One of my most memorable and enjoyable experiences of staying in any indigenous community was in the Philippines. My hosts were Aetas. My visit was ten years after the devastating eruption of the volcano, Mount Pinatubo. While that may seem like a long time to recover and to clean up from the eruption, the scale of the devastation was so big that many Aetas in the area had, in the previous ten years, been forced to abandon their traditional homes and way of life.
The Aeta community I'd been invited to visit, Pastolan, is located a few hours south of Mount Pinatubo, near Olongapo City. Because of this distance I was unsure how the eruption might have affected this community. I had previously visited many indigenous communities in Southeast Asia but in very few of them had I yet spent the amount of time I was planning to spend here (four days). Because of this background context I had tried not to enter the village with any preconceptions or expectations.
My host was a man who has probably had more direct association with outsiders than almost any other Aeta. His name is Manifacio De La Junta Florentino. He was employed by the US military during the American war in Vietnam. (At that time there was a US naval base nearby at Subic Bay.) Over the course of that war he, and other members of the Pastolan community, trained thousands of veterans in jungle survival long before they ever set foot in Vietnam.
I witnessed some very interesting changes in this village from what life must have been like when the Aeta became among the first (possibly the first) people to inhabit the Philippines sometime between 20 and 30 thousand years ago. Among these changes are the adoption of both Christianity and karaoke! But my memories of such changes will always be second in my mind to my memories of what has remained. Many Aetas still hunt and trap wild animals as a source of their food — using the same jungle survival techniques they had taught to their American guests years earlier. During my four-day visit I was treated to and took photos of many demonstrations of those skills. Even though this photo was posed for my camera I could easily imagine my subject in the jungle using the same bow-and-arrow to hunt for food.
The Aeta are featured in our documentary, Indigenous Peoples of Southeast Asia.
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