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Suluan Island Part 1: Of Giants and Serenades

by AX Gaurana and G Alvero

We were awoken by the sound of women singing coming from downstairs.  Half-conscious at four in the morning, I heard the song being concluded with “Happy Birthday”. It was the first time we have heard a mananita in our lives.  A mananita is an early morning serenade, usually a birthday song being sung before sunrise as a surprise to the celebrant.  This is one of the many unique things we have experienced in our less than three days stay at the beautiful island of Suluan.

Suluan is the easternmost island of the Visayas.  It is an island barangay which is a part of the municipality of Guiuan in Eastern Samar.  The pacific coast of the island is uninhabited since it is mostly made of cliffs and rocks, while the western side facing Leyte Gulf is where residential zones 1 to 7 are situated.  Suluan is derived from “sulo”  meaning torch.  They refer to it as “nasuluan na isla” meaning “the island sighted using torch”.

When Magellan approached the Philippines, he first caught glimpse of Suluan coming from the Pacific.  After dropping his anchors and finding out there will be little resources for them as the island was tiny, he instead proceeded to the much bigger neighboring island of Homonhon.

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Fresh catch!

Folklore describes the first inhabitant of Suluan as a giant named Makandog.  He lived alone in the island tending to enormous coconuts and fishes as food.  A natural limestone formation found in the northeastern side of the island is referred to as “Tulay ni Makandog” or Makandog’s Bridge where a large footprint remains embedded on the rock bed. It is said that the giant slipped while crossing the bridge and died on the impact.

Another story tells of a giant called Baysa who after exploring nearby waters found a school of large Mamsa fish (kingfish).  Instead of catching them, the giant went home to ready his fuel and furnace and joyfully imagining his wonderful supper.  Upon coming back to the water, the fishes were gone.  The story seemed to us as a modified version of the famous Juan Tamad tales.

Noticeable, people in Suluan are tall and brawny.  This attribute is said to be the evidence that the people are descendants of giants such as Makandog and Baysa.  Scientifically, it could be their diet of very abundant and fresh sea food and palm.  In our less than three days stay, we experienced sumptuous freshly caught fishes and octopuses cooked in different ways, and glasses of bahalina (coconut wine) that made the stories of giants more believable.  Thanks to our very accommodating and cheerful host, Kagawad Dondon.

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A fisherman assembling his octopus bait at Zone 1, Suluan.

The island and its people maintain their rich culture, bountiful natural resources, and merry disposition, despite their limited access to trade, education, and electricity. iCSC with the RE-Charge Tacloban initiative moors its anchors to these pacific shores in hopes of bringing change that aims to better the life of the islanders.

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