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Waray People of Samar and Leyte: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Indigenous Tribes | Philippines Ethnic Group]

Waray People of Samar and Leyte: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Indigenous Tribes | Philippines Ethnic Group]

Waray refers to both the people of Samar and Leyte and their language, also known as Lineyte-Samarnon. As a people, the Waray identify themselves according to their place of origin. Those who come from Samar call themselves Samareños, while those who come from Leyte call themselves Leyteños.

Samar, the third largest island in the Philippines, occupies the northernmost part of Eastern Visayas. It is bounded by the San Bernardino Strait on the north and the Leyte Gulf on the south. Samar consists mainly of low, rugged hills and small lowland areas like those in Calbayog and in the valley of the Gandara River.

Leyte is composed of the main portion of Leyte Island situated north of Southern Leyte, and the islands of Gigantangan and Maripipi. It is bounded by the Camotes Sea on the west, Leyte Gulf on the east, and Carigara Bay and Samar Sea on the north. Leyte’s topography is characterized by rugged mountains that reach a maximum height of over 1,200 meters. Leyte Valley, which bisects the central range and the northeastern range fronting San Juanico Strait, is considered the largest lowland area in the province. On the western side is the Ormoc Valley, another large lowland area. The San Juanico Bridge, originally named Marcos Bridge, crosses San Juanico Strait and links the two islands. The Waray also live in the islands of Maripipi, Hinamok, Homonhon, Daram, Zumarraga, and Capul. Biliran, another island predominantly Waray populated, is a separate province.

The Waray language is also called Lineyte-Samarnon and Binisaya. In some islands and the southern part of Leyte, as well as in some small islands of Samar, Binisaya is spoken. The 2000 census estimates the Waray-speaking population—excluding those who identify themselves as Bisaya or Binisaya—to range from 2.2 to 2.5 million, which is 3.4% of the total Philippine population. Their dispersal throughout the Philippines is recorded as follows, from greatest to smallest number: Leyte, 597,633; Samar, also known as Western Samar, 585,342; Northern Samar, 460,390; Eastern Samar, 366,787; Biliran, 57,020; Caloocan City, 37,523; Cavite, 37,006; Manila, 35,654; Valenzuela City, 9,128; Laguna, 7,936; Cebu, 1,247; Southern Leyte, 536; and Lucena City, 502. With a 1.48 growth rate, the total Waray population would have been 2.7 million in 2014.

Video: How to be Waray in Samar - Be captured by the bravery of Waray and the beauty of Samar with its famous pork tamales, abundant seafoods, exotic dishes, water adventure and almost hundreds of cave. Join biyaHERO Drew as he experienced the Waray culture in Biyahe ni Drew’s Samar adventure.

History of the Waray Tribe

Early historical records reveal that the Waray had a flourishing culture and political organization before the advent of the Spaniards. They had their own system of writing, art, science, and technology. They established trade linkages with the Chinese, Borneans, and Malays.

Oldest known depiction of a war dance and Visayan houses
Oldest known depiction of a war dance and Visayan houses, 17th century (La Historia de las Islas e Indios Visayas del Padre Alcina 1668, Instituto Historico de Marina, 1975.)

In 1521, Magellan, a Portuguese navigator sailing under the Spanish flag, landed on the island of Homonhon, which he used as a jump-off point for Limasawa, a prosperous 1,295-hectare island settlement on the southern tip of the Leyte mainland. Limasawa was the site of two famous events in Philippine history: the sandugo or blood compact between Magellan and Kolambu, son of the Rajah of Limasawa, during a banquet given by Magellan on 29 March 1521; and the celebration of the first Mass on 31 March 1521. Kolambu and Siagu, both sons of the Rajah of Limasawa, and other natives joined the Spaniards in prayer. As a climax to the celebration, Magellan planted a cross on top of a hill and symbolically took possession of the islands in the name of Spain.

In 1543, a group of Spaniards from the Villalobos expedition landed in Leyte in search of food. The island, originally known as Tandaya, became the first island to be called Filipina. The third conquistador to arrive in Leyte was Legazpi, who passed through Abuyog and Limasawa. Legazpi used the Panaon Strait as entry point to the islands.

The group of islands in central Philippines was inhabited by people whose bodies were covered with tattoos. Hence, the Spanish colonial government, which administered these islands as one province, named it and its people the “Pintados.”

Evangelization of the Waray began when the Jesuits established their first mission in the ancient village of Tinago. On 15 October 1596, the first priests and a brother—Father Francisco Otto, Father Bartolome Martes, and Brother Domingo Alonso—arrived and established their central residence here. A cholera epidemic was raging at the time of their arrival, and many villages along the western coast were affected. This gave the priests an opportunity to win the trust of the natives. By 1598, a church had been built in Tinago, and six other capillas (chapels) constructed in nearby villages.

By 1618, Cebu and Panay had been named the Visayas, while all its neighboring islands, including Leyte and Samar, were still called the Pintados.

After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768, most of the parishes they established such as those in Tinago, Catbalogan, Capul, Calbayog, Calbiga, Palapag, Tubig, Catarman, and Borongan, were ceded to the Franciscans, while others, such as those in Guiuan, Basey, Palo, Dagami, Tanauan, Tacloban, Carigara, Maasin, and other towns of Leyte, were given to the Augustinians.

The recorded history of the Waray is replete with internal and external troubles, such as slave raids, which led to bloody confrontations with marauders across the seas, popular resistance against Spanish levies, and forced labor. Early signs of patriotism were insular in both motive and attitude. The Bangkaw Revolt in the 1620s, which had Carigara, Leyte as its center, was motivated by the people’s desire to return to traditional religious roots. When Legazpi landed in Limasawa in 1565, Bangkaw and his high priest Pagali had welcomed the Spaniards and were among the first converts. Relations later turned sour, however, and the Waray warriors rose in revolt. The uprising spread to the neighboring towns.

In 1649, the Sumuroy Revolt began as an act of personal vengeance of Sumuroy against a Spanish clergyman in Palapag, Samar. But the rebellion spread when Samareños and Leyteños were conscripted and forced to work in the shipyards of Cavite. The revolt extended to nearby towns and, in Mindanao, to Caraga, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, and Zamboanga.

In the late 19th century, a spontaneous but fragmented movement called dios-dios, which practiced a mix of indigenous and Christian rites, emerged in numbers sufficient to alarm the region’s Spanish governor. Although it was not till the 1880s that gatherings of dioses, as they were called, occurred with increasing frequency, it had been preceded by an episode in 1862, when an elderly woman named Benedicta, also known as La Santa de Leyte, gathered around 4,000 followers from towns such as Tanauay, Burawen, Damagi, and Palo, and led candle-lit processions toward Mount Agani. In 1883, a cholera epidemic triggered mass pilgrimages to the Saint Francis of Assisi shrine at Bonga, Samar. The Spanish authorities perceived this phenomenon as a threat to the colonial order and proceeded to disperse the crowd by force. In March 1884, a series of gatherings had crowds numbering between 4,000 and 7,000 pilgrims. These gave rise to increasingly violent confrontations with government forces, which climaxed in April 1884 with a battle between the guardia civil and 1,500 bolo-wielding pilgrims, 257 of whom were arrested. Nevertheless, clandestine gatherings and recruitment in the mountains continued.

The dios-dios filtered into Leyte from Samar, and in 1889, the first of what would be a series of arrests in Leyte was made in Barugo. Found in this gathering of 48 captured dioses were banners, blank cedulas, crucifixes, a librito of oraciones (booklet of prayers) in pidgin Latin, and slips of paper with scribbled oraciones addressed to P. Burgos. The fragmented nature of the dios-dios movement appealed mostly to the province’s abaca farmers, who lived in dispersed settlements in the hinterlands but as dioses would gather in a makeshift hut in someone’s abaca farm. Thus, the Spanish authorities saw the dios-dios activities not only as acts of subversion but as a threat to its export economy, which depended much on Leyte’s abaca production. Those who were arrested were deported to prisons in Manila, the San Ramon penal colony in Zamboanga, and Jolo. Among the dioses who eluded capture was Faustino Ablen, who would later become a leader of the pulahanes movement that fought against American invasion in 1899.

It was in these circumstances, over the centuries, that the shift from patriotism, or the love of one’s place of origin, to nationalism began to occur. The Revolution of 1896 did not readily spread to Leyte and Samar. But on 31 December 1898, General Vicente Lukban, an officer of Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces, arrived in Catbalogan from Camarines, Bicol. Under his command, the Waray joined forces with the expeditionary troops from Luzon to expel the Spaniards from Samar.

Until February 1902, Lukban controlled all of Samar and some parts of Leyte. As the chief military officer, he held command responsibility over this region; as such, he is credited with the attack and defeat of an American camp in Balangiga, Samar on 27 September 1901. Hiding behind church and funeral rites, Captain Eugenio Daza and his guerrillas entered the village and, aided by the Samarnon, attacked Company C of the Ninth Infantry commanded by Captain Thomas Connell. All three Americans were injured, and among the 38 killed were the officers of the company. Soon after, the Americans, following orders from General Jake Smith to “kill and burn,” retaliated with a scorched-earth policy, slaying whole village populations besides that of Balangiga and turning Samar into a “howling wilderness.” Smith gave orders that all Filipinos, except those who collaborated with the Americans, were to be treated as enemies, and no one above 10 years of age was to be spared.

With the entry of General Lukban and the expeditionary force from Luzon, the Waray realized that they were fighting not only for themselves but also for the country. They continued to fight until 1902 when Lukban was captured. Later, as hostilities declined and the rest of Samar and Leyte were making peace with the new colonizers, some revolutionaries went to the mountains and combined forces with the Pulahan, a movement that had started as a millenarian dios-dioscult of the mountain folk of Samar in the 19th century. With the Pulahan, the nationalist movement acquired a mystical dimension, with its members believing that the anting-anting (amulets) could make them invulnerable in battle. The Pulahan were distinguished by their red trousers or by a red piece in their clothing.

Resorting to ambushes, the Pulahan attacked the agents of the American government with spears, crescent-shaped bolos, and other bladed weapons. Their movement spread to Leyte, where Faustino Ablen, formerly of the dios-dios movement, reemerged as a strong pulahan leader. After his capture in 1907, the movement dispersed to other islands, notably Surigao, where they were known as the colorums. The conflict between the Pulahan and the Americans was a long drawn-out war, which in later decades, Japanese soldiers, and some adventurers and bandits, used to their advantage.

The American colonial authorities established the provincial government; thus was Leyte administered under Act No. 121, enforced in April 1901, following the wartime government that had operated since late 1899, with Colonel Arthur Murray as first military governor. Appointed first civil governor of Leyte was Henry T. Allen. From 1906 onward, Filipinos governed the province, the first being Jaime de Veyra. In 1928, the municipalities were classified, and in 1931, Leyte was subdivided into five congressional districts. Leyte also sent 10 delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1934.

The region experienced relative peace during the Commonwealth period. Barker B. Sherman, the first division superintendent for Leyte and Samar, reintroduced formal schooling in 1902. A normal school was established in 1902 and the Leyte High School in 1903; the curriculum was revised in 1907. The medium of instruction shifted from Spanish to English. The educational system was reinforced with the opening of private schools such as the Holy Infant Academy in Tacloban, the Santo Niño de Cebu in Tanauan, and St. Peter’s Institute in Ormoc. Also significantly improved were public facilities and infrastructure, particularly those related to transportation and communication. In April 1937, the Baybay-Abuyog intercoastal road was officially inaugurated.

At the outbreak of the Pacific War in 1941, the Leyte Provisional Regiment, composed of 1,968 soldiers and 98 officers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Causing, defended the province against the Japanese. This regiment belonged to the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE). Although the civilian population supported the military in armed resistance, General Wainwright’s capture inevitably led to the surrender of the American troops under Colonel Theodus Cornell, Leyte and Samar’s Section Commander. The Japanese forces landed in Leyte on 25 May 1942 and were received by the provincial officials Pastor Salazar and Jose Veloso. Some 2,000 to 5,000 Japanese were stationed mainly in Ormoc and Tacloban, and minor garrisons were erected in the nearby towns. At first, an expedient resistance movement was formed out of remnants of the Philippine Army and the Constabulary, as well as bands of disaffected youth. Later, these guerrilla units were organized into sectors headed by Captain Glicerio I. Erfe in the east, Alejandro Balderian in the north and northeast, Blas Miranda in the northwest, and Colonel Ruperto Kangleon in the south. The nucleus of the organized opposition consisted of David Richardson’s efficient intelligence system; the Southern Leyte guerilla units, also known as the 94th Infantry Regiment, under Gordon Lang; and the Free Leyte government under Salvador Demetrio, this government being the principal counterpart of the Philippine Commonwealth de jure. All this was suppressed by bolstered Japanese forces in mid-1943; thereafter pacification entailed violent methods.

