The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 is the second-largest volcanic eruption of the century and the biggest eruption to affect a densely populated region. Also, this event severely affected one of the indigenous tribes in the Philippines—the Aetas.
Slashing their population, wiping out their crops, and causing a significant shift in their people’s culture, the aftermath of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption was the dawn of a new era for these mountain-dwelling tribes.
Mount Pinatubo on June 12, 1991, three days before the climactic eruption.
The Indigenous Tribe
The Aeta (pronounced “eye-ta”) are indigenous people who live in isolated and mountainous parts of Luzon, Philippines. The distinguishing physical attributes of the Aeta include dark brown skin, a short stature, small frame, and curly afro-like hair. They are also thought to be among the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines.
The Aetas were called negritos by the Spaniards during their colonization era in the Philippines. Due to the Aetas’ nomadic lifestyle up in mountainous areas, the Spaniards found it challenging to introduce Catholicism to their people. The Aeta were also resistant to change which made it difficult for the Spanish to colonize their tribe. Because of this, the Aeta were able to preserve their cultural beliefs and traditions until today.
Aetas are hunter-gatherers and they are among the most skilled peoples when it comes to survival in the wilderness. The Aetas typically use spears and the bow and arrow to hunt down their prey. They’re also able to use plants as herbal medicine and forge tools made from sticks and stones.
A young Aeta girl in 1901.
Catalyst for New Culture
One of the pivotal moments of the Aeta is the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pinatubo. This was the catalyst event for the Aeta to migrate to more lowland areas, adopt the culture of the lowland dwellers, and leave behind their mountainous lands.
The eruption caused significant changes and introduced new cultures in the lives of the Aeta. They changed the way they dressed, the way they prepared food, and even the way they spoke.
Modernization has now reached the Aetas as they’ve established villages and settlements in areas of cleared mountains. These modern Aetas are no longer nomads who live from place to place with temporary houses. Now they reside in houses built from cogon grass and bamboo.
The Identity and Culture of the Aeta
Over the years, the majority of the Aeta population managed to preserve their cultural practices and traditions. Sadly, the Aeta also fall prey to challenges such as marginalization, displacement, and poverty.