October 24, 2014 
 
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The Islands of Leyte and Samar
Joycie Dorado-Alegre
Articles

       The islands of Leyte and Samar are collectively known as the Eastern Visayas Region 8. It is composed of six provinces namely: Samar (25 towns with Catbalogan as capital), Northern Samar (24 towns with Catarman as capital), Leyte (41 towns with Tacloban as the capital), Southern Leyte (18 towns with Maasin as the capital) and Biliran (8 towns with Naval as the capital). The regional capital is the City of Tacloban in Leyte. This is where the regional offices of all government institutions are located. Eastern Visayas has a total land area of 21,561.8 sq. km.

Demography

       Region 8 has a population of 3,366,917 with annual average growth rate of 1.77% based on the 1995 census. This is distributed among the six provinces with Leyte having the biggest population with 1,643,460 and a population density of 262.2 p/sq.km. This comprise 48.81% of the total population. The next is Samar with 589,373 and a population density of 105.4 p/sq.km.   Third is Northern Samar with 454,195 with a population density of  129.8 p/sq.km. Fourth is Eastern Samar with a population of 362,324 and a density of 83.5 p/sq.km. Fifth is Southern Leyte with a population of 317,565 and a density of 183.1 p/sq.km. And Biliran with 118,012 and a density of 212 p/sq.km.

       Based on the said survey, there are 693, 679 families in region 8 with an average annual income of P49,912 per family and an average annual expenditure of P37,522. The remaining amount of P12,390 is the average annual savings.

History

       Based on geologic findings, during the ice ages or Pleistocene period (2 million years - 8,000 B.C), the islands of Mindoro, Luzon, and Mindanao were connected as one big island through the islands of Samar, Leyte and  Bohol.

       Diggings in Sohoton Caves in Basey, Samar showed stone flake tools dated 8550 B.C. Other diggings along the Basey River revealed other stone flakes used until the 13th century.

       Recent Philippine history also places these two islands prominently. The island of Homonhon in Guiuan Eastern Samar was first sighted by Magellan in his voyage to the orient, one that led to his death in the hands of the men of Lapulapu in Mactan, Cebu. In the next expedition (1565) headed by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, he named Leyte, "Filipina" after Prince Philip of Spain. Leyte and Samar then were ruled as one province under the jurisdiction of Cebu. Samar and  Leyte were separated as provinces in 1768.

       The San Bernardino Strait between Samar and Luzon was a gateway for the Spanish Galleon. Royal Port was established in Palapag Northern Samar to protect galleons from winds and stormy seas. In 1649, shipbuilders were drafted to Cavite shipyards to build galleons and other vessels. In the same year, the recruits  led by Sumuroy of Samar staged a revolt which was one of the earliest recorded revolt against Spain.

       The 1900's also saw a victory of the locals against the American forces when the people of Balangiga staged a successful raid against the Company C of the American battalion stationed in Balangiga, Samar. The Americans retaliated and killed at least 60,000 Samarnons including civilians.

       During World War II, Leyte and Samar figured prominently as battlefields.  On October 20, 1994, American troops led by General Douglas McArthur and Commonwealth President Sergio Osmeña landed on Red Beach Palo, Leyte signaling the defeat of Japan. The Battle of Leyte Gulf is known as the biggest naval battle in modern history. For a time after then, the center of the Philippine Commonwealth Government was in Tacloban.

Language/Dialect

       The language largely spoken in Leyte Samar is the Lineyte-Samarnon Visayan language popularly called Waray. Warays inhabit the entire Samar mainland and about 25% of Northern Leyte with almost every town having its own dialect derived from the Waray mother tongue. Boholano and Cebuano speaking people are found in some areas in northwestern and northeastern Leyte to the entire western and  southern Leyte. In some islands, also in Samar are Cebuano and Boholano migrants specifically in the island municipalities of San Vicente and parts of San Antonio in Northern Samar and Almagro in Western Samar. In one island though of Capul at the tip of Northern Samar, the people speak Abaknon a Samar-related language. According to the town's oral history, their ancestors were from Balabac, a group of islands in South of Palawan. They left the island and traveled by sea with their leader Abak because they refused domination by the Moros.

       In the province of Biliran, the eastern part is inhabited by Warays and the rest up to the western portion are Cebuano speaking.

Culture

       Leyte and Samar have rich resources of an island ecosystem. The land and water display a rich biodiversity. Rice, both upland lowland, rootcrops, bananas, vegetables and fruits abound. These are made into sweets and delicacies. Notable among these are the binagol (made from root crop called talyan) Leyte, pinyato (pop rice) and pili of Calbiga, Samar and so many others in every town of the region.

       The women of Basey, Samar weave a variety of intricately designed mats from sedge grass locally known as tikog (Fimbristylis milliacea). This tradition was handed down from many generations past. They also produce embroidered mats with flowers, birds, fishes, mermaids and scenes from folktales and legends. Other traditional art forms of the region are pottery of Tanauan, Leyte and Biliran, basketry of Calbiga, Samar and Carigara, Leyte, Matalom, Leyte. Based on recent statistics, the region produces the biggest bulk of abaca for international export.

       Farming and fishing are the main livelihood. In the entire cropping season, from land preparation up to post harvest, the farmers perform rituals invoking the nature spirits and ancestor spirits for a good harvest. This is also complemented by Christian customs as the recitation of novenas (9-day). Fisherfolk likewise ask permission from the water spirits for safety at sea and a good catch.

       Fiestas are celebrated with prayer, food/drinking dance and music. The kuratsa - a courtship dance drama - highlights every occasion.

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About the Author:
Joycie Dorado-Alegre has been the Artistic Director of An Balangaw Performing Arts Group since 1984. The group most recently staged "KinasingKasing", a Leyte-Samar Contemporary Sarswela, sponsored by UP Tacloban and NCCA. She is currently Assistant Professor VI for the Arts & Sciences Division Tacloban UP Visayas and Director of Leyte-Samar Heritage Center.
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