Sergio Osmeña sworn into office as president of the Philippines by General Arthur MacArthur at the Leyte Capitol Building
Sergio Osmeña sworn into office as president of the Philippines by General Arthur MacArthur at the Leyte Capitol Building, 23 October 1944 (Manuel L. Quezon III Collection)

General Douglas MacArthur, commander-in-chief of the United States forces in the Pacific, landed on 20 October 1944 at Palo Beach, Leyte. Soon after, the Commonwealth government was restored, and President Osmeña appointed Colonel Kangleon as acting provincial governor of Leyte. Prior to official liberation from the Japanese, fighting in the region continued, as in the battles of Breakneck Ridge, and Kilay Ridge, both in the municipality of Capoocan.

After the war, food production and education were the priorities of the Commonwealth government, then later on, the Philippine Republic. An estimated 1,198,800 pesos was needed to restore damaged school buildings. The war slowed down agricultural output by 70%. The economy also had to be revived, a task made more complicated by the printing of “Victory pesos,” which led to inflation. An Emergency Control Administration was established to manage the situation.

In July 1973, the building of the Marcos Bridge, later renamed San Juanico Bridge, linked Leyte and Samar islands, hence providing the infrastructure for the movement of economic activities between the two islands. Nevertheless, Leyte-Samar has remained underdeveloped. In 2006, Eastern Visayas was the fifth most impoverished region in the country, with 48.5% of its population classified as poor. The average family income that year was 125,731 or 10,478 pesos monthly.

The region suffers regularly from natural disasters such as typhoons, landslides, floods, earthquakes, erosion, volcanic eruptions, and sinkholes. On 5 November 1991, a flashflood in Ormoc City and Burauen, Leyte killed about 8,000 people; in February 2006, a landslide in Guinsaugon, Saint Bernard, Southern Leyte, buried a whole village and killed about 1,200; and on 19 December 2003, a combined flashflood and landslide in Panaon Island, Southern Leyte killed at least 100.

On 8 November 2013, Typhoon Yolanda, also known as Haiyan, the strongest typhoon on record in the Philippines, struck central, eastern, and western Visayas as well as the northern part of Palawan. Hardest hit were the provinces of Eastern Samar and Leyte. Its wind speeds were at least 280 kilometers per hour, triggering four-meter-high storm surges, which inundated the region’s coastal towns. The initial death toll of 1,774, recorded three days after the typhoon’s landfall, rose to an estimated 8,000 because of the storm surges and steadily climbed in the next few months. Ormoc City, the second largest city in Leyte, was almost completely flattened, with 90% of the houses destroyed. However, it was Leyte’s capital city of Tacloban that bore the brunt of the typhoon’s power, with 2,474 deaths, or 25% of the national death toll; and 54,231 houses either destroyed or damaged, equal to 5% of the country’s total number. All in all, about 9.7 million people were gravely affected: 4.1 million people were displaced, besides the 400,000 refugees in 1,521 evacuation centers, and more than 707,000 houses destroyed.

In the wake of Typhoon Yolanda, two storms following one another struck the region again in January 2014, triggering landslides and floods and killing 76 people in all. In the municipality of Guiuan in Eastern Samar, where Typhoon Yolanda had first made landfall, 1,400 or 20% of all tents in the region, collapsed.

Livelihood of the Waray People

Agriculture was the prime economic activity of the Waray community during precolonial times. Rice, the staple crop, was harvested twice a year. Farm implements like bolos and man-made harrows were employed to till the soil. They grew coconuts, oranges, native figs, ginger, and other edible roots. They also raised swine, goats, and fowl. Those who settled along the coasts took to fishing.

Extracting tuba juice from coconut palm, Leyte
Extracting tuba juice from coconut palm, Leyte (Orlando Uy,

The early Waray knew how to build ships and mine iron. They manufactured war implements, gold trinkets, jewelry, native wine, and cotton textiles, as well as products likesinamay, wax, and mats. Pearls, rare shells, betel nut, cattle, fowl, and hogs were traded with merchants from China, Japan, Siam, Cambodia, Sumatra, and other countries. From these foreign traders, the Waray bought porcelain, iron vases, silk, fish nets, tin, silk umbrellas, and rare animal species.

Goods of greatest value were slaves; bulawan (gold); bahandi, which were heirloom platters and jars of porcelain; and the agong (gong). In the 17th century, the agong, when used for barter, was worth a certain number of reales depending on its size. The sangleis, which was the smallest gong, was worth six reales; the sanquiles, being two to three times bigger, was presumably worth 12 to 18 reales; and the burney, the largest, would have been worth 50 to 60 reales.

Salt was hardened by fire so that it did not melt in the country’s humid climate. As such, it could be measured and treated like currency. A chunk of it, measuring three fingers and weighing about five ounces, was called a gantang of salt. A piece of woven cloth measuring about 1/2 meters by 2/3 meters could be purchased with one gantang of salt. Small palm-leaf baskets were used to weigh a gantang of rice or salt.

The fertile terrain of Leyte and Samar continues to be planted with traditional crops. The region is the country’s second top producer of coconut. Besides copra and coconut, which are the tree’s prime export commodities, tuba (coconut wine) is sold in western Leyte, Cebu, Luzon, and parts of Mindanao. The four varieties of tuba fetch different prices: the bahalina, which is aged for a long period of time; the lina, which does not contain the barok, the substance that gives tuba its reddish color and bitter taste; the bahal, which contains the barok and is fermented for one or two days; and the kutil, which is a mixture of tuba, eggs, and sugar. These different types of tuba are sold in water cans that can hold 5.5 gallons each. The sale per day ranges from 40 to 200 cans, the biggest sales occurring during Christmas and town fiestas.

Rice, corn, abaca, and sugar are also grown in commercial quantities. Most of the region’s rice fields are in Leyte and the three provinces of Samar Island. Abaca plantations are found mostly in Northern Samar. Sugar is produced in Leyte, particularly in Ormoc Valley. Most of these agricultural products are cultivated in Leyte Valley, which starts from the mouth of Carigara Bay and extends southeast toward the Leyte Gulf. Corn, cassava, and sweet potato are a supplementary staple for the Waray. Avocado, cashew, coffee, and cacao are also grown in the islands.

The rich marine resources found in Carigara Bay, Samar Sea, Leyte Gulf, Cabalian Bay, Magueda Bay, San Pedro Bay, Sogod Bay, the Philippine Sea, and Villareal Bay, have sustained a fishing culture in the islands.

However, because the region is prone to natural calamities due to the vagaries of weather and its geographical conditions, 33.2% of the rural population is impoverished. Until 2008, the region’s economy was improving when it plunged in 2009 because of the ravages of severe rains and pestilence. In 1999-2009, Eastern Visayas became one of two abaca-producing regions—the other being Bicol—that was the worst hit by pests and plant disease. In a traditional practice called kinara-an, the farmers customarily hang samo (seaweeds) from every abaca plant to drive away the pests. Notwithstanding this folk solution, however, abaca production fell by 20%.

The destruction of abaca plants adversely affects various related businesses. In a laborious process, the farmers strip the plants to produce abaca fibers, which they then deliver to traders, who in turn sell these to exporters, rope factories, and pulp mills. Pulp mills manufacture the fibers into fiber boards, which are delivered to paper mills. While the inner sheaths of the abaca plant are processed into fibers for paper and rope, the bacbac (bark) is used for such handicraft items as mats, baskets, and textile called sinamay.

In November 2013, whatever hopes the farmers had of improving their lot were dashed with the devastation wrought by Typhoon Yolanda. In the region alone, the storm destroyed 33 million coconut trees, with disastrous effects on 1 million coconut farmers; 63,200 hectares of rice crops; 30,000 fishing boats; and 100,000 other boats of various kinds.

Waray Political System

The basic governmental unit in early Waray society was the barangay, a village settlement of 30 to 100 families ruled by a datu or local chieftain. A barangay was usually organized by a strong ruler. A huge settlement, which now comprises the municipalities of Inopacan, Hindang, Hilongos, Bato, and Matalom, was formed by Datu Amahawin. In the present town of Cabalian, another village existed under Rajah Siagu, whose domain extended as far as Cagayan de Oro in Mindanao. Cabalian itself was ruled by a subordinate datu.

Samar Provincial Capitol
Samar Provincial Capitol (Maria Concepcion)

The datu exercised the executive, the legislative, and the judicial functions of government. People paid tribute and rendered services to him in exchange for his administering of the affairs of the community. In times of war, he assumed the position of a commanding general.

Generally, there were two ways by which one could become a datu: through inheritance, and through wisdom and strength. The political system allowed for vertical political mobility. Such was the case of Datu Malakala who rose from the rank of a slave to become datu of the pre-Spanish village of Ilong, which is present-day Hilongos.

Although the barangay were independent of one another, they also maintained linkages with other barangays through agreements, treaties of mutual friendship, trade, and alliances sealed by a ceremony called kasi-kasi or sandugo.

War was waged as an attempt to extend the domain of a datu, in self-defense, or for any of the following reasons: killing of a barangay member without just cause, stealing wives from the barangay, and maltreatment of strangers visiting the barangay.

The combatants used various traditional weapons: sundang (bolo), wasay (ax), balaraw (dagger), budiok (blowgun), and the bow-and-poisoned arrow. The arrows were made of bagakay, a type of bamboo. To shield their bodies from these weapons, they used an oblong kalasag (shield).

During the Spanish colonial period, the Waray were settled in pueblos, with the church and plaza at the center surrounded by the houses of the rich. The barrios had native cabezas, while the towns were ruled by gobernadorcillos. The provinces of Samar and Leyte had alcaldes mayor, who fell under the central leadership of the governor general in Manila. But, as in most pueblos of the period, the religious authorities often exercised more power over the natives than the secular rulers.

At the beginning of the Spanish colonial period, married male natives elected their gobernadorcillo, who was a native of the principalia class. In the late 19th century, an election for local officials was observed in the island of Lauane, north of Samar, and probably typified local elections in the whole colony. A gobernadorcillo and all other local officials were elected by only 13 voters, comprised of 6 cabezas de barangay, 6 ex-gobernadorcillos, and the gobernadorcillo in office. The election, which was held in the municipal hall, was presided over by the governor’s representative, the parish priest, and a secretary. Each of the 13 electors wrote 3 names on the ballot; whoever received the biggest vote would be the gobernadorcillo, but only with the approval of the parish priest. All the other local officials were elected in the same way, with the additional approval of the newly elected gobernadorcillo. They were to hold office for a year.

During the American period, the Waray were forcibly subjugated by the new colonizers and then subjected to the political structure of barrio, town, and province. With the establishment of the National Assembly, the Waray provinces began to have representatives in the assembly.

Today, the affairs of the government in Samar and Leyte are supervised by the national government. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), as the representative of the president, is mandated to strengthen the local government units in delivering effective services to communities. The local government units have four levels: barangay, municipality, city, and province. The barangay is the basic unit of the political structure and consists of not less than 1,000 inhabitants. Headed by an elected captain, the barangay is the government’s vehicle for delivering goods and services to the community.

The municipality or town is a conglomeration of barangays within the territorial boundaries of a province. Its seat of government is usually found at the poblacion (town proper). The elective officials of the municipality are the municipal mayor, vice mayor, and Sanggguniang Bayan members. The islands of Samar and Leyte have the following number of municipalities: 43 in Leyte; 19 in Southern Leyte; 26 in Samar; 22 in Eastern Samar; 24 in Northern Samar; and eight in Biliran.

In Samar and Leyte, cities have relatively smaller populations and incomes. The officials of the city government are the city mayor, the vice mayor, Sangguniang Panlungsod members, a city secretary, city treasurer, city engineer, budget officer, and a city planning and development coordinator. The cities that these officials govern include Tacloban, Ormoc, and Maasin in Leyte; and Calbayog, Catbalogan, and Borongan in Samar.

The province is the largest unit in the political structure. It consists of a number of municipalities and, in some cases, cities. The main function of the provincial government is primarily coordinative and supervisory. Elective officials of the provincial government are the governor, the vice governor, and the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Leyte is divided into two provinces, Leyte and Southern Leyte. Samar, on the other hand, is composed of the provinces of Samar (also known as Western Samar), Northern Samar, and Eastern Samar.

Waray Culture, Customs and Traditions

Pre-Spanish Waray society was divided into three classes: the datu (nobility), the timawa (freeborn), and the oripun (slaves). The class of nobles consisted of the datu; the putli nga dato (chief without mixture of blood) or tupas nga dato (chief without wood borers); the fumao, the closest relative or comrade of the datu; atubang sa dato, the datu’s closest minister or counselor; sandig sa dato (support of the chief), who were the minister’s sons; and the lubus nga dato (the chief’s descendants), who may go down four generations or more and were the most greatly esteemed by the people among these subtypes. Among the putli nga dato were women called binocot or binukot, meaning “wrapped up.” They were the datu’s favored daughters and wives who held the privileges and authority of chiefs in their own right. They were kept closely guarded in their room and on the rare occasions when they went outside, they were borne on the shoulders of male slaves.

