Sunday, September 2, 2012


TRIBE AND TESTED. For many years, Aetas were a source of fascination for Americans in Stotsenburg. Often permitted to roam the military camp grounds, Aetas sold orchids, handicrafts and root crops to the American residents. They also gamely posed for souvenir pictures as seen from this rare, tinted photographs taken in the early 1930s.

 “Map ya pa ing Baluga..biasa yang mamana..”

 "Better is the Baluga, he knows how to shoot an arrow" so goes a line from the popular folk song “O Caca, o Caca”, underlining the superiority of Aetas or Negritos in the ways of the jungle, despite their kind, docile nature. For centuries, the original inhabitants of the province have displayed a strong sense of independence and a strong attachment to their ethnic culture, which may explain why they are not as integrated as the other minorities in mainstream Philippine society, attached to their small mountain communities where they are free to do as they please, as hunters and as nomads.

But through the years, the Negritos have also reached out to lowland people, demonstrating their hardiness, resilience, bravery and goodwill. In the early days of Camp Stotsenburg, Negritos descended from their mountain dwelling to peddle orchids and other air plants to Americans living in the camp. Some were even employed as house helps, learning to speak English in the process. Indeed, interesting Aeta characters have been noted by Pampanga visitors as early as the 19th century.

Historians credit a Negrito as the first head of Mabalacat town. Garangan or Caragan’s wife who went by her Christian name, Laureana Tolentino, succeeded him and made history as the first female mayor of Pampanga. On 28 February 2008, to honor the Negrito chieftain of Mabalacat, the 1st Caragan Festival was held to cap the month-long town fiesta celebration. The festival, akin to Cebu’s Sinulog, Bacolod’s MassKara and Iloilo’s Dinagyang, featured festive street dancing, colorful Baluga costumes and “uling” (charcoal) face swiping.

In 1922, Gen. Johnson Hagood took command of Camp Stotsenburg and met with Negritos up close. He found the Negritos and their lifestyle so fascinating that he even wrote about them in his memoirs, dedicating 7 pages of anecdotes about them. Gen. Hagood was most amused with the Baluga chief, “Lucas”, who once presented himself to the general arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wearing a sword” wearing and assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations” and medals, one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified Lucas as “a prize bull”.

Hagood proclaimed Lucas as “King of All Negritos”, and gave him a peace-keeping role among feuding Baluga tribes. He was elevated to kingship in the presence of hundreds of fellow tribe members and amidst great fanfare as Gen. Hagood conferred more decorations to the new king. He was given the titles Defender of the Orchids”and the “ Grand Commander of the Order of Dead Mules, Second Class”.

A true war hero however, is Lt. Kudiaro Laxamana, an Aeta tribal chief who headed the 55-155th Squadron of the Northwest Pampanga Mountain District. He reputedly killed 50 Japanese soldiers at the height of World War II, and supposedly chopped off 17 heads with his bolo knife. He is also credited with saving the lives of Col. Gyle Merrill, the overall commander of a U.S. military contingent, and Maj. Henry Conner, of the 27th Bomb Group. After the War, Laxamana returned to civilian life and became active in fighting for the rights of Aetas. He was killed because of his advocacy in 1970 and at his death, he was given a 21-gun salute and buried at the Clark Cemetery. So well-regarded was Laxamana that he was even featured in a 1949 issue of LIFE Magazine, together with his two wives and two daughters. A major road in Clark—Kudiaro Laxamana Avenue—is named after him.

More recent Negrito newsmakers include Wida Cosme, the first Aeta law graduate who finished her law course from the Harvardian College, although she still has to pass the bar. Then there’s Arjohnel Gilbert, an Aeta boy from Marcos Village who became an online singing sensation when a video of his was posted on Youtube. Singing Justin Bieber’s song, “Baby” in front of Puregold-Clark, his video attracted thousands of views. GMA-7 News did several features of the Aeta singing wonder, who sang to people as a way to get them to buy his nose flutes.

At the 1st ASEAN Tribal Games held in Malaysia from 14-16 September 2010, Aeta Olympians from Mabalacat dominated the games. Jun Ablong, Dumlao Naval and Danilo Tecson won Golds for Treetop Archery, Archery Assault, Blow Pipe Game respectively, while Jimmy Ablong garnered a Bronze in Blow Pipe shooting. The team beat other ethnic delegates from the host country.

In the field of beauty pageantry, Renagie Gilbert became the first winner of Lagu ning Aeta (Beauty of Aeta) contest in June 2012. The seminal pageant for women of color attracted 12 contestants from Sitio Bilad, Pulang Lupa, Monicayao, Madapdap, Haduan and Calapi. Completing her court of honor were Queen Rose Maye Sibal and Loretta Quedeng.

Often facing discrimination, these Negritos found a way to overcome. Despite lack of understanding and support, they gained strength, breaking barriers and knocking down seemingly indestructible walls. In every way, our Aeta brothers have persevered—growing from a gentler race into history-making heroes.

No comments: