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June 24, 2012

The Ati of Panay and Negros By Daisy Y. Noval-Morales

The Ati, who inhabit the mountain areas of Panay and Negros, are also called Negrito, Ituman, and Negros. They continue to exhibit generally-perceived Negrito traits: short and lean body build; kinky hair, which may be very bushy in the case of women; unblemished and oily dark chocolate-brown to almost black skin; diminutive but broad noses; and round dark eyes. Rahmann and Maceda (1955) believe that Negritos of pure blood still exist in northern Negros, although their number is extremely small and continually reduced by intermarriage with lowlanders.  The Ati speak Hiligaynon (particularly a variant known as Kiniray-a) and some are fluent in Cebuano. Location. 

       There are more Ati in Panay Island (23 barangays in Antique, 21 in Iloilo, two in Aklan, and one in Capiz) than in Negros (three barangays in Negros Occidental). Population. According to H. Otley Beyer (1917), the Ati in Negros during the early part of the century were especially numerous southwest of Escalante and to the north of Kanlaon Volcano. Currently, different sources present varying estimates on the Ati population size. However, the National Statistics Office (NSO) 1995 Population Census places it at 57,000 in Region VI to which both Negros and Panay belong.

Settlement Pattern
       The typical Ati settlement is located near a good water supply. Houses, especially in earlier times, are of the wind-screen type with materials sourced from the forest. The structure consists of two wind-screens brought together to form a gabled roof. The height of the roof varies, but in most cases a grown-up person could stand in the middle of the room. On both sides of the 400 cm. hut, the roof extends almost down to the earth (which serves as the floor of the house) stopping at a height of 25 cm. above ground. In recent years, dwellings imitate houses of lowland Christians with a few traditional features in terms of structure and materials used. 

       Depletion of forest resources, brought about by the clearing of almost all the forests and the steady advance of lowland settlers, has forced the Ati to adopt a semi-sedentary life in contrast to their previous practice of wandering as bands in mountainous regions. They cultivate swiddens to a variety of crops such as rice, corn, banana, sugar cane, beans, vegetables, root crops, and tapioca. Tobacco is also raised in limited quantities. Of the produce, only the surplus may be sold for cash or bartered with products from other Ati groups and Visayan neighbors. Implements used in farming are guna (a kind of sharp knife) and digging stick. Some Ati men know how to plow but since they do not own traction animals, their knowledge is used only when they are hired by Christian farm owners.

       Tenancy. The Ati also work as tenants on lands owned by Christians.  Crop -sharing arrangement is mostly 2/3:1/3 in favor of the Ati. As tenants, the Ati are allowed to cultivate a separate small clearing for personal consumption. They are likewise free to hunt and trap wild animals in the nearby bamboo groves and in the small second-growth forests found along river banks. Wage Earning. During the months of September and October, the Ati hire themselves out as wage laborers in the sugar plantations of wealthy landowners. After work in the plantations, the Ati get employed in the preparation of rice paddies, transplanting of rice seedlings, and cutting of wood. Gathering of Forest Products. The Ati gather rattan for sale and for their own use. During difficult times, they process a poisonous root, called banayong, found in the second-growth forests. The root is thoroughly rinsed with water and dried, then cooked either in water or in coconut milk with salt added. The Ati still continue to gather wild honey from the giant black honey bee called pityokan. Besides honey, beeswax, called kabolay, is also collected, melted, and stored. Sale of medicinal roots and plants constitutes another means of livelihood for the Ati. The herb doctors (herbolarios) travel as far as Negros, Cebu, Bohol, and even Mindanao to market their products. Hunting. In previous years, hunting (pangayam or panganup) played a significant role in the Ati economy especially during the rainy season (November to early part of January). The practice has, however, declined throught the years. Game-hunted include birds, wild pigs, deer, monkeys, iguanas, monitor lizards, wild cat, and wild chickens. Assisted by dogs, the Ati use bow and arrows. Sometimes they go hunting without the dogs and armed only with a small light spear called sumbiring (about 3 feet long having a 1 cm. shaft with a barbed point) especially effective for monkeys. The Ati also use different traps and snares. The division of the hunting harvest reflects the value attached to sharing. The person who kills the animal gets a double share with the rest of the members of the hunting party dividing the catch equally among themselves. Onlookers at the quartering of the game also receive a small portion called saga; a pregnant woman is given a double saga. The dog and its owner share in the harvest, even if the latter fails to join the hunting trip. Fishing. Fishing now seems to be more important than hunting. The women engage in pamunit (pick up) to catch a kind of goby (Chronophorus melancephalus) using a bamboo stick one meter long and one cm. thick with several earthworms tied to the end. When dipped into the water and the nibbling of fish at the bait is felt, the stick is swiftly raised and the catch placed in a container. Pangantipara, on the other hand, is practised by boys. Wearing fisherman’s goggles, they shoot fish with a spear of wire (bidyo) propelled by two strands of rubber bands. To catch olang (giant shrimp), the Ati fashion a harpoon (bidyo) that has a barbed point and a piece of string tied around the spear, thereby preventing the catch from swimming away. The usual method of catching eel and other larger fish in the streams is with the hook and line, called karakbonit. The Ati bait the lines in the afternoon and remove them the next morning. Other times they go fishing with their bare hands: simply groping under the stones along the river banks to catch small fish, shrimps, and crabs. The Ati have also learned to use destructive methods of extraction such as poison and the use of blasting powder, further depleting resources. Other Sources of Income. Additional income is generated from other sources such as: handicraft production (mats, receptacles, bracelets, wallets); bow and arrow making; making of the yoke; animal-raising; employment as household help; begging on Fridays; and serving as midwives (mananabang) or medicine-men/women.

