Where are the Negritoes now?

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

OUR island is Negros because this island really belongs to the Negritoes (Ati). According to Philippine history, the original inhabitants of the Philippines are the Negritoes. There are contrasting hypotheses that they came from Ethiopia, New Guinea, Malay Peninsula, Japan, Australia, Kedab (state of Malaysia), Andamas Islands or Bay of Bengal.

They could have been here in Negros even before the continental drift, the glaciation and the deglaciation. They were ahead of Christ in this Planet. They could have been witnesses when this island of ours was separated from Mother Panay. The term “Buglas” (the first name of Negros) must have come from the Negritoes. “Buglas” means “cut-off from, separated from, torn from.” The Indonesians and the Malays who came later on could have heard “Buglas” from them. The white conquerors (Spaniards) who saw black people here, named our island Negros.

The Negritoes roamed freely in “Buglas” for thousands of years but when the Indonesians and the Malays came later, they stayed in the uplands.

They intermarried with the lowlanders, “taga-ubos” (Indonesians and Malays). They were called “taga-takas” (highlanders). Where are they now? They could be found in reservations in Isabela (Marikudo), Calatrava, slopes of Mt. Kanlaon in La Castellana side, San Carlos and in the upper reaches of Sagay, Murcia and Toboso.

The Negritoes of old are short of stature, not above five feet and two inches. They have kinky black hair, flat noses, and fine and soft dark brown skin. They are nomads roaming freely in the forest. They hunted wild boar, deer, sail fin lizard, or birds with their bow and arrow. They caught fish in the rivers or streams using their bare hands. They are not farmers. They are dependent on what nature can offer (direct appropriation).

They lived under the trees or near the rivers. Their temporary shelter is made of bamboo or tabun-ak poles and banana or badyang leaves. When I was documenting their lifestyle, I was a visitor several times in their “barabara.” They taught me how to make bonfires and torches out of dry salong tree sap. I have tasted their honey from the savage “putyukan” of the forest. The men covered themselves by G-string and the women wrapped their bodies with cloth from the chest to their ankles. Some young girls go about bare-breasted. (That was before.)

Recently, when I visited their camps, they no longer follow the fashion of their ancestors. The men are in denim pants and the women wear China blouses and US skirts (ukay-ukay). They have learned to eat noodles, tempura, French fries, burgers and siopao. They are planting vegetables and have learned basic farming. They already produce camote, papaya, cassava and coconuts. The young ones were already humming songs of Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber. The old ones could still chant and tell stories by the bonfire.

The ati ancestors believed in many spirits. If a baby would be born under the Bugnay tree, then he would be called “Bugnay.” The small group is composed of relatives or best friends. The community is headed by a respected elder. A woman and a man intending to be married would prepare a common meal. The woman would run to the forest. The man would chase her. When they meet, marriage is considered solemnized.

Until now, I am still using the “lanahan” (mixed herbs with coco oil in a small bottle) I bought from the Ati. I was told that this is “contra-aswang” or this could protect from the black spirits of nature. I do not consider this as my “agimat” and I still need to prove how far it can go. The Ati taught me how to concoct love potion but I refused to listen to him. In my work, I don’t need that; good PR is good love potion. I was shown by an Ati leader his “puting bato from buhawi,” “libreta chants,” “bagol-kuring,” but he refused to open his “trabungko sang man-og.”

He also told me stories about “kapre, mantio, sigbin, tayho, kama-kama, kataw, ukoy and bulalakaw.” I smiled after thanking him. I saw them already in the “Panday” series of the late Fernando Poe Jr. The Negritoes are still there. We call them indigenous people (IPs) alongside with the Bukidnon tribe in some areas (Silay). The government needs to support them to survive in their natural habitat away from urban civilization and political world.*

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on December 03, 2013.


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