Newlyweds feeding farm animals in the belief that this presages a prosperous life
Newlyweds feeding farm animals in the belief that this presages a prosperous life (Leyte: This Lovely Island, National Media Production Center, 1975)

The second class of people, the timawa, were free but were all either children or descendants of slaves. Among them were the tumao, who were regarded with greater respect than other timawa because they were sons of the datu and his concubines,called the sandal. They did not, however, have the same rights as the datu’s legitimate sons and thus did not inherit any of his property. Slaves who had been freed were called ginoo.

Slavery was practiced on a wide scale in the old Waray society. The number of slaves a noble possessed indicated his influence and wealth. A timawa became a slave under the following circumstances: captivity during wars and slave raids; taking the produce from the datu’s territory without his permission; unpaid loans, which could be inherited by his children and descendants if not fully paid within his lifetime; the killing of another person, whose family, upon the decision of the datu, became the masters of the killer; being the male lover of any of the datu’s wives, concubines, or close female relatives; passing near a binukot who was taking a bath; and violating the law of silence at the death of a datu.

There were three kinds of slaves: The gintobo, also called hohay or mamalay, were like hired servants who had their own houses and who rendered part-time services to their masters without pay. Being almost freeborn, they could own slaves of their own. The mamalay could buy their freedom from their master with five taes of gold. The halom were the offspring of the gintobo slaves. This type was further divided into two subtypes: the lubu nga dato, who wereat least fourth-generation slaves, and the lubus nga oripun, who had no freedom at all. They had no houses of their own other than those provided them by their masters. The halom could buy their freedom with ten taes. The third type, the bihag (captives) had been captured in a slave raid or had wandered into the vicinity of the village to which they did not belong. If they had the means, they could ransom themselves. Besides this payment of goods and gold, they had to give half of the property that they had acquired as slaves to their master. On the day a slave delivered the whole sum to regain his or her freedom, a special ceremony or banquet, sponsored by the slave, was held in honor of the master.

Social standing was acquired not only by blood but also by the qualities one possessed. Some nobles, for example, were former timawa or even slaves who rose to power by sheer hard work, physical prowess, and a display of wisdom. Descendants of nobles usually ascended to power upon the death of their relatives. But those who did not exhibit qualities of a noble eventually declined in influence.

The paragahin was entrusted with distributing to the people the surplus of the produce from the datu’s fields. For this purpose, he kept accounting records. The paratabgao, literally “he who cries aloud,” also known as paravale or “he who gives advice and guidance,” was both the town crier and the children’s teacher. His primary duty as a teacher was to impart lessons on moral and social behavior. This he provided in the children’s own homes. The tambalan was the person who cured illnesses or healed injuries with herbal medicine.

The people’s daily activities as well as meaningful phases of their life cycle were attended with lihi (reverence for sacred matters) and marked by paglihi (observance of ritual practices and taboos). When one left the house and heard the sound of the bird called kuru-kuro, the limukon (turtledove), the taguto (a small lizard), or someone sneezing, then they had to turn back home.

Marital practices and rituals depended much on the social standing of the couple. Men preferred women of their rank who came from their own lineage and parentage. There were no marriage ceremonies for slaves. The freeborn contented themselves with a simple ceremony: the couple drank pitarilla from the same cup amid the robust shouts of friends and relatives. The wedding of the couple was usually marked by a little banquet.

The nobles of the village observed a more elaborate ritual. When a noble was ready to get married, he would employ the service of a go-between who would then lead a group of men to the girl’s house. Upon reaching their destination, the men would thrust a spear into the staircase. The mediators would pause to offer prayers to the diwata (spirit deities) to help them in their visit. The girl’s father would then take the spear, a signal welcoming the mediators.

The mediators were allowed to go inside the house, and they would declare the purpose of their visit. A negotiation would ensue and the amount of dowry agreed upon—usually 100 taes in gold, a number of slaves, and precious jewelry. The dowry also included the panhimuyat, an amount to be paid to the mother for rearing her child, and the pasoso, a sum for the wet nurse who had helped in bringing up the child. On the day of the wedding, the girl was borne on a platform set on the shoulders of the crowd, and carried to the groom’s house. Upon arrival, the girl would show some reluctance, whether genuine or feigned. In order to make her come up the stairs, the father of the groom would offer to her one slave at a time. Once inside the house, the couple would sit before the table and the himaya ritual would begin. A priest of the village officiated. An old woman would approach the couple with a dish of uncooked rice, join their hands, and sprinkle rice on all present. A prayer was recited, ending in shouts from the old woman and the guests. A lavish banquet followed. Drinking tuba is a tradition in social gatherings like fiestas and weddings.

Polygamy was practiced among the Waray, although there was always one principal wife. Divorce was practiced as well. Adultery on the part of the woman or the husband’s failure to support his family was enough reason for divorce. In cases where the woman was guilty, she was required to return the dowry. Children were divided between the husband and the wife.

A pregnant woman heeded certain requisites and restrictions so as not to put her unborn baby at risk. She was not to eat sea turtle, stingray, shark, or fish with scales. To ward off the malevolence of the baliw (cursed one), she tied chicken entrails around her waist, where her baby was nestling. After childbirth, when the inulanan (afterbirth) emerged, it was placed in a pot and hung from a tree, buried in a distant islet, or buried by the house’s central harigi (post). When the stump of a baby boy’s umbilical cord fell off his navel, this was hung from a nunuk (banyan) tree to ensure that he would grow up to be strong. A baby girl’s cord was hung from a pandan tree for its fragrance. Coconut water was used for the newborn’s first bath to prevent it from becoming deaf. If the baby was a boy, the mother avoided eating roasted clams, which would cause the boy to shrink or become a weakling. One had to sit first before taking the baby in one’s arms, because carrying the baby while standing would make the baby weak. The family held a dasag, a pag-anito (religious ritual invoking the deities) for a baby boy, so he would grow brave and strong.

Elaborate mourning and burial rituals were observed only among the nobles, especially the datu. Upon the death of a noble, the body was embalmed with storax, benzoin, and other perfumes extracted from gums of trees. During the wake, the family, relatives, and friends of the deceased gathered around the coffin. Professional mourners were hired to recall the life and to exalt the good qualities of the dead.

Members of the immediate family mourned their dead through a number of rituals: cutting their hair and shaving their eyelashes; wearing white clothing and covering their arms and necks with rattan; and observing the larao (fasting), eating only vegetables in small amounts. On the other hand, the visitors held the pangasi, a feast which lasted for five to six days.

When a datu died, restrictions were imposed not only on the family but also upon the members of the barangay: quarrelling was forbidden during the mourning period, especially on the burial day; weapons such as spears and daggers, when carried, were to point toward the ground; fanciful clothing were not to be worn; and silence was to be strictly observed. Nobody was to transgress the enclosure set around the datu’s house; and those living along the coasts were to prohibit people from sailing in the river. The burial was set at the end of the pangasi. The burial ground was in any of the following places: a hole below the dead person’s house, a vast field, the caves, or a house built outside the settlement.

Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Waray People

The early Waray believed in many gods: one for the homes, another for the farms, and many others for the seas, rivers, and lakes. These gods they collectively called “diwata.” Among the innumerable divine spirits, the Waray acknowledged one supreme god whom they called Laon, Bathala, or Abba. They also believed in the spirits of their dead ancestors whom they referred to as humalagad, “one who follows or goes along together.” They especially venerated dead ancestors who had shown noble qualities.

Santo Niño fluvial procession, Tacloban
Santo Niño fluvial procession, Tacloban (Gerry Ruiz)

Malaon, literally “the ancient one,” was their creator god, who was female and of a mild and amiable disposition. Makapatag, “he who renders everything equal,” was the male god of divine justice. Makaubus, “with no end,” lived on a very high mountain peak from which he surveyed all creation and determined when it was someone’s time to die. Yawa was his minister of death who caused everyone to die by drowning, whether they were in water or not. Badadum or “the happy one” was the divine creator of wealth and happiness; he was also the lord of the afterlife.

Natural forces and phenomena were interpreted according to aspects and phases of their own natural life. The bakunawa (eclipse) occurred when a giant snake, called bakunawa, swallowed the sun or moon. The people tried to drive this mythical snake away by pounding their mortars and the floors of their houses. The balangaw (rainbow) was the great diwata’s robe and was therefore not to be pointed at or else the pointer’s hand would wither. When a linog (earthquake) occurred, a female diwata was shaking her gigantic breasts. The bagyu (hurricane), with its very violent winds, came regularly to sweep away epidemic diseases and pestilence.

The Waray treasured religious objects, among them images of the diwata carved from wood, gold, stone, and ivory. These sculpted images were called larawan. The pag-anito, which were religious rituals invoking the diwata, may take the form of meal offerings to the diwata. These offerings varied according to intention and occasion. The venue might be the home or the community’s gathering place. The babaylan or daitan (priests and priestesses) conducted the worship ceremonies.

When performing a ceremony, the babaylan dressed in their best apparel and were adorned with many precious jewels. Among their duties were to perform the ritual dance, to kill the sacrificial animal, usually a pig, and to distribute the “blessed bread” among the participants in the celebration. Whenever a pag-anito was required to cure a sick person, his or her family was asked to build a langtangan (small hut) on the riverbank where the offering was to be held. The healing ritual started with the babaylan dancing to the beating of drums. A sacrificial animal, usually a pig or a turtle, was stretched on a palm mat near the sick. The babaylan then pierced the animal, and sprinkled blood on the sick and other persons in the house. The entrails of the animal were taken out, after which the babaylan would fall into a trance, moving in a frenzy and foaming at the mouth. The trance caused the priestess to predict the sick person’s fate.

A festivity of eating and drinking followed if the prophecy was for a longer life. The crowd who served as witnesses sang the history of the sick person’s ancestors and of the diwata to whom the sacrifice was offered. This was accompanied by frenzied dancing. The appeasement of the spirits is the aim of many religious rituals that survive to the present.

The pag-anito might be held prior to the start of planting, harvesting, or storing a crop. Performed to honor the diwata and other spirits, the ritual was believed to protect crops from disease and destruction, and to assure abundant harvests. There were rituals for rice, corn, sweet potato, and other crops. With the influx of Christianity, the invocation to the spirits was supplanted by invocations to God and the saints, especially the Santo Niño, but the implements used were somehow retained.

Although the goal of the pag-anito remained, its ritual pattern varied from one farming village to another. In the pag-anito for rice, there was a ceremony for each activity: pagsabod (sowing), pagtanom (transplanting), pagbari (harvesting), and storing of rice. The variations in the performance of each activity depended much on the knowledge of the paratikang (the village master of ceremonies).

In Leyte, the transplanting of rice seedlings to the field was a particularly happy affair. Pag-anito rituals were timed according to the position of the moon: kabog-os (full moon), gimata (new moon), or maghiabot (first quarter moon). Hours before sunrise, the planters, bringing musical instruments, gathered at a place near the rice field. The paratikang would begin proceedings by walking in silence to the field, carrying herbs whose names stood for what they wanted the growing seedlings to be: tanglad, a type of lemon grass, for the lush growth of rice; panhauli, a medicinal herb, for better resistance of rice to diseases; bagakay, a kind of bamboo, for protection of rice from insects and other pests; and kalipayan, literally “happiness,” an herb for the grace of happiness to the planters.

Once in the field, the paratikang made the sign of the cross, then prayed, all in Waray, “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and “Glory Be to the Blessed Virgin”; one “Our Father” to San Isidro; and one “Our Father” to the patron saint of the town. After saying the prayers, they planted the four herbs in the same spot, invoking God to bless them and their work. Out of the seedbed, they took a bundle of seedlings from which they picked a number to be thrown away as halad (offerings): one for God, another for the evil spirits, and the last for the soil itself. After this, the sowing of seedlings began.

The Waray in ancient times believed that their soul was born and died nine times, with each life becoming progressively smaller until, on their ninth and final death, it was no bigger than a grain of rice. The soul of the dead sailed in his casket to a place called Saad. At the river mouth, all his relatives who had preceded him would be standing on the riverbank with spear and shield to give him a rousing welcome. The god of death, Badadum, opened the lid of his coffin and identified him by the amount of gold and jewelry that had been placed with him. His relatives then took him to a place called Barayas, which was ruled by Ayaw, the father of Badadum. Here, the deceased engaged in the same occupations that he or she had in previous lives.

Members of the noble class made sure that they were well-provided-for in the afterlife. Precious jewels and gold adorned the dead body. A slave was killed to serve the noble man or woman in the next life. Weapons were placed at the body’s side while clothes were kept in a separate box that was buried beside the coffin.

There were ritual beliefs associated with death. The spirits of those who had been stabbed to death, eaten by a crocodile, or killed by poisoned arrows entered heaven through the rainbow and were made gods. The sea was believed to be the final resting place of those who died at sea. A child’s death was attributed to mangolos (evil spirits), whereas the death of the elderly was believed to be caused by the wind, which separated their spirit from their bodies. To keep the demons from the house where the dead still awaited burial, they hung containers filled with rice and meat of pig, chicken, and fish atop the trees.

