When Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991 the Aytas had to evacuate from their ancestral lands. Some were even resettled in other regions of the Philippines. LAKAS evacuated ten times down through the lower slopes of the mountain. Now they are settled some 55 kms from their sacred mountain. During June and July this year three Ayta youth delegates from LAKAS visited Australia on a speaking tour and cultural exchange. Their visit in Brisbane was organised as a joint project of SPAN and CPCA with the generous assistance and hospitality of the many friends of the Aytas.
BRISBANE - June 25th
Ngugi Elder Bob Anderson opened the meeting at the Centre for Multicultural Pastoral Care and welcomed our visitors to Brisbane. We were thrilled that Bob could take time from his many responsibilities to be with us. He was recently elected Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Board to the Queensland government. These youngsters were "uybon uybon" (very little) when Kuya (elder brother) Bob first visited their mountain home before the eruption.
He recalled that journey to the Ayta villages during the Asia-Pacific Peace Brigade to the Philippines way back in Dec 88/Jan 89: "When I was on the Peace Brigade, Sister Menngay was our interpreter and she took us through the province of Zambales where we spent some considerable time with the Ayta people. It was quite refreshing for me and the other delegates that were with me, including Aboriginal people who came from as far as Alice Springs and Tasmania, a very representative group to have cultural and spiritual interchange with the Aytas. During that visit I took to calling Sister Menggay bunji, meaning friend, in respect for the work she was and is still doing. Before long our whole delegation was calling her Sister Bunji."
He also spoke of the 1992 visit of Ben Jugatan, Tubag's father, and Palawig Cabalic, Orosco's uncle, in Brisbane with the Council of Aboriginal Elders, community members, and students from the Murri School.
"Cultural interchange, such as these tours," he said, "provide a venue to learn about the range of issues being discussed around the world. I was very touched to see the documentation and photographs of the handing over of the Bihawo project to the Aytas people. Recognition of the people's right to decide for themselves what they wish to do with their country is a great step forward. For me, as an Indigenous person, this is very meaningful. There is a hesitancy on the part of institutions and governments to return to Indigenous people their total rights. The starting point is self-determination.
"The future that is ahead of these young people is boundless. And, it is my perception that there is a great transformation going on throughout the world. Non-Indigenous people are searching for their own history, their own spirituality, their own identification; and it manifests itself in many forms. This is quite heartening because I feel the result will be a richness that will engulf the world and we will all go forward together as friends rather than vying with each other for the confiscation of land and property and cultural expression.
"As an Elder in the community it is my great pleasure to welcome you young people and of course my good friend Sister Bunji."
Orosco began the program with a prayer which Sister Menggay translated:
you very much Apo Namalyari (God the Creator)
Thank you for allowing us to gather here together from different nations
Thank you for the organisers who struggled on for us to be here
Bless each one, bless each country, bless all of us
May this be not the first nor the last time
May this be the beginning of a continuous coordination
We are indeed very glad that nations are trying to reach out to each other
So that we will have a better world, we will have a good world to live in.
Apo Namalyari, thank you.
We then journeyed with our young guests
as they told the story, in their own language, of the Ayta
way of life from before the eruption to now. Sharing with
us their experience of greater empowerment through
combining literacy with their totally oral tradition, they
talked about their efforts to bring the Ayta history onto
the local and international arena of Indigenous Peoples'
These words from Epang, the youngest of
the delegates, are an inspiration for us all: "Even
if our lands were gone because of the eruption, we
preserved our culture and we continue to educate our
people and promote awareness, self-determination and
On the situation of Ayta women she
said, " ...of all the sectors, women were the last to
be organised. We were very slow in organising because we
thought that women do not have any role in society. In our
tribe it was always the men who were ahead. But through a
series of seminars, we were enlightened. Now, I am here in
front of you and I am the first Ayta woman to come here.
This shows that when women are organised, they can come to
power equal with men."