(This work in various ways is indebted to Dr Bruce Cruikshank, a professor of history; Ms Clarissa Apita-Villalon, and the staff at the Cebuano Studies Center of San Carlos University, Philippine National Archives, Philippine National Library, Lopez Memorial Museum, University of Santo Tomas Library, and Divine Word University Museum and Library.)
THE ETHOS of Christianity, observes Christopher Dawson, a philosopher of history, is so dynamic it can explain the process of historical change. The major aim of this short historical essay is to show how that ethos worked in the transition of the Sulatnons from originally tribal groups to a religio-political society.
Pre-Hispanic Sulat. As far back as 1575, Sulat, as a pueblo (township), was not yet in existence. Along the Sulat river, though, could be found many scattered hamlets usually consisting of two to five houses known as gamoro in Binisaya, which the Spaniards called rancherias. Tribal in form, clusters of gamoros was headed by a datu (chief) who regulated tribal life, and sustained customs. Thanks in no small amount to the geography, they were politically decentralized, their social organization never extending beyond the immediate families. They had communal land ownership, and their crude agriculture, kaingin (slash-and-burn), was based on upland rice cultivation, which was hardly enough to meet the population needs. Root crops, especially gabi and palawan, were grown; and fish, wild pigs and fowl supplemented their diet. These gamoros were negotiated either by foot trails (for roads were unknown) or by baloto (outrigger), which was not the usual means of transportation save on the sea, for the river was infested with buaias (crocodiles). As a minister pointed out, “el rio [de Sulat] es muy infestado de caimanes.”
Merely subsistence was the economy, though occasionally would appear itinerant Chinese junks that carried large earthen jars, cotton cloth, and porcelain pottery, among others. Some well-to-do natives could have them through barter. But ordinarily, they used hongot and paia, and wore abaca cloth. Men donned bajag (G-strings) and bado (a bit similar to the camesa de chino), while women put on something like blouses and short skirts. Their typical houses, which stood around four feet above the ground, had no doors, still less privies, partitions or tables. When they ate, they just sat on their haunches. And like other maritime settlements on the east coast of Samar, they had an alphabet, and their literature was mostly oral, like the titigoon (riddles) and the awit (poem). Religion-wise, they were animists, believing that the forces of nature had or were controlled by spirits who were rendered either beneficient or harmful by the performance of magical rites. Some of their “priests” were women! One such native priestess was Yaba who was quite well-to-do: “como gran principala, [Yaba] era la sacerdotisa de aquel pueblo [i.e., Sulat].”
The Encounter of Sulatnons with Jesuit Missionaries. That, in brief, was the religio-political structure and the socio-economic situation of Sulat that the Jesuits saw for the first time circa 1603, when the arrived from Palapag, the Jesuit cabacera (missionary center) for Ibabao (roughly, northern and eastern Samar). This is not to say that the priests were the first Europeans the Sulatnons saw; for even years before, Ibabao was already placed under the care of an economendero, responsible for the administracion de justicia (defense and protection) and the doctrina (doctrinal instruction) of the taga-Ibabao. In 1591, for instance, Juan Mendez served some 4,000 of Ibabao’s population. But how often men like him went to Sulat is difficult to say. On the other hand, the alcaldes mayores (governors) were not much of a help, either. Scarcely they visited those settlements. Indeed, “si visitan es como gato sobre ascuas; pudenles lo que quieren, y les dan aun lo que no tienen porque se vayan luego,” which is why hardly they improved the life of the natives: “ni se fomenta ni adelanta cosa alguna en el gobierno politico, y se quedan siempre en su brutalidad.”
The Making of the Poblacion of Sulat. It should be noted that the religio-political structure and socio-economic situation of Sulat was understandably on collision course with the world view of the Spanish clerics. For one, as heirs of Greco-Roman urbanism, these men of the cloth identified civilization with the city. For them, man was not simply a rational animal with a capacity to receive grace, but also a social one living in communion with others, and it is through social contact that he could achieve a measure of his potentiality. The Sulatnons, on the other hand, were much decentralized, scattered as they were on the river banks and on the mountains. Second, the Spanish priests, who belonged to the Catholicism of Counter-Reformation and the Age of Baroque, came with a mission to persuade the Sulatnons to accept Catholicism as the whole truth, and viewed the Samareño native religion as simply an error, and worst, a work of the devil that must not be allowed to prosper.
In view of these, the Jesuits did remarkable achievements in this pueblo. First of all, they consolidated into what is now the poblacion (town proper) of Sulat the numerous gamoros which were without order on the mountains and river banks. “Los Padres, que pusieron a dicho pueblo [Sulat] agregando a el muchos pueblecillos o rancherias en la lengua que al lado de la barra del rio y del mar.” Thus, the priests, with the European village in mind, constructed the church and convento with a large church plaza. It had walls to protect the people from the Muslim raids, with a tower on which cannons were mounted. Near the church plaza was the parish cemetery a remnant of which is the ermita, a chapel (now transformed into a library). The whole parish church-convento complex, almost rectangular in form, was later on separated by the four streets on which could be found native houses, and eventually became the center of the whole town, just like any European village of their time.
Such was the beginning of the town, whose name, according to a 1660
manuscript, means “to write”—“El pueblo de Sulat quierra decir “escrito”. (It may be noted that Sulatnon folklore derives the name of the town from the word sulát, which literary means cut, aperture, split, etc. But I consider this an etiological legend that cannot stand historical scrutiny.) It is not known to what extent the scattered Sulatnons resisted the relocation program called reduccion, but what happened in Bacod (or Dolores) most likely transpired also in Sulat, the case being that not a few preferred living far from civilization: “todo es huir de la doctrina y del ministero y querer vivir a sus anchuras y lejos de los ministros, asi de la fe como el Rey.”
To effect this town consolidation, it was necessary for the Jesuits to teach them the techniques of settled agriculture, and urged them to take care of plantations, even as normally, Samareños never stocked supplies. Another technique used by the Jesuits to entice the people to live in the poblacion was the pompous fiesta celebration in honor of St Ignatius of Loyola, as well as other liturgical feasts celebrated with solemnity. In 1650 and many years later, Sulat—then larger than either Borongan or Tubig (Taft)—served as the cabecerilla (secondary missionary center) for the three towns, and there sometimes went the Boronganons and Tubignons to attend the feast of Nativity, Holy Week and Easter. As a Jesuit puts it, “en especial la Semana Santa y de Resurreccion se juntan aqui los de mas pueblos, porque se ayudan los dos Padres, y se hace con mas comonidad y mas puntualidad y plenitud.” At the same time, commerce, which the Jesuit fostered, was enhanced by these celebrations, specially the patronal feast.
Evangelization n the Faith. Needless to state, the Spanish Jesuits taught the Sulatnons the Christian doctrine reduced to the minimum: Pater Noster (Our Father), Ave Maria (Hail Mary), Credo (I believe), Salve Regina (Hail, holy Queen), the 14 articles of the faith, the 7 sacraments, the 7 capital sins, the 14 works of mercy, the 10 commandments, the 5 commandments of the Church and the act of general confession. And they taught them in the Samareño tongue yet! And to bring the Sulatnons to Catholicism, the Jesuits wisely converted the principales (datus), since their hinsacopan (clan, barangay) normally followed the leader’s religion. In turn, the priests made them catechists; and conversion was all the easier, given the Sulatnon patron-client structure of relationship. Such, for instance, happened to Yaba, a prominent Sulatnon and priestess of native religion, who turned back on her pagan practices, like the pag-anito, and who was soon appointed catechist. Her noteworthy accomplishments made one priest say of her: “Hizo tan bien su oficio.. que ella sola habia traido a la fe y enseñado a mas hombres y mujeres que muchos Padres….” Aside from this, they also organized a Sodality of Our Lady to foster religious instruction and devotion.
