This picture was taken in June 2002 when I spent time with the Aeta in Sitio Gala, the name of their resettlement area. The lady is Sharon Flores, my first Aeta friend. I was honored when she asked me to be Godmother (Nenang) to her newborn, Baby Joy. She and I became Komares which means co-Mothers in the Filipino tradition. Sharon was tiny, shy and didn’t speak English but we usually understood each other or had someone translate for us. Our lives became entwined over the years and as shy as she was she came down from the mountain to see me after I was arrested. Sharon and her husband, Amboy are featured in the picture of me outside the Courthouse in Subic in July, 2014. They were frightened as they could not understand how a woman who had saved the lives of so many could be taken away from them and thrown into jail.
To understand the work I did in the Philippines and what became my “Mission” is to understand who the Aeta are. I have copied from Wikipedia an explanation and it is worth reading. There are now many articles and videos about the Aeta on the internet.
During the time of the Vietnam War, the Aeta trained young Americans the ways of the jungle and saved the lives of many. Unless one has lived in or near the jungle it is hard to explain the sounds and the quiet. I loved the Aeta and the jungle.
The Aeta people in the Philippines are Australo-Melanesians, which includes other groups such as Aborigines in Australia; Papuans; and the Melanesians of the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the French overseas special collectivity 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 to settle them in reducciones or reservations all throughout Spanish rule failed.
According to Spanish observers like Miguel López 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. Zambals 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 an indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated mountainous parts of the Philippines. They 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 has caused the indigenous population in the country to steadily decrease to the point where they number only in the thousands today. The Philippine government affords them little or no protection, and the Aeta have become extremely nomadic due to social and economic strain on their culture and way of life that had previously remained unchanged for thousands of years.
So that is Wikipedia’s description of the Aeta, mine is simpler. They are a dying breed of nomadic hunter/ gatherers. They are not a bit like the Malay/Chinese Filipinos. Their shyness is what has kept them safe, they disappear into the jungle at any sign of trouble.
It was Sharon’s sister, Amorsola who informed me about Joseph Mariano, my first, seriously ill, Aeta patient, being taken to the San Marcelino Hospital. It can be read in Patients, Medical Missions and Christenings
This is just a glimpse of my interaction with the Aeta over the years.
The children in the above picture walked me down the mountain and got a treat for accompanying me. There was only a muddy path to the Aeta village and no bridge. Wading a river in the dark made for a lot of laundry but I didn’t care as I was having fun with my young friends.
I had a long conversation with Fr. James B. Reuter, an American Jesuit, about the conditions in Sitio Gala, the Aeta Resettlement Area. He was Chairman of a foundation that took care of them but because of his age he had not been up to Sitio Gala for years. I explained the need for a bridge, especially for the Aeta high school students and pregnant women. The girls had to remove their shoes and lift their uniform skirts high to cross the river. I also explained the lack of medical care for them.
I was still living in Makati when I decided to set up a Foundation for street boys. Saving Children of the Streets was the real name of the Foundation. I wanted to be close to my friends – the Aeta – and was fortunate enough to find a hectare of land that was available.
I had a Christening for my Goddaughter, Joy Flores, at the Farm before anything was built. I had two women take care of all the arrangements as I was living in Makati. They needed to make sure the food would be prepared, the men built me a shady structure with bamboo and covered with coconut leaves for shade. An alter was made from bamboo which I decorated with a tartan cloth with white altar cloth on top. I thought it looked great.
I was surprised to find out that others were asking to join the Christening. It was explained to me that this was a normal occurrence in the Philippines. There had been no Christenings in Sitio Gala for years and there were lots of children to be Blessed. The other thing I learned was that at every Christening there must be a feast. At this first Christening 29 children were Christened and they and all their friends were fed.
Joseph Mariano came to live at the Farm. He is an integral part of my story as he was the first child that I rescued. His story is in Patients, Medical Missions and Christenings.
