Geographically, Samar is a province in the Philippines located at the Eastern Visayan Region. The eastern border of it faces the Pacific Ocean. Philippine Trench, one of the deepest parts of the ocean, lies just off the coast. The name of the place was said to be derived from the local dialect “samad” meaning wound or cut, which exactly characterizes the rough physical features of the island that is rugged and deeply dissected by streams (Wikipedia). Mostly, communities are agriculturally based economy where in major crops like rice, corn and camote are their common sources for subsistence.
However, communities which are situated near coastal areas depend their living in fishing. The area is generally undeveloped and considered the economic and social backwater of the Philippines. The Waray-waray people consists approximately 85% of the total population in the region and the remaining is comprised of the Cebuano speaking people like in Almagro, Santo Nii??o and some areas in Leyte (Johnson 2000). The term “waray-waray” means the “nothing-nothing” people and in order to be Waray, one must both be born of Waray blood and speak the Waray language (Johnson 2000).
The Visayan Islands (Samar and Leyte) are, in Philippine Folk Belief, the home of the witches. Whatever might have directed to this “distinction”, general observations showed that the belief in witches and witchcraft is common to all segments of the population in the Barrios as well as in the towns of Leyte and Samar. This witchcraft practice is said to be widely occurring even the time prior to the coming of Spaniards here in the Philippines (Johnson 2000).
Thus, this is apparently a historical manifestation that the place had a rich and unifying culture and traditions in spite of its archipelagic characteristics (like in Almagro and Sto. Nino). Even when the Roman Catholic form of Christianity came to the Philippines with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it did not annihilate the profoundly inveterate paganism (Johnson 2000). The Roman Catholic anthropological practice of accommodation allows anything to remain in the immaterial practices of the people that are not explicitly banned by the teaching of the Church.
Although, Catholicism failed to fully subject the population from its dogmatic ideology, many Warays and Cebuano-speaking people are nominally Catholic. That is why Samarnon (Waray and cebuano speaking people) have practiced witchcraft since time immemorial. Somehow this created a new cultural ideology, which historians call the Millenarian Movement which can be described as a group having an amalgam of the cultural traditions and Catholic doctrines.
In the place where I live in Almagro, this is very patent whereby people practice customs and traditions and goes to Catholic Church at the same time. In explaining why traditional practices in Samar remain strong, Gloria Hocsen concludes that the lack of proper religious training is one of the key reasons traditional beliefs still abound. Other reasons for the continuance of these folk beliefs include lack of health facilities, a poor economy, and inadequate transportation (Johnson 2000). II Religious practitioners of Samarnon can be classified into two which stand in juxtaposition to each other.
The first are the necromancers/sorcerers who are generally considered to be evil and feared, and next are the tambalans, who are very well respected members of society in the sense that they play an important role, who in many cases are consulted more readily than trained doctors. The belief of these two major cultural concepts seems to have originated from the assumptions of Samarnon. It is about the mechanical relationships governing the earth or simply the cause and effect which Samarnon people believed that it is precisely comparable in cases of human sickness.
In a Filipino perspective, a sickness can be both caused and cured by natural and supernatural forces. The ultimate thing which has to be given paramount importance is determining the nature of the cause of the sickness for it is believed that sickness of supernatural origin cannot be cured by natural means and vice versa. Moreover, tambalans play an integral role in traditional medicine (Johnson 2000). Tambalan is even in modern Filipino Society a respectable personality. In cities and towns with modern hospitals, the tambalan is still called by the upper-class Filipino in cases where modern medicine seems to fail.
For the lower class Filipino and for the Barrio people in general the tambalan draws greater trust than the District Health Inspector who regularly visits the barrios (Arens 1982). Since Samarnon people believe that there are other beings living in this earth, the goal of the average person, then, is to live in harmony with these spiritual entities, avoiding them if possible, manipulating them for one’s benefit when desirable, and dulcifying them when necessary. When pacification is necessary, a tambalan must be called. The position of the tambalan in Waray and Cebuano speaking societies in Samar is one of respect and privilege.
This comes mainly from the fact that he is in contact with the spirits who positively impact the lives of the people and therefore he is perceived as someone who genuinely cares about people. They are also perceived to be able to live and move both in the natural and supernatural realms. He can use his power for good or for harm. The institution of the tambalan as the earliest “professional class in Filipino society” still carries its weight today in the barrios where there has been little change in the ways of life since older times. The money question may be another reason to secure the tambalan’s help.
The medicine used by him is cheap and often no charge at all is made, since the healing power is a supernatural gift which might be lost if money is taken for the services. For a grave sickness the offerings are made in kind, namely, food and tuba which can be secured more easily than the cash. Apparently, the trust in the tambalan is greater than that in modern medicine and even the well-to-do families are willing to pay any price in return for the service. An example for this would be the sister of my grandmother, who has already passed away.
She suspected to have been a victim of witchcraft and she had tried all the modern medical procedures but her sickness came back over and over again. She was already aware about tambalans and she decided to consult to this healing traditional doctors. She believed that it had prolonged her life. Two beliefs are common as to how the tambalan receives his power: First, the power is bestowed on him by spirits. Second, one can become a tambalan through serious preparations and trainings. This is the belief and practice in Biliran and Almagro. In other places, a tambalan has to go through a rigid initiation.
Nine Fridays he has to spend in the forest, where he is attacked by all kinds of animals. The following nine Fridays are spent in the sea; then nine Fridays have to be spent in the church, and finally nine Fridays in the cemetery. After this ordeal the aspirant is a full-fledged tambalan and can cure all kinds of disease (Arens 1982). It is innumerable to enumerate the practices of tambalan. A tambalan may perform a rite or ritual depending on the nature and how serious the illness is and what causes the disease (e. g removing bad spirits from the body).
Basically, for ordinary sickness, the tambalan applies some herbs or uses only his saliva (laway) in curing the illness; therefore he is called “Dr. Laway”. In a more serious sickness the tambalan makes a careful analysis which in its performance varies among doctors. If the tambalan has analyzed the sickness as originating from an offended spirit, the next step is to appease the spirit. To offend a spirit can be done even unknowingly like if someone happens to enter the territory of the umurukoy (spirit dwellers) which is usually where there are trees or bamboo groves (Arens 1982).
The offering or appeasing ceremony is the same in its main parts all over Leyte and Samar. The tambalan asks for a big chicken which is either all white or black in color. This is to be cooked without salt. The ceremony is usually performed in the early morning or late afternoon. A tambalan is entitled to different jobs: herbalist (as described earlier), the spiritists and the psychic healers (Johnson 2000). He can also function in a priestly role of blessing rice crops, etc. In addition to, a tambalan can also be a midwife, normally a woman technically known as hilot or mananabang.
In fishing, a tambalan may initiate a buhat ritual which can be performed at the opening of a new fish catching corral, when there is an exceptionally good catch, or when the catch has been poor (Arens 1982). Traditional beliefs are still presently practiced among the population for it becomes a dogmatic doctrine that this earth is not only comprised of natural beings but supernatural too whereby we need intermediaries who will help us to understand the animistic side of the world.
It is obvious to conclude that these kinds of practices are manifestation of a rich pre-colonial society especially in the Samar-Leyte Region which created a distinction of what the original societal situation was prior to the coming of colonizers. As mentioned earlier, the tradition still remains strong and evident. It is empirical to say, that these practices have no quantifiable bases. None the less, they say, there’s no harm in believing as long as you know what you are doing. As the bible says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. ” References
Arens, Richard Rev.. Folk Practices and Beliefs of Leyte and Samar. Tacloban City: DivineWord University Publications (c1982) Johnson, David M.. A Study of the Animistic Practices of the Waray people of the Leyte/Samar Region of the Philippines. Unpublished MA Thesis, Asia Pacific Theological Seminary. (2000) * Some of the information I gathered come from my relatives who originally had lived for several years in Almagro Samar. My family also comes from the island of Almagro and I witnessed some rituals during the healing process. I decided not to cite some information which I am aware of.