A couple of weeks ago, I found myself again in a community in Capas, Tarlac to witness an Aeta Youth Festival. Last year, I went there for the First Aeta Forest Food Festival, an event which highlighted the traditional food.
This time, the event dubbed “Pamilalamu” (the Aeta word for “pakikisama” or solidarity), organized by Kabalikat sa Kaunlaran ng mga Ayta, Inc. (KAKAI), focused on celebrating the culture of the Aetas and empowering the youth. The festival aimed to remind the younger generation of Aetas about their cultural practices and traditions, including rituals, crafts, songs, dances and folk games
The festival was held in Sitio Alunan, a community in the middle of the mountains of Capas, Tarlac. To get there, a handful of photographers and volunteers traveled by bus from Manila to Tarlac, transferred to a tricycle, then hitched on the back of a trailer pulled by a 4×4 jeep up to the mountains.
A short program was held right outside the community school, where everyone gathered under a tent roof of tarpaulin and banana leaves held up by bamboo sticks. The classrooms were converted into sleeping quarters for some of the visitors.
While we had our transportation, some of the youth delegates had walked 4-6 hours from their own remote villages to attend the gathering here. The games took place in an open basketball court in the middle of the community at the height of the afternoon heat. But despite this, the kids were all smiles as they joined in on the games.
For those not familiar with traditional Pinoy folk games, here are a few photos from the event and a brief explanation of the games played:
Kabayo-Kabayo: A group relay race using a prop “horse”. At the start of the game, the person at the front of the line has to race and make one round around a target at the end of the court.
Each succeeding round, the next person in line has to join the first person, until all the players in line have circled around the target. As expected, the race gets harder the more people there are in trying to hold on to the “horse.”
Rice Planting: A group relay race where each person has to race to place thin sticks (from a walis tingting) into a row of gin bottles lined up. It looks easy, but this actually involves stooping down and carefully putting the sticks in the bottle’s opening, similar to how farmers plant rice.
When each team member reaches the end of the row of bottles, they have to harvest all the sticks on their way back to give to the next player in line. The group that finishes the race fastest wins.
Target Pana: Traditional target shooting using a bow and arrow. Aetas were traditionally nomadic people who relied on hunting and gathering in the mountains for food. While many of the younger generations no longer hunt, many elder tribesmen still have excellent archery skills.
The male youth delegates took turns trying to hit a steady target several meters away using the wooden bow and arrow. Since no one hit the target, it was eventually moved nearer.
Agawan base: This game is similar to “capture the flag.” Two teams are situated on opposite ends of the playign field, with a pile of slippers near each side serving as their “base.” The goal is to capture the opposing team’s base by tagging a predetermined mark.
The members of each team can defend their own base by capturing opposing players before they can tag the mark. Once a player crosses the line that divides the playing area, they can be captured, and must go to the opposite base’s mark and stay there until they are tagged again by one of their own teammates.
Shatong: The game requires at least two teams and some props – 1 long stick (about 12 inches) and a shorter stick (about 6 inches long). Using the long stick, each team must make a small groove on the ground. The shorter stick should be placed perpendicular and on top of the groove. The longer stick will be used to launch the short stick off the ground. Each team member takes a turn by hurling the stick, taking care that no member of the opposing team catches it. If no one catches it, the length of where the short stick fell is measured (using the longer stick) as a measuring rod.
While I feel that a lot of festivals in the country have gotten very commercialized, I could really feel the true essence of the fiesta here. The winners of the various game got school supplies like notebooks and pencils. Everyone feasted on simple meals that the community helped prepare together, children played and sang together in the classrooms, and at night, everyone gathered around a bonfire and shared songs and traditional dances.
I’ve been traveling to a lot of touristy places lately for work, but I’m really glad for the opportunity to witness a meaningful community fiesta again. View a gallery of all the delicious meals the community shared with us during the event and read more about the event here.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Our mode of transport to get to and from the community. Me attempting to start a fire using bamboo. Photos by Tomas Leonor & Rei Panaligan