Muslim Raids and Rebellion. The fourth major work the Jesuits embarked on in Sulat was the protection of the natives not so much from the encomenderos and the alcaldes mayores who after all rarely visited the place, but from the frequent Muslim (Moro) raids. Even before the coming of the Spaniards, the Minadanoans, the Joloans, and the Camocones pillaged and plundered the maritime settlements on the east coast, taking captives, burning houses and devastating plantations. For this reason, the Sulatnons, under the leadership of the Jesuits, enclosed the church of mamposteria with stone walls to serve as refuge during those Muslim incursions (as noted above). It seems that if there was any which disturbed the peace of the Sulatnons, it was those raids; this apart, the town was generally tranquil. In fact, even in 1649-50 when almost the whole island of Samar was burning in a rebellion led by Agustin Sumoroy of Palapag, the Sulatnons, unlike the Bacodnons and Tubignons, never participated in the insurrection against Spain. They just hid themselves in the forest, even though their church and the convento were not spared by the rebels; never antagonized their priests. It was for this reason that Sulat replaced Tubig as the cabecerilla for the eastern coast.
great detail the difficulties the Jesuits encountered in their Sulat ministry. Among these were the lack of personnel (imagine, only two Sulat-based missionaries serving the total land area stretching from San Policarpo to Llorente!), their isolation, the language barrier, the decentralization of settlements, the differences in religious fervor, the temper of the Sulatnons, and scarcity of food, and the piratical raids! Any attempt at a correct understanding of the Jesuits in Sulat must take all these and other factors—the the Age of Baroque and Counter-Reformaton to which they were born and under which they expired—into account.
When the time came for the Jesuits to leave Sulat in 1768 in virtue of the Royal Order of Charles III expelling them from the Spanish colonies, the pueblo had Fr Luis Lopez as parish priest, serving 3,637 inhabitants who formed 689 tributos (tributes). It seems that the first Jesuit to be assigned as parish priest of Sulat was Fr Wolfgang Bertold (1735), and it also seems that at this time a parish life had evolved in which the people went to the parish priest whereas before, it was the other way around. Prior to this, Sulat had to share with Bacod and Tubig. From 1697 through 1733, these towns were served by Fathers Ignacio Gutierrez, Jose de Encalada, Francisco Lobor, Antonio Perez, Gregorio Tabora, Gabriel Grusson, Ignacio Chavarria and Jose Getell.
Enter the Franciscans. When the Franciscans took over the parish, Fr Melchor Claver, who was barely 26 years old, was appointed as the first Franciscan parish priest; he served the pueblo for 32 years (1768-1776). Unlike the first friar of Borongan, Fr Juan de Mora, the ones of Sulat, it seems, never encountered any stiff opposition from the natives. Nevertheless, the Franciscans continued to tackle the major problems that the Jesuits tried to solve for more than 100 years.
The Origins of the Barrios. One of these was the Sulatnon tendency toward fragmentation, which is probably the root cause of what Nick Joaquin calls “our culture of smallness.” As mentioned earlier on, many of the Sulatnons settled in places that were far removed from the control of the government, and they did so for various reasons: to escape religious obligations, to avoid paying taxes, to be close to the sources of food, to flee from the polo (forced labor), etc. The Spaniards called them cimmarones or remontados, but in Samareño language, they were called mga luuc. Recognizing the futility of persuading them to go to the poblacion, the friars accepted the reality of the existence of a series of visitas where the cimmarones lived, each with a chapel that the cura periodically visited. This was how the barrios of Sulat srarted. As one pointed out, this poblacion-visita complex was a compromise, inadequate in various ways, nevertheless the only feasible alternative, what with the shortage of priests and the scattered distribution of population.
Population Dispersion. But it would seem that even in the small concentration of population in the visitas, the effort was hardly a success, far as late as 1864, when Sulat had a total population of 4,343 forming 1,307 tributes, it had only two visitas, namely, Catalab-an, dedicated to San Antonio de Padua, and Meytigbao (Maytigbao), with San Isidro Labrador as patron. By 1884, Candaracol was already a visita, but the population remained very much dispersed, as this index on the 1893 population dispersion shows. According to Cruikshank, of the total 4,604 inhabitants—
28.2% resided in the poblacion
1,1% resided outside the poblacion, but within 3 miles of it;
20.0% resided from 3-6 miles outside the poblacion;
17.7% resided from 6-12 miles;
33.0% resided over 12 miles from the poblacion;
29.3% resided in the poblacion or within 3 miles of it;
49.3% resided in the poblacion or within 6 miles of it; and
67.0% resided in the poblacion or within 12 miles of it.
