Boracay – Who hasn’t heard of the word?
Someone who probably has never been to the Philippines, but even people who have never visited the country are familiar with the name. Once they hear it, their minds conjure images of paradise; white sand that is akin to powder, clear sapphire waters, stimulating nightlife, and unforgettable experiences.
If one travels Egypt and skips the Pyramids of Giza, they miss the essence of being in the country. So it is like going to the Philippines and bypassing Boracay. A chunk of the country’s soul will be overlooked. You have never really gotten to know the Philippines, if you haven’t been to one of the most exquisite places in it – the top tourist destination spot, the island of Boracay.
However there is more to this island than what people know on the surface. The island has a lot of history. Herein lies the oldest ancestors of the Filipinos and Visayan people, which is the Ati tribe. The Ati, also known as the Negrito ethnic group have lived on the island since the 12th century. They were the very first tribe that inhabited the archipelago. Let’s get to know Boracay skin deep by knowing its original settlers.
The Ati tribe arrived in the Philippines from Borneo 20-30,000 years ago. Legend says that at the beginning of the 12th century, A group of 10 Malay chieftains called Datus, fleeing from the island of Borneo, settled in the Philippines. They were granted settlement by the Ati people – the tribes of Panay Island. Datu Puti, Makatunaw’s chief minister made a trade with the natives and bought the plains for a golden salakot (traditional wide brimmed hat of the Filipinos), brass basins and bales of cloth. For the wife of the Ati chieftain, they gave a very long necklace. Feasting and festivities followed soon after.
The culture and history of the Ati tribe is celebrated each year through the Binirayan festival in Antique, a town in Panay which is one hour away from Boracay. Binirayan literally means where they sailed to. Its purpose is to commemorate the arrival of the Ati in the island of Aninipay, which is now Panay, where Boracay is situated. Another festival, which is the Ati-Atihan, literally means to be like the Ati, is also celebrated in Kalibo, a town 30 minutes away from Boracay. People parade, sing and dance in the streets in honor of Santo Nino (the child Jesus). They paint themselves black and wear costumes to be reminded of their earliest ancestors, the Ati.
The Las Vegas of the Philippines
Boracay’s tourism industry generates billions of pesos each year, and that figure continues to grow. Businesses have boomed in the island as well. Boracay contains almost all the ingredients needed for a once in a lifetime experience. There is the spectacular view of the beach, diving spots, extreme sports, shopping, the vibrant nightlife and beautiful, exotic people from all over the globe. It is an island that never sleeps, and even some of the youth today refer to it as “Las Vegas of the Philippines”, what happens in Boracay, stays in Boracay. The party in the island never stops.
Sadly as the commercialization increases, so does materialism and superficiality. What’s truly vital, which is culture, and history are being slowly abated. The Ati tribe has been marginalized and put to the side by businessmen and influential people. The Filipinos are known to glorify having fair skin. Just turn on the television and drive past the billboards. It is impossible not to come across a whitening product being commercialized. Since the Ati tribe possess dark skin, and are not well endowed educationally causing them to live in poverty; they experience a lot of discrimination. Joseph Angan in his article “Beyond the Beach, The Untold Story of Boracay’s Ati Tribe” states:
“The Ati face high unemployment levels in addition to hotels’ encroachment on their native land. Fr. Crisostomo estimates that of the 200 Ati in Boracay, less than 20 work in hotels; and they only get these jobs with the help of the church and the non-profit organization Daughters of Charity. But even so, they experience discrimination from their workmates because of their darker skin and eventually decide to leave. The less fortunate of the Ati end up begging on the beaches.”
The Murder of Dexter Condez
The land they reside in Sito Lugutan was awarded to them by the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) but is still being claimed by other families with big businesses as well, namely the Banicos, Sansons and Gelitos. This conflict was further heightened when Dexter Condez, 26, who is the Ati tribe’s spokesperson, was murdered on February 2013.
The Ati, are people who believe in non-aggression. Even if this is a desirable approach to life, it has been a disadvantage for them. Since they are unable to be assertive even when they are being driven away by influential families and big corporate bullies in their own land. Dexter Condez was the only Ati at the time highly educated and eloquent enough to represent his people on the claim of land in Boracay. On his way home from school, a security guard from Crown Regency hotel, a business that claims the land in Sitio Lugutan, gunned him down. Justice was served when the suspect Daniel Celestino was captured but the wounds in the Ati tribes’ hearts will take a while to heal.
The death of Dexter may be one of the gloomiest occasions for the Ati tribe but it will slowly revolutionize the Ati’s place in Boracay. The government has now fully acknowledged the Ati tribe and constantly gives support to them. Academics and charitable institutions have also been visiting the community to study their culture and to help the Ati discover what was lost. Among these are groups from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, the Daughters of Charity, and the Assisi Foundation.
Boracay can be likened to an extremely gorgeous yet easily swayed woman. On the outside she is perfection but what lies underneath – her identity, influenced by many nations, is still a boggling mystery and crises she has to improve on. Her hair – different shades of clear azure waves, her skin, porcelain with the texture of powder. Her eyes are scarlet, pink and orange like the sunset. Her temperament is 24/7 fun and spontaneous like the nightlife. Her inspirations and tastes are of different variety. She has Greek restaurants, Swiss inns, English breakfast, French crepes, British schools and establishments accommodating Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Australian and North American tourists.
Acknowledging the Ati tribe is a big step. Just by being informed, eliminating discrimination and working hand in hand to support them, we also help Boracay’s identity rise above the oppression. If the Ati tribe incorporate themselves, their customs, beliefs and language to the dispersing culture of Boracay, they help Boracay build back her identity and originality.
Angan, J. (2013, June 16). Beyond the Beach, The Untold Story of Boracay’s Ati Tribe. Retrieved from http://www.kamustamagazine.ph/beyond-the-beach-the-untold-story-of-boracays-ati-tribe.
Ranada, P. (February 26, 2014). Violence looms over Ati tribe Ancestral Domain in Boracay. Retrieved from http://www.rappler.com/nation/51635-ati-tribe-security-threat-ancestral-domain.
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikepedia