By Gloria Esguerra Melencio
Waray is a Samar-Leyte word which means none or nothing. How the word became a collective name of people living in Samar and Leyte, two islands that lie closely to each other in the Visayan region in middle curve of the Philippines, is not yet known in history.
Some Filipinos condescendingly refer to this group of people as “waray upay” (poor) or “waray kuwarta” (no money). Stereotypic images of Waraynons vary as “waray upay nga mga tawo” (good for nothing people) to mean they are drunkards, thieves or gamblers for men; and prostitutes, dancers or housemaids for women.
Recorded was Jesuit priest Pedro Chirino’s account describing those people in Samar and Leyte as “good-for-nothing” people because all they responded to the friars when they asked them about everything – the name of the place where they berthed, for directions , or for the names of people who were not yet and who refused to be baptized as Christians were: “Waray” (I do not know) or “waray gad” (nothing if you please) or “waray man” (truly nothing) or “waray kunta” (absolutely nothing).
Early Samar-Leyte people must had invented many versions of that waray word to cover up what had really been happening from middle of 16th century up to the whole of 17th century.
The word connotes negativity, but for the Waraynons it means vigilance, bravery, intelligence, wit and survival. Had the early Spanish conquistadores only known that the word covers up the “turugpo” (meetings) or “tigaman” (congregation) in the “pantaw” (temporary makeshift altar) every “ginmata” (full moon) or a reaction to the Spaniards’ burning of the babaylans (mostly priestesses) at stake and beheadings of Bancao (Carigara, Leyte) and Sumuroy (Palapag, Samar) – they could had directly named these “docile” yet “warlike” people as cimarrones, remontados, paganos, erejes, insurrectos or suversibos.
Yet, they call them as such in their 18th and 19th century Spanish documents. But while the Waray word had stuck just the same, the bravado of the Waraynons has continued even during the American period up to this day.
The 20th century Balangiga Encounter (Americans refused to call it such and prefer to call it the Balangiga Affair) in Samar where Waraynons successfully penetrated and defeated the American encampment had been a result of a well-planned attack.
What’s in a name? Spaniards refused to give the Samar-Leyte people a name that would show their resentments and their wit in the battle of the minds. Americans deny that the Waray people are capable of retaliation: At times when Waraynons cannot face cannon balls, guns and swords, they used a different strategy. Lack in arms did not mean losing the war.
Next time we are tempted to think of the Warays as all members of the Waray-waray Gang who does kidnap-for-ransoms, or the “waray upay” people who drink gin till they drop dead in Tondo or Navotas side streets, or the GROs along Ermita and Quezon Avenue or the housemaids in the neighborhood, always remember the ancestors and babaylans in 1521, Bancao in 1621, Sumuroy in 1650, the heroes of the Balangiga attack in 1901 and many more who did not make it in written history because they were not rich and famous.
Waray has become a beautiful word.