Archive for August, 2010

Herbal Medicine from the Aetas

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

The Philippine Daily Inquirer had this news item to day, August 29, 2010. It includes a story from Carling Domulot, Aeta leader and ELF leader-graduate.

Some years ago, when ELF, in partnership with PBAZ, started an Alternative Learning System (ALS) for Aeta out of school youth and adults, the PBAZ leaders asked why the modules of the Department of Education did not include any on indigenous peoples’ rights, or on Aeta culture, including their health practices. We asked them (and helped them) to produce special learning modules on these topics.

I think we should ask them to produce additional modules on herbal medicine.

In villages of Aetas, cure found in plants

Tonette Orejas

MABALACAT, Pampanga, Philippines—Villagers in Barangays Marcos and Macapagal here boil the leaves of acacia and roots of cogon together. The mixture is an old solution to high fever and malaria and is used to wash the patient down to lower his body temperature.

It is now being used to combat dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

Patients are made to drink a concentrated version of the mixture, according to Robert Serrano, a tribal leader in the two villages.

Acacia and cogon abound in the area.

But Aetas do not rely only on this indigenous cure, he added. They avail themselves of medical help and medicines at the provincial government-run Mabalacat district hospital in the town proper.

The Aeta way

In Barangay Bihawo in Botolan, Zambales, the 150 Aeta families there keep dengue away by keeping their resettlement site clean, according to Carlito Domulot, chair of the Lubos na Alyansa ng mga Katutubo Ayta sa Sambales (Lakas).

For two years now, they have maintained an organic farm in nearby Barangay San Juan where they grow 100-percent chemical-free vegetables.

“There is not one case of dengue in our tribe for years,” Domulot, 55, said in a phone interview. “Mosquitoes are rare here,” he added, referring to the carriers of the dengue virus.

Should a dengue case occur, Domulot said he would go up their old village at Villar near Mt. Pinatubo to look for “kupit-kupit,” a highland grass that rises to a person’s knee.

The leaves are heated and pressed on the forehead of a sick person. The roots are boiled to produce a mixture for drinking, Domulot said.

Other cures

For Aetas originally from Barangay Poon Bato in Botolan, Zambales (they now live in Itanglew resettlement), the big leaves of a tree called “dita” is a cure for high fever and malaria.

Elsa Novo, a village councilor, said old folk used dita during the malaria outbreaks in evacuation centers from 1992 to 1994. The tree is difficult to find in the upper slopes of Mt. Pinatubo, she said.

Aetas have growing trust for modern medical help, Novo said. Last week, a 17-year-old boy survived dengue because his parents immediately took him to a local hospital.

In Ifugao, which recorded 187 dengue cases from January to July this year, indigenous communities have also resorted to their old remedies against malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which used to be their bigger seasonal health problem.

Santos Bayucca, an Ifugao environmental advocate, said villagers have started burning dried peelings of locally grown pomelo. The smokey pomelo aroma had been credited for warding off mosquitoes and other insects, Bayucca said. With a report from EV Espiritu, Inquirer Northern Luzon

