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Filipino Tribe Blames Catastrophe on Nature-Tampering With PM-Philippines-Volcano, Bjt

June 15, 1991 GMT

OLONGAPO, Philippines (AP) _ A primitive tribe living at the base of Mount Pinatubo believes the volcano awoke from a 600-year slumber because it was angry that outsiders were drilling for oil and otherwise tampering with nature.

″It is our firm belief that had the lowlanders not disturbed our volcano, it would not have erupted,″ said Victorio Villa, a leader of the Aeta tribe whose members have been evacuated from the slopes of Pinatubo.

The volcano began stirring in April and began erupting last Sunday, forcing the Aetas to flee their homes for evacuation centers.

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Based on rock studies, seismologists believe the volcano’s last eruption occurred in the 14th century.

The Aetas, a Negrito people, are descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. Their ancestors were believed to have arrived across a land bridge that once linked the Philippines with the Asian mainland 30,000 years ago.

They were displaced by Malays, ancestors of most Filipinos, who began arriving from the Celebes islands about 2,000 years ago and drove the Aetas into the jungles and mountains.

Now the Aetas’ descendants are returning to the lowlands to escape deadly fumes, ashes and boiling rocks.

The Aetas are animists, who believe spirits inhabit the rocks, trees, plants - and even the volcano which now threatens them. They blame modern development and the government for their predicament.

The Aetas blame in particular the Philippine National Oil Corp., for drilling around Mount Pinatubo two years ago in hopes of building a geothermal plant. At the time, the volcano was thought to have been extinct since it had not erupted since 1380.

″It had long been asleep, then the PNOC arrived and drilled around it, now it has been awakened and is angry,″ Villa said. ″Now, what will we live off? We have lost our land. We can’t go back there.″

Dolfo Paklay, a tribesman now living at the evacuation center at Olongapo, said that when engineers visited the Pinatubo area last week to study seismic activity, Aeta village leader Romero Reyes told them: ″Get out of our land, you are the cause of our troubles.″

Although Philippine citizens, the Aetas’ lifestyle is far removed from the mainstream. Aetas pay little attention to such aspects of civilization as names and birth certificates.

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Several times, individual Aetas would give different names during the course of interviews. Few know their own age. When a grandfather was asked how old he was, he replied: ″Child, do not ask us those things.″

The Aetas balked at fleeing when the mountain began to show signs of activity last April. Until this week’s eruptions, many returned to their settlements each day to tend their crops and livestock. At night, they went back to the evacuation centers to sleep.

A few refused to leave. They told rescue workers they would rather die at home with their livestock than flee to evacuation centers.

Romeo Corpuz, town mayor of San Marcelino near the volcano, said the Aetas’ animistic beliefs forbade them to leave their mountain homes.

″They believe they are people of the earth and that it is sin for them to leave it. If they have to die up there, then so be it,″ Corpuz said.

In this evacuation center, set up in a public school, Aeta families reject their new surroundings. Children sleep on the pavement instead of mattresses or mats.

The men build makeshift huts from banana leaves to resemble their thatched huts.

The future is uncertain for these simple tribesmen. The only thing they are sure of is that science and modern ways are responsible for their hardships.