An Ode to the Indigenous People

by Caroline Tiuseco

A leap into the unknown Philippines


High up in the mountains, where the sky longs to touch the earth, live the Aeta of Tarlac. Toiling across the dark, muddy field are people of darker skin and curly hair. We look nothing alike. The lone water buffalo trudges on, scraping and dragging the wooden plow across the wet soil. By dawn we work the field, planting seedlings on one side and harvesting sweet potatoes on the other. By noon we leave the fields, trekking back to quaint huts made of bamboo and woven straw. Gliding past every slope, every misshapen rock, and every slippery edge, the people move as their roles command--as stewards of the land. With bright smiles, they hold my hand as we traverse rough terrain, supporting my body when it threatens to crumble from exhaustion. The huts come into view at last, and our straw hats glisten under the blazing sun. Small children come to meet me one after the other, and we string white flower buds together, the petals fluttering about the wind, until night falls. The evening breeze is sharp against ashen skin, penetrating thin, holed shirts. They do not flinch. A bonfire is built-- its yellow flames flicker madly in the dark. The glow of the fire is entrancing, and the chieftain begins a prayer for protection. His frail, old body does not match the booming voice echoing monotonously through the night. Afterward, the men and women begin playing a medley of bamboo violins, sugar cane flutes, and bronze gongs, while the children dance with the fire--a one, two, three step, a squat, then a shimmy of the hips. The revelry is contagious. Here, life is celebrated. These people lead impoverished lives far detached from society, discriminated by their own countrymen. Hardly represented, their voices go unheard. They often are forgotten. Yet they continue to persevere, to see the world as far as they can beyond the mountain, and to be seen by the world. Without a moment's hesitation, they lend a helping hand to those in need, never expecting anything in return. Friendship is their treasure, and family is their life. They are the Aeta of Tarlac, and we are of one blood.