believed to have once lived in more permanent settlements, prior to their becoming nomadic.


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