Pronounced as “ita,” this tribe is one of the most widespread ethnic group in the Philippines. They are mountain people who are dark skinned, short, small of frame, kinky haired, snub nosed, and have big black eyes.
Various Aeta groups have been differentiated in curious ways. For example, one group in northern Luzon is known as "Pugut" or "Pugot," a name designated by their Ilocano-speaking neighbors, and which is the colloquial term for anyone with dark skin. In Ilocano dialect, the word also means "goblin" or "forest spirit."
An Aeta group may resent a name coined by non-Aeta groups or neighbors, especially when they consider the given names insulting. Because the majority of Filipinos look down on their dark color, some groups resent being called "Aeta."
On the other hand, the term "baluga" is acceptable to some Aeta groups since it means "hybrid," akin to the positive connotation of "mestizo" for lowlanders.
The history of the Aeta continues to confound anthropologists and archaeologists. One theory suggests that the Aeta are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines who arrived through land bridges that linked the country with the Asian mainland about 30,000 years ago. These migrations may have occurred when the Malay peninsula was still connected with Sumatra and other Sunda Islands. At that time, the islands of the Philippines may have been connected and may be the reason behind the Aetas’ wide population distribution.
The Aetas have shown resistance to change. The attempts of the Spaniards to settle them in reservations all throughout Spanish rule failed.
While resisting change from the other society for hundreds of years, the Aetas have adjusted to social, economic, cultural, and political pressures with remarkable resilience; they have created systems and structures within their culture to cushion the sudden impact of change.
Since the latter half of the 20th century, however, the Aetas have been declining in number. Their very existence has been threatened by problems brought about by other people and by nature. Poverty-stricken lowlanders, seeking food, have encroached on forest lands, displacing the Aeta. The flora and fauna needed for Aeta survival are no longer available due to forest depletion. Disasters like the Pinatubo eruption destroyed and buried most of the Aeta ancestral lands.
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 rule over lesser spirits or deities. The Mamanua believe in the supreme “Magbabaya” while the Pinatubo Aeta worship “Apo Namalyari.”
The Aetas are also animists. For example, the Pinatubo Aeta believe in environmental spirits such as anito and kamana. 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. The Ati of Negros island call their environmental spirits taglugar or tagapuyo, which literally means "inhabiting a place." They also believe in spirits of disease and comfort.
No special occasion is needed for the Aeta to pray, although there is a clear link between prayer and economic activities. The Aeta dance before and after a pig hunt. The night before Aeta women gather shellfish, they perform a dance which is half an apology to the fish and half a charm to ensure the catch. Similarly, the men hold a bee dance before and after the expeditions for honey.
The Aetas are also skillful in weaving and plaiting. For example, the Mamanuas produce excellent winnowing baskets, rattan hammocks, and other household containers.
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.
Their traditional clothing is very simple. The young women wear wraparound skirts. Elder women wear bark cloth, while elder men loincloths. 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.
A traditional form of visual art is body scarification. The Aetas intentionally wound the skins on their back, arms, breast, legs, hands, calves and abdomen, and then they irritate the wounds with fire, lime and other means to form scars.
Other "decorative disfigurements" include the chipping of the teeth. With the use of a file, the Dumagat – another sub-tribe who belong to the Aeta family - mutilate their teeth during late puberty. The teeth are dyed black a few years afterwards.
The Aetas generally use ornaments typical of people living in subsistence economies. Flowers and leaves are used as earplugs for certain occasions. Girdles, necklaces, and neckbands of braided rattan incorporated with wild pig bristles are frequently worn.
Agta is the generic term used in Bikol to refer to its 40,000 natives with dark-colored skins, short stature and kinky hair.
Though some Agtas now live in permanent settlements, there are still some in Camarines Norte who are semi-nomadic and who build temporary elevated shelters called “Butukan.” The Butukan is made from tree branches and leaves. An area is believed to be ideal for building a butukan if six tagbac tubers planted there will grow or where decayed organic matter is present or where the desired spot for the Butukan can be reached by reflected light from a river. The light is believed to prevent evil spirits from having access to the shelter and bringing death to its occupants.
The traditional attire of the Agta is the tapis/skirt for females and bahag/breech cloth for males. Their clothing is made from the bark of the Gumihan tree. A number of them now wears casual and modern urban attires, although they still adorn their heads, however, with a multi-purpose container called “Takupis” made from the Kalagimay plant where they keep their lime from burnt seashells, nganga/betel nut and pepper leaves called “ikmo” or “lukmoy.”
To take the place of body ornaments, the natives scar/“asde” their bodies with designs bequeathed to them by their ancestors. Asde is supposed to rid the body of “dirty blood” and protect it from different illnesses. To carry her baby, a breastfeeding native wears the “uban,” a piece of cloth slung from the shoulders.
The Agtas grow root crops, rice and vegetables in their farms. Rice takes time to harvest, so they substitute it with a boiled root crop called “dugma,” which gives them a shorter harvest time.
Hunting is another means of subsistence for the Agtas. They catch running game by spearing them with pointed sticks called “galud” or by means of pit-traps. Birds are caught by using slingshots locally known as “labtik” and traps made from a glue-like sap called “dikit.”
To achieve a successful hunt for animals, the Agtas perform a ritual at the grave of a skilful hunter. The process includes scattering of banana stalks – used as substitute for meat - around the grave as offering. They also erect arched bamboos to symbolize traps for a big game.
