The Aeta (eye-ta) are one of the ethnic tribal groups in the Philippines. Alternatively called Agta, Atta, Ita, Ati, Negritos, or Pugut, they are a dark-skinned people with curly hair, big black eyes, and short statures. These people are believed to be the descendants of the original settlers of the Philippines.
Like the Spanish negrito, or "little black one," the term Aeta (and its many variations) is often believed to be a reference to the people's skin color. Etymological research suggests that the name may come from the word it, which can be extended into itim or itom, meaning "black" in various Philippine languages. The word Pugut, meanwhile, means "forest spirit," alluding to the Aeta's lifestyle.
The Aeta's native religion is quite interesting. For example, they believe in a supreme being but also worship numerous deities who may or may not be under this supreme being's direct command. Anthropologists also suggest that the group are animists, praying to spirits of the trees, forest, and so forth.
Until recently, the Aeta have preferred their traditional dress of simple wraparound skirts (women) and g-strings (men) to conventional modern clothing. They also liked to participate in body scarification, which they viewed as marks of beauty. Nowadays, however, they can be found garbed in t-shirts and rubber sandals, and most young people no longer see this type of body modification as necessary.
As a people, the Aeta have been known to constantly resist assimilation into mainstream Philippine society. In spite of this, they have shown remarkable resilience in the face of mounting external pressures and have lived largely unmolested even in times of great socio-political upheaval. Unfortunately, a sad combination of natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, increasing poverty of neighboring lowland communities, and government apathy have conspired to push the Aeta out of their ancestral lands.
The Aeta are now more vulnerable than ever before. Faced with the destruction and/or misappropriation of their mountain homes, they have descended upon lowland society, ill-equipped to face the realities of modern life. Being a rather isolated and communal people, they have little understanding of things like money, personal property, or government law. Many have succumbed to lives of mendicancy or serfdom, panhandling in bigger cities or working as agricultural laborers for very little pay.