Boatless Badjaos

Badjao houseboat
Badjao houseboat in modern times. (Photo from

I was just telling my neighbor here, Kabsat Kandu, about a chance encounter I had with a Badjao beggar family who were stranded in flooded urban streets, minus their boat.

I was recently in Manila, gulping down my second cup of coffee in a rush to catch an appointment, when someone banged on the steel gate of the old family home (which now housed a printing press) where I was staying. She was waving a letter and shouting in an unfamiliar language. The noisy machine drowned her out, and no one else in the house seemed to want to indulge a visibly desperate beggar.

“My lucky day,” I told Kandu with no trace of irony. Continue reading “Boatless Badjaos”

The half-forgotten Aytas

Boxer codex Negritos
The Boxer Codex included illustrations of pre-colonial Filipinos, including the Negritos (Aetas) depicted here.

In the public mind nowadays, going ethnic has become hip. To wear your tribe’s gaudy colors and beads on gala occasions, or even for everyday work in provinces where ethnic diversity abounds, no longer elicits questioning stares. To declare one’s indigenous or minority roots is no longer as embarrassing as it was in earlier generations.

In fact it’s increasingly worn as a proud badge, on parade even in the halls of the United Nations in this Second International Decade of Indigenous Peoples.

Not so in the case of Aytas or Philippine Negritos. They are the half-forgotten minority among our national minorities, the most oppressed and down-trodden among our indigenous groups. Continue reading “The half-forgotten Aytas”

A fascinating prehistory

Author’s note: I wrote this column piece in 2002, under the same title. It was published in the Nov. 29 issue ( vol. 14 no. 8 ) of the Baguio-based Northern Dispatch Weekly. My son, mentioned as a third-grade school boy in the essay, is now a second-year college student. I often wonder but forget to ask him whether college history textbooks still contain the story of Indonesian-A and Indonesian-B, or have they been expunged. Anyway, my take on the story still stands, and I hope my dear readers will learn something new once they finish reading this piece, which I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting nearly 10 years later.
Cagayan warrior ca. 16th century from the Boxer Codex
Did our ancient ancestors really arrive in the Philippines in waves? Image of Cagayan warrior drawn circa 16th century as part of the Boxer Codex doesn't seem to provide a good answer to this puzzling question of Philippine prehistory.

My younger son is in Grade 3, and sometimes I’m called upon to help him do his homework or review for his periodic exams.

A month ago, as I was checking his homework, we fell into a heated argument.

He claimed that the people of the Cordillera were descended from the first wave of Malays that came over here, while the rest of Luzon lowland peoples (e.g. Kapampangan, Tagalog) and the Visayans were descended from a second wave of Malays. He proceeded to lecture to me that the Malays were preceded by Indonesians, who also came in two waves–Type A and Type B.

I tried to explain to him, in terms an eight-year-old mind could grasp, that the wave migration theory of how our country was populated — most elaborately developed by Dr. H. Otley Beyer — has been debunked by most scholars of Philippine prehistory for quite some time now. But no, my son insisted, I was utterly wrong, and how dare I question his teacher and his textbook!

Continue reading “A fascinating prehistory”