by Abner Dizon
In the Philippines, there is a saying: "One scratch, one Peck." Comparing the poor to a chicken looking for food. There is not enough to leave for tomorrow. What one gets today, is what one eats today. Life is that hard for most lowland Filipinos. My visit with the western Palawanos however made even most poor lowlanders rich in comparison!
My companions and I were on a survey trip to find out about the often heard of, but seldom seen, cave-dwelling tribe of Tau't Bato (literally, "people of the rocks"). The tribe lives deep in the interior jungles of southwest Palawan. We were told that from where our Palawano contact lived, it was a 6-hour trek through the primitive forest. (we already hiked for almost 2 hours from the highway, to find him). Because it was already late in the afternoon, we had to sleep in his hut for the night.
We woke up early the next morning and began our long ardous hike. Our Palawano friend told us that not everyone can visit the Tau't Batu caves. We had to see their chieftain first who lived outside of the perimeter of their village to screen the people who came to see them. In the past, visitors have unwittingly transmitted diseases to them, and having no access to health centers, many of their children easily succumbed and died. Consequently, they are wary of visitors from the outside world. Even things like the common cold have caused complications to their very weak bodies and low immune system.
Around noontime, we arrived at the isolated grass-thatched house of the Tau't Batu chieftain. We told him that we would like to visit his village to know what their needs are. We told him that if they want, we would come and help his people. He agreed only to let us see his village if we went with their official guide. After we had eaten our lunch, we went on our way with our new guide. We were told that we were at least halfway to our destination - around 4 hours more!
The Taut Batu guide was a stocky, muscular young man. He was very friendly to us and walked with the agility of one who was used to running in the jungle. Never mind the fact that he was barefooted and wore no shirt. Slung on his shoulder was an air rifle (the one you pump 30 times to get 10 shots with!) He used it to hunt birds and small animals like rats and snakes. He was also quite good at using a blowgun (a 6-foot long slim bamboo pole with poisoned darts).
Late in the afternoon, as we rested, I decided to take out my snack of biscuits. As I munched on them, I remembered to ask my guide if he had eaten lunch already. He smiled and frankly told me that he did not even eat breakfast yet! I was surprise because there I was, I had both breakfast and lunch and yet was all so zapped. He told me that he is used to eating only once a day. Many times, he said, he had to look for food in the morning, and by the time he had gathered it, it will be late afternoon already. I looked at my biscuit wrapper and felt guilty, but he continued walking without missing a beat. Of course, I shared with him whatever was left of my biscuits!
We arrived at the outskirt of the "cave-village." There we saw men and women scampering about half-naked and kids without any clothes at all. We were only allowed to climb up the bamboo ladder to an empty cave. I imagined what life must be like for the Tau't Batu. There were makeshift bamboo beds, small basins, and scattered tattered clothes on the floor. It was cool and damp inside. I can understand how diseases can easily spread in such an environment. The cave we went to wasn't deep enough but I imagined it was probably dark most of the time.
After the short tour, we climbed down and were entertained in a grass house at the outskirt of the "cave village." Over the fire as we ate our meager dinner, we heard stories of how difficult life is for the Tau't Batu. We were told that there were times when they subsisted on snake meat. I noticed that the walls of their caves were filled with small holes the size of a man's fist. I was told those were snakes' tunnels. To our horror, we heard that sometimes they would insert a small child's leg into one as snake bait. When the snake bites (as evidenced by the child's cry), they pull out the child's leg and grab the snake. The family now had something for dinner!
As I hiked out of that place the following morning, I could not shake the feeling that something must be done to help these people. This tribe is slowly dwindling away. From a thousand adults, they are now down to less than 500. I thought about the need of people in such far flung, isolated jungle villages. Who will go to them and make life a little better for them? Who will go and help them in their livelihood and health needs? Most importantly, who will go and share with them about Jesus?
I know there are enough young men and women in our country
to go and reach these tribes. But there is not enough money to send the
missionaries. Will you help us send missionaries to the Tau't Batu as well as to
the remaining 50 other reported unreached tribes in the Philippines? Your
prayers and financial support will enable us to finally be able to send
missionaries to every unreached tribe in the Philippines, till Jesus comes!
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