Basey Cathedral, Samar
Basey Cathedral, Samar (Nick D. Cinco)

Through time, traditional social organization, customs, and religious beliefs were eroded or modified as a result of colonization, the onslaught of the Christian religion and, later, modernization. Today, most Waray are Catholics, professing a religion that is a curious fusion of animistic and Christian beliefs and practices. Presently, the different parishes of Samar are administered under the dioceses of Catarman, Borongan and Calbayog, while those of Leyte are under the archdiocese of Palo and the diocese of Maasin. Other religious affiliations in the Eastern Visayas region are Iglesia de Filipinas Independiente (Aglipayan), Evangelicals, Iglesia ni Cristo, Seventh-day Adventist, and Jehovah’s Witness.

Mass baptism in Leyte
Mass baptism (Leyte: This Lovely Island, 1975)

However, the spirit of the dios-dios movement lives on. The Waray might still call upon the tambalan, now synonymous with “faith healer,” to cure a person whose illness has been caused by spirits. One could purchase an anting-anting from the tambalan for protection against natural dangers like snakes and diseases, and against supernatural dangers like sorcerers and ghosts. The anting-anting might be an orasyon (prayer) written on a slip of paper, or a snippet of it tattooed on a part of the purchaser’s body. In the 1920s, a tambalan inked orasyon tattoos onto 30 children when a dysentery epidemic broke out in Guiuan, Samar. In the 1980s, members of such groups as the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association, Amahan-Inahan, and the Alsa Masa wore orasyon tattoos and used orasyon libritos.

Waray Houses and Community

In precolonial Waray society, the datu’s house was the largest in the barangay, about 25 to 35 meters long, its size determined by the datu’s stature and the number of his followers. Between seven and 11 harigi or round, whole posts, made from the trunks of tuga (hardwood) stood along the length of the house. One end of each harigi was buried deep in the ground and stood all the way up to the ridge of the roof to support it. As such, these were called the house’s palahosan (extending beyond). These palahosan were always in uneven numbers because one was placed at the center of the house while the other posts stood in a row, in even numbers, to the right and left of this center post. Along the length of the sloping roof lay three ridgepoles, one on top of the other. The sarguntin (crossed rafters) were set above the palahosan to support the kasaw, which were the beams on which the roofing of palm leaves were laid. The bungbung (wall) was made of planks bearing many intricately carved designs such as abundant foliage, curves, and lines, while other designs were in bas-relief.

Ancestral house in Calbiga, Samar
Ancestral house in Calbiga, Samar (CCP Collections)

The floor consisted of split bamboo slats, laid one or two centimeters apart to allow for air circulation. The flooring of the datu’s house had two levels, separated by a puthanan, a square beam lying along the length of the floor. The split-level floor ensured that the datu would not be disturbed in his own room, despite many people walking in and out of the house. The house had several rooms: one for the datu and one for each wife and sandil (concubine). In the house, these women and several female slaves worked at their looms; at the end of the day, they either folded their woven cloths away or hung them along the walls, making sure to keep them out of anyone’s way. The largest room was for the community feasts, which included drinking and dancing. There was storage space for food such as rice and vegetables, much of which the datu would distribute to his many dependents through his steward.

Every married couple built a house for the family. On several occasions, two or three couples, particularly those who were related, lived together in one house. The house was erected on six or eight harigi, which functioned as pillars for the roof. At the center of the structure, they placed the palahosan, two or three posts that held the ridge of the roof. Whole bamboos were used as timber for the roof and the ladder; they were also split to serve as flooring or walling. Nipa or coconut leaves were woven into sulirap for the roofing. Rattan was used in tying construction materials. Below the elevated flooring, the Waray maintained coops and pens where they kept their domesticated animals.

The people had very minimal house furnishings. The house typically contained the following: two to three pots, one to two ongates (drinking coconut shells), two to three paia (plates made of half coconut shells), and clay plates. Generally, there were neither chairs nor beds, although there were low tables in the datu’s house. Gums of trees or resins resembling myrrh called anime served as fuel for lamps. Some used coconut oil.

Those who lived in the forests built tree houses called hele, from helia, meaning "mountains or large rocks,” which were built 10 to 30 meters above the ground. These were for security and protection against enemies and wild beasts. Residents of houses on the ground could be speared through their floor by an enemy beneath the house.

The tree’s thick and sturdy branches had to be spread out to support a house. Its middle branches were cut to provide the right amount of space; and the remaining branches were arranged so that they crossed each other to provide further support. The smallest tree house required only the trunk of the tree to serve as its post. The posts for a bigger house were fastened on the branches. The floor was constructed like that of any other house. The men went into the house by clambering up a bejuco (rattan) or balagon (vine). The women used bamboo ladders that were of either two poles or one pole with the branches cut to eight inches each to serve as the rungs of the ladder. When not in use, the vines were rolled up and tucked into a branch and the ladders drawn up and into the house. When the tree house was too high for one ladder, they built a pantaw (platform) on a branch halfway up. This served as the landing between the first and second ladders. From above, tree dwellers under attack could defend themselves with spears, rocks, hot water, pots, and pans.

The environment is a major consideration in the construction of dwellings in the islands. Light materials are often used, like cogon, nipa, and anahaw (footstool palm). Strong materials such as galvanized iron, aluminum, tile, concrete, brick, stone, wood, plywood, and asbestos are generally preferred for outer walling; while light materials such as bamboo, sawali, cogon, nipa, and anahaw are used for roofing.

The typical traditional Waray house is built with six harigi made of bamboo poles or timber. The roof has a baybayan (beam) as its main support and is reinforced by the major posts of the house. From this beam, the pagbon (rafter) is attached, its center supported by a pendulum (king post). Small paut (minor rafters) are added just beneath the pagbon. A small kurbata (small piece of bamboo) is also attached to the rafter. From the center of the roof frame, two tuklang (supports) are attached as major supports of the kumatin (ridge beam). The katsaw (purlins) are the pieces of bamboo attached to the ridge beam and the beam. Sometimes, besides the purlins, additional barakilan (small purlins) are attached laterally and mounted so as to reinforce the pawod or nipa.

The ridges of the atup (roof) are covered with halves of the bamboo pole to serve as taklub (cover); the tops of these are supported with long bamboo poles called dat-ug. The suliras (floor frame) are the basic support beams of the salog (floor). Traditionally, the so-called lahos-lahos type of floor is used, for this allows the air to pass freely through the floor. Bamboo splits, about five centimeters in width and cut according to the length of the floor of the house, are commonly used as flooring materials.

There are three types of bungbung or bungbong (walls): the pinalpag, the siniko or sinapak, and the hinopila. Square window shutters, made of nipa leaves, or the tinuklang type, made of bamboo, are tied to the upper frame of the window with rattan strips. Two doors are built, one at the front and another at the back. The ladders, usually made of bamboo, are not permanently attached to the doorway. In some cases, especially in remote places, they are detached and pulled inside the house in the evening and brought down again in the morning.

Contemporary Waray houses may be classified into four types: the payag-payag, the simplest house, with one room, one porch and one hearth; the payag, a larger house with a porch, a sala, a dining area, a sleeping room which doubles as a storage room, and a kitchen area; the kamalig, a rice granary constructed on the farm or near the rice field, which has a small sleeping room, a porch, and an improvised hearth; and the balay, the modern house of concrete and wood, with galvanized-iron or nipa-thatched roof, which usually has two or three sleeping rooms, a porch, a sala, a dining area, a kitchen, and a toilet.

With the Spaniards came the Catholic churches, fortifications, cabildos, and casas reales. During the Spanish period, the most popular type of structure was the two-story building with wooden posts and boards, and a wall of stone on the first level. These houses were primarily built in the old cities of Leyte and Samar. As early as 1735, these were already being constructed in Catbalogan, Palo, Tanauan, and Tacloban. Today, they may still be found in Basey, Palo, Carigara, Tanauan, Tacloban, Catbalogan, Jaro, Tolosa, Dulag, Guiuan, and Barugo. In Palo, Leyte, the wood-and-stone house of Don Pio Pedrosa stood well-preserved until it was destroyed by supertyphoon Yolanda on 8 November 2013.

Stone churches were built by the Jesuits in the 18th century and refurbished or rebuilt by the Franciscans and Augustinians after the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1768. The Capul fortress church was meant to guard theembocadero, the passageway from the Philippines to the Pacific Ocean, through which galleons used to pass on their way to Acapulco. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration in Palo, despite the loss of its roof because of Typhoon Yolanda, remains the largest, with twin bell towers and a most impressive retablo (altarpiece). Other Spanish-period churches, in part or in whole, are the Saint Michael the Archangel Church in Basey, the Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady in Borongan, and the Church of the Holy Cross in Carigara, Leyte. The Iglesia Parroquial de la Inmaculada Concepción, or Immaculate Conception Parish Church, of Guiuan had a facade decorated with engaged pillars arranged in four groups of triplets in the two main levels, an old church door carved with flowers and topped by archangels, and a retablo with 13 niches for saints’ images. In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda destroyed the church, of which only partial walls and a bell tower remain standing.

Churches and convents, established near the coastlines, gave rise to the construction of the lantawan (lookout tower). Built in strategic locations along the shore, the lantawan was made of stones and bricks and helped to warn the people of oncoming pirate attacks. Some of these defense structures still stand in Barugo and Tolosa. Another defense structure is the baluarte (fort), the walls of which were built around churches. An example is the fort constructed in Carigara by Father Melchor de Vera, an engineer.

Price Mansion in Tacloban City
Price Mansion in Tacloban City

During the American regime, the Neoclassical style of architectural design—the Corinthian Twin Style—was adapted in Leyte and Samar, especially for capitol and municipal buildings, and some high schools. It employed colonnaded porticos at the main entrance, ionic columns, pediments, spacious corridors, and wide stairs. Examples of this style are the Price mansion on Santo Niño Street and, until Typhoon Yolanda destroyed it, the Fernandez residence that once stood on P. Burgos Street in Tacloban.

In Carigara, Leyte, at the corner of San Roque and Josson de Mata Streets, stands the Salvacion residence, popularly known as the “balay nga gawas it harigi” (the house with external posts). It is a wood-and-adobe-stone house typical of Spanish colonial architecture, but its outstanding feature is the row of ionic columns standing outside each of its four walls and supporting the roof. The shafts of the columns are roughly hewn tree trunks, while the cap is of wood carved in the ionic style. The walls and floor of the second story are of wood. Old furniture, such as the big dining table on the second floor, is well preserved. It used to house a learning center before Typhoon Yolanda damaged it severely: the roof was blown off and the capiz windows were shattered. However, the original materials have been gathered, and the owners plan to restore the house.

In November 2015, with 4.1 million people rendered homeless by Tyhoon Yolanda, rows of bunkhouses were hastily built in four areas: Tacloban City and Palo, both in Leyte; and Basey and Marabut, both in Samar. These are made of coco lumber with wooden frames, roofs of GI sheets, plywood walls and floors, and cement footing. Each bunkhouse—measuring 8.46 square meters, with a kitchen and a toilet-and-wash room—is meant to be a temporary shelter for a family of five.

Waray Tattoo Tradition

Art in ancient Waray society is most visible in the yunal, body tattoos that were either used as charms or worn as symbols for status and rite of passage. The pagyunal, the act of body tattooing, was an ancient art that flourished in Samar and Leyte—this is why the Spanish colonizers called these islands and their inhabitants the Pintados. Tattoos were administered on men as a phase in the rite to manhood. In precolonial times, young men from the age of 20 subjected themselves to body tattooing as a matter of custom. Those who went against this norm were ridiculed. The male body served as the broadcloth for the tattooing of exquisite designs, which ran from the groins to the ankles, and from the waist to the chest. The design on the chest looked like a breastplate, but the more daring had their necks, temples, and foreheads tattooed with rays and lines that gave them a fierce countenance. The women had their hands and wrists tattooed with flowers and knots, an embellishment which enhanced the sheen of their gold rings and bracelets.

Waray Tribe Clothing and Traditional Attire

Depiction of Visayan man and woman
Depiction of Visayan man and woman, circa 1590 (Boxer Codex, The Lilly Library Digital Collections)

Early Waray men had three basic pieces of clothing: the marlota, the faldeta, and the bahag. The first two terms were coined by Spanish missionaries. The marlota was a long, collarless, striped shirt made of cotton. The faldeta was a piece of cloth draped around the waist that extended to the knees. In some areas, the faldeta and the marlota were combined in one piece of clothing to form the baro, a knee-length upper garment with a wide, round neckline and fitting sleeves. The bahag or loincloth was made of two or more fathoms of abaca mat. An ordinary bahag was white or greyish in color. Among the datu or nobles, the bahag was made of either cotton or silk. Red bahag, called pinahusan, was worn by men known for their bravery.

Besides the bahag, a straw or palm-made headgear was worn to protect the head. The most common was the pudung, a turban-like headdress whose style and material depended on one’s social class. The poor used abaca, which they wound twice around the head, leaving the top of the head uncovered. The chieftains had pudung of linen with silk fringes.

Upper-class women wore knee-length skirts of linen, with colored silk or cotton set to create a design. Those from the lower class wore shorter skirts. To cover their breasts, the women used the baro, which extended just above the waist. Together with the skirt and the baro, some women used short kerchiefs to cover their heads.

