The Epitome of Irony: The Siday in Waray Literature

After over centuries since the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, of rallying for national freedom, out of foreign rule, decades since ousting a dictator, Leyte and Samar provinces remain Waray.

Most Leyte-Samarnons have already gotten accustomed to being called Waraynons; hence, it has been challenging to grapple out of such a derogative label. Waray literally translates to “nothing” in English. The term itself discredits Leyte and Samar’s rich history, culture, literature, and their contribution to the national cultural milieu: Waray history, Waray culture, Waray literature, Waray identity (No history, no culture, no literature, no identity) that makes Leyte-Samarnons Waraynon (Destitute).

Their rich culture and historical narratives mirrored in the verses of their siday, however, belies the notion that the Waray is truly Waraynon.

The siday

The siday is one of the earliest poetic forms in Eastern Visayas documented by Fr. Ignatio Francisco Alzina around 1668 characterized as dodecasyllabic in structure and was originally chanted to praise the beauty of a woman or bravery of a man. In the early 1900s, the overall structure of the siday was fixed in dodecasyllabic meter with an AAAA rhyme scheme and was usually written in quatrains or octaves.

The themes tackled by the siday have deliberately changed overtime, from being merely a mean of exaltation to an expression and evocation of dissent and patriotism, such as when English written literatures boomed and became a trend during the American era, the siday, among other regional literatures, proliferated and contested the rising English canons, criticizing the American rule, and depicting the clamors of the Filipino masses.

A similar case scenario happened during the Martial Law. The siday of the 20th century manifest the masses’ condemnation of the Marcos regime. In fact, a great number of retrieved siday in the study of Dela Rosa 20th century Ninorte Samarnon Siday: A Collection and Translation were revolutionary verses authored by the members of the New People’s Army (NPA).

In the present, the siday stilltackles the same varied themes: progressive, environmental, and romantic, to name a few. Its intrinsic elements, however, underwent major changes. With the domination of the Western culture in the country, the siday, in order to preserve its space in the modern era, needed to adapt. As a result, the modern siday lost its definite meter and rhyme scheme, and has adopted some aspects of the modern and pop culture.

Despite the changes that transformed the siday to its more westernized form today, it remains the literature of the Leyte-Samarnon masses that speaks the language of the masses.

The fight for space and recognition

The siday is only one of the many regional literatures pushed to the periphery by the Tagalog and English canons in the early 1960s which were only greatly recognized two decades later by literary critics and scholars due to the realization that “regional literature will have to be considered more seriously before the label Philippine Literature can assume a more valid meaning as a concept that encompasses not only literature in the Tagalog-speaking regions and/or Philippine Literature in English, but the works produced outside the cities.” (Reyes, 1987)

Through the years, Waray literature faced several hurdles before being recognized for what it really is today. One of the notable challenges faced by the said literature was the looming Tagalog Imperialism in the 1980s which considered Tagalog as the dominant Philippine language as discussed in the third chapter of John E. Barrios’s Kritikang Rehiyonal. Such was also mentioned by Resil Mojares in his On Native Grounds: The Significance of Regional Literature that aside from the literatures written in the foreign language medium, Tagalog-written literatures were considered the ruling literature in the past, and thus, uncritically equated with national literature. This kindled a resistance against the Tagalog language and literary canons, and fueled the drive to carve Waray literature’s own space at the center of Philippine literature.

It would take rigorous and continuous effort to preserve the space of the siday in the national spectrum. To enrich it further it should put at the center of Leyte-Samar literary studies, which is what it is currently lacking.

On the bright note, with the tireless labors of local writers and organizations, Waray literature, along with the other literatures from the regions, is already slowly being widely recognized. This development does not only benefit the Waray, because as what Mark Bonabon—an educator and one of the well-known modern siday writers from Northern Samar—said, “waray literature, and all other regional literatures should [indeed] be part and parcel of the national literature, because the national literature could only be truly “national” if it embodies the regional literatures. The canonization of regional literatures would also lead to the intellectualization of regional languages, which in turn would help develop a truly national language.”

Modern dilemmas

The siday is the poetry of both Leyte and the Samar provinces, but in the past years, as per Reynel Ignacio’s personal observation, “many of our literatures, anthologies, chapbooks, and Siday collections, were produced from Leyte,” only a number were from the Samar provinces. This does not mean, however, that siday from Samar is neglected. The problem stems from the limited publications that would publish the siday.

For instance, Dela Rosa was able to retrieve numerous siday from Northern Samar. A great number of these, however, before her retrieval, were unpublished and thus unavailable to the public. The same problem persists today, “[t]here are many writers who write siday in Northern Samar but we can barely read them because the publication for the siday is still limited,” Reynel Ignacio said. 

Another challenge the siday faces, added Ignacio, is its range of readership: “Young writers emerge from the creative writing workshops in the region like Lamiraw and university-based workshops. There were many writers in Northern Samar who became fellows of these workshops but only few continue to write. Perhaps because only a few read siday. To be honest, we [siday writers] are the only ones reading our works. As of now, I only know very few writers in Northern Samar.”

The greatest challenge that the siday faces today is on “how to convince young people to venture into writing siday. This is because English is seen by many, especially by the youth, as the privilege language; hence, they spend and expend much more time learning English than Filipino or Ninorte Samarnon,” said Bonabon.

“DepEd and CHED should reach out to local writers and organizations to create and indigenize teaching-learning materials to educate and reeducate the youth on the importance of regional languages and literatures. Also, the support we could get from LGUs and NGOs to sponsor seminars, workshops, and contests is crucial to help further this endeavor to champion siday,” Bonabon added.

Paving ways through the margins

The pursuit of maintaining the place of the siday in the national spectrum has already greatly contributed to the enrichment of Waray literature. All it takes is will and perseverance, and love for one’s own culture. “Writing is a poor man’s job because writers rarely, barely earn a living from writing. Most siday writers have full-time jobs. We just juggle between work and writing. Take the case of Pablo Rebadulla, of Trinidad Pinca, of Jeremy Evardone, of Reynel Ignacio. We write siday because primarily, we wanted to contribute to the regional literature, and to inspire young people to write in their mother tongue,” answered Bonabon when asked as regards the status of the siday and the siday writers in Northern Samar.

Current organizations that actively and tirelessly work in championing Eastern Visayan Literature are KATIG (Katig-uban han Magsusurat ha Sinirangan Bisayas), which annually conducts Lamiraw Creative Writing Workshop funded by the NCCA and has recently published Pinili: 15 Years of Lamiraw which could be accessed and freely downloaded from Freelipiniana Online Library of UP, CALAO (Calbayog Literary Arts Organization), and ALAG (Abaknon Literary Arts Guild).

Fortunately, the pandemic have little to no effect to the siday writers’ community. On the contrary, the pandemic offered them an opportunity: “The online platform has been very helpful in championing Waray literature during this time of pandemic. Despite the intermittent internet connection, advocates of Waray literature still persevere to conduct online workshops and webinars. Siday writing contests are facilitated via social media. Also, online journals like Kabisdak give much more space to regional literary forms, like the siday,” said Bonabon. The utilization of the digital media for this purpose made workshops and webinars on the Eastern Visayan Literature reach a broad range of participants, giving it its due exposure.

The siday has still a long way to go before it could become part of the canons, but its gradual development could already be considered as a huge leap in giving Eastern Visayan Literature its due recognition. The siday’s existence in the Waray Literature proves that the Waraynons are not destitute—they have history, they have culture, and they have their own literature.

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