Tuesday, August 20, 2013

PINOYAPACHE IN THE LAND OF THE AETAS

AFTER THE GUINTARCAN ISLAND video shoot have been wrapped up last month, the small production outfit that I am cast with as a co-host, now set their sights on an Aeta village up north in Luzon. This made-for-TV show targetting an international audience is the first of its kind in the Philippines since it will utilize a Filipino as lead cast as well as location shootings are all done here. My co-host is my partner at Snakehawk Wilderness Skills School, William Rhys-Davies.


On the afternoon of May 8, 2013 we left Cebu for the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, formerly Clark Air Force Base. It is my first time to fly through there although I have, a couple of times in 2002, gone there by land. The Cebu Pacific plane touched down at 6:30 PM and we transfer to the Dau Terminal in Mabalacat, Pampanga for our trip to Olongapo City in a Victory Liner.

We arrive at Olongapo and Mylene Castro of the Pastolan Aeta meet us to arrange our journey to her village. We spend the night at her humble home and arrive before midnight. It is a long ride to the village through a long and complex detour caused by the presence of SCTEX. I have never been to an Aeta village before although I met a lot of them in Metro Manila after Mount Pinatubo dislodged them from their homes in 1992.

The following day, May 9, the film crew is hampered by lack of equipment so they went to Pangasinan to purchase a slightly used Canon EOS Video Camera. Rhys-Davies and I spend the whole day in Pastolan and hike the dirt road to Pamulaklakin. Pamulaklakin is an eco-tourism park put up by the Subic Freeport Authority to provide livelihood for the Aetas. The park showcases the best in primitive-living skills of the Aetas and the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail.

Rhys-Davies and the chief elder of the Pastolan Aeta – Dominador “Tata Kasoy” Liwanag – are old friends when the former was a visitor in 2007 and twice in 2009. It was a happy reunion for both when they meet again at Pamulaklakin. Tata Kasoy, despite his 72 years age, is still lithe, agile and strong and he demonstrated this by climbing an upright tree so easily and then jump on the ground from twelve feet up on barefoot.


He is a wonder to watch as he explained to tourists in his pidgin English about how the lowly bamboo can be converted into a survival tool. With great dexterity, Tata Kasoy used his traditional Aeta bolo as if he is using a small knife and carved spoons, drinking jugs, plates and cooking pots with it. Not only that, making fire with two pieces of dry bamboo is just a stroll in the park with him. Done in less than two minutes!

I also get to know Miguel Abraham and the other Aetas and I feel very fortunate for this rare opportunity. We went back to Pastolan to spend another night in Mylene’s house. I observed, as I was walking along the way, the Aeta aboriginal land is lush with three layers of rainforest and it is home to different varieties of flora and fauna which have given the Aeta people sustenance. They are great hunters and could travel in the forest deftly and silently.

While in Pastolan, we visit the house of Tata Kasoy after dinner and he welcomed me and Rhys-Davies inside and we have a long conversation. When it is time to depart, Tata Kasoy accompanied us and bring us to a tour of the whole village. He introduce us to his brothers, his children and grandchildren, his other relatives, the village center and the oldest tree.

On the early morning of May 10, me and Rhys-Davies are invited to hunt with them. I am excited and I bring along my tomahawk, just in case, if the need arises. They were armed with air-powered rifles and bows and arrows. We go down into a stream and up a trail where there is a very tall fig. Hanging like huge black fruits from below the branches and twigs are actually fruit bats sleeping in their hanging-down fashion.


An Aeta with a bow climbed up an adjacent tree to get a good vantage of one fruit bat and, once settled on a high branch, he takes a position to ready his bow and arrow and take aim at the nearest bat. The first arrow got deflected by a twig and missed the bat by inches but the nocturnal creature remain unperturbed. The second one, this time, hit the target true and the bat plummeted to the ground after trying to extricate itself from the protruding shaft sticking in its body.

Another bat was taken down using this method and the Aetas decide to end this hunting foray and we all returned to Pastolan. The Aetas offered one bat to us which I accepted provided I know how to dress it. I tell them I can and they were happy to part it away to me. Me and Rhys-Davies arrive laughing at our base camp with a booty which soon will be food either for lunch or for dinner.

Noontime came, the film crew arrived with their video camera and they decide to change location and want to transfer to the place of Miguel. We proceed to Parapal, Hermosa, Bataan, which also follow a very circuitous and complex route borne out of the SCTEX operation. We arrive in the early afternoon and immediately start shooting the scenes. The routine of talking to the cameras are much easier to do now compared to the last time in Guintarcan. I am now in the groove and retakes are now few.