The early Waray were fond of jewelry. Men and women wore gold earrings called panicas or pamarang through two or three holes in their ears. The first hole was for round earrings, called the barat, which resembled the wheels of a small cart. Some of these earrings had spokes and pearls and other precious stones set at the center. In the second hole was worn the panicas, a round earring which had the calong-calong as edges. The third earring was used only by women. It was smaller and was placed just above the two earrings. In its center was a small golden rose called palvar or pasoc-pasoc. When all these were worn, the jewels carried the weight of two taes, equivalent to the weight of 20 reales.

The Waray also adorned their necks, wrists, and fingers. They wore necklaces made of gold, garnets, glass, and carnelians, which they called bair. These were obtained from trading with the Chinese and later with the Spaniards. The Waray sported long and thick cords of burnished gold—the camagui and the pinarugmoc —which they looped several times around their necks. They wore trinkets on their arms. Women wore two to three bracelets on one arm, while men wore ankle rings made of glass beads. The black coral formed into ornamental strings for the wrists was used as medicine by women with menstrual difficulties. Among the men, bands that covered their legs attested to their bravery. Women kept their jewelry and other family heirlooms in palm-made boxes called capipi. The men had the taggun, where they kept their reales and toston. During cold nights, they stretched out in sack-like blankets; for married couples, these blankets were made wider.

Girls and women fashion the lukay (palm leaves) into chains and other plaited or sculpted forms for various uses. In Leyte, the favorite leaves for weaving are the dugokan, which are fresh, yellow-green leaflets that are stripped from the midribs of a young coconut tree. The size of the palm leaf chains is determined by the variety of the palm tree from which the leaves had been stripped: bigger chains are made from nipa leaves; smaller ones, from coconut or buri fronds. Maglukay is the act of making these forms from the lukay, the most popular of which is the puso, the heart-shaped pouch made from strips of palm leaves plaited around a ball of rice.

The Art of Pusô - Palm Leaf Art of the Waray People

Woven and sculpted palm leaf images and decorations were essential in precolonial ritual practices. Called the sariman, these palm-leaf items were placed in a ritual area to entice the ancestral spirits to come. Besides garlands, the sariman included rice pouches called the linangan, which had the size and shape of a bird, or the bigger ginawig (hen). These were laid alongside a real hen that had been killed as an offering in a simple ritual called the saragunting or pag-abo, literally “of the ashes” or “of the hearth.” Through this offering, the family prayed to their ancestral spirits for an abundant harvest.

The healing or curing ritual for the sick required a more lavish use of the sariman. Along with other ritual food and animals, the sariman were placed on a pararatgan, a four-foot-high bamboo platform. The baylan then performed the curing ritual around this platform.

Funeral rites were concluded with the pagbutas, meaning “to set apart.” The family in mourning would tie together several fist-sized puso and lay the bunch in a platter of water. The baylan would cut the ties binding these, symbolizing the separation of the living from the dead. On the other hand, when a datu of the highest stature died, the mourning rites concluded with the paglalar (tribute). Large, vari-colored fabrics of abaca were laid out, on which were placed an image of the deceased; scenic paintings or embroidered pictures of coconut trees, islands, and people in various activities, such as the mananguete (tuba gatherer) and slaves. The abaca cloths were then hung like tapestries from bamboo poles or trees on the seashore and remained there until these were worn out by the elements or blown away by the wind.

With Christianization, feast days were celebrated with different kinds of palm leaves woven for various uses: as arches at the procession and as shades or awnings jutting from houses along the road where the procession was to pass. Palm-leaf chains were hung from various parts of the church ceilings, walls, choir lofts, and upper balconies. Besides the woven birds, flowers were made from ruffled or tightly pleated strips. For birthday celebrations and funerals of important persons and their kin, the weavers’ favorite leaves to use were those of the pitogo (sago palm), which were lovelier and more elegant because they were deep green, long, and slim, but thick and shiny.

Up to the present times, the puso containing both meat and rice is cooked in a large pot called baon and then taken to work by farmers and fisherman or by anyone setting off on a journey. This preparation keeps the food fresh and unspoiled for a long time. In olden times, the most common types of such rice pouches were the pinapagan, which contained rice mixed with salt and ginger, and the sea turtle-shaped pinawikan, which was simply a puso with its four corners sticking out. The use of four, not just two, strips for the pinawikan accounts for its bigger size.

At least 20 types of puso have been found in the region. These can be classified into three groups: according to parts of the human body, to geometric shapes, and to the region’s flora and fauna. The first group consists of the fist-shaped kumol sin datu, or simply kumo; linalaki, referring to a man; binabaye, referring to a woman; sinaop, hands clasped together; and tinikod, the sole of a foot. Geometric shapes are the star-shaped binituon, the flat and rectangular tambong (drumhead), the rectangular binairan (whetstone), and the cylindrical bayobayo (like a small pestle). Those resembling flora and faura are the crab-shaped linambay; the oval-shaped bungang gapas, which, with its pointed ends, looks like the fruit of a kapok tree; the turtle-shaped binao-bao; the bigger pinawikan, named after the sea turtle; and the inamo, which resembles either a monkey or a monkey’s head.

Kumo, also called inumol or bulasa, is the most common rice pouch. It is made of two loops intertwined around the fist-sized ball of rice. Pinabacdao, Samar continues the tradition of tying a dozen of these rice pouches in a bunch and placing them on a plate as a ritual offering. These are therefore not sold in markets.

Banig: Mat Weaving in Basey,Samar

Mat weaver in Calbayog, Samar
Mat weaver in Calbayog, Samar (CCP Collections)

The making of mats is one traditional art that has endured. In olden times, sleeping quarters were covered with small palm-made mats called petates. Mats made from rattan were called taquican, while those woven from thin bamboo were called rancapan.

Basey mat depicting the San Juanico Bridge
Basey mat depicting the San Juanico Bridge (Philippine Basketry: An Appreciation by Robert F. Lane. The Bookmark, Inc., 1986.)

A town widely known for its excellent mats is the town of Basey, Samar. In this town, mat making is a community industry involving women and children. Its principal material is a fine species of tikug, straw extracted from the swamps of Tanauan, Dulag, Dagami, Burauen, and Alang-Alang, Leyte. The tikug strips are initially dried, flattened, and dyed, then woven into mats by weavers whose weaving techniques have been handed down through generations.

Using maroon and green as the traditional background, the weavers give free rein to their imagination as they twist, twine, and embroider their exquisite whimsies in the form of peacocks, birds of paradise, multihued flowers, and classic designs such as maps of Leyte and Samar, and the San Juanico Bridge. The mats of Basey were presented in two international exhibitions—in Denver, Colorado in 1974 and in Frankfurt, Germany in 1976.

Visual artists of Leyte and Samar

The contemporary visual artists of Leyte and Samar have made a name for themselves in Manila and other Philippine cities. Notable artists from Eastern Visayas include Jeremias Acebedo, Leo Villaflor, Cornelio Zabala, Jose Patiño, Raul Isidro, Raul Agner, Armando Corado, Alan Dala, Gavino Perez, Dulce Anacion, Artemio Barbosa, Rico Palacio, and Romeo Gutierrez.

Waray Literary Arts


The shortest Waray poetic forms are the titiguhon, also tiriguhon or titigoon (riddle), and the dayhuan or darahunon (proverb). Recited primarily to entertain, the titiguhon uses figurative language such as metaphor, hyperbole, and paradox in rendering its subject. Some examples are the following:

Paghitapo han mga bulbulon

An kalibutan nagsirom. (Pirok han mata)

(When the hairy ones met

The world became dark. [Eyelashes])

Balay ha lungib,

Puno hin tigib.(Ba-ba)

(A house in the cave

Full of chisels. [Mouth])

Luub hin mga mata

Kundi diri makita. (Pinya)

(It has eyes all over

But it cannot see. [Pineapple fruit])

Balay-balay ni Enggot

Puros may higot. (Muskitero)

(The little house of Enggot

has many ropes. [Mosquito net])


The dayhuan, popularly known as puplonganon, is the Waray proverb. Pithy and highly metaphorical, it conveys the wit, mores, and beliefs of the Waray, such as in the following:

An diyos palalabtob


(God is bounty;

God is scarcity.)

An tawo nga hingandam

talagsa magkahinanglan.

(One who is always prepared

is seldom in need.)

An diri pasagdon,


(One who does not listen to advice

should be abandoned.)

Other Waray Indigenous Literature

Other types of indigenous Waray literature are the ambahan, balac, bical, haya, awit, and sidai. The ambahan was a two-line blank verse, which was designed to entertain people in social gatherings. There were variations to its recitation. At times it was sung. Its melodies varied but its pitch was pleasant. A poetic form that was used for courtship was the balac, a poetic joust between a man and a woman. The singing or the chanting of the balac was accompanied by two musical instruments: the coriapi, played by the man, and the corlong, played by the woman.

Colonization did not affect the balac as a poetic form. In the 1800s, the balac survived as the amoral, a term derived from the Spanish word amor or “love.” It retained its theme as well as its form of 12 syllables to a line. Here is an excerpt (Ani 1990):


Kamakaluluoy han akon kabutang

Sugad hin natungtong hin anud nga batang

Waray sasabota akon kapalaran

Kun hain nga bungto akon sasampigan.


Pastilan, Intoy, ayaw pagdinumdum

Pagsasakitan ka hin mal de corazon

Maaram ka naman han mal de corazon

Maul-ol ha tiyan, an ulo malipong.


Kun tutuo man gud an imo pangasawa

Tukad ngat ha bukid pagdakop hin maya

Kon makadakop ka bisan la mausa

Pugota an ulo ngan padalagana.


Uunan-on ko man an pakadalagan

Pugot na an ulo pati kalawasan

Upayda naman la kon salamangkero

Nga makadalagan bisan waray ulo.


How sad my life is

Like a wooden derelict that is adrift

No one knows how my fate will be

Which town I will come home to.


Pastilan, Intoy, stop thinking

You might get sick with heartache

You know that heartache is

A cramp in the belly, a splitting headache.


If your desire to marry is true

Go to the mountain, catch me a sparrow

Should you catch one

Cut off its head, then let it run.


How can I make it run

Its head sundered from the body

It could be if I were a magician

Even without its head, it can run.)

During the American period, the balac assumed a new name— ismayling or ismaylingay, a term that flourished in Samar. It is derived from the English words “smile” or “smiling.”

The bical was another old poetic joust, performed by either two men or two women, who made fun of each other’s shortcomings, to the amusement of the audience. The sidai was a long poem extolling the bravery of a man or the beauty of a woman. It was usually performed in the evening by skilled chanters who were invited to the homes. Today, the term “sidai” is the generic Waray term for poetry. An example of the sidai that follows contains allusions to national heroes and Pulahan leaders, as well as elements of mysticism:

Akon igsasaysay tiempo rebolusyon

Probinsiya han Samar tuna kalugaringon

An mga bantugan kapin kamisogonon

Hi Otoy, hi Lukban an depensor.

Pagmata, pagmata kita Pilipino

Diri na maiha mil noybe sitenta singko

Maabot sa aton dako nga delubyo

Pagkakamtyan kadam-an nga tawo.

Andres Bonifacio ikaw inosensyo,

Upaya pagmangno aton paraiso;

Prente sa Samar an corona sityo

Nga ginmamangnoan Rizal nga Merkado.

Ikaw Pablo Bulan ngan mga kaapi,

Sahid pasabota Ramon Iden Sales,

Ngatanan pamilya kay basi pagkaptan

An aton bandera Marcelo del Pilar.

Han aton an gahum ni Hesukristo

Nga ipanunutdo han Espiritu Santo

Paglakat sa lawod ug sa ibabaw pa

Nga pinangulohan ni Andriya Blanka.

Espada nga barabad

Bandera nga nagkalupad

Dugo na linasaw

Ulo nga nagkalutaw.

(I will tell of a time during the revolution

In the province of Samar, our own homeland

When the known and the very brave

Otoy and Lukban were our protectors.

Rise, open your eyes

Not for long, nineteen seventy-five

A great flood will come

Bringing death to everyone.

Andres Bonifacio, you who are innocent,

Guard well our paradise;

In Samar, the crown capital

Rizal Mercado keeps watch.

You, Pablo Bulan and your followers,

Let all know, Ramon Iden Sales,

All families so that they will be true

To our flag Marcelo del Pilar.

In us the power of Christ

The Holy Spirit has inspired

The walk on the sea

That Andriya Blanka once led.

Swords swung

Banners unfurled

On blood that spilled

Heads float.)

Waray Verse Narratives

Early forms of Waray verse narratives are the candu, sareta or susumaton, and posong. The candu or epic, narrated the great deeds of Waray heroes like Parapat and the travails and joys of lovers. It also conveyed aspects of Leyte-Samar history and was chanted by the paracandu. The chanting of the candu could last for more than six hours so that the paracandu might have to stop and continue the story the following day.

