Traditional Societies in the Face of Natural Hazards: The 1991 Mt. Pinatubo Eruption and the Aetas of the Philippines

March 2006 (VOL. 24, NO. 1)

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This article explores the response of traditional societies in the face of natural hazards through the lens of the concept of resilience. Resilient societies are those able to overcome the damages brought by the occurrence of natural hazards, either through maintaining their pre-disaster social fabric, or through accepting marginal or larger change in order to survive. Citing the case of the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines and its impact on the Aeta communities who have been living on the slopes of the volcano for centuries, it suggests that the capacity of resilience of traditional societies and the concurrent degree of cultural change rely on four factors, namely: the nature of the hazard, the pre-disaster sociocultural context and capacity of resilience of the community, the geographical setting, and the rehabilitation policy set up by the authorities. These factors significantly vary in time and space, from one disaster to another. It is important to perceive their local variations to better anticipate the capability of traditional societies to overcome the damage brought by the occurrence of natural hazards and therefore predict eventual cultural change.