Negritos and Negros

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

IN THE hinterlands of Negros are still found the race of people after whom our island is named. The former Buglas (Hiligaynon for “to cut off”, or “snatch away”) became Negros when the Spaniards who arrived by ship were blown by strong winds here on their way from Bohol to Cebu in 1565 and the first people that they saw were the small, dark-skinned and curly-haired race they named Negritos.

Throughout the centuries, the Aetas were displaced and driven into the interior of the island by settlers who deemed themselves more superior to this indigenous race that has inhabited the Philippines for 30,000 years.

The Aetas’ hunter-gatherer way of life and forest-related culture are looked down when these are actually environmentally sound and healthier. First of all, the tribes do not destroy but preserve their environment because the forests are their source of food. Secondly, food gathered from the wild are eaten in their unprocessed state and yield superior health benefits vis-à-vis the nutrient-poor modern fare “civilized” people take as their staple.


Aetas forage for food such as mushrooms growing on termite mounds, fruits, and even honey. To gather honey, an Aeta bundles some long dried grass and sets the bundle on fire until it is lit enough to produce smoke. Smoke drives the honeybees away and makes it safe for the honey to be gathered from the hive.

I’ve met some interesting members of the tribes from Cadiz and Don Salvador Benedicto. They take so much pride in their culture and have retained many of their ancient ways.

One is the chieftain Gary Consing from Cadiz (Purok Celestino Villacin) who loquaciously spoke about his life as an Aeta. His very dark skin glows and is a sharp contrast to his set of gleaming pearly whites. He speaks Hiligaynon so beautifully that I wished I had recorded his speech. It is full of courtesy and belies his intelligence and dignity.

His Don Salvador counterpart Almario Mahinay is the taciturn one but his royal bearing speaks volumes about his status in his tribe as a leader. He has the same dark glowing skin and strong teeth and compact, muscular body.

One tribesman, Danilo Panggubasan, holds a foot-long section of bamboo with a long, rectangular hole. He beats this with a stick to give off a sharp sound. It is the toronggan, a percussion instrument used for tribal activities. He speaks kinaray-a and claims that he does not even understand the ati language.

He said he is an “Ata” not an ati. Sadly, I wouldn’t know the difference. The kinaray-a must be an influence long, long ago when Negros island was a magnet for sacadas or migrant workers from Panay. Danilo says his life is “pigado gid”. He and his people were formerly hunter-gatherers but were forced to be farmers because of the vanishing forests.

On May 2, at 10 a.m., The Negros Museum and Non-Timber Forest Products host “Saulog” to celebrate an ancient culture and way of life in the Visayas. Here you will meet members of Ati villages in Negros and get to view and buy crafts and products from the villages in Isabela and Cadiz at 11 a.m. for “Dulhog”. I hope they bring in the grass brooms that I so covet from Cadiz. These are thickly bunched brooms and durable, too, though pricey. Hopefully, they will also bring in baskets and honey.

Ati life is simple and peaceful. There is contentment and a lack of materialism in their culture (although they do have cellphones, ha ha!) There is also a close relationship with Mother Earth that seems to heal and soothe. And, the Aetas are made richer by these blessings.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on May 01, 2012.


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