Cabungao leaving his beloved Bubu nga Ginbuna
Cabungao leaving his beloved Bubu nga Ginbuna (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

One candu is the love story of Bubu nga Ginbuna and Cabungao, who are torn apart but are later reunited on an island called Matunayan, meaning “the joy that they experienced upon seeing each other.” The narrative begins with Cabungao leaving behind his beloved Bubu nga Ginbuna to join his fellow warriors in a pangayao (raid). He bids her go to his mother and sister should she need anything. Needing some abaca for her weaving, she does so. But Cabungao’s mother and his sister Halinai subject her to abuse instead. Bubu nga Ginbuna resolves never to see Cabungao again. Upon his return, he goes in quest of her, and thus commences Cabungao’s series of adventures. Toward the end, he discovers that she has retreated into an island with her slaves; hence, he makes three near fatal attempts to reach her. On the third try, he reaches her island, weak and seemingly dead. Bubu nga Ginbuna’s slave recognizes him and runs to tell her mistress. Cabungao’s strength fully returns at the sight of his beloved, and the two lovers are happily reunited.

Another candu tells of the adventures of Datong Somanga, who must pass a series of difficult tests to win the hand of the binukot Bubu nga Humayanun. When he asks her to serve him buyo (betel chew), the reluctant binukot asks him for betel nut from the East, betel leaves from the West, and lime from a certain remote island. These tasks being easy enough, Datong Somanga merely sends his own followers to obtain these ingredients. But she next demands 120 slaves from Tandag, and he must thence conduct a pangayaw there to capture these for her. She then sends him to raid Yambig and Camiguin near Mindanao, where he captures 230 slaves. He must do the same in Siquijor, Dapitan, Jolo, Mindanao, and China. Finally, she sends him to invade heaven, and he promises to open up one of its eight folds and bring her a lightning flash. When he returns victorious, Humayanun is still determined not to yield. In annoyance, Somanga grabs her bango, also called pinanta or tagabooc (hair extension), swearing that he will make a sombol out of it, that is, “a feathered ornament that is placed at the prow of his boat as a symbol of victory.” At this, Humayanun finally prepares the betel chew, which she sends him through an Aeta slave. He sends it back, demanding that the chew be ground; it is a preparation called sapa, which is a gift of love that is exchanged between lovers and married couples. She sends the sapa in a gold container as a pugul, which is a pledge of her consent to marry him.

The sareta or susumaton, which are stories filled with adventure and wonder, include myths, legends, fables, and fairy tales. The term is derived from the verb root sumat, meaning “to tell.” The traditional susumaton was in verse form and was chanted. Its functions were to entertain and to store in the collective memory the tales of the Waray as a people. The development of writing, printing, and mass media gradually eliminated the verse structure of the susumaton.

Amihan and Habagat, rulers of the universe
Amihan and Habagat, rulers of the universe (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

The origin of Samar and Leyte is recounted in the following susumaton. In earlier times the universe was divided into two, each part being governed by a giant. Amihan ruled the land in the northeast, while Habagat ruled the land in the southwest. Because of the limited resources in the land of Amihan, his children and kin were forced to fish in the southern shores of his land. This angered Habagat, who began to prepare for battle with Amihan. The two giants and their forces met in the middle of the sea between their domains. Soon, they destroyed each other’s vessels. Being very large, their ships were not toally submerged. These two ships became the land masses that are now called Samar and Leyte.

Posong, also known as pusung, is a popular narrative form that has survived from the ancient times. The word presently connotes a joke, a story told in jest, and belongs to the tradition of brief, humorous, tall stories about the much-loved Waray folk hero, Juan Posong. However, according to the earliest documented Posong story dated 1668, he was a cruel and marauding fuya (giant) from the mountain village of Magtaon—now a barangay in the municipality of Mapanas in Northern Samar—who regularly preyed on the hapless people of Calbiga and Libunao, about 140 kilometers away on the coast of Western Samar. Anticipating Posong’s next raid, two warriors of Calbiga set a trap for him at a very high, stony ravine called Catugupan. As Posong leaped over the ravine, the first warrior came out of hiding and struck him with a spear, and the mortally wounded Posong fell onto a wide, flat rock below. Both warriors emerged from hiding and finished him off. To this day, the outline of Posong’s contorted body is etched into the rocks at the bottom of this ravine. The figure is that of a giant wearing a bahag and pudung. His arm is pinned beneath him and one leg is twisted. So clear is the figure on the rock that a panday might have deliberately carved it with a chisel. Another version of this tale has a band of pygmies, each about a foot tall, setting a trap for Posong by covering the wet, sandy floor of this ravine with nipa leaves. As the enormous Posong stepped on these leaves to cross the ravine, he slipped and fell on his back. The bonga surrounded him and killed him with their spears. Presently, the only known creek named Catugupan is at the northern tip of Surigao del Norte.

Later stories depict Posong as a simpleton, a hero, or a homespun philosopher who outwits kings and even wise men in the villages. The early Posong tale was told in verse and regaled an intimate audience. However, a few decades ago, local radio station disseminated it to a wider audience, and listeners of this radio program subsequently wrote and sent in their own Posong tales. During the 1960s, the name “Juan Posong” was retained; in the 1970s, a new radio raconteur changed the name to “Johnny Posong.” Although now defunct, the radio program was instrumental in continuing this ancient literary tradition.

Posong, defeated by two warriors of Calbiga
Posong, defeated by two warriors of Calbiga (Illustration by Harry Monzon)

A harmless fuya was Morongborongan, “he whose head touches the clouds,” who lived with his wife and children. He would wade into the deepest part of the sea as he walked the 60 leagues (333.4 kilometers ) round the coast of the island from Borongan in the east, then called Ibabao, to the island’s western part, then called Samar. He could outswim any fish, this being his only diet. Some, however, say that he also ate people because his solo forays to the western coast were intended to capture them. His giant spear was made of a whole trunk of the lawaan tree, and his shield could serve as a bridge that could hold 12 captives all at once as they crossed the rivers. His favorite fishing spot was a grassy islet called Aroyan, 700 meters off the eastern coast, and between Cape of Espiritu Santo and Borongan. It was pyramid-shaped, with a steeply sloped height of 70 meters and a circumference of 280 meters. It is said that the top of the mountain standing above the city of Borongan is Morongborongan’s head partially covered with clouds.

“An Surumaton kan Antusa an Awawa san Agta” (The Tale of Antusa, the Agta’s Wife) is one example of a contemporary susumaton. It is about a rich, vain, and beautiful maiden named Antusa, who ties her suitors to the trunk of a big tree and feeds them to the river leeches until they become insane. One day she meets by the river the agta, a black hairy creature who presents himself as her suitor. She entices the agta to go to the same tree, and places all over him handfuls of crawling river leeches. To her surprise, however, the leeches would fall off dead each time they had sucked a little blood of the agta. She flees, but the agta frees himself from the bonds, chases Antusa, and upon capturing her, takes her to the forest as his bride. It is said that Antusa’s husband sucks blood from her neck and that even today, her cries can be heard in the forest.

Waray Contemporary Literature

The Spanish Christian influence on Waray literature is seen primarily in the pasyon. Most important of the pasyon is Diaz M. Pascual’s Casayuran nan Pasion nga Mahal ni Jesucristo nga Guenoo Naton Sadong Ikasubo nan Casing-Casing han Sino Man nga Magbabasa (The History of the Holy Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ Which Will Inflame the Heart of the Reader), 1918, a Waray translation of the Tagalog Pasyong Genesis.

Contemporary Waray literary history revolves around the development of poetry and drama written between 1900 and the 1970s. The appearance of local publications led to the flowering of poetry. The first newspaper in Waray, An Kaadlawon, was printed in 1901; this was followed by La Voz de Leyte, El Heraldo de Leyte, Noli Me Tangere, La Fornada, El Eco de Samar y Leyte, La Voz de Leyte, La Nueva Era, Katalwasan, An Silhig, Tingog, An Karamlagan, An Makabugwas, An Mahagnaw, An Lantawan, Leyte Shimbun, Cosmopolitan Courier, The Guardian, Leyte News, Leyte Record, and the Courier.

El Eco de Samar y Leyte, 1911-1932, was a publication of the Catholic Church, more particularly the Diocese of Calbayog, Samar; thus, the poems published dealt with life’s transience and the teachings of the Church. Its Waray section included occasional poetry written in honor of the Blessed Virgin and patron saints, deceased relatives, and friends. Found in El Eco during the same period, however, was a series of poems called “An Tadtaran,” literally “the chopping board,” which satirized the changing mores of the Waray.

Extant copies of An Lantawan from 1931 to 1939 show occasional features of satirical poetry. The targets were rural folk who easily took to American ways, tuba drinkers who made drinking a vice, Chinese businessmen who operated dirty restaurants, local women who preferred foreigners for partners, and local officials who stole from the government. The poems bristled with sarcasm and biting humor. Poets who stood out were Marpahol, Casiano Trinchera (pseudonym Kalantas), Iluminado Lucente (pseudonym Gulio Carter), Eduardo Makabenta (pseudonym Ben Tamaka), and Vicente I. de Veyra (pseudonym Vatchoo).

The period from 1900 to the late 1950s saw the finest lyric poems written by Iluminado Lucente, Juan Ricacho, and Eduardo Makabenta; the best satirical poems by Casiano Trinchera; and the emergence of the poetry of Agustin El O’Mora, Pablo Rebadulla, Tomas Gomez Jr., Filomeno Quimbo Singzon, Pedro Separa, Francisco Aurillo, and Ricardo Octaviano.

The Sanghiran san Binisaya was organized in 1909 under the leadership of Norberto Romualdez Sr. and brought together the writers of the period: Iluminado Lucente, Casiano Trinchera, Eduardo Makabenta, Francisco Alvarado, Juan Ricacho, Francisco Infectana, Espiridion Brillo, and Jaime C. de Veyra. The Sanghiran sought to cultivate and enrich the Waray language, and the stimulus it provided led to new Waray writing for a time.

With the increasing dominance of the English language starting in the 1950s, heralded by its use as a medium of instruction in public schools and its widely accepted use as the language of local newspapers, the decline of Waray literature began. The new writers in Leyte and Samar wrote poetry and stories in English. This situation prevailed until the 1990s.

The introduction of the writers’ workshop in the mid-80s spearheaded by Merlie Alunan, Victor Sugbo, and David Genotiva, the faculty writers of the University of the Philippines Visayas in Tacloban City, renewed the interest of a new generation of Waray to write. With the organization of the Waray Writers’ Workshop, which started in Tacloban and later found its home in Calbayog, Samar, Waray writing gathered momentum, and new poetry and short fiction emerged. Some of the noteworthy young writers are Leonilo Lopido, Dominador Pagliawan, Janice Salvacion, Voltaire Oyzon, and Evangeline Pundavela.

Four anthologies of Waray literature have been published thus far: Raymond Quetchenbach’s Lineyte-Samarnon Poems, 1974; Gregorio C. Luangco’s Waray Literature, 1982, and Kandabao, 1982; the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Waray edition of Ani, 1990, and Victor N. Sugbo’s Tinipigan, 1995; and Mga Siday han DYVL (Poems from DYVL), 2005.

Waray Folk Songs and Traditional Musical Instruments

Ancient Waray songs were chanted by the people while walking home from the woods, planting rice, performing house chores, and traveling at sea. A distinct feature of these songs was the guttural sounds rendered in the manner of trilling birds, which the singers created with imagination and skill. In their musical performances, the Waray used the coriapi, the corlong, flutes made of bagakay, the subing, and the agong.

The corlong was an ancient string instrument played only by women. It was made from the cane of tigbao, wild grass with razor-sharp edges (talahib in Tagalog) and was used together with the coriapi, which was played only by men, to accompany a woman chanting the balac. The corlong and coriapi were used in courtship to communicate the feelings and sensuality of the performers through the language of strings and chords.

The agong or gong was used in dances and festivities. The three types of gongs, from the smallest to the largest, were the sangleis;the sanquiles, which was two to three times bigger; and the burney, which could be heard from a great distance.

The subing is a bamboo strip placed in the mouth and held between the upper and lower rows of the teeth. It has a sliver at the middle, which is struck with a finger to produce sounds. With Spanish colonization, the Waray gradually shifted to the Spanish bandoles, rebeles, guitars, and harps, in the process forgetting the native musical instruments.

The sista is the Waray term for guitar. It figures prominently in fiestas and other folk gatherings as an accompaniment in the performance of dances and songs during the drinking sessions and serenades. The matraka is a wooden sound instrument popular among young children because of its rattling sounds. It is made of a thin tongue of wood positioned on a corrugated cylinder, which is rotated by means of a handle to create rattling sounds. The matraka is used during the Santo Entierro (Holy Burial) procession on Good Fridays and during the sugat (meeting) of Easter Sunday.

Through three centuries of Spanish domination and cultural transformation, the laylay have survived. These are mainly folk songs reflecting the people’s melodic, textual, and harmonic inventions and reinventions, as expressed in their lullabies, nature songs, ballads, work and love songs, nursery rimes, festive and tuba songs, Christmas carols, and patriotic songs.

