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Who are the Aeta?

Wanda Albano
Wanda Albano

The Aeta (eye-ta) are one of the ethnic tribal groups in the Philippines. Alternatively called Agta, Atta, Ita, Ati, Negritos, or Pugut, they are a dark-skinned people with curly hair, big black eyes, and short statures. These people are believed to be the descendants of the original settlers of the Philippines.

Like the Spanish negrito, or "little black one," the term Aeta (and its many variations) is often believed to be a reference to the people's skin color. Etymological research suggests that the name may come from the word it, which can be extended into itim or itom, meaning "black" in various Philippine languages. The word Pugut, meanwhile, means "forest spirit," alluding to the Aeta's lifestyle.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

The Aeta's native religion is quite interesting. For example, they believe in a supreme being but also worship numerous deities who may or may not be under this supreme being's direct command. Anthropologists also suggest that the group are animists, praying to spirits of the trees, forest, and so forth.

Until recently, the Aeta have preferred their traditional dress of simple wraparound skirts (women) and g-strings (men) to conventional modern clothing. They also liked to participate in body scarification, which they viewed as marks of beauty. Nowadays, however, they can be found garbed in t-shirts and rubber sandals, and most young people no longer see this type of body modification as necessary.

As a people, the Aeta have been known to constantly resist assimilation into mainstream Philippine society. In spite of this, they have shown remarkable resilience in the face of mounting external pressures and have lived largely unmolested even in times of great socio-political upheaval. Unfortunately, a sad combination of natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, increasing poverty of neighboring lowland communities, and government apathy have conspired to push the Aeta out of their ancestral lands.

The Aeta are now more vulnerable than ever before. Faced with the destruction and/or misappropriation of their mountain homes, they have descended upon lowland society, ill-equipped to face the realities of modern life. Being a rather isolated and communal people, they have little understanding of things like money, personal property, or government law. Many have succumbed to lives of mendicancy or serfdom, panhandling in bigger cities or working as agricultural laborers for very little pay.

Discussion Comments


I never thought of some site having Aeta as their topic including this. But I do appreciate you guys making us as your topic. Yes I am an aeta. Fortunate enough to pursue my studies in spite of financial difficulties. And thanks to whoever made this article. it's a big help for making my references for my term paper.


they are so kind and approachable. i had a chance to meet them.


how many aetas are now living in the Philippines?

what are there lifestyles as they compare to non-Aetas?


There are three tribes living within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. They have ancestral lands and wander the forests. They also have rudimentary village areas.

I've heard one adult of each family is employed with SBMA, usually as forest guides and their health care and often education is sponsored. It is routine to see them walking along the road near the golf course.

I also know of a tribe about an hour north of SBFZ.


as a black american i am honored to know that the Aetas are indeed black. how many from the philippines actually tell us in america this? that the native stock of their country are so-called "negritos"? Same for china, japan, cambodia, and all of asia. do the knowledge!


I am researching Mount Pinatubo for a research paper and the Aeta lived on the slopes of the volcano. Thank you very much for this article because this will fill up my third page!!


woah dude, these people sound really cool, good thing i have to research them for school.


where can we find Aetas?


Where can we find Aetas in the Philippines?

Do we have Aetas in Zamboanga, Philippines?

Which locations do we have Aetas in significant population?

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