Franciscan priest Ignacio Francisco Alcina describes Samar in his 1662 book History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands as “wounded geographically, topographically and climatically.” He was one with Jesuit priest Francisco Colin in saying that the people of Samar, who were called Pintados back in time, may have come from Makassar in Sulawesi, citing the words saar and samad as both to mean “wounded.”
Noted for being warriors and juramentados in the 16th up to early 17th century, these Bisayans defended their ground against slave raiders who alternately raided and stole humans in Samar and Leyte to be sold as marked slaves in Mindanao and other nearby islands.
The bankaw, Bisayan term for spear, found in the Father Cantius Kobak-Samar Archeological and Cultural Museum in Calbayog City, is a silent proof of Samar’s struggles to survive – whatever wounds may have caused its owner. The museum founded in 1969 and later dedicated to the memory of Father Cantius Kobak, Polish Franciscan priest, houses artifacts that the historian-priest painstakingly collected from caves, burial sites, churches, private lots and even from a tuba (local wine from coconut sap) vendor.
Made of hard black polished wood that measures approximately four feet long with a one-foot sharp pointed metal at the end, the undated bankaw is the living proof of Bankaw’s defiance of the Spanish conquistadores. Blair and Robertson said Bankaw escaped the ire of attacking Spaniards in Cebu and later built his own church in Carigara, Leyte. His stronghold in the mountain was attacked with canons, his church burned down, his followers killed, and he, too, was impaled with a bankaw. His head was cut off and paraded to warn the Bisayans against insureccion and rebelion in the future.
Bankaw had never been alone. Sumuroy of Ibabao (Samar) , at the time of Alcina’s recording, had been up in arms. Dagohoy in Bohol, too. Earlier in the 16th century, Waray Tupung (meaning never been equaled), had been going around the Bisayan islands trying to shoo away both the Muslim slave raiders and the Spanish minions.
Father Kobak must be amazed with how the Samareños respect their ancestors when he found human skulls, bones, shell bracelets in urns and large burial jars. Some burial sites had already been exhausted by previous digging expeditions though.
Self-sufficiency and the spirit of the Bisayan tabo, which social scientists call barter trade, attest to the Bisayan people’s ingenuity and industriousness. The stone grinder, locally called gilingan, speaks of how early Bisayans grounded rice and rootcrops to be made into puto, suman and other native delicacies. People from up the mountains and everywhere went to the tabo to exchange their goods for products that they did not have.
Presence of ancient dragon jar and Chinese porcelain plates dated around 5th century BC reveals a lively barter trade between the Bisayans and the Chinese. Also, Chinese surnames in Samar must have come from Chinese traders who were involved in the abaca trade during the Spanish and American periods.
The rusty, ancient agungs (bells), musical instruments and paintings in the museum speak a lot about the Samareños’ own artistic talents. Christ The King Orchestra, based in Calbayog City, a first class municipality in Samar, has been making waves in the field of music around the Philippines. An art exhibit of Samar’s painters had also been launched in the museum.
Carl Sanchez Bordeos of the Christ the King College where the museum resides furnished philippinehistory.ph a copy of some artifacts found in the museum aside from the bankaw. The Professional American Archeologists have already listed, described and dated said historical treasures.
Outside the museum, meanwhile, a street named Nijaga baffles everyone who lives outside Calbayog. It turns out that the street was named after Benedicto Nijaga, nicknamed Biktoy, a sacristan from Calbayog who became a second lieutenant in the Spanish Army and later solicited support for the underground Katipunan. He was executed and later identified as one of the Trece Martires in Bagumbayan.
Samar has sons and daughters who may or may have not seen a bankaw, nor may have known Bankaw for that matter. The Bisayan resilience and survival, however, are engraved in Philippine history.
(Photo taken by Rosa Mirasol Esguerra Melencio)