The many love songs among the Waray folk song reveal the courtship mores of old. The “sentimental” tone of these songs, often misunderstood by local Western-oriented critics, was part of the aesthetics of this song genre. The courtship of old was ritualistic and indirect. Songs reflected such indirection through the use of tropes, which are images of kasakit (suffering), palooylooy (pity), and kuri (difficulty) on the part of the person in love.

Of the types of folk songs, the bawdy drinking songs are probably the most vibrant in melody and vigorous in rhythm. Sung during an ignum, which is an all-male drinking spree, the drinking songs, specifically the tuba songs, range from tributes to the drink itself to humorous portraits of its drinkers, such as in the following:

Didto han pag-ultan

Han Pawing, Guindapunan

Aadto in sanggutan

Nga guinaalirongan

Hin damo nga bagang.

Adton bagang kon nalag’ok

Da’ug pa in salimbugok

Mga linta ug limatok:

Di nalitas kon di hultok.

(At the boundary

Of Pawing, Guindapunan

There is a sanggutan

Surrounded by

So many black beetles.

When these beetles drink

They outstrip the salimbugok

Leeches and worms:

They do not let go unless utterly drunk.)

The haya was a dirge chanted by hired women who were tasked to sing praises for the deceased and dead ancestors. The canogon was a poetic lamentation. The awit was sung by seafarers during their sea travels. The rhythm of singing was synchronized with that of the oars.

Folk melodies in Waray are revitalized in the songs of the composo. But, unlike the trained composer, the composo singer adopts the melody of a folk song to the new lyrics he creates, as exemplified by “Porping,” a ballad by Antonio Zarsata Sr. of Calbayog, Samar. The ballad’s melody is based on that of another folk song, but its lyrics, consisting of 11 strophes, are original. This graphic tale of crime tells about a young lass who is violated and killed by her sex-mad uncle.

As folk singers, the composo singers are revered in their community by the people who sing their ballads during an ignum. The more original musical compositions come from the trained musician-composers. The early practitioners imbibed the rudiments of music through education, started either as a composo singer or a musician, and progressed to creating original music pieces and songs. To this generation belong Norberto Romualdez Sr., Jose Cinco Gomez, Pedro Separa, Bonifacio Durens, Agustin El O’Mora, and Pablo Rebadulla.

Video: Karatong Festival of Leyte - Featuring Bamboo Musical Instruments - Musika ng Kawayan

The composers who came after them expressed their music in a contemporary idiom, performed with Western and indigenous musical instruments such as the xylophone, subing, kulintang, bamboo flutes, tambor, piano, and electronic organ.

Art Ramasasa is a composer-performer known for his novelty music that accompanied dance forms such as kuratsa, jota, and aminudo. His compositions include “Kuratsa Mayor,” “Curacha Premira,” “Lajuta Segunda,” and “Esmayling.” Another contemporary singer-composer is Joseph Uy whose style is more serious compared to Ramasasa, typified by compositions like “Balud han Kapalaran,” “Batang Waray,” “Kuratsa Menor,” and “Samba Curacha.” Nestor de Vera of Palo, Leyte is the artistic director of Rah Rah Rousers, an all-male choral group that has been active in the past four decades.

Professional musical bands used to be an important fixture of town dances, fiestas, and social gatherings. Today, the number of professional bands has dwindled considerably because of the introduction of amplifiers and turntables, which enterprising entrepreneurs now rent out for small fees; the expense of maintaining bands; and the inability of bands to perform the jazz, rock, and new music popular with the younger audiences.

Folk Dances of Samar and Leyte

Samar folk dance alcamfor
Samar folk dance alcamfor (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)

Sayaw is the Waray’s generic term for “dance.” The oldest Waray dances on record are the men’s war dance, the women’s sabay, and a woman’s solo called the gigal. The men perform their war dance with real daggers and spears, and with their karasas (shields). Covering their entire bodies with their shields, they lunge, feint, and retreat to the rhythm of their stamping and kicking and to the beat of the gongs. This footwork is called taruk or patadpatad.

Men and women also dance together in pairs. As their feet execute the taruk, the men raise one arm upward and the other stays down, clenching and unclenching their hands in time with the rhythm of their feet and the gongs. The women dance more slowly, their eyes cast downward all throughout the dance. The women’s dance movement consists of three sequences. In the movement called the sabay, the women extend their arms sideways in imitation of a flying bird, moving their hands and fingers very slowly while standing in place but up on their toes. In the second sequence, they take a piece of cloth or kerchief and hold it between each hand, extending it now to the right, now to the left. At regular intervals, they put the kerchief around their neck, alternating this movement with the right-and-left sideways extension of the kerchief. When they are dancing with the kerchief, they stamp once with a heel instead of standing on tiptoe. These two sequences are bridged by a third sequence, in which they walk on tiptoe while the rest of their body is motionless, speeding up their pace on their toes until they repeat the first and second sequences of the dance. When a woman dances these movements solo, it is called gigal. These dances may also be performed to the singing of the ambahan.

Dances of Samar and Leyte are of three types: occupational, courtship, and festival dances. The contemporary courtship dance may have evolved from the precolonial dance performed by couples with or without the women’s kerchief. This dance has the greatest number of variations. An marol (sampaguita) demonstrates a man’s attempt to catch the attention of a maiden. The young swain waves a garland of sampaguita and offers it to her. The kuratsa, from Spanish curacha, is a lively dance performed during weddings and fiestas. Its performance is vibrant, as it requires the dancers—a man and a woman—to create their own dance steps in the manner of a chase, to the music of the guitars and the rhythmic clapping and singing of the audience.

The lingauen is a dance in which the maiden offers her scarf as a gift to her suitor, a guerrilla soldier, who is going to war in the mountains of Lingauen. The putrilyo depicts the meeting of a young man and a woman. The woman receives a pair of earrings from her suitors and wears them for him to see. The tagay-tagayan, from tagay, meaning “pour,” is about a woman enticing a man to drink tuba.

Samar folk dance kamangsi
Samar folk dance kamangsi (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)

Occupational dances are dances that mime the activities of farmers and fisherfolk. An example is the an labasero, which focuses on a seller of fish. The dance is performed by a man and a woman to the rhythm of a song bearing the same title. The tiklos is a dance miming the activities of the tiklos, a group of peasants helping one another in farm work. Flutes, a guitar, and a drum called taboro provide the music for this dance. On the other hand, the tinikling depicts the movements of the tikling, a long-legged bird which often visits rice paddies. It was originally performed to break the monotony of rice pounding at harvest time but has now become one of the most popular Philippine folk dances.

Samar folk dance pandangyado
Samar folk dance pandangyado (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)

Festival dances include those performed in social gatherings. Known as pandangyado mayor in northern and western Samar or pandangyado buraweno in Leyte, the engañosa, literally “alluring” or “charming,” is a variation of the Spanish dance called fandango, and is performed in certain festive occasions. Female performers wear a bell-shaped skirtcalled serpentina, or the maria clara, an ensemble consisting of a chemise with wide long sleeves, a kerchief folded diagonally and worn over the chemise, and a gored skirt. The males wear a baro, which is a long-sleeved shirt with collar, and dark trousers. On the other hand, the kuradang combines the steps in basic ballroom dancing with those of folk dances. This dance progresses from slow waltzing steps to fast-paced folk dancing. Other Waray festival dances are the cachucha of Leyte and the kamangsi and alcamfor of Samar.

Cachucha, Waray folk dance, Malitbog, Leyte
Cachucha, Waray folk dance, Malitbog, Leyte, circa 1960 (Francisca Reyes-Aquino Collection)

In dance research, Juan C. Miel has written a book published by the local government in 1979 titled Samar Folk Dances. Dance performing groups include the Leyte Kalipayan Dance Company (LKCD) founded by Teresita Veloso-Pil in 1960. LKCD has been active in national and international performances for a span of over five decades. The Leyte Dance Theater (LDT) was established by Jess de Paz in 1990. In the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, LDT with de Paz embarked on foreign performances to raise funds to help in rehabilitation. Other Waray dancer-choreographers are the brothers Odon and Tomas Sabarre. After a successful ballet career in the mainstream, Odon Sabarre returned to Samar and Leyte to develop dance in Region 8 by putting up a school and conducting dance scholarship programs.

Leyte Kalipayan Dance Company
Leyte Kalipayan Dance Company (CCP Collections)

Waray Rituals

Waray theater has its roots in the animistic rituals which shamans and folk healers performed with the community to commune with or appease spirits that lived on land, air, and water. Because Waray communities are mainly engaged in agriculture and fishing, many of these rituals revolve around these occupations where productivity is most subject to the vagaries of weather and tidal tow; rituals are thus intended to induce a bountiful harvest or catch.

Buhat, which literally means “something done” or “to work on,” was an animistic ritual performed by the fishers of Leyte and Samar. It was undertaken to please the dagatnon (sea spirits), the lawodnon (deep sea spirits), and the katao (mermaids). Performed by the parabuhat, the celebrant who knew the ceremony by heart, it was held on certain occasions, such as after an abundant haul or a period of poor catch.

In one fishing village in Leyte, the buhat is today conducted in a fish corral during a night of the kabogos (full moon). A ritual meal consisting of boiled rice, bread, tuba, eggs, wine, cooked entrails, and a roasted pig are prepared and placed on a small bamboo raft constructed for the ceremony. The parabuhat takes a boat to bring the food offering to the fish corral where he releases the raft and asks the sea spirits to partake of the food. In exchange for the offering, he entreats them to drive the fish to the corral of the owner whom he is helping. He further promises that should they acquire an excellent haul, an even bigger roast pig would be offered to them in the next full moon. In a town of Samar, the buhat takes the form of a ceremony that requires the sinking of a dozen eggs into a part of the ocean hemmed in by mountains.

Loon is a traditional healing ritual performed by folk healers. It is usually administered by the paraloon to the person whose illness is believed to have stemmed from an ugmad, a type of fear arising from one’s exposure to frightful experiences, such as having seen a ferocious animal or having felt the presence of spirits in the woods. Before the loon ceremony starts, the folk healer asks a member of the household to burn pieces of charcoal and to place them in a coconut shell. The healer requests another member of the family to cut a lock of the sick person’s hair and the loose fibers found at the seams of the person’s and the parents’ clothing. The paraloon takes out his own materials, consisting of the pieces of a palm leaf blessed on Palm Sunday and kamanyan or dried sap of the pili tree. He asks for a piece of the object that is perceived to have caused the ugmad. As the ceremony begins, the patient sits on a bangko (wooden stool). Slowly, while uttering an oracion, the paraloon drops the loon (gathered objects) into the live embers inside the coconut shell. He scoops smoke into his cupped hands and carries it near the patient’s head. He does this three times. The ceremony ends when the paraloon pours water over the embers and dips his fingers into the mixture, which he uses to make the sign of the cross on the different parts of the patient’s body.

Christianity and Western modernization have not totally dampened the performance of such rituals. Rather, these have survived through the centuries, borrowing Christian elements, as the ancient oral lore is still passed on from one generation of parabuhat, paraglihi, and tambalan to another. With the institutionalization of Christianity as a result of Spanish colonization, there emerged a new set of mores; thus, as the people’s religious zeal grew, folk Christian rituals developed: Pasko, literally “Christmas,” became the context for the pastores; the Lenten season, for tais dupol and sugat; May for the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) and Santa Cruz de Mayo (Holy Cross of May).

The pastores are roving village minstrels who at Yuletide visit houses in the town or village to dance and sing carols. The early pastores were elders of the village who took it as their religious duty to perform the pastores play and carols. This Waray play was sung and acted out in verse; it mainly recounted the search of Saint Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary for a night’s lodgings and the story of the Magi. The performance of the pastores play involved the community. Elders enacted the play on Christmas Eve. Carrying lighted candles and torches, these pastores, including those playing the roles of Joseph and Mary, approached each house in a reenactment of that search. Called panaret, literally “asking for permission,” this part of the play ended at the stroke of midnight.

The performance of the tarindaw started a day after the panaret and culminated on the Feast of the Three Kings. The presentation was a reenactment of the story of rejoicing. During this period, the pastores went around the village, at times visiting nearby communities, to perform the tarindaw. Although the elder pastores never expected payment for their performance, they nonetheless received gifts of appreciation from the people.

The later pastores were young girls and boys who came in groups of five and six. They presented the play in a more abbreviated form, perhaps due to the difficulty of committing the songs to memory. Usually dressed in white, with buri hats and ribbons wound around their waists, they were invited by families to perform the play inside the house, a yard, or open space.

Tais dupol was an old practice observed by the men of Palo, Leyte who, during the Lenten season, would go around the town, barefoot, begging for alms. These men were penitents who wore robes like those of priests and turned over their collections to the church. The married men wore the tais or the pointed hoods that covered the entire face and neck but had two holes for the eyes; single men wore the dupol or the conical hoods with leveled tops. The ritual started on Palm Sunday and ended on Easter Sunday. In the 1950s and the 1960s, there were only about a hundred of them in Palo, but this number has diminished further.

