Eastern Visayas is composed of the islands of Samar,
Leyte, Biliran and the smaller outlying islands. In terms of political
divisions, it is made up of six provinces, namely Northern Samar, Eastern
Samar, Samar, Biliran, Leyte, and Southern Leyte. As of Census 1995, the
region's total population stood at 3.5 million with Leyte having the highest
population concentration at 1.5 million, and Biliran, the smallest
population at 132 thousand.
The region is humid, and has no definite wet and dry
seasons. It is generally agricultural and its main crops include coconut,
banana, potatoes, cassava, abaca, and sugarcane. Its other source of income
is fishing. Frequent occurrences of typhoons have perennially disturbed the
economy of the region but people seem to have adapted well enough.
The City of Tacloban is the major center of trade
and commerce and education in the region.
THE SOCIOLINGUISTIC SITUATION
The mountain ranges that traverse the islands of
Samar, Leyte, and Biliran have influenced the development of dialectal
varieties of Waray and distinct speech communities. In Leyte, the Central
Cordillera that bisects the island has provided the condition for the
establishment of two distinct speech communities, the Waray and the Cebuano,
and the growth of dialectal varieties of Waray. In Biliran, a similar speech
situation exists. The hilly and mountainous terrain of Samar has contributed
to the rise of Waray dialects, and likewise has nurtured a small number of
Cebuano speech communities.
The 1995 Census Report reveals that there were more
than 2 M speakers of Waray and 1.2 M speakers of Cebuano in the region.
About 80 per cent of the total population in the region were registered
functionally literate - that is, being able to read, write, and count.
The literature of Eastern Visayas refers to the
literature written in Waray and Cebuano by writers from the region. Of the
two, it is Waray literature that has been collected, recorded, and
documented by scholars and researchers, a movement largely spurred by the
interest of German priests, managing a university in Tacloban City, who saw
the necessity of gathering and preserving the literary heritage of the
region. It is in this light that whenever East Visayan literature is written
about, it is usually Waray literature that is being described.
Earliest accounts of East Visayan literature date
back to 1668 when a Spanish Jesuit by the name of Fr. Ignatio Francisco
Alzina documented the poetic forms such as the candu, haya,
ambahan, canogon, bical, balac, siday and awit.
He also described the susumaton and
posong, early forms of narratives. Theater tradition was very
much in place - in the performance of poetry, rituals, and mimetic dances.
Dances mimed the joys and activities of the ancient Waray.
With three centuries of Spanish colonization and
another period of American occupation, old rituals, poetic forms and
narratives had undergone reinvention. A case in point is the
balac, a poetic love joust between a man and a woman.
According to Cabardo, the balac retained its form even as it took
new names and borrowed aspects of the languages of the colonizers. During
the Spanish period, the balac was called the amoral;
during the American occupation, it was renamed ismayling,
a term derived from the English word "smile." According to a literary
investigator, in certain areas of Samar, the same balac
form or ismayling has been reinvented to express
anti-imperialist sentiments where the woman represents the motherland and
the man, the patriot who professes his love of country.
Modern East Visayan literature, particularly Waray,
revolves around poetry and drama produced between the 1900s and the present.
The flourishing economy of the region and the appearance of local
publications starting in 1901 with the publication of An
Kaadlawon, the first Waray newspaper, saw the flourishing of
poetry in Waray.
In Samar, Eco de Samar y Leyte,
a long running magazine in the 1900s, published articles and literary works
in Spanish, Waray and English. A noteworthy feature of this publication was
its poetry section, An Tadtaran, which presented a
series of satirical poems that attacked the changing values of the people at
the time. Eco likewise published occasional and religious poems.
In Leyte, An Lantawan,
which has extant copies from 1931 to 1932, printed religious and occasional
poetry. It also published satirical poems of Bagong Katipunero, Luro, Datoy
Anilod, Marpahol, Vatchoo (Vicente I. de Veyra), Julio Carter (Iluminado
Lucente), Ben Tamaka (Eduardo Makabenta), and Kalantas (Casiano Trinchera).
