National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee Hannah Reyes studies and documents the transitions to modernity of indigenous culture in Northern Philippines, which is home to a large number of indigenous groups. Improving access to roads, mainstream education, and media is changing their culture as the younger generations assimilate into modern culture. Reyes is creating a visual narrative of this transition, with focus on the old traditions that are surviving, what remains under broader social pressure, and the new forms emerging through the fusion of cultures. Find out more about the project on http://www.indigenoustransitions.com.
I’m in the Northern part of the Philippines, and I’m inside a tiny classroom built inside an Ayta village. The Aytas are the pygmy people of the Philippines and this particular tribe descended the mountain following the violent eruption of Pinatubo in the 90’s. This village used to be their evacuation center. Today, they’ve permanently settled in. The school is a small one and is exclusively for Aytas. When they come of age they transfer to the city’s public high school, where they face issues of discrimination and trying to integrate into the majority culture. For now they study here—it’s safe and quiet and it is close to nature. It’s a lazy, sunny afternoon. Today they’re having an exam. It’s on science. A few finish and they quietly stand up and submit their papers. A barefoot child crosses to the other part of the room and browses through a small pile of magazines. They all contain the bright yellow border that I know all too well. I get goosebumps and a rush of nostalgia comes over me—of my own childhood, browsing through mom’s old copies of National Geographic. As a child this was the reason I dreamt of being an explorer.
One by one the whole classroom stands until they all have copies of National Geographic. A few of them laugh and point at the images of bonobos. Most, if not all of them, have not been to a zoo. I know this story—it’s one of my favorites. The teacher tells me the magazines were donated to the school last week. I look over their shoulders as they flip through the pages of the brilliant photography I’ve always loved. I ask one of them what she thinks.
“I like it,” she says.
“Why?” I ask her.
“Because it shows me the outside world.”