Miguel prepare to cook rice and cassava in bamboo. Traditional Aeta cooking of rice in bamboo provides a small hole to place water and rice grains and then closed by a lid. After the rice have been cooked, the bamboo is split open with a bolo to get the rice. It is so different from my own system but it is, as well, efficient.

Meanwhile, I start to skin the fruit bat. The camera crew focus on my work as I talk and explain of what I am doing. Rhys-Davies provide me a meter long pointed bamboo stick. The skinned bat will be cooked over an ember. I bury the skin and head underneath a big mango tree and said thank you for the meat it had provided.

A feast commenced when the last food had been cooked. Other Aetas and their neighbors join Miguel and his family to honor our presence and I was humbled. Marlon Diamzon, a minor elder, offered to perform a traditional Aeta war dance for us in traditional Aeta garb with bow and arrow. Marlon gyrated and hopped around a campfire and is documented by the production crew. Rhys-Davies, following a script, joined Marlon around the fire with bow and arrow and it elicit so much laughter among the Aetas.

On Saturday, May 11, shooting start early. Matt Everett, the producer and director, make use of time by doing some script lines that Rhys-Davies and I would talk before the cameras. It took a lot of retakes since sounds from the festivities would interfere with the audio. Miguel has guests today since it is his birthday and the video shooting take a slow drag. People arrive in a jitney and in a van. His neighbors butchered a male goat early in the morning and the place is in a festive mood. When Miguel was done with us, he returned to entertain his guests.

The day’s shooting wrapped up early due to external interference caused by excited voices and loud music. We join the crowd instead and celebrate the occasion by partaking of the meal, talking with the locals and sharing glasses of local brandy. When everyone left, the place return to normal and I help in the cleaning up of the place. Once, when everyone have gone all to sleep, I steal a quick bath without anything on outside where the water are kept and that was my first bath in four days!

May 12, Sunday, shoot starts late. Everett, wanted me and Rhys-Davies to set up traps above the hills where our present base camp is located. He is intent to catch us a live python or a monitor lizard and he is utilizing Miguel for help. While they were all busy making traps, I make my own trap on a wide meadow. It is a cage trap set on the ground with a trigger mechanism. The trigger causes the door to shut when disturbed and imprisons the prey.


Everett include Miguel during the shooting and talk to the camera following on a script provided by Everett. Rhys-Davies and I explain, respectively, to the absent audience how the snares work and what mechanisms are included like a funnel-like contraption that I constructed so a prey would found its way into the cage entrance.

The rest of the day were spent on dialogues and Everett make it work like as if I am better than Rhys-Davies and him better than me and that sort of tug war of dares and counter-dares. After a tiring day, which was interrupted by rain, I sleep early but I wake up at dawn to steal another quick bath.

When May 13 came, the shooting slackened. It is Election Day. People will go today to vote for their senators, house representatives, mayors, vice mayors and city and town councilors in their respective voting precincts. The Aetas are no exception. Nevertheless, we check our traps and snares and we come empty-handed even at the spots where we placed baits.

I came to appreciate a special spot for me up where near the snares are. Every early morning I would squat at a very vegetated area where there is space in the middle. My good knowledge about plants helped me when it comes to find an alternative “wiper”. But I would be cautious each time I approach the place. I keep an eye on snakes or whatever lurking and those “drops” I left the previous days.

Anyway, Miguel returned after lunch time, frustrated at the long lines in his precinct, unable to vote, and quite hungry. When noon came, he decide to go home. Everett asked him if he could demonstrate to the camera and to the absent audience about traditional Aeta way of bow making. From a dry bamboo, he carve a three-foot long stick which will serve as bow and an arrow.

Using a banana trunk as target, Miguel deftly shot at it accurately time and time again. Me and Rhys-Davies take the cue of Miguel and produce our own bows. I break my first when I strung tight my bow string and almost snap my second. Rhys-Davies is quite good with bows and I am a far second to him during our test with shooting arrows. Rhys-Davies smirk at my skill with the bow and arrow and it was awkward on my part to be on the losing end.


The next day, after a visit to my favorite spot, (May 14) we left base camp to hike towards a river. There had been numerous sightings of monitor lizards there some days ago and we need to catch it. Miguel installed two snare devices at two different places. These are short bamboo poles opened on one end with a small hole above to hold the trigger mechanism. Miguel placed bait at the endmost part and we returned to base.

On the other hand, Everett need to film a real but very dangerous activity: Honey gathering. Miguel lead us to the house of Marlon. Marlon volunteered to hunt the honey which would be sourced in the forest two kilometers away. The honey is found near the top of an old santol tree (sp. Sandoticum koetjapi) which is thirty feet tall.