Political Organization

       Leadership. The Ati society recognizes a headman or "chief". This is acknowledged by the local government when they appoint a headman whom the Ati trust, and who is also accessible to the authorities. The Ati identified gets no monetary compensation but bears the responsibility of maintaining peace and order among his people, of arresting and, if necessary, of delivering Ati law-breakers to the authorities. The headman also settles disputes among the different Ati groups and designates special representatives in settlements he cannot personally visit. The latter report to him the conditions in their own localities. In addition to the headman, other individuals regarded with respect in the community are the medicine-men/women. Property and Ownership. Private ownership of both immovable and movable goods is recognized. Things manufactured by an individual (e.g., bow and arrows, receptacles) are considered personal property. The Ati no longer possess land, although some of them make a claim to holdings. Upon the death of parents, properties are inherited and shared equally by the children. The division is usually referred to and managed by the leaders of the settlement. Relations with Other Groups. The Ati live in harmony with their Christian neighbors as well as with the other Ati groups. From the contact with lowlanders, they have imbibed the habit of drinking, but are careful to keep out of any trouble which may result from intoxication. They have also learned to gamble and smoke.

Kinship and Family
       Family Life. The Ati family, a closely-knit organization, consists of father, mother, and children, natural or adopted. In most cases each family has its own home. The father, though the undisputed head of the family, consults his wife on all important decisions concerning the family's welfare. Old age, wisdom, and strength are recognized as qualities that should be respected. The elders of the settlements are thus always approached for important matters concerning the Ati’s welfare. Courtship and Marriage. The Ati have to a large extent been influenced by the marriage customs of the Christian Filipinos as indicated by the Spanish terms which they currently use. But inspite of this extensive borrowing, some elements and survivals of their former marriage customs can still be gleaned. The act of courting is called pangaluyag. From the age of fourteen, boys and girls think of founding a family. A man courts in other settlements since those who reside within one community are usually related by blood. As soon as a couple decide to marry, the man sends his parents or relations to the family of the woman. The intention of seeking permission for marriage is relayed by a portador (go-between), usually an old man, a relative who enjoys the respect of both sides. If the prospective groom has no relatives, usually one of the elders of the settlement arranges the wedding feast as well as matters concerning the bride-price, if there is any. (Among the Ati of Negros, the bride-price is known as bugay and the wedding feast is called convite; the pre-marriage discussion is dulong or pamalaye among the Ati of Iloilo). There are cases where the woman’s parents opt to defer the wedding until the man has provided a new house for himself and his future wife. After things concerning the wedding have been agreed upon, the man stays in the house of the prospective parents-in-law to serve them for a period varying from one month to about one year. When the service (pangagad among the Ati of Negros) is over, the go-between again approaches the woman’s parents to discuss final wedding preparations. Upon the completion of all requirements, the marriage is performed by a person called huwes (judge, from Spanish juez), an Ati appointed to this post by the headman. For a wedding feast, pigs, goats, and some chickens - usually contributions from the groom’s parents and relations - are butchered. The neighboring Ati groups and some Christian Filipinos get invited to the celebration, where dancing follows the feasting. An exchange of rice balls formerly formed part of the marriage ceremony. After the ceremony, the huwes gives counsel to the new couple regarding their duties and behavior as marriage partners. In Calatrava and San Carlos towns in Negros Occidental, a marriage custom known as flight-and-pursuit was previously practised. This entailed the actual pursuit of the woman by the prospective groom in the forest or around a hill/mound or a field. Once caught, she may be considered his wife. A small fire would be built and the couple’s hands clasped over it by the designated officiator. Then a dance would follow. With the Ati becoming increasingly acculturated, these