Sr. Menggay of the Aetas

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010


This morning, Ka Carling, one of the Aeta leaders of LAKAS and PBAZ, dropped by our place on his way to attending the La Nina Summit tomorrow. We reminisced about the early years of literacy work among the Aetas, which was assisted by the FMM sisters led by Sister Menggay. He asked: “There is supposed to be a write up on her after she died, but I haven’t read it.” I told him that I think it was Ceres Doyo who wrote about Sister Menggay, and promised to post it.
I consider the work of ELF with the Aetas, especially our literacy and ALS program with LAKAS and PBAZ a continuation of the pioneering work of Sr, Menggay and the FMM sisters three decades ago. Ceres Doyo’s column is a fitting tribute.
“MAY YOUR spirit fly to the bosom of Apo Namalyari,” a sobbing Aeta leader wearing only a G-string said at the funeral Mass for Sr. Carmen “Menggay” Balazo last week, on Aug. 5. We were gathered at the convent chapel of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM) in Carmona, Cavite. Present were Sr. Menggay’s fellow FMM nuns, her immediate family, friends and representatives of the Aeta community who came all the way from Zambales.
After the Mass we all proceeded to the FMM convent in Tagaytay City. Sr. Menggay was laid to rest directly in the ground in the FMMs’ beautiful burial place on the ridge which has a breathtaking view of Taal lake and volcano. The sun broke through the dark clouds as we bade Sr. Menggay goodbye, sang and threw flowers at her moist grave. Everything around was suddenly bright and green and the lake beyond turned misty blue.
And I thought of another volcano, Mount Pinatubo in Zambales, at the foot of which Sr. Menggay and her fellow FMMs spent years living and working among the Aetas. I knew their work. I had gone there in the 1980s when they began, and followed them after the 1991 world-class volcanic eruption that set them off on a historic exodus. But I am going ahead of the story.
Born 71 years ago in Misamis Occidental, Sr. Menggay passed away on Aug. 3 after a year-long battle with a lung ailment. She was ready to go. As the story went, the day before she died, she raised her arms and exclaimed several times, “Now, Lord!” And then conceded, “Tomorrow na lang.” (How we laughed over that.) Tomorrow did come and she was taken into the bosom of her God whom the Aetas reverently call Apo Namalyari.
I came to know Sr. Menggay during the martial law years. A bunch of us greenhorn activists (religious and lay) frequented the FMM convent in Pandacan where she was based and later became superior. Now I can say that the place was a hub for praying, reflecting, eating and, uh, plotting.
While fixing my files of photos and negatives last weekend, I found photos of Sr. Menggay. Sharp black-and-white and graphic colored ones that I took show her standing beside a naked corpse of an activist who was killed at a rally in September 1985. We were present at the autopsy.

Sr. Menggay who happened to be in Manila at that time called me in the dead of night to accompany her to the morgue. In the absence of the victim’s family, Sr. Menggay took charge. I was with her in choosing the coffin. In the afternoon, the victim’s next of kin arrived from the province. After snapping a photo of Sr. Menggay comforting the grieving relatives, I ran outside, slumped on the sidewalk and sobbed.
At that time, Sr. Menggay had already begun working among the Aetas. I visited the new FMM community in Sitio Yamot in Poonbato, Botolan, Zambales, in 1982. There was no water source in the area. Water had to be brought from the town and everyone took a bath only every three days. I observed the organizing and adult education work among the Aetas and wrote about it in a magazine.
I did go back after a couple of years (to surreptitiously document and write about the US-RP war games in the area with an Aeta as guide). This time the community had water and was abloom with orchids. The nuns’ cogon-thatched house had become bigger and the Aetas’ homes stood neatly in a row. That was the last time I would see the place. In June 1991 Yamot was buried in volcanic ash and the village was no more. But Lakas (Lubos na Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta ng Sambales), which Sr. Menggay helped organize, would live on. Lakas could be considered Sr. Menggay’s legacy.
Sr. Menggay and the FMMs journeyed with the Aeta-Lakas community as they searched for the “promised land.” I wrote a feature on their search (“Somewhere, a buried village will rise again,” July 7, 1991) for the Sunday Inquirer Magazine.
The book “Eruption and Exodus: Mt. Pinatubo and the Aytas of Zambales” is about the Aetas’ journey before, during and after the volcanic eruption. Sr. Menggay shot the photos, Sr. Emma Fondevilla wrote the text, Lorna K. Tirol copy edited. My August 1991 column piece, “Yamot is in the Heart,” served as foreword. To show their appreciation, Sr. Menggay and the Aetas brought me sack loads of Pinatubo pumice stones for my garden and a copy of the book with dozens of Aeta signatures.
Let me say, and Sr. Menggay would attest to this, that it was the Aetas, along with Sr. Emma (a scientist who was then also working among the Aetas, and now the superior of the FMM Philippine Province) that first alerted the incredulous scientific community about the rumbling of Mt. Pinatubo which had been dormant for 600 years. It was first in the Inquirer.
Sr. Menggay transcended ideologies, religious affiliations and cultures. After Lakas had become deeply rooted among the Aetas Sr. Menggay and the FMMs moved on. She traveled to far places and readily shared her experiences with the indigenous peoples of the Asia-Pacific region, sometimes taking Aeta leaders along. She was also involved in interreligious dialogue.
Sr. Menggay is truly a daughter of the Church, a follower of St. Francis, a disciple of Blessed Mary of the Passion (1839-1904), the courageous French nun who laid the foundation of the Franciscan congregation in the wilderness of India. Like her FMM sisters who were martyred in China during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion (canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000), she did not shirk danger and remained true to her missionary calling, passionate and compassionate till the end.
The Aetas will always be in her heaven-heart and she in theirs.