Sugat or meeting is a ritual reenacting the meeting of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her resurrected son Jesus. Performed in the early hours of Easter Sunday, the sugat marks the end of the Lenten season. Two processions are staged: one for the resurrected Christ on a carro (float) and another for the Blessed Virgin, whose face is covered by a long black veil. Starting from different points, both processions converge at a specific spot where the meeting is reenacted. A dramatic feature of the traditional sugat is that of a little girl who, garbed as an angel, is lowered from “heaven” with ropes and pulleys. Her role is to lift the long veil from the Virgin’s head to symbolize the end of her mourning. The joyous rattling of matrakas marks the climax of the sugat.

The Santa Cruz de Mayo or Santacruzan is a folk celebration centering on the quest of the Holy Cross by Santa Elena and her son, Emperor Constantino. Every year in the month of May, this ritual, which dates back to the Spanish times, is celebrated in certain towns of Leyte and Samar with a novena. Candlelit processions are held each evening, with the symbolic Holy Cross brought around the town streets after the prayers.

Early commemorations of the Santa Cruz de Mayo were capped by grandiose processions complete with the colorful parol (star- and cross-shaped lanterns), brightly lit candles, floral arches, and a parade of costumed personages that included Infanta Judith, Reina Mora, Abogada, Reina Elena, Emperor Constantino, and Reina de las Flores.

On May evenings, the streets of Tacloban practically become a spectacle of lights as so many communities hold the santacruzan. On the last day of May, all processions converge at the Plaza Treinta de Deciembre to join the paisan-isan, a folk competition for the most creative parol, the most complete costumed personages, and the most popular procession. On this last eve of May, main streets in the communities are closed to traffic so the people can hold their parlor games, dances, and revelries. The men gather to drink tuba until the early morning hours.

The Flores de Mayo is a ritual in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Lady of Flowers. Held in town churches in May, the ritual is essentially an initiation of children to the devotion of the Blessed Virgin. This ritual is characterized by the singing of praises to the Virgin, the recitation of novena prayers, and the offering of flowers to an image of the Virgin. Processions and theatrical performances are also held during fiestas in honor of the patron saint of a town or a barangay.

Sinulog, Hadi-hadi and Floresto

Moro and Cristiano encounter in the Sinulog, Calbiga, Samar
Moro and Cristiano encounter in the Sinulog, Calbiga, Samar (CCP Collections)

The sinulog is a festival dance drama depicting the confrontation between the Christians and the Moors. In Samar, this version of the moros y cristianos is performed by men as an offering to the patron saint a day before the fiesta. Set within the framework of a moro raid, it opens with a leader or a clown informing villagers about the invasion of the Moros and calling upon them to prepare for combat. Then the mock battles begin on the streets, the warriors carrying with them wooden shields and bladed weapons, either the kris or sundang. These dance duels begin with the skirmish between warriors of minor rank and progress to the much awaited confrontation, or sinulog, between the leaders, played by the town’s experts in eskrima. Starting with the rhythm of simple movements, the duels rise to a feverish pitch as Christian warrior outmaneuvers Moro warrior. The rendition of the sinulog into dance is complicated; it entails not only dexterous arm gestures but also complex footwork that features high leaps like those of roosters in cockfights. It concludes with the Moros being taken around the town as “captives” to signify the triumph of Christianity.

The hadi-hadi, literally “playing at kings,” was performed in the late 19th century up to the first two decades of the 1900s. A prominent feature in town fiestas, the hadi-hadi is a folk play that deals with the conflicts between the kingdoms of the Muslims and the Christians. The dialogue of the hadi-hadi is cast in rhymed verse and is delivered in a stylized manner. A four-line dialogue, spoken fast, is called a verso, whereas an eight-line dialogue, chanted in a tono nga lubaylubay (singsong tone), is referred to as the plosa. A permanent feature in the production of the play is the paradikta (prompter), who dictates the lines of the performers.

A surviving work in this genre is Floresto, a dramatic spectacle attributed to Pedro Acerden. It is the story of a Christian villano named Floresto, who as a child is kidnapped by Muslim raiders and is reared as a son of the Muslim king. As a young man, Floresto of Turquia goes to Castilla where he falls in love with the Princess Catalina. During the fiesta held in honor of the Holy Cross at Antioquia, a grand torneo is held. Floresto joins the torneo, wins the trust of Princess Catalina’s father, and later asks for the hand of the princess in marriage.

Waray Sarsuwela

Urbanization and the introduction of the sarsuwela gradually shunted the performances of the hadi-hadi to the more remote towns and villages in Leyte and Samar. In the pre-World War II era, the sarsuwela became increasingly important in the fiestas of the central towns like Tacloban, Carigara, Dulag, Palo, Tanauan, and Tolosa in Leyte; and Basey, Calbayog, and Catbalogan in Samar. The first Waray sarsuwela that was staged was An Pagtabang ni San Miguel (The Help of Saint Michael) by Norberto Romualdez Sr., presented in Tolosa in 1899.

In the hands of the Waray playwrights, the sarsuwela underwent modifications and was called by a number of names: zarzuela dramatica, zarzuela nga vinisaya, drama nga kinantahan, melodrama, and opereta. The term “operetta” must have sprung in the 1950s and early 1960s, when a spate of musical plays in English, called operettas, were staged in the schools of the city of Tacloban. By whatever name the Waray playwright called his play, common elements of the sarsuwela written between the 1900s and the 1960s were songs and, at times, dances. For this reason, the playwrights preferred to call the sarsuwela drama nga kinantahan or a play with songs. The terms “melodrama” and “drama,” appended to the text, indicated that the play highlighted a dramatic situation, such as a domestic tragedy.

Short plays that carried elements of the sarsuwela were variously labelled durugas (farce), hilipot nga kalingawan (short entertainment), hiruhimangaw ngan karanta (dialogue with songs), sainete (farce), and comedia (comedy). Apparently, these variants of the sarsuwela were one-act plays divided into scenes with parts of the dialogue in songs. It thus lived up to the basic expectation of kalingawan or entertainment. An outstanding playwright of this genre was Iluminado Lucente, whose satirical and farcical plays dealt with domestic issues.

Outstanding writers of the sarsuwela in Waray include Norberto Romualdez Sr., Alfonso Cinco, Iluminado Lucente, Francisco V Alvarado, Emilio Andrada Jr., Generoso Nuevas, Moning Fuentes, Virginio V Fuentes, Agustin El O’Mora, Jesus Ignacio, Pedro Acerden, and Margarita Nonato. Like Waray poetry that appeared between the 1900s and 1950s, the Waray sarsuwela criticized the emergent social issues during the period, such as the Waray’s attempt to use American English; the folly of parents who marry off their daughters to Americans after World War II; the social vices of the Waray; and the clash of values between the old generation and the young, modernized Waray.

In the 1960s, the sarsuwela began to decline for several reasons: its production expenses had become bloated; the cinema provided easy and cheap entertainment; and economic hardship plagued the people during that period. In recent years, there has been a revival of the sarsuwela in Tacloban and other municipalities to drum up community involvement and stimulate the writing of new plays in Waray. In contrast, the hadi-hadi seems to have outlived the sarsuwela in eastern Visayas, for it is still performed in a few towns and villages in Leyte and Samar.

Waray dramas continue to be staged in the two cities, Tacloban and Calbayog, during fiestas and important occasions. Interest in Waray theater has been kept alive by Joey Lianza in Tacloban, who directs and mounts plays in the university where he teaches and in public spaces of the city and adjacent municipalities. He has staged the sarsuwela of Iluminado Lucente in the province’s far-off municipalities. Lianza’s revival of old forms is marked by theatrical experimentation. He has also presented Waray poetry as moving dramatic performances.

An Balangaw is a theater group based at the University of the Philippines Visayas Tacloban College founded by Joycie Dorado-Alegre. Sirang Theater Ensemble, based at Leyte Normal University, Tacloban City was founded by Jose N. Lianza. The group produces original plays by Waray writers like Lucente and works that incorporate Waray art forms like the pastores and siday. In Calbayog City, original works by playwright-directors Jose Pet Labro of Catbalogan, and Fr Paolo Diosdado Casurao are staged occasionally. Many of these are musical plays. Another notable director of Waray plays in Calbayog is Jessie Baldomarro. The Calao and Ibabao Arts Group are active theater groups in the city. Another organization that performs original plays is Teatro Dagway.

Waray People as Featured in Media

The first and oldest radio station in Region 8 is DYVL Aksyon Radyo, which began airing from Tacloban on 17 January 1956. It was established by the Manila Broadcasting Company, which owned and operated KZRH, the first radio station in the Philippines. In 1979, Francisca “Bebs” S. Custodio started reading a bit of puplonganon or poetry in Waray after the morning news broadcast. After a year, Custodio invited listeners to send in their own quotations, and they sent in not only excerpts but whole poems. The segment was given its own time slot and named Puplonganon. It was turned into a contest, and the winning poem was the piece read for the day. Every winner of the day contended for the weekly, the monthly, and the annual prize. One product of this radio program is the poetry anthology Mga Siday han DYVL (Poems from DYVL), 2005. DYVL Aksyon Radio has received several awards: Outstanding Non-government Organization award from the Regional Disaster Coordinating Council, 1991; Radio Station of the Year from the NAPOLCOM-PNP Regional Command, 1997; and the Gawad Iluminado Lucente from the UP Tacloban College Komite ng Wikang Filipino for Puplonganon, 1995. In 2016, Bebs Custodio won the Gawad Plaridel, the highest media award of the University of the Philippines, for her puplonganon and for her heroic public service as radio commentator during typhoon Yolanda.

In the 1950s, a series of comedic films starring Nida Blanca and Nestor de Villa capitalized on the stereotype of the female Waray as a feisty woman who ends up fighting her way into a man’s heart. Based on a DZBC radio series, the first film, Waray Waray, 1954, was written and directed by FH Constantino. Upeng, the Waray, finds work in Manila as a domestic cook for a wealthy, elderly couple. She is constantly at odds with Delfin, who is in the employ of the elderly man as a salesman. Complications arise when her elderly employer falls for her. The theme song with the same title was the collaborative work of composer Juan Silos Jr. and National Artist Levi Celerio. The subsequent films in the series are Anak ni Waray (Child of Waray), 1958; Si Adiang Waray (Adiang Waray), 1963; and Anak ni Waray vs Anak ni Biday (Child of Waray versus Child of Biday), 1984.

Dick Israel as a local election fixer in Chito Roño’s Badil, set in an unnamed town in Samar
Dick Israel as a local election fixer in Chito Roño’s Badil, set in an unnamed town in Samar, 2013 (Photo courtesy of Chito Roño, FDCP, and Waray Republik)

Waray filmmaker Chito Roño has made films about folk beliefs and contemporary politics in Samar. His horror film T2 (Tenement 2), 2009, depicts encounters between mortal men and engkanto, which are supernatural beings disguised as humans. The film reinforces the mistaken notion of the engkanto as demonic creatures hostile to humans, as well as the stereotype of the rural Philippines as a primitive place that such creatures inhabit. Roño’s political thriller Badil (Dynamite Fishing),2013, is about electoral corruption in a barrio on Biri Island, Samar. A veteran campaigner makes the rounds on the eve of elections to swing the votes in the incumbent mayor’s favor. He bribes, intimidates, and demands payback for the barrio folk’s utang na loob (debt of gratitude) to the mayor. When he falls ill later that day, his son takes over these same activities.

A number of full-length feature films and documentaries have been made about the catastrophic effects of Typhoon Yolanda on the Eastern Visayas region. Mga Anak ng Unos, Unang Aklat (Storm Children, Book One), 2014, is a 143-minute documentary by Lav Diaz, whose black-and-white cinematography creates a portrait of the post-Haiyan Tacloban City as a dystopic world. In a series of tableaux, the film focuses on children’s modes of survival among the ruins left behind by the typhoon. No matter how futile their searches for their loved ones in the silt and ruins, they remain steadfast, albeit playful.

Brillante Mendoza’s Taklub (Trap), 2015, dramatizes the lives of three survivors even as it includes footage of real-life survivors of the typhoon. The three principal characters are a mother in search of her three children’s remains; a widowed tricycle driver seeking solace in religious ritual; and a fisherman and two younger siblings orphaned by the storm. The word taklub (cover) is a pun on Tacloban City and was its original name.

Selling Songs of Leyte, 2004, is a 14-minute documentary by Eli Africa, showing vendors selling dried fish against the backdrop of various market activities in some towns of Leyte, such as Carigara, Alang Alang, and Dulag. To the lilt of a folk melody, the vendors sing a simple counting song as a way of keeping track of each piece of fish that they put into a plastic bag for their customers. They also sing to attract buyers “for fun,” as one of them puts it. The film won the Best Foreign Short Documentary at the 2004 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.


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  • This article is from the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition. Title: Waray. Author/s: Victorio N. Sugbo, and Galileo Zafra (1994) / Updated by Rosario Cruz-Lucero, with additional notes from Jay Jomar F. Quintos (2018). Publication Date: November 18, 2020. Access Date: September 22, 2022. URL:


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