The Waray are an ethno-linguistic group that inhabit the islands of Samar, northern Leyte and Biliran in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines.
Their native language is called Waray-Waray. It is the fifth most spoken native language in the Philippines with more than 3 million native speakers.
The word Waray means “none” or “nothing” or “not.”
In Samar the Waray are known as Samarenos. In Leyte they are called Leytenos. In Biliran they are referred to as Biliranon and on the island of Ticao in the Masbate province they are described as Ticaonon.
In the Philippines the Waray are often depicted as brave warriors and there is a popular phrase, “basta ang Waray, hindi uurong sa away” (Waray never back down from a fight.)
The Waray are the descendants of Austronesian-speaking immigrants that arrived in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines sometime during the Iron Age (1200 BC – 500 AD).
In 1521 the Waray of Eastern Samar were the first people to be sighted by Ferdinand Magellan and were among the first Filipinos to be converted to Christianity.
The Waray are said to be some of the most religious people in the Philippines but the paradox is that even though they were some of the first to be Christianized, they are also one of the last ethnic groups of the Philippines to continue their animistic traditions alongside their practice of Roman Catholicism. This religious syncretism is evident in the Mayaw-Mayaw, a stylized dance that incorporates aspects of western Christianity introduced by the Spanish and the preexisting animism of the indigenous Waray.
Pinabacdao is a small town surrounded by low-lying hills to its Southeast and the Southwestern shores of Maqueda Bay. It is known for having given birth to the Mayaw-Mayaw, a stylized dance based on an ancient pagan ritual called mayaw or gamit in the Waray dialect. The dance is still practiced in Western Samar, particularly in Pinabacdao. It is a pagan sacrificial rite performed by “tambalan” or “tamyawan” in Waray, at a request of a client. It is usually a man who is believed to have the power to communicate with spirits, both good and bad.
There is at least five different rituals involved in the mayaw. In each of these rituals the tambalan offers a sacrifice of an animal, usually a slaughtered pig or chicken along with some type of food offering. The ritual sacrifice is believed to ward off evil spirits and is accompanied by incantations that help good spirits come to the aid of the client, someone in need of body healing, or desiring a bountiful rice harvest. Another common ritual is the blessing of a house where sacrificial blood is sprinkled or used to make the sign of the cross on each post.
In a Christianized version, the Mayaw is sometimes performed as a sacrificial thanksgiving for a favor or blessing received from some heavenly being, in the case of Pinabacdao, the “Patrona”, the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title the Lady of Sorrows. One ritual dance celebrates the La Dolorosa or the heavenly protectress of Pinabacdao where the power of the Virgin Mary is invoked to drive away evil and her triumph is celebrated in an elaborate ceremony. A young woman representing the Patrona stands on platform of bamboo poles and is carried away, a symbolic representation of the great honor given to her by her own people.
The Mayaw-Mayaw was originally choreographed as five distinct dances, each of them representing a specific ritual designed for a particular purpose. One version would show the mayaw as an exorcism with elaborate ceremonies imitating the ritual. Another would show the mayaw as an act of petition in thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. Another reenacts the mayaw symbolically as a ceremonial designed to heal the sick. Then there is a dance version of the mayaw as a house blessing complete with the sprinkling of sacrificial blood in symbolic form.
The final version of the mayaw- mayaw incorporates all of the elements of the mayaw ritual from the exorcism to the celebration of the Patrona of Pinabacdao. This dance is meant as a cultural showcase for the town and has been performed in many cultural and dance festivals in the Province of Samar. The mayaw is always accompanied by the beating of drums, the sounds of bamboo flutes and other local musical instruments, and the unintelligible invocations of the tambalan addressed to benign spirits asking them to partake of the sacrificial animal and other food offerings.
The ritual dances of the Mayaw-Mayaw show a distinct regional form of Filipino Catholicism that has evolved over the course of three centuries. The dances depict aspects of indigenous Waray religion and culture that has blended with Catholic practices to help create something entirely new and unique – a syncretic religion of animism and Christianity.