Fishing and catching crabs are other means of livelihood for the Agtas. Their instruments include the: “baslay,” a bow and arrow used for fishing; “banwit,” a set of fishing instrument that includes the “boro,” a slender bamboo with a few meters of nylon at one end that has a hook where bait is placed; “sulo,” a small torch used to attract the fishes and crabs during night-time fishing; “agahid,” a net used for catching fishes and crabs; “kawit,” a hooked wire used to dislodge crabs from their hiding places; “sagad,” a rattan basket where the catch is placed; “bobo,” a trap made from split bamboo fastened together with rattan; and “alawa,” a fishnet for shallow waters during low tide. Mollusks are also caught to augment the Agtas' diet. Some of these are the bivalves, finger-like mollusks called “sihi,” and the slender-bodied mollusks called “bagisara.”
Many Agtas have also engaged into other income generating jobs, such as copra making, charcoal making, and gold panning.
In their hierarchy, the father and the elder sons usually hunt. The mothers and daughters are left behind to do the household chores. The mother is always the one who takes care of the children.
They are considered as one of the most lighthearted among the indigenous tribes in the Philippines. The Apayaos are a river people. Their tribe’s name was derived from the warm waters of the Apayao River. They live in the Northwestern end of the island of Luzon from Abulog up to the Apayao River. Their mountainous territory is rich in flora and fauna – typical of the rainforests in Asia.
These virile people are said to have come to this region in two waves, a few thousand years ago; the Indonesians by way of Southeastern Asia, and the Mongolians by way of Central Asia. These two waves found a home in the northern end of the Cordillera Central Mountains. Their cultures fused into a new one. Physically, the Indonesian strain dominated, males stand an average height of five feet and four inches, while the average height for females is five feet.
The Apayaos are kind, hospitable and generous. They are highly aesthetic in temperament, self-reliant, and honest. If by some ill fate you drop something, even money, a member of the tribe will return it to you. They believe that if a man steals, his wife will leave him; or, if they acquire money unfairly and buy rice with it, the rice will not give them strength.
They like a practical jokes. In fact, even accidents are taken as a laughing matter and the one who has been injured is the one who laughs the hardest!
The Apayaos are courageous and freedom loving. The Spaniards never conquered them, even the Americans had a difficult time establishing their government.
The Common Law enjoins that man must not steal, tell false stories about others, court the wife of others, nor make trouble at a feast. It further enjoins that man must respect the rights of individuals, give food to visitors, and parents shall teach the children the old legends and customs, as well as correct them that they could grow up properly. The Apayaos have a very complete system of social etiquette.
They have no words meaning "thank you" in their dialect. When one goes on journey, there is no word meaning "goodbye". One just walks away. When he returns, even after a long absence, there are no words of greeting, of welcome. The Apayaos are very modest about their persons. A woman must not allow her legs to spread when squatting to a sitting position, nor allow her tapis to go above her knees. Even when there are no women around, while the men are bathing and swimming together, they keep their private parts covered with one hand while they are out of the water.
They have a very simple government. In each family the man rules supreme and orders his woman what to do. A group of 15 to 30 families is headed by one leader. They build their houses close to each other.
Community spirit in a barangay is strong. They have common interests and often work together in exchange of labor. When one builds a home, all the neighbors come to help.
Each barangay is surrounded by a bamboo picket fence. The bamboos are filled with little stones so that they cannot be easily cut. A peace pact called “budong” is often made with other tribes. Peace pact holders are appointed and held personally responsible to make sure that it is not broken. Each barangay is held accountable for the acts of any of its members.
During the first part of the Japanese occupation, Apayao was a place of refuge for fleeing Americans, and after the fall of Corregidor, Cabugao was made the headquarters of the USAFFE of Northern Luzon. The Japanese were not able to establish themselves in these mountains until March, 1943, but the tribesmen hardly cooperated, so they left on August, 1944. When the Americans returned, almost every Apayao volunteered to help in defeating the Japanese.
The Apayaos depend a lot on the rivers and streams, even if they live on sides of a mountain for safety. Many of their communities are named after the names of the streams nearest to them. The rivers are their source of food and water to drink.
The men are excellent in constructing boats and other wooden crafts.
The Applai are indigenous people of the Western Mountain Province that is composed of the municipalities of Besao, Sagada and parts of Sabangan , Bauko and Tadian. The word Applai is a term popularly used by the Mountain Provinces Easterners to refer to the Mt. Province Westerners, in the same manner that the Easterners are called "I-lagod."
The Applais engage in a variety of economic activities all year round like wet farming, slash and burn agriculture, camote, farming, trade and handicraft like backloom weaving, bamboo basket weaving and pottery. They also raise fruits and vegetables. They raise livestock such as chickens and pigs.
The Applai villages are compact settlements that are divided into sections. Every section belongs to one “dap-ay” or “abong.” The number of “dap-ay” depends on the population of the village. The dap-ay is a place to meet and settle disputes and hold meetings. It also serves as a center of all religious rites.
There are only two social classes, the rich is called Kadangyan and the poor is called Kodo. The Kadangyans attain their social status by lineage, inter-marriage or accumulated wealth.
The Applai tribe has its own customs and traditions to observe during occasions like weddings, death and other community related affairs. The old folks of good standing of the community serve as the master of the ceremonies. They solemnize, and settle matters pertaining to community cultural affairs.