Saturday, April 10, 2010

Something Depressing

This article is from a few years ago, but I'm reminded of the situation of aboriginal and indigenous people in the Philippines by the recent discovery (as in illumination to the outside world) of a new species in northern Luzon island.

The monitor, described as spectacular by the scientists who found it, lives in forests covering the Sierra Madre mountains in the north of the country. ...
The giant lizard is actually well known to resident Agta and Ilongot tribespeople living in the forests of northern Luzon Island.

The tribes people regularly hunt the lizard for its meat, a vital source of protein.

Yet scientists were unaware of its existence.

That was until Dr Brown and an international team of colleagues from the US, Philippines and The Netherlands surveyed a series of lizard specimens preserved in museums both within the US and Philippines.1

Much is made of traditional, aboriginal, or indigenous wisdom during these types of discoveries, but the Agta, or Aeta (as they are sometimes known) are virulently discriminated against in the Philippines. The continuing obsession and open discrimination against dark-skinned people is a particular feature of areas that fell under Spanish conquest. (What happens in the United States now is not even on the same map, in terms of comparison.) This marginalization seems historically, until the present day, about wiping the values of these people off the face of the earth. And while it's true that there is romanticism on the part of Western anthropologists when in comes to indigenous peoples, the Aeta is a gentle society, without a concept of property rights, that is just treated very poorly.

The Agtas, are the first indigenous people to originally inhabit the Philippines. Today, they are being threatened with extinction. The remaining few are going deeper into the forests which also may not be around too long.
"The land is no longer there for us. Other people say they own they land, but who owns the land? We belong to the land," Salak Dima, a leader of a band of 23 Agtas, said to this reporter.
Salak, at 4 feet plus, dripping wet, showed no interest at all in talking to a stranger. His face was stripped of emotion and stoic. But a gift of two Marlboro packs, five boxes of strike-anywhere matches and a Swiss knife I hurriedly grabbed at a Copenhagen airport duty-free shop on my way from Sweden to Denmark, changed all that.

He recalled the years of his band's oppression.

"Despite being dwellers and guardians of the forest for hundreds of years, our primitiveness conserved peace and prosperity in these lands. We live in harmony with nature. We would rather flee than fight. But that does not make us cowards. We rely on our own resources as our forefathers did. We will do so now, especially now that the outside world has shown us unheard-of cruelty," he said with a sigh.

"In our dialect, we don't have words for theft, hatred, selfishness and cruelty. In our ways, these are strange. When the lowlanders came, we were friendly, trusting and found out too late. We traded meat with the lowlanders. In return, they gave us liquor, raped our women, ridiculed us and treated us like dogs," Salak continued.

Salak himself slaved in a logging camp in Casiguran, Quezon and was tortured.

Agta women and children bear the brunt of some of the most cruel and inhuman acts of oppression. When in lowland towns to barter meat or vegetables for medicine or rice, they are inundated with lewd jokes, propositioned and sexually abused. In Salak's tribe, five women were raped by gold prospectors and loggers. Some were gang-raped.

2'Filipino 'Agta' aborigines threatened with extinction' - The Bruneo Times