The Aeta tribes are believed to be the first inhabitants of the Philippines. Aeta is pronounced “Eye Ta.” They are indigenous and their ancestors were the aborigines from Australia. There was a consensus from anthropologists that they migrated from the island of Borneo about 30 thousand years ago using a land bridge that was partially covered by water 5,000 years ago.
The Aeta are small, dark-skinned, and kinky-haired people who once occupied the forest areas of Mount Pinatubo. They were forced to leave their home/forest when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, and their social and cultural environment was forever changed. They were referred to as Pygmy Aeta or Negritos (little negroes) by the early Spanish settlers in the early 1500s. Ethnologists claim they belong to what is probably the oldest living race in the world. Today, the Filipinos referred to them as “Kulot” meaning curly hair. They appear to have similar characteristics and manner to the Melanesian from the Solomon Islands.
Aetas are characterized by their skin color, height, and hair type. They mostly have dark to dark-brown skin, curly hair, and are usually below five-feet tall. Traditionally, Aetas are hunting and gathering indigenous people. They’re actually among the most skilled when it comes to jungle survival – they are even able to make use of plants as herbal medicine and possess tools and weapons. While they’re nomadic, they are able to build temporary houses made of sticks.
Because they are usually scattered in mountainous areas, the Spaniards had a hard time introducing Catholicism to their population. They mostly resisted to change, which made it difficult for the Spanish to colonize their areas. This is also one of the reasons why they were able to preserve their cultural traditions and beliefs through to today.
Most Aetas can be found in the northern part of Luzon. According to historical accounts, they have lived near Mount Pinatubo in Zambales for thousands of years. But, when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, it devastated the Aeta population. The majority lost their homes while some re-settled in urban areas.