practices have undergone significant changes, if not totally abandoned. In some groups, couples simply live together without the benefit of a wedding ceremony. In others, the prospective groom would perform the pangagad but no longer required to give a bugay. Some Ati now get married in the Catholic church. In cases where the groom backs out of his obligation to marry after the bride-price has been settled and the wedding preparations arranged, he must pay an amount to protect the girl’s honor (kadunganan) which has been tainted by a broken promise. Union between close relatives, e.g., first degree cousins, is prohibited. Moreover, illicit relations among single individuals are usually frowned upon and, if discovered, may lead to immediate marriage. Post-Marital Residence. The married couple may initally stay with the parents of the woman. Later they establish their own household, usually in the settlement where the man’s parents live. In most cases, a widowed mother-in-law is allowed to stay with the married couple if she chooses to. Monogamy, Polygamy, and Divorce. The Ati are predominantly monogamous since, generally, the groom cannot afford to support more than one wife. In earlier times, however, cases of concubinage were reported. A man with concubines is allowed to leave his wife and children in the old hut, and set up a new household for himself and the concubines. However, if the wife enters a relationship with another man, she has to refund the expenses which the husband incurred when they married, even if they have children. And if she returns to her husband after having left him, the latter determines her fate. Divorce, although said to be practically non-existent among the Ati, is allowed if one of the two has been unfaithful. It is then arranged through mutual consent after which both are free to remarry other partners of their choice. Ati married life is not always harmonious. Once in a while there may be a serious misunderstanding causing the man to run away from his family. Such deserters are usually reported to the huwes, then to the headman. When the problem cannot be settled, it goes to the civil authorities. Naming of Children. The Ati have the custom of giving pet names to their children. Usually the name would be that of the place or tree located near where the child was born. If, for example, the child was born near the root of a tree, he/she may be called kadalid (dalid meaning root). But the practice is said to have disappeared since the Ati now give their children Christian names.

       God, Spirits and Sacrifices. Currently, baptized Ati pray to the Christian God. Those less influenced by Christianity profess to believe in magwala or magdili. Another spirit being identified is abog, the chief herdsman of wild pigs and deer. This chief is assisted by makalisang and kangil-iran. In a ceremony, called daga or diwata, meat of two roasted or boiled chickens placed on a small table, usually in the forest, are offered to the "herdsmen" invited to partake of the preparation. It is claimed by an informant that if the invitation is answered, the meat would disappear from the table. Among the Ati of San Carlos and Calatrava, in Negros, a religious festival is held after the rice harvest (in November), during the full moon. Pigs and chickens are sacrificed to spirit beings. However, this sacrifice is no longer performed by some Ati groups. The Ati also conduct the first-fruits sacrifice of the hunt where bits of meat are offered for the bakero or the tawo-nga-talonon, the spirits of the forest. This is done in order to establish good relations so the Ati would have luck in hunting. This practice, however, is disappearing. 

Medical Practices
       The tuob is a ceremony performed for a sick child by the medicinal practitioner. He/she often uses beeswax and certain roots and plants for medical purposes. Examples of these are leaves of the buyo (betel) to reduce swellings of the body and bulasa plants for ringworm infection. Leaves of the tree called saong nga lunay, and the roots of the bologanon and dugoan vines and of the dugoan tree are taken by mothers for post-partum recovery. Certain animal parts are also considered to have curative value. Pieces of deer's porous antler found among burnt trees in swidden sites can cure snake, dog, and catfish bites. Turtle bile boiled in water and taken by the asthmatic and tubercular person has been found to be effective.
About the Author:

Daisy Y. Noval-Morales obtained her graduate studies in Anthropology at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She works as a freelance researcher and designs/implements monitoring and evaluation studies.

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