Many of my photographs from 2004 were lost when my computer crashed but this is a slide show of his very first Birthday Party at the Farm. Joseph had never had a Birthday Party as it would have been an unnecessary expense to a people who were living day to day.
This slideshow is of pictures I took at Joseph’s Birthday party.
I was in the States from September 12th 2004 until New Years Day 2005 packing up my home and my things to be shipped over.
A small party to celebrate my return on New Years Day.
I left again for the States in the middle of March, 2005 to sell my home. While I was gone Joseph remained at the farm with his caregiver, he had a home and Aeta men had work. When I returned to the Philippines in June I brought with me funds from another foundation in the States that offered to help indigenous people. Five Aeta students were funded.
I was feeling pretty good about being able to help young people stay in school.
I went to their school in Olongapo to distribute their funds and then some of them came to visit me at the farm and stayed for lunch.
A lot was going on at the farm and my agriculturist suggested we have the Aeta children come down from Sitio Gala and have them collect rocks from the river. We needed to re-crop what had been an ugly gulley.
It was a fun day for me, lots of children and laughter. The only problem was that the children made more money by being paid per rock than their fathers who were working all day. Some of the Mothers came down and helped with cooking lunch for the children.
Joseph was back in hospital but Federico Pauli, another Aeta patient, who was staying at the farm after being released from hospital was able to see all his friends.
There is not a lot of work available to Aeta men. Traditionally, they cut bamboo for the lowlanders and then have to wait to get paid. The following slideshow was a wonderful morning for me, to see men ride into the farm on carabou (water buffalo) dragging the bamboo we needed to build the kitchen roof and prepare for the three bahay kubos (traditional Filipino bamboo house with kugon (grass) roof.) It was like something out of a National Geographic. Other Aeta men were trimming trees with a bolo (machete), they are brilliant at climbing and can cut down any unwanted tree in minutes.
I loved working with them and they were an important part of the construction at the farm. The following is some of the same men preparing cement and cutting the slivers of bamboo necessary for the kugon (grass) roof.
In November there was a wedding in Sitio Gala which I helped sponsor and I provided the traditional Aeta dress that we had used the month before at the Groundbreaking Ceremony at the farm. See Construction of the Farm.
My Komare Sharon Flores’ eldest daughter, Rosalinda, the eldest sister of my Godchild Joy, was to be married to Tatoy Bordoy’s son. It was a very unusual day for me but a lot of fun. Komare Sharon wanted a traditional Aeta wedding and Rosalinda wanted a Filipino style wedding. They did both styles and everyone in the Resettlement Area attended.
On the night of the 19th of December a sickly Aeta baby was born. His story is included in the webpage ‘Children who were Rescued’.
On the following day I was taking most of the Aeta children and their Mothers to Manila for a Christmas Party being sponsored by The Lighthouse Club in Manila. They sent two large buses for us and it was a very early start. The photographer was Andy Maluche who was a very interesting German whose style is very artistic. One of the photographs of the Christmas party was on the front page of a Manila newspaper.
It was a wonderful party, the children all received toys and new clothes. There was great food, a clown and of course Santa Clause. The Aeta children put on a traditional Aeta dance for everyone and I had them present a beautiful tradional Aeta basket to our Sponsor. I was one tired woman riding back to Subic, there had been only two hours sleep the night before as I had been at the hospital till 3 a.m.
The following morning I was back at the San Marcelino Hospital to see the baby who had been born the day before the party.
Little did I know that my life was going to change again – Baby Michael Clement had come into my life. His story is in Children who were Rescued.
January 13th- Baby Michael comes to the farm, the following picture is of him with my workers, Joseph and my friend Ed Turrietta. The gentleman second from the right is Ramile Melomeda. I had no idea that in 2008 I would be taking care of three of his children, David Joseph and the twins, Angelina and Victoria. Later I would take care of his grandson, Jhon Paul.
