The Philippines has many islands, many cultures, and many languages. Tagalog, the official national language, is native only to the northern island of Luzon. For the rest of us, Tagalog is a second language we learn in school. On Samar, our native language is Waray-Waray and we are the Waray people.
There is a saying about the Waray: “basta ang Waray, hindi uurong sa away”, which means that “the Waray never back away from a fight.”
Aside from Tagalog and Waray, the other part of our language mix is Spanish. Almost no one speaks Spanish, but Spanish words, acquired during our three hundred years as a Spanish colony, are sprinkled in among our own words.
My world as a small child was Guinob-an, but as I grew older it expanded a little to the other coastal barangays and Lawaan. To explain the relationship between my village of Guinob-an and the other coastal towns, and Lawaan, which is both a municipality (like a county) and a poblacion (a larger town) is a little complicated but I’ll try.
Guinob-an is a village—or ‘barangay’ as we call it. When I was growing up it consisted of about 175 households and had a population of about 700. Today the population is almost 1000.
Guinob-an is part of the municipality of Lawaan, which is part of the province of Eastern Samar. The municipality of Lawaan is divided into sixteen barangays.
Of this, five are coastal barangays like Guinob-an. All of these have names. They are, from west to east, Bolusao, Guinob-an, Betaog, Taguite, and Maslog. There is also one interior barangay, San Isidro, in the hills to the north. The rest of the barangays are within the poblacion or town proper, of Lawaan, and those barangays have numbers, not names; I guess because they are part of a town that already has a name. It’s that way in all the poblacions, not just Lawaan.
When I was growing up the sixteen barangays of Lawaan municipality had a total population of around 8,000, with half of the population living in Lawaan town and the rest scattered among the coastal barangays and San Isidro.
As you go east, the next Municipality is Balangiga, which also has coastal barangays like Lawaan, and has a population about the same as Lawaan.After I almost died as a baby, my parents began making an annual pilgrimage from Guinob-an to Sulangan, which is at the southernmost tip of the island of Samar, where they would celebrate mass and offer thanks at San Antonio De Padua Church, where there is a shrine to St. Anthony who is famous for performing miracles and interceding to save people, and who, because of this, is deeply revered by all. They had prayed to St. Anthony De Padua for my recovery, and now they made the pilgrimage each year to give thanks.
To prepare for the trip, my Dad would build four or five binigiw boats which he would sell in Guiuan, which is just north of Sulangan. The boats were made by cutting a twelve-foot long tree trunk in half and hollowing it out. This created the hull of what would become the binigiw. He would then—often with me helping—cut bamboo into foot-long strips half an inch wide and shaved down to about the thickness of a postcard. These would be dried under the sun for a few days; when dried my parents would weave them.
These strips would be woven like a sleeping mat, and then applied to a wooden frame sticking up from the edges of the hollowed out log, forming the sides of the boat. Tatay would then collect sap from forest trees and boil it, applying it in many coats to the bamboo until a seal was created. Bamboo outriggers and a removable mast were added, and the result was a twelve-foot, very narrow boat made entirely of native materials—nothing bought, everything gathered from the forest. When he was ready to sell them, he would tie them all to the back of one of the ferry pump boats to be towed, and then when we would ride the ferry to Sulangan more than 100 miles down the coast.The ferry would dock in Guiuan, which is where the boat trading would take place. My mom and I would take a jeepney to Sulangan, to the church, to fulfill our pledge to give thanks, while my dad would stay in Guiuan and sell the boats. I’ll never forget the first jeepney I rode in. It was the biggest vehicle I had ever seen—colorfully painted, smelling of diesel, which I didn’t like, but lively and fun.The stone church in Sulangan seemed to me to be the biggest a building could possibly be; I had never seen anything like it. My mom took me inside, where it was quiet and beautiful and made a deep impression on me. Because of what happened—my sickness, their prayers, my survival, and their commitment—I felt like Saint Anthony was my saint.
We always timed our trip to arrive in Sulangan during the annual fiesta there. My mom and I would stay there for a few days while my dad sold the binigiw that he had built. I remember it as a very beautiful, exciting, and fun time. We would buy a type of delicious bread called kabak, and eat it there, and then bring it home at the end of our visit as a pasalubong, or homecoming gift, for the family in Guinob-an.
While we were in Sulangan, the ferry would dock a little bit offshore where the water was clear and deep enough for it to be a breathtaking shade of blue; so clear you could see the bottom thirty feet down. My mom let me swim and dive with other kids from the outrigger of the ferry, and that’s where I remember really learning how to swim and dive deep, all the way to the bottom.
While we were there, I also discovered something that to me seemed absolutely amazing and wonderful, almost magical. It was cotton candy in many different colors. I couldn’t understand how they made it but I loved it. Also, another wonderful thing—ice scramble, which is shaved ice with condensed milk poured on it. I’ve had many, many wonderful desserts over the years in some pretty fancy places but nothing compares to the cotton candy and ice scrambles on those fiesta days in Sulangan.
Sulangan was the most exciting place I had been; a fun place; lots of people, lots of buying. And my parents were excited because of the money they made from the boat, and for once, for a short time each year at the fiesta—we would have abundance.
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