SIDE from the MassKara Festival celebration, October is also Indigenous Peoples Month. In Negros, there are indigenous peoples scattered in small communities throughout the island.
These “ati,” “ata,” or “aetas,” are part of our society. The name Negros is derived from our native inhabitants. Among its earliest inhabitants were dark-skinned natives belonging to the Negrito ethnic group with their unique culture. Thus, the Spaniards called the land “Negros” after the black natives whom they saw when they first came to the island in April 1565.
Living a nomadic life, they inhabit the mountainous area of the island. Seldom seen, we presume they are just there. Through the years we have always believed the “ati” are in the mountains and come down to the cities with kids in tow to beg.
It is also believed that the “ati” is the person to go if a gecko (tuko) sticks on your skin and all the “ati” has to do is to squat and the gecko will be detached from your skin.
With dark skin and curly hairs, the “ati” has remained in the background as we progress towards modern times. In our technology-centered communities they are a forgotten lot.
So it was a wakeup call for me when I attended the Indigenous Peoples Month celebration of the Negros Museum and the Provincial Office of the Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and Rudy Reveche, whose invitation I could not refuse.
It was late afternoon when the program began with the anthem and prayer beautifully rendered by a duo. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) gave an orientation on the IPs of the province, and afterwards my eyes opened wide. They are here present and they have actual communities—educated and productive citizens of Negros Occidental.
After the NCIP presentation, a church-based organization presented the culture of the IPs, which proved to be an eye- opener. The presentation erased all the tales told to us since childhood and will change my perception of “ati” forever.
There were performances after the presentation of the speakers, the “sandugo” or blood compact by the group from Binalbagan was a change from the blood compact of Bohol. The performance of the four “ati” children and their song, rendered in their own language, was beautiful.
Watching the performances and presentation by the speakers, a thought lingered on my mind as I was going home: Will their culture stand in the midst of the modernization of our society? Will their language and art perish? And above all, will their children continue their way of life, or like other IPs, integrate themselves to the urban way of living?