AS EVERY Lenten season transforms the Subic Bay Freeport into a tourist magnet for people looking for a break and join in Holy Week activities, Aeta people from different tribes in Central Luzon also gather on sacred ground inside a forest in the port, where tribal customs are passed on to new generations.
The tribes meet in the Boton forest where, they believe, their most holy ancestor, Apu Buk-Kot, turned himself into spirit and joined his creator.
Last month, about 20 Aeta families left their homes at the foothills of Bataan and Olongapo City in Zambales to go to Boton and pay respect to Apu Buk-Kot and their other ancestors.
Bonifacio Florentino, former tribal chieftain of the Pastolan Aeta and member of the festival organizing committee, says his people celebrate Apu Buk-Kot?s spiritual journey ?to connect [the living tribesmen] with the past.?
?We do this every Holy Week in memory of Apu Buk-Kot, who did not die but vanished in this very place. That?s why it is also during this time that he makes his presence felt to us,? Florentino says.
Through this festival, young Aetas and lowlanders who married Aetas are taught about the origin, culture, practices and traditions of the tribes.
During the opening ceremony, Florentino urged the younger ones to continue this kind of gathering, stressing that Apu Buk-Kot wanted to see the tribes ?happily bonding together and sharing food, as well as preserving their rich culture and history.?
Joy Reyes, regional cluster head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, says that the festival is also the time when elders teach new members and children, aged 4 and above, how to live in the forest with only a bolo for making shelter and gathering food.
Children must know how to catch shrimps and crabs in creeks using their hands and identify edible root crops and fruits, as well as sources of water, she says.
They are also taught how to pray in the dialect and dance the way their parents did.
The festival moved to Limay town in Bataan on May 2 to 3. The Aetas were trained in planting, nurturing and harvesting various crops.
A tribal wedding ceremony was also held during the festival.
?We hope that the coming generations will continue practicing our rich culture and tradition, and pass them on to their children so the Aeta heritage will continue to exist through the years,? Reyes says.