Welcome to my Book of Mirrors



This is my spiritual journey. I am looking for the truth of who I am and who God is, unfettered by the traditions prescribed by my family, church and culture.

25 February 2008

'I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely.'

Ntozake Shange

Friday, February 8, 2008

Hill Tribe Magic

In 2001 I travelled to the Phillipines where I met an Aeta hill tribe living in the isolated mountains of Zambales, a province in the Central Luzon area.

The Aeta are generally considered the first inhabitants of the Phillipines. Various Aeta groups in Northern Luzon are known in the Ilocano language as 'Pugut' or 'Pugot,' a colloquial term for people with darker skin. This word also means 'goblin' or 'forest spirit.'

During my visit I sat outside the chief's house, where they served me boiled green bananas with sugar and instant coffee. I ate this with great gusto, mostly because I wanted to show them how grateful I was for their generosity, as they clearly lived in poverty.

They pointed out the large tree we were sitting under, and explained (through the translator) that they took the leaves and sold them at the market, as a natural remedy for kidney problems. I have since learned that Aeta women are renowned for their knowledge of herbal medicines.

I can't begin to explain my feelings as I ate with them, walked around their 'village,' saw their rice paddies, mango trees and water buffaloes. In the nearby river, women were washing and children were bathing in the sparkling clear water. One young boy walked past us on his way to the river, handmade fishing rod (a long stick, string and bent metal hook) over his shoulder. It was Huck Finn!

They showed me a hand operated water pump which had recently been installed- they were quite proud. I wanted to drink the water- I almost started pumping- but I was convinced not to by my guides, who told me as a foreigner I would almost certainly get sick if I didn't stick to my bottled water. I really wasn't convinced, but let it go after sensing their alarm.

The image which most clearly stayed in my mind was that of small barefoot children, running in and out of the doorway of the chief's house. My soul cried, 'Oh God, please!' It was one of the most heartfelt prayers I have ever made.

It's all I could articulate but I'll try to explain what I meant.

These people had something I wanted, so badly, it almost makes me cry as I think about it now. I didn't even have children at the time, but I thought if I did, this is what I'd want for them. To run barefoot through the mango groves, eating fresh picked bananas, fishing, bathing and drinking from the same unpolluted river. Even without children, it's what I'd like for myself!

I don't want to romanticise their situation. Despite their seemingly idyllic life, the average life expectancy of the Aeta is 16.5 years. The particular tribe I visited had been recently displaced by the eruption of their volcanic mountain home- the god they worshiped- which had turned against them.

Nevertheless, I came away with the desire to learn to live closer to the earth, learn the 'magic' of these so-called 'goblins' or 'forest spirits.' Even in my wildest dreams I didn't dare to believe that such magic could be real. But it is- I saw it.

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