Under this condition, there could be no doubt that the Franciscan effort at evangelization and culturation was anything but easy. The burden of the ministry was further made heavy by the increasing population:
Year Number of Population
Education. Since the friar could not always be making excursions to the cimarrones, for he had to attend to the more populous poblacion, it was thus understandable that in terms of knowing the Catholic faith, those in the town proper were more adept at it than those in the visitas and the rancherias. Another reason for this was the establishment of a school in the poblacion iself, called escuela de primer enseñanza. This school, which was constructed by Fr Enrique de Barcelona, was under the supervision of the cura parrocco, who also taught there, and was maintained by the caja de comunidad. This was a community fund contributed to by each adult Sulatnon in the amount of half-real every year. The subjects offered, aside from the 3 Rs ( Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic), included Catechism, Sacred History, Music as well as some sciences in arts and handicrafts. Nevertheless, many of the people remained illiterate, as the 1896 figures indicate:
Classification Sex Total
Persons who can neither read nor write Male 539
Persons who can read only Male 1,186
Persons who can read and write Male 593
Sulatnons expanded their knowledge through the occasional talks given to the cofradias, the santos ejercicios, not to mention the Sunday sermon. How well digested these were, considering that not all the friars were fluent in Binisaya language, is hard to say. Sure, Fr Pedro Badul, a Filipino secular priest, was assigned to Sulat in 1884, but his ministry there—assuming he preached well—did not last long. But there is no doubt that from this escuela de primer enseñanza graduated those who eventually became the leaders of the town in later years.
Colorums and Rebels. It is well to remember, though, that these educational opportunities could hardly be availed of by those in the visitas and rancherias. This partly explains why barrio folks were more in a position to mix Christianity with their pagan pre-Christian beliefs, and were more susceptible to nativistic movements that, to some, would appear weird. In the 1770s, for instance, there was a former secular priest, who was born in Paranas, named Don Gaspar Guerrero. He lived in Biliran. He proposed to uphold liberty of conscience and to abolish tribute and obedience to Spanish superiors, among others. Strangely, his influence in various Leyte and Samar towns was strong, and among those towns was Sulat. Don Guerrero had women followers not in the poblacion, but in a camp near it. On one occasion, the “priestess” (padi-padi) dared to enter the town proper, with her followers in a procession, complete with candles, though Fr Mechor was able to arrest her and sent her to Catbalogan, where the guardias civiles were stationed.
Another example is the Dios-Dios movement, from which arose the Pulajanes in 1902. This syncretist movement promised liberation and salvation to take place in a new Jerusalem with a new king, the resurrection of those who died in the epidemic of 1882-1883, protection from Spanish bullets and eventual victory through magic and superstition. This movement found members in the mountains behind Sulat, where the municipal government arrested some members who called themselves “Dioses” in October, 1886.
Road-Building. Since the isolation of the visitas from the parish priest made
them almost unresistant to lapse to paganism, the friars became, among other reasons, road builders. For it was thought that with roads, it would be easier for them to travel to the visitas, at the same time making the poblacion more accessible to the barrio people. Thus, for instance, Fr Vicente Millan, the parish priest of Sulat, cooperated with Fr Vicente Carmona, Fr Pedro Galvo, Fr Antonio Rodriguez and Fr Gil Martinez in the construction of the Oras-Borongan road which was started in 1887 and was roughly finished in 1890. At the same time, these roads facilitated commercial relations, with the cimmarrones bringing their crops to the tabuan. This, too, explains why the cura of Sulat contributed the amount of $500.00, 100 sacks of rice and various tools, together with those of Tubig and Borongan, when Fr Jose de Olmo, parish priest of Paric (Dolores), opened a road from Carolina to Motiong, then a barrio of Paranas. The new roads obviously facilitated the mobility of some Sulatnons and the province-wide commerce.
