This is inspired by a true story of lessons learned from a tribal guide. Sister Gilda had to hike north the whole day to reach another town from Baler, Quezon in the Philippines to help a priest in Lenten rituals. It was an arduous trek along the narrow strip of coastline. To the left or west was the towering inaccessible Sierra Madre mountain range with its dense rainforest. To the right or east was the mighty Pacific Ocean, the coast plunging deep into the deepest ocean trench in the world.
eastwind journals, June 22, 2022 (archives tr81)
By Bernie V. Lopez, email@example.com
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Because it was dangerous to hike alone in a remote place with no villages around, she asked an Aeta to be her guide. Aetas are aborigines, small dark-skinned nomads with kinky hair, whose ancestors were the first migrants to arrive in the Philippines on foot centuries before the first Malays arrived by boat. During the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, the sea level fell several meters as polar ice caps grew, creating ‘land bridges’ connecting the islands to the China mainland.
As nomads, Aetas are mainly unassimilated and extremely hard to understand, even by seasoned anthropologists. They are regarded by Christians as ‘backward’, yet they have an ancient intuitive wisdom. As a missionary for 15 years, Sr. Gilda spoke the Aeta dialect.
Her 15-year-old guide, Pitong (his Christian name given by the mission), came in g-strings, no shirt, barefoot. He said there was no need to bring food, so they could travel light, as food was available from the nearby forest. After hiking the entire morning, Sister Gilda said she was tired and hungry. Pitong, without a word, left. He came back with four wild giant bananas, the red variety with big seeds, and fresh spring water in a small empty mineral bottle he brought along. (Dialogue reconstructed).
SR. GILDA – (After eating.) Even with a rusty bolo, you got us some food. These are delicious. I have never eaten wild forest bananas before. Maybe you should get some more for the road. It’s a long way to our destination.
PITONG – There is no need, Sister. We get fresh fruits everywhere anytime we get hungry. Besides, they are heavy.
SR. GILDA – I insist. You are strong enough. You never know if there are more bananas where we stop to rest.
PITONG – There is plenty everywhere, Sister.
SR. GILDA – (Raising her voice.) You are only a guide. You should obey me. Go and get some.
PITONG – In Aeta culture, Sister, we are not allowed to take more than what we can eat. We leave some for others. It is an unwritten law. If we violate it, the spirits can give us bad luck.
SR. GILDA – I am not an Aeta.
PITONG – So get it yourself.
Pitong was about to leave and abandon her. Sr. Gilda was almost in tears. Then she realized her arrogance and insensitivity.
SR. GILDA – I am sorry. Yes, you are right, I should respect Aeta laws.
PITONG – It’s okay, Sister. Our ancestors have better rules about Nature and the Earth than Christians who have destroyed the forests.
At mid-afternoon, they had to eat again. So, off Pitong went to the forest. This time he got some avocados and wild mangoes.
PITONG – Sister, the avocados are not wild. They were planted by Aetas perhaps ten years ago.
Upon reaching their destination, Sr. Gilda spoke to Fr. James.
SR. GILDA – Father, I did something terrible. I pounced on Pitong.
PRIEST – You can atone for your offense by offering a Lenten sacrifice.
SR. GILDA – How, father?
PRIEST – I don’t know. It’s up to you.
SR. GILDA – Thank you, father. Lesson learned – never violate Aeta Nature laws.
PRIEST – Yes, uneducated nomads are wiser than us in many ways. They have a primordial respect for Nature. They are more environment-conscious than us. Lesson two. Look up to the ancient people, not down. They have an intuitive wisdom we do not understand.
Sr. Gilda bought a brand-new bolo at the market for Pitong, as her Lenten offering. Pitong was all smiles, and gave Sr. a purse made from tiny beads, made by his wife, which took her two weeks to make. Sr. Gilda was in tears.
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