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From Jungle Fighters to Tour Guides : Philippines: Negritos taught survival skills to Marines before U.S. left Subic Bay base. Now, area is a center for those who want to experience one of the last areas of rain forest on Luzon Island.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Negrito tribesmen used to teach U.S. Marines how to survive in the jungle. Now the Americans are gone, so they guide tourists through the rain forest.

Negritos worked as instructors in the Jungle Warfare School at Subic Bay naval base until it closed in November, 1992, putting them and 40,000 other Filipinos out of work.

Subic, 50 miles west of Manila, was turned over to the Philippines and converted into a free port and tourism center. Negritos now guide tourists through the 32,000-acre jungle, one of the last areas of tropical rain forest on Luzon Island.

Working as guides enables the Negritos, the original inhabitants of the Philippines, to maintain their ancient way of life. The tours give visitors an opportunity to explore and appreciate the rain forest.

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“Around 60 people are involved in the ecological tours, including about 40 jungle guides,” said tour coordinator Jojo Umali. “We want to preserve the jungle, so we don’t let people hike or camp without a guide.”

The Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority charges the equivalent of $9.25 for a jungle hike and $16.50 to camp in a jungle clearing. The authority keeps $1.85 from each fee and the rest goes into a fund, administered by Negrito elders, that is the sole source of income for Subic Bay’s 1,800 Negritos.

Umali said 200 to 300 people visit the jungle each week. He said most are Filipinos and others come from Taiwan, Japan, America and Europe. Guides lead them along routes ranging from short walks on level ground to arduous climbs on which hikers pull themselves up steep slopes with hanging vines.

Trails so narrow that hikers must walk single file weave through dense stands of bamboo, lush ferns and rare hardwood trees. Wild orchids grow along the moss-covered banks of jungle streams.

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Campsites are simple clearings without running water or other amenities. Negrito guides stay overnight with campers to make sure they do not litter or build unauthorized fires. The survival of the Negrito culture depends on the survival of the rain forest.

Negritos, a race of pygmies known in the Philippines as Aetas or Agtas, are ethnically related to the Melanesians of the South Pacific. After being driven into the mountains and forests, they survived by learning to use the thousands of plants and animals that thrive in the jungle for food, medicine and weapons.

When the Americans controlled Subic, they hired Negritos as trackers to find the poachers and illegal loggers who were responsible for destroying most of the Philippine rain forest. Negritos perform the same function today, in addition to their work as guides.

“If we don’t care for this forest, we will lose our livelihood,” said Domingo Dizon, 28, a guide who worked at the Jungle Warfare School. “Our lives depend on this forest. The Americans taught us that.”

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At the Pamulaklakin settlement, a collection of thatched huts along a jungle ridge, Negritos show visitors how they have adapted to the forest.

“These are Aeta matches,” Sozimo dela Cruz, 34, explained as he rubbed two bamboo sticks together. Moments later, flames rose from bamboo shavings under the sticks.

Juice from thin-leaved cover grass serves as a snakebite remedy. Cinchona bark, the source of quinine, is used to treat malaria. Other plants are boiled into a drink to give mothers strength after childbirth.

“We are poor,” Dela Cruz said. “We don’t have anything, so we use these plants for our living.”

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Negritos use bamboo, which abounds in the jungle, to fashion drinking cups and as fuel to cook rice, the staple diet.

“We eat with our fingers, but the Marines didn’t like to, so we learned how to make spoons and knives out of bamboo for them,” Dela Cruz said.


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