Commerce. Unlike in the pre-Hispanic era, the Chinese who for the most part now made the circulation of money widely spread were no longer itinerant, which means the volume of trade has so increased to require settled commerce. Whereas in 1887, there was only 1 Chinese residing in Sulat, the number increased to 11 in 1892 and 12 in 1894. Records are not available on how much came from Sulat of the P927,750.00-P1,305,000.00 average of abaca and copra export from Samar island in 1893, but it is known that as early as 1864, products from Sulat were transported to Catbalogan and sent to Manila. Says Huerta: “El [pueblo de Sulat] produce tambien muchos cocos, abaca, palauan y camote. Sus naturales de dedican a la agricultura, beneficio del abaca y aciete de coco, a la caza y pesca; y las mugeres a tejido de guinaras, cuyos productos exportan en embarcaciones de su propiedad par la cabecera [i.e., Catlbalogan] y para Manila .” Thus, from self-subsistence farming, the Sulatnons moved toward some form of export—in their own boats yet! It may be pointed out, however, that livestock played a negligible role in the commercial exchange, for even in 1893, the number of livestock reflected a subsistence economy--there were only 10 horses, 400 carabaos, 100 cows and 20 goats (these are probably round numbers.)
Other Changes Wrought. It was this growing commerce, not to mention education and religion, that enable the people to adapt themselves to a certain lifestyle a bit removed from the pre-Hispanic Sulat. It is true, of course, that by 1896 not a few Sulatnons continued to use paia and hongot, but the prominent men, the principales, as well as those with money, began using china wares, and though the G-strings were not completely discarded, these were no longer the standard clothing. At the end of the Spanish era, a few houses had some features of the baroque, although most were still nipa huts. Palauan and camote, to be sure, continued to be eaten, for Sulat did not have more than enough wet rice to maintain the population the whole year round. Interestingly, it cultivated different rice varieties, notable among them being mumus, a kind of black rice.
Of course, their religion was Catholicism, albeit mixture with animism was unavoidable, as evidenced by the way Sulatnons planted and harvested rice, and by the manner they observed their camote-planting ritual. As for the principales, they continued to have their authority felt in the pueblo, yet the word of the cura could not be taken lightly. Whatever written literature they had was replaced by the novena, the tresagio, the animas and other religious devotions; yet, the oral one hardly died. And, of course, the fiesta gave them an identity as a town, tribalism seemingly receding into the mist of history.
Political participation and Administration. In focusing on the Jesuits and the Franciscans, nothing, however, is implied which would dismiss the role of the local government set-up. It should be stressed, however, that the role of the local officials was not so extensive as to match the one at the time of the Commonwealth under Quezon. Even as late as 1880s, the task, for instance, of the gobernadorcillo (roughly, town mayor) was much simplier. Theoretically, the law required him to maintain the municipal jail, take charge of the public works and the administration of justice, see to it that the tribunal was supplied with paper, and make sure that official visitors and travellers were properly provisioned. But his main duty was to supervise the collection of taxes. In return, he was exempted from the cedula personal, the polo, and enjoyed the honorific title Don.