Under these pseudonyms, poets criticized corrupt government officials, made
fun of people’s vices, and attacked local women for adopting modern ways of
With the organization of the Sanghiran
San Binisaya in 1909, writers as well as the illustrados in
the community banded together for the purpose of cultivating the Waray
language. Under the leadership of Norberto Romualdez Sr, Sanghiran's members
had literary luminaries that included Iluminado Lucente, Casiano Trinchera,
Eduardo Makabenta, Francisco Alvarado, Juan Ricacho, Francisco Infectana,
Espiridion Brillo, and statesman Jaime C. de Veyra. For a time, Sanghiran
was responsible for the impetus it gave to new writing in the language.
The period 1900 to the late fifties witnessed the
finest Waray poems of Casiano Trinchera, Iluminado Lucente, Eduardo
Makabenta, and the emergence of the poetry of Agustin El O'Mora, Pablo
Rebadulla, Tomas Gomez Jr., Filomeno Quimbo Singzon, Pedro Separa, Francisco
Aurillo, and Eleuterio Ramoo. Trinchera, Lucente, and Makabenta were
particularly at their best when they wrote satirical poetry.
The growing acceptance of English as official
language in the country strengthened these writers’ loyalty to the ethnic
mother tongue as their medium for their art. The publication of
Leyte News and The Leader in the
twenties, the first local papers in English, brought about the increasing
legitimization of English as a medium of communication, the gradual
displacement of Waray and eventual disappearance of its poetry from the
pages of local publications.
Where local newspapers no longer served as vehicles
for written poetry in Waray, the role was assumed by MBC's DYVL and local
radio stations in the seventies. Up to the present time, poetry sent to
these stations are written mostly by local folk - farmers, housewives,
lawyers, government clerks, teachers, and students. A common quality of
their poetry is that they tend to be occasional, didactic, and traditional
in form. The schooled writers in the region, unlike the local folk poets, do
not write in Waray nor Filipino. Most of them write in English although
lately there has been an romantic return to their ethnic mother tongue as
the medium for their poetry.
Waray drama was once a fixture of town fiestas. Its
writing and presentation were usually commissioned by the
hermano mayor as part of festivities to entertain the
constituents of the town. Town fiestas in a way sustained the work of the
playwright. In recent years, this is no longer the case. If ever a play gets
staged nowadays, it is essentially drawn from the pool of plays written
earlier in the tradition of the hadi-hadi and the
According to Filipinas, an authority on the Waray
zarzuela, the earliest zarzuela production involved that of Norberto
Romualdez' An Pagtabang ni San Miguel, which was
staged in Tolosa, Leyte in 1899. The zarzuela as a dramatic form enthralled
audiences for its musicality and dramatic action. Among the noteworthy
playwrights of this genre were Norberto Romualdez Sr., Alfonso Cinco,
Iluminado Lucente, Emilio Andrada Jr., Francisco Alvarado, Jesus Ignacio,
Margarita Nonato, Pedro Acerden, Pedro Separa, Educardo Hilbano, Moning
Fuentes, Virgilio Fuentes, and Agustin El O'Mora.
Of these playwrights, Iluminado Lucente stands out
in terms of literary accomplishment. He wrote about thirty plays and most of
these dealt with domestic conflicts and the changing mores of Waray society
during his time. Although a number of his longer works tend to be
melodramatic, it was his satirical plays that are memorable for their irony
and humor, the tightness of their plot structure, and the specious use of
The hadi-hadi antedates
the zarzuela in development. It used to be written and staged in many
communities of Leyte as part of town fiesta festivities held in honor of a
Patron Saint. It generally dealt with Christian and Muslim kingdoms at war.
Today one hardly hears about hadi-hadi being staged even in the Cebuano
speech communities of the region.
Fiction in Waray has not flourished because it lacks
a venue for publication.
Cebuano literature produced in Eastern Visayas is
still undocumented terrain. To the writers from the Cebuano speech
communities in the region, Cebu City is their center. It is thus not
surprising if much of the literature from these communities, particularly
fiction and poetry, have found their way into Cebu City’s publications.
Known Cebuano writers of Leyte like Eugenio Viacrusis, Angel Enemecio,
Enemecio Fornarina, and Fernando Buyser first published their fiction and
poetry in Cebu publications, and their works have afterward formed part of
the literary anthologies in the Cebuano language.