These people are considered to be Negros, whose skin ranges from dark to very dark brown, and possessing features such as a small stature and frame; hair of a curly to kinky texture and a higher frequency of naturally lighter color relative to the general population, small nose, and dark brown eyes. They are thought to be among the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines, preceding the Austronesian migrations.
The Aeta were included in the group of people named "Negrito" during the Spanish . Various Aeta groups in northern Luzon are named Pugut or Pugot, an Ilocano term that also means "goblin" or "forest spirit", and is the colloquial term for people with darker complexions. These names are mostly considered inappropriate or derogatory, by fellow Aeta of northern Luzon.
The Aeta people in the Philippines are Australo-Melanesian, which includes other groups such as Aborigines in Australia, Papuans. and Melanesian of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the French overseas special collectively of New Caledonia.
The history of the Aetas continues to confound anthropologists and archaeologists. One theory suggests that the Aeta are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines, who, contrary to their seafaring Austronesian neighbors, arrived through land bridges that linked the islands with the Asian mainland. Unlike many of their Austronesian counterparts, the Aetas have shown resistance to change. Aetas had little interaction with the Spaniards as they remained in the mountains during the Spanish rule. Even the attempts of the Spaniards failed to settle them in reducciones or reservations all throughout Spanish rule.
According to Spanish observers like Migiuel Lopez de Legazpi, Negritos possessed iron tools and weapons. Their speed and accuracy with a bow and arrow were proverbial and they were fearsome warriors. Unwary travelers or field workers were often easy targets. Despite their martial prowess, however, the Aeta's small numbers, primitive economy and lack of organization often made them easy prey for better-organized groups. Zamambals seeking slaves would often take advantage of their internal feuding. They were often sold as slaves to Borneo and China, and, unlike the serf feudal system imposed on other Filipinos, there was little chance of manumission.
The Aeta are nomadic and build only temporary shelters made of sticks driven to the ground and covered with the palm of banana leaves. The well-situated and more modernized Aetas have moved to villages and areas of cleared mountains. They live in houses made of bamboo and cogon grass. Aetas are found in Zambales, Tarlac, Pampanga, Panay, Bataan and Nueva Ecija, but were forced to move to resettlement areas in Pampanga and Tarlac following the devastating Mount Pinatubo eruption in June 1991.
Mining, deforestation, illegal logging, and slash-and-burn farming have caused the indigenous population in the country to steadily decrease to the point where they number only in the thousands today. Languag
All Aeta communities have adopted the language of their Austronesian Filipino neighbors, which have sometimes diverged over time to become different languages.These include, in order of number of speakers, Mag-indi, Mag-antsi, Abellen, Ambala, and Mariveleño.
Aetas performing on stage at a shopping center.
There are different views on the dominant character of the Aeta religion. Those who believe they are monotheistic argue that various Aeta tribes believe in a supreme being who rules over lesser spirits or deities, with the Aeta of Mt. Pinatubo worshipping "Apo Na". The Aetas are also animists. For example, the Pinatubo Aeta believe in environmental spirits. They believe that good and evil spirits inhabit the environment, such as the spirits of the river, sea, sky, mountain, hill, valley and other places.
No special occasion is needed for the Aeta to pray, but there is a clear link between prayer and economic activities. The Aeta dance before and after a pighunt. The night before Aeta women gather shellfish, they perform a dance which is partly an apology to the fish and partly a charm to ensure the catch. Similarly, the men hold a bee dance before and after the expeditions for honey.
Indigenous polytheistic religion
There are four manifestations of the "great creator" who rules the world: Tigbalog is the source of life and action; Lueve takes care of production and growth; Amas moves people to pity, love, unity, and peace of heart; while Binangewan is responsible for change, sickness, and death.
Gutugutumakkan – The Supreme Being and Great Creator who have four manifestations, namely, Tigbalog, Lueve, Amas, and Binangewan.Kedes - The god of the hunt.Pawi - The god of the forest.Sedsed - The god of the sea.
In the mid-1960s, missionaries of the American-based Evangelical Protestant mission group New Tribes Mission, in their effort to reach every Philippine tribal group with the Christian Gospel, reached out to the Agtas/Aetas. The mission agency provided education, including pastoral training for natives to reach members of their own tribe. Today, a large percentage of Agtas/Aetas of Zambales and Pampanga are Evangelicals.
Their traditional clothing is very plain. The young women wear wrap around skirts. Elder women wear bark cloth, while elder men wear loin cloths. The old women of the Agta wear a bark cloth strip which passes between the legs, and is attached to a string around the waist. Today, most Aeta who have been in contact with lowlanders have adopted the T-shirts, pants and rubber sandals commonly used by the latter.
Varanus bitatawa stew being prepared by Aeta tribesmen.
The Aetas are skillful in weaving and plaiting. Women exclusively weave winnows and mats. Only men make armlets. They also produce raincoats made of palm leaves whose bases surround the neck of the wearer, and whose topmost part spreads like a fan all around the body.
According to one study, "About 85% of Philippine Aeta women hunt, and they hunt the same quarry as men. Aeta women hunt in groups and with dogs, and have a 31% success rate as opposed to 17% for men. Their rates are even better when they combine forces with men: mixed hunting groups have a full 41% success rate among the Aeta."