As the list of municipal officials in 1885-1887 indicates, the Spanish bureaucracy has barely crept in: Gobernardorcillo Felipe Santiago Baldadol Teniente Primero German Gepollo; Teniente Segundo Miguel Baldado; Juez Primero Pablo Torralba; Juez Segundo Pedro de las Flores; Alguacil Primero Vicente Acol; Algaucil Segundo Justo Baldo. Teniente de Catalab-an Patricio Amigo, Teniente del Remedio (Candaracol) Pedro Desalen, and Teniente de Maytigbao Juan Espeso. (By the way, the fact that Sulat had a list of municipal officials in 1885-1887--is this not one argument against the claim that the municipality of Sulat was born in 1906?) It was only 1n 1893 when Maura Law (which changed the title gobernardorcillo to Capitan Municipal) was passed that the participation of the people in the administration of the town was broadened and the Spanish bureaucracy became more visible. That bureaucracy can be gleaned from the number of municipal officials who administred Sulat from 1893to 1896:
Capitan Municipal Tomas Osias
Teniente Mayor Ignacio Severo
Teniente de Policia Miguel Baldado
Teniente de Semeteros Pio Legion
Teniente de Ganados German Gepollo
Suplente Benito Sumbilla
Suplente Alfonso Ballan
Los Principales del Pueblo de Sulat:
Lamberto Osias Juan Acol Justino Acampado
Crispino Operario Juan Lobina Francisco Gefollo
Apolinario Operario Rogelio Apura Rufino Cinco
Antonio Amidar Placido Balhag Martinio Campomanes
Encumbrances. It can be gleaned from all these, of course, that the Baroque
vision of the Franciscans for the Sulatnons, as was true of all Eastern Samareños, could not be fully realized, severely limited as it was by various factors that need to be taken into consideration. One is the recurrent piratical attacks by the Muslims, the seriousness of whch can be gauged from the population decline in the east coast: from 10,363 in 1770 to 7,272 in 1800. Records, of course, do not show of the total number of Sulat captives, except in September 1838 when 4 Moro boats captured one Sulatnon. But the fact that between 1768 and 1864, which is 94 years, the population increased only by 716 is quite instructive of the effects of those incursions. Of course, other factors have to be seen to explain this number.
The other factor was the cholera epidemics, which took heavy toll on thepopulace. In fact, Sulat was one of the Eastern Samar towns hit hardest by it. In 1876, in the 13 towns on the east coast, Sulat, according to Cruickshank, ranked 3rd, with 20% death per thousand; 9th in 1882 with 27.5% per thousand, and 2nd in 1883 with 69,5% per thousand:
Eastern Samar Towns Hit Hardest Death Per Thousand Ranking
In the 1883 Cholera Epidemic
Balangiga 64.6% 1
Sulat 60.6% 2
Oras 58.9% 3
Paric (Dolores) 57.4% 4
Borongan 57.0% 5
These epidemics encouraged population dispersion and thus alienated people from the parish priest, and enhanced the proliferation of such sects as the Dios-Dios and, later on, the Pulajanes.
The Sulat Parish Church as Symbol. In spite of all these factors, however, it cannot be denied that if there is anything that constitutes as the unifying element in the local culture and that can explain the process of change that transpired in Sulat from 1575 to 1898, it is the ethos of Christianity. And the symbol of that ethos is the church of the parish and town, reflecting the encounter between the European and Baroque world view and the responses of the Sulatnons. That church was of mamposteria, which the Jesuits originally built. Because frequent baguios destroyed it, Fr Enrique de Barcelona had it repaired in 1884, and constructed a baptistery and a bell tower. Other improvements were added: “En los años de 1879 dio principio el P. Mariano Casanova a los obras de un espacioso crucero en la Iglesia e hizo un nuevo convento, por quedar en su mayor parte inutilizado el antiguo con los obras de crucero. El P. Vicente Millan termino crucero pro los años 1888 e en 1893, Millan puso techo de hierro galvanizado a la Iglesia y construyo un elevado campanero de mamposteria hasta altura de 4 metros.” Before Fr Millan came, the parish church, was 29 brazas (fathoms) long and 6 brazas wide, and 3 ½ brazas high, had only nipa for roofing.
To say that this church is a symbol of that encounter means that like the
religion it represents, it was originally meant to be of Baroque, but it winded up thoroughly modified to the effect that the church became Baroque according to the Sulatnon adaptation. To put it differently, the Sulatnons, thanks to the ethos of Christianity, have undergone a transition from a pre-Hispanic life to one qualitative different, and albeit what came off did not entirely chime in with the Baroque world view which the Jesuits and Franciscans conceived for Sulat, it managed to be a Sulatnon contextualization of what is a Sulatnon Christian culture.*