We were prepared for this activity. Miguel brought a mosquito net to protect Everett, Rhys-Davies and Prem Ananda, the cameraman, against the hornets should these fly berserk when their hive is disturbed. Me, on the other hand, wear a long-sleeved shirt, a sniper meshclothe and bonnet and spray myself with citronella because I want to be in the thick of the action.

Miguel and two other Aetas forage banana trunks, mature bamboos, a long wooden pole, dry leaves and some vines while Marlon climbed the santol tree. They wrap the pole with dry leaves and cover it with pieces of the banana trunk which were secured with vine cordage. They make a fire on a clump of dry leaves and once done they transfer the flame to the wrapped pole which was tied with a nylon rope on one forked end.

When smoke begins to appear, Marlon drag the rope and the wrapped pole up. By now, the hornets stream down from their hive when these got wind of our presence. Woodsmoke make them frenzy and I notice some were all around us but I covered my smell with that of smoke so I was left alone. I move slowly not to attract the hornets else they would notice me. Miguel and the other two Aetas move closer to the fire when more hornets are noticed.

Marlon place the wrapped pole underneath the hive and that’s when the hornets became more aggressive. I looked up at Marlon alone near the hive with the hornets all around and picking on him. I am afraid if he could not withstand the attacks and might cause him to fall down but I prayed that he will be safe. The full force of the hornets are all on us so I move slowly towards where Miguel is.

Then Marlon throw the other end of the nylon rope and asked for the plastic bucket. I tied the rope to the bucket and Marlon drag it up. Marlon break the hive with the pole and it split causing small pieces of honeycomb to fall down and drops of pure honey dripping. The rest of the hive and the precious honey were placed inside the bucket and slowly go down towards us as Marlon released the rope little by little.

When that secured, I could see that the hornets lose their battle and began disappearing. All these were recorded by Everett and Ananda in their safe comforts of the mosquito net almost without retakes. Marlon suffered a lot but he did not wince or let go of his grip on the tree branch. He is a true Aeta warrior and he showed the stuff of what he is made of and I have my great respect for him.

We all went back to the road that lead us to the village of Parapal. Along the way, we pass by the house of Marlon and we were welcomed to grab a meal. Marlon divided the honey amongst us. I am given a good share for my “ground support” and for braving the hornets with him. I am honored by that gesture. Ultimately, I transfer the honey into a glass jar and bring it back to Cebu as a bounty and as part of my natural food supplement.

Before the honey was pillaged, Rhys-Davies and me had a talk with the absent audience following, of course, the script provided by Everett. During the heat of the attack of hornets, Rhys-Davies covered the details well which Everett could not do so otherwise on me, Marlon and Miguel. It was quite impossible for Everett for any close-up shoots on the activity of honey hunting.


When we do arrive at Miguel’s house, we were quite spent for the day’s different activities but Everett need to do one more thing to close the day. He needs to shoot me and Rhys-Davies dressing rice-field frogs. Smaller than a bull frog, these have long limbs and quite slimy. These were acquired through another Aeta when our snares failed to produce results.

Rhys-Davies dress the three frogs with my William Rodgers knife and, with the same knife, I dress three frogs myself. At this moment, I am quite irritated why Rhys-Davies refused to use the blades of his Swiss Army Knife and his Leatherman and then it came to a point where I am made to do a very nasty thing on an already decapitated frog which I absolutely protested. Man may have dominion over animals and plants but not to the extent of using these as tools to show how barbaric we are.

Everett did not pursue that last scene and, instead, use Rhys-Davies to explain my walk-out from the set. I am tired and I lost appetite on what could have been a savory meal of frogs which Miguel prepared. It rained and I believe my body and mind need a rest that early to relieve my stress. As before, I wake up in the middle of the night and take a bath naked in the dark.

May 15 is the last day of our shooting. We each have round-trip tickets and we will stick to schedule. However, there is one more sequence to do. Rhys-Davies and me fulfilled that with a lot of retakes since the script is quite long. Then it is time pack our things and leave Miguel and his family and the rest of the Aetas, to include those in Pastolan. I am saddened to part company with them for I have developed good rapport with them.

We leave after lunch and reach the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at 3:30 PM. Our flight schedule is 6:00 PM but is delayed and is re-scheduled for 7:30 PM. Nevertheless, we depart for Cebu. My honey is safe inside my bag along with my tomahawk and my knives. Almost left is the bamboo arrow given to me by Nestor but I insisted despite the protestations of a Cebu Pacific staff as it is harmless without a bow and quietly safe as part of a check-in baggage.



Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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