Before having the opportunity to photograph a traditional Aeta wedding, I had only really heard and read about the Aeta in the context of the Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991. They are an indigenous group who are said to be the first settlers in the Philippines, and many of them are still living a somewhat traditional lifestyle in remote areas of Northern Luzon.
We were planning a trip to the Philippines throughout December anyway. Via a contact at the Aeta foundation, we were delighted to be able to add this special event to our itinerary. It was a four-hour commute at 5 am from Manila to Angeles City then a short drive out to Sapang Bato in Clark to meet Annabel and Dan (the couple). The ceremonies would take place in a remote village in Sapang Bato. To gain access, we had to share a 4X4 vehicle with some of the wedding guests. These vehicles are usually available to bring people into the mountains to reach Puning Hot Springs.
Being the heaviest person in our convoy, I was kept very busy throughout the journey. I kept getting requests to either sit on the front or stand on the back of the Jeep. My weight luckily was sufficient to help maintain traction when climbing or descending the steep hills and, although it felt like we might flip multiple times, we all arrived at the village safe and sound. The village, although very simple, was stunning. A minimalist arrangement of shanty dwelling calved out of jungle-covered mountains intertwined with crystal clear rivers heated by the volcanic activity. Although overcast when we arrived, it was still scorching hot and smoke from the fires and the smell of Chicken Adobo lingered in the air.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this wedding, my wife and I had agreed to approach it with our usual documentary style. Apart from some short portrait sessions, we aimed to avoid interfering and capture the day as it happened naturally. It turned out the wedding plans were straightforward and in some ways similar to a traditional western wedding. First, there would be a blessing ceremony performed by the village elders. There would then be food laid out for all guests to share, and the close family and elders would show a traditional dance. There would also be some large group shots as well as some newlywed portraits.
Like most weddings, this one left us feeling very thankful that we got to be a part of this special day. It was an honour to have access to this lovely community and to meet such a warm group of people. This trip has only furthered our love for documentary wedding photography and film and has us planning our next adventure.