The Aeta and Cultural Disaster

In the collaborative blog post I previously worked on about the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, I had the chance to look into older stories I have been told within my own family and cultural upbringing. While I would classify myself as culturally American, many parts of my own family come from the Philippines, specifically from a region very close to Mt. Pinatubo. I have grown up hearing stories about the eruption, however, my own research into the events of the eruption so many years later has revealed some interesting results. In many ways, the Pinatubo and Aeta situation contain strong reflections to Jemisin’s works. This blog post will likely take on a personal tone, as I speak about my own passed down cultural knowledge of the area, and expand upon the cultural disaster of Pinatubo on the Aeta people.

I had heard tales about the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, it was an incredibly important event in the Philippines at the time it happened. It was disastrous in many ways it had a massive impact on the surrounding area, both physically and culturally. To sum up briefly, while it did affect a variety of Filipino people (the Philippines is not one unified people, but a variety of ethnolinguistic groups in many diverse regions) its largest impact was on the Aeta people. The Aeta are an indigenous and ethnically different people within the region. They have a largely different culture to the more common Filipino ways of life. One of the largest factors of their cultural difference is their religion, which is not the more common Catholic belief system.

I have heard about the Aeta people growing up, they are the indigenous people of the Philippines. However, I had never heard of them referred to as such, growing up I had always heard them referred to as “negritos” (which means little black people in Spanish, an artifact of Spanish colonialism). With my more up to date research conducted for the collaborative blog post, I have learned that this term while extremely common, is not preferred. The indigenous people of the Philippines are not always seen in a positive manner to the other ethnic groups, partially for their religious beliefs, and partially for the culture. Through their religious beliefs, some even see them as dangerous. With the discovery of these elements of this situation in the Philippines, I did think of Jemisin’s work. I never knew that “negrito” and similar slang terms for indigenous Filipinos had negative connotations (the literal translation is “black, small”). However, in my research about the situation years later, I did think of the term “rogga’, “Rogga? You use this word all the time, but hearing it like this, as a use name, it emphasizes its vulgarity,” (The Fifth Season, 268). Many people within the Stillness use the term freely, not knowing the effects of it. 

Retrospectively, the story of the Aeta people was told to me as a sort of cautionary tale. From what I had heard, Pinatubo was always a dangerous area, and knowledge of its eruption was well known. The Aeta people simply didn’t leave the area because they did not want to and that this lead to many of their deaths. In a trip I took to the Philippines later in life, this was reiterated to me by a guide, they stayed because they didn’t believe they could be harmed. Many of them perished because they simply wouldn’t listen to reason, and instead elected to stay near the mountain.

Of course, this was not the entire story, as I learned with my own further research. The Aeta people stayed not out of foolishness, but out of religious belief. As mentioned briefly in the collaborative post, the Aeta people held Pinatubo with a religious reverence. They felt that the eruption was caused in part by disrespect for their ancestral land surrounding Pinatubo (including geothermal drilling). The Pinatubo had been confined to this area in part for an irreverence to the natural environment in the Philippines, logging and other abuses of the natural environment had forced them into a small, religious territory surrounding Pinatubo.

While on a level this is an interesting connection to an angry Father Earth, it also holds cultural connotations in the Philippines. The Philippines and Filipino people are highly religious, and in many areas of the country and even government are strictly Catholic (for example they lack any divorce laws, as the Church prohibits divorce). I had never even known that indigenous religions survived in the area until my research this semester.  In comms people fear orogenes, they are outsiders who the organizations such as the Fulcrum look to re-educate and control, “They both know the rules: Fulcrum orogenes… must always be polite and show confidence. Fulcrum orogenes must never show anger because it makes the stills nervous,” (The Fifth Season, 63). Once again, there are some eerie similarities to the story of the Aeta people. The Filipino government attempted to “civilize” the Aeta. This attempt to civilize them is really a statement to convert them to more regular Filipino cultural and religious beliefs. In further research, I have learned that much of these efforts were religious in nature. Following the disaster and partial displacement of the Aeta, there was more success in converting many of the Aeta people to the more common Catholic faith, something more comfortable for the general population.

Many refer to Pinatubo as a cultural disaster, for what its impact on the Aeta. When looking through the lens of Jemisin’s work, this concept itself makes me consider many parts of both The Broken Earth, and real-world disaster.  A cultural disaster doesn’t just physically destroy a people, but it dissolves the culture of the survivors. Even massive institutions such as the Fulcrum can be destroyed by a Season, and those core beliefs disappear overnight. Perhaps the ending of the entire series signifies a cultural disaster, “‘with the end of the Season and the death of all Guardians, it will now be possible for orogenes to conquer or eliminate stills, if they so choose. Previously, neither group could have survived without each other’s aid.” (The Stone Sky, 395). The cultural landscape has changed dramatically, and a new world has succeeded. Even the cultures of past civilizations are wiped out by Seasons, and at the point of time of The Fifth Season, many of these smaller cultures have been absorbed by the Sanzed Empire.

Returning to my own personal connections, I do suppose that much of Jemisin’s work has allowed me to look back upon the stories I had heard years ago, and pick them apart under a different perspective. We learn things about life before us, and more often than not we take that information at face value., “you can’t change stonelore,” (The Fifth Season, 124). Often times this information is skewed by the source you learn it from, even if there are no ill intentions. It is important to look back on what you consider truths, and question them.

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