(((DUE TO THE OVERWHELMING INTEREST IN W.A.R., MORE AND MORE WRITERS ARE SHARING THEIR STORIES – SO THE SERIES WILL CONTINUE!)))
Racism isn’t so much of an issue in the Philippines in the same way it is in the USA. However, we continue to have many different tribal groups who are considered a minority in this country. They have, fortunately, been able to preserve much of their old traditions and way of life. This, however, has kept them on the margins of both the urban and rural life of the areas in which they live, which leads to discrimination.
I have had the privilege of coming in close contact with one of these tribal groups known as the Aeta, one of the oldest tribal groups in the Philippines and most probably the first group to settle in the Philippines way before the arrival of the Spaniards. They are shorter than most Filipinos, darker, and have distinctly kinky hair and flat noses. They are semi-nomadic and live in the forest areas far from the urban areas but come into the city to sell the crops they grow and buy canned food and other items. The Aetas I met had been displaced by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. Their biggest problem was (1) being unable to move over great distances and having to be too close to their neighbors, some of whom were not Aetas but people displaced from the barrios near the volcano (lowlanders) (2) the inability to eat canned food.
This short encounter with this particular Aeta group led to my short novel for children called Owl Friends about the friendship between an Aeta boy and a girl from the lowlands. I tackle the issue of discrimination and also bring out the extensive knowledge of the Aetas of medicinal herbs. When I am asked to speak at schools, I show them pictures of an Aeta boy happy in the company of his pet twin monkeys, or Aetas with their handmade bow and arrows or flute. I have other short stories about other tribes such as the Badjao from Mindanao, who are discriminated against simply because they live out at sea, although this is no longer possible.
Hopefully, by introducing children to the fact that there are tribal people who live among us, their awareness is increased and they will learn to treat people who are different with respect and kindness.