A lot of construction was being done at the farm and I hired a yaya (nanny) to take care of Michael during the day and of course young Joseph was a willing helper.
There was a formal Medical Mission of Hope Foundation in January this is discussed in Patients, Medical Mission and Christenings.
Some scholars contacted me and said they had gifts for the Aeta and would I show them their village and accompany them. I was more than happy to as it would be a blessing of food and clothing to the Aeta and I would get to see my friends – the children. It always amazed people that the kids were so fond of me and I was so fond of them.
One of the things I had to learn was that when the Aeta know you and trust you they come down on Christmas morning for a Blessing and some money. Over the years it got to become more and more people. They would start coming about 6.30 in the morning. My children’s Christmas would not start till after 10.00 a.m.
One of the interesting things that I would discover, on Christmas morning, was how many more babies were being born. Seeing the young people who had been little kids when I first met them in 2002 was great. The board at the porch is not to keep the Aeta out it is to stop my little ones from falling off the porch.
A month after this, in January 2010 I had a Christening which is in the webpage Patients, Medical Mission and Christenings.
January 3rd 2011 – Friends of mine from Barrio Baretto wanted to have a party for the Aeta Children. The following slideshow shows some of our fun.
Friends of mine, Pam and Martin Scott had built a beautiful school for Aeta children in San Marcelino. They asked me if I would help them make a ‘Secret Garden’ with the children. It was a lot of hot, heavy work to turn what had been literally walled in wasteland into a garden but my men and I did it.
We built a little greenhouse out of bamboo and netting to start seeds in and though it was a lot of work it was so much fun to work with the children. We took soil we had made at my farm for them to plant seeds in. The following slide show is of pictures of me ‘down in the dirt’ showing the children what could be done with rice hulls, chicken manure and moisture – soil was made. The children were amazed how nice the soil smelled and how good it felt.
Saluting the children at the end of the day was always so much fun. It was my way of thanking them for being so well behaved.
The following slideshow is these same children on a day that they came to my farm. I let them harvest some of the crops we had grown at the farm and they had been shown how to grow at their school. I loved it when children I knew would visit and of course I had them do a traditional dance. One of these students would come to stay at my farm when Pam and Martin had to leave the Philippines for health reasons and return to England. I missed them and their company when they left.
My friends from Barrio Baretto had enjoyed the party for the Aeta children so much, they had another one on December 30th. The games and races we had were so much fun and it reminded me of when I was a child. Gala Day, in my hometown of Dufermline, was always so important to all primary school children. The Aeta children live in Sitio Gala (GAA la) and so I always referred to the party for the Aeta as Gala Day.
Everyone loved the Gala Day Races. There were races for everyone and the roars of the people for their own child were great.
The adults were so appreciative and they wanted to dance. What was so wonderful, to me, was the little kids got into the action. Joseph wore the loin cloth for the first time and asked to borrow all my bows and arrows from the house. With American deer antlers on his head we did an impromptu deer hunting dance. Everyone laughed when I pretended to hunt down Joseph.
Not to be outdone, the foreign men and their wives also got into the dancing. Many nationalities all dancing together. It was great.
There were more parties held in 2013, and 2014 and a rather wonderful, traditional Aeta Wedding but this is enough to show how much fun it was.
At the party in 2013, one of the Aeta ladies got herself in a bit of a trance, unfortunately she was holding an infant who was getting seriously shaken. Nothing for it but to jump into the dance and grab the wee one.
Hi Sherry,The attached photo (#6744) was taken at the same time as #6736. The image however demonstrates the point that I made in the original accompanying caption to image # 6736. That is, the photo was taken about 30 minutes after the “Sherry rescues the baby image” and show the dramatic transformation of your facial expression from the “Celtic expression of serious concern”, to a caring, maternal expression – together, both clearly reveal the range of your deep personal concern and love of children. Something Cullen, in his rush to judgement, has blindly missed!