Carlos Castaneda

A month after my magical experience with sacred ayahuasca ceremony my energy started to power up once more. I fell in love with a real life Peruvian shaman and I have termed my life now as “truer to the path”. Meaning, I am obliged do the things that are only necessary for a purposeful life. Aside from being blessed with a significant other, I was also fortunate to be involved in a project that would uplift the spirit of the Aeta community in Sapang Uwak Pampanga. And as “truer to the path” means being purposeful, this project would suit me best.

I knew right away that this would be a long term project. Capturing their ancient tradition and culture on film would take years and extensive research, but in my mind, I had to scale down the vast content of this project and opted to do it step by step according to my perspective. My plan of action was: Immersion.

Morning view in Sapang Uwak Porac Pampanga

My first day was met with excitement and uncertainty. I was fine having no phone signal and no wifi connection during my first day. Besides, I have lead a life not depending on these things. What I simply wanted was a convenient lavatory. True enough my wish came true and the room we had was suitable for me. I even converted it into a “fort” and set up improvised tables for laptops where we can store video materials easily and arrange our personal belongings neatly. I felt cozy and relaxed. Though I also had a strong craving for cigarettes and this was the only time that I smoked once more (hopefully). 

I knew that I needed to be constantly visible to people as to make them feel at ease with me. My years of experience in media has lead me to develop a knack of reading people’s demeanour and used it not to be intrusive especially to the aetas. I saw. I observed. I listened. Nakiramdam ako. In my first night I was able to talk to Apo Raymond, an aeta who was sent to Australia for education. He was well versed and composed and his story was that of an intricately woven telenovelas. He was the first one I talked to formulate my leads. It was in our conversation that I realized that the aetas has split their timeline into two: before Pinatubo eruption and after Pinatubo eruption. The catastrophic event has significant impact in the lives of the aetas. Before the eruption, clans were tightly held at their territorial domain. A tale goes that if an outsider where to pass by clan territory, they had to blow a horn. If the horn sounded in return then they have permission to pass. But if not, and they persisted then they will be punished.

In my second day, I followed young students from Manila, who went for an immersion with the aeta community. I wanted to be obscure. I moved as harmless as possible without engaging people but filming nonetheless. In my obscurity, the only tool I carried was my smile. It was at that moment that I remembered Terrence Malick’s “The New World”. The movie best represented how Pocahotas and her tribe communicated frequently in gestures and seldom in words. She expressed her love to John Smith by speaking through her eyes and words were merely an accessory on how she really felt for him. Her tribe communicated by subtle movements and mannerisms and I tried doing the same thing. Ironically, I spoke without speaking. Fortunately, the community felt the message that I wanted to convey. I curiously observed how the kids where having so much fun simply by bathing in the river. I felt that I had to reach the same level of frequency for me to enable to film them. By doing so, they initiated the signal for me to film them. They were happy, I was happy – inexplicably happy.

Staring on happiness

The third day, an aeta named Lansang, taught me how to use the aeta bow. While we were practicing the bow, I felt relieved when he told me that deers still exist in the upper parts of the mountain. They may be few in numbers but at least there are some. Wild boars oftenly roam the mountains at night.

My attention was caught by a woman who was feeding solely on rice. I felt pity at first, but then I thought to myself, should I even be feeling sad for her situation. If there’s less desire and longing for material needs then her situation isn’t really bad at all. I mean, would you crave for a steak if you haven’t known it exists? Would you want a comfortable bed if you haven’t slept in one? As one great philosopher has said: Man can’t think out of nothing. Later that day, I also saw a group of aetas having dinner with what they call white ube or yam. They were having so much fun sharing it with a bunch of people. Their life was so simple and they had all the things they needed. Nature provides but for most of the time, modernity has made it hard for them. Subsequently, our high standards of living has made it hard for us too.

Life may look hard for the aetas from the outside but who are we to judge their current situation

These are few of the things that I’ve observed and many more are still left to ponder. I am aware that the story will evolve as time progresses. There are things on the top of my mind and the question is, who gauges the standard for modernity? We think that the aetas has been primitive and ruralised for so long but could there be a possibility that they have already adjusted with their own meaning of modernity? Do they even need to be? What is life without unnecessary desires? What is the meaning of rich? Ano ba ang “yaman”? What do we gain by imposing our “civilised” system to them? Are we simply meddling on the natural way of things? Are we even helping them the right way? Or have we come to realize, that there’s a need to improve the basic necessities of our indigenous brothers so that we can grow as one nation?

Students from Sapang Uwak elementary school.

Maybe it’s time that their ancient traditions and values emerge so that we, civilised people, learn from them instead. You see, I was learning from them rather than them learning from me.

Regardless of the answers to all these questions, this is where the journey begins.

“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war: wide-awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. Going to knowledge or going to war in any other manner is a mistake, and whoever makes it might never live to regret it” – Carlos Castaneda

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