One of the original town centers on the island of Samar, Bobon is a rustic coastal municipality that moves along gracefully, swaying to the rhythm of the coconut palm trees at the edge of the sea and invigorated by the fresh mineral spray of salt mist from a beach that is always close by.
Like most other towns in the archipelago designed by Spanish town planners, Bobon’s baroque-inspired stone church, municipal hall, and commercial area are clustered close to the coast overlooking the Samar Sea.
Early settlers built their houses and wove their dreams close to the shore, but contemporary dwellers are more inclined to build farther from the beach and closer to the mountains, rivers, waterfalls, but still with a great view of the magnificent sunset from the terrace of a country cottage perched on a hill.
Ages before the first Spanish seafarers cast anchor in this part of the Philippine archipelago, the area which now circumscribes the town of Bobon was already widely known for its clear, clean and sweet-laced fresh water that gushed freely from springs further inland from the shoreline.
So distinct was this feature that it was how the cluster of small settlements along the mouth of the Sog-od River was called, Bobon being the Bicolano word fresh groundwater obtained from springs. For the Bicolanos – seasoned fishermen and traders – were early visitors of the settlement, finding their way there during foul weather that drove them to seek shelter along Samar’s northern coast. They discovered such an abundance of wellsprings and pools of fresh water, and eventually made regular calls even in fair weather, to stock up in and take with them while at sea.
More new settlers discovered Bobon at the height of the bloody Sumuroy Revolt in 1649. They were mostly Palapagnons, townsfolk of Palapag, evading the draft by Spanish authorities who needed local “volunteer” militia to help crush Sumuroy’s growing rebel movement.
Then followed several more waves of migrants from other parts of Samar Island and Bicol, similarly avoiding forced labor and recruitment for mandatory military service in the name of the king of Spain.
By 1697, Bobon had developed into such a thriving community that the Jesuit missionaries, who by then had begun their evangelization work in this part of the island, established a mission center within the settlement. This was around the time the Jesuits had moved their mission residence from the interior poblacion of Catubig to the coastal settlement of Palapag.
Considered a visita of Catarman in the latter half of the 1800s, Bobon was elevated into a parish on August 4, 1863, and given the title Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (Most Holy Name of Jesus). At around this time, construction had begun on the massive stone church that still stands today, but it was completed only in 1892.
Despites its Status as an independent parish, Bobon remained a barrio of Catarman until 1906, when it was officially elevated into a municipality, with Dancalan, Biri, Carangian (now San Jose) and Rosario among its barrios.
Stone church at the heart of the town
An abstract of the history of Bobon and the character of its people is present at the center town.
The old church, considered one of the Northern Samar’s fortress churches, stands solidly at the heart of the poblacion, a testament to the faith brought ashore, that has endured and remains alive in the piety and folk religiosity of the people. The rock foundation of the stone church is said to have been laid by the Jesuits, but the actual edifice, convent, and the massive fortress walls surrounding them were built by the Franciscan missionaries, who took over the parish when the Jesuits were expelled from the Philippines, and completed in 1842.
Most every Bobonanon takes pride in this church, and the belfry that complements it. But deeper runs the emotion reserved for the youthful patron enshrined in the church – that Santo Niño or Christ Child.
There are two images of the Christ Child venerated by Bobonanons – the “white Santo Niño” or the statue like that of the Santo Niño de Praga (Holy Infant Prague), enshrined at the altar of the church, and the “black Santo Niño”, similar to the Santo Niño de Cebu which had once been painted black, which has its special at the side of the church.
There are two separate festivals held in honor of the images. The black Santo Niño, believed to be more miraculous and mysterious, is fondly called Agta and is at the center of the Agta Festival, a grand town-wide celebration that features the Sakay-sakay fluvial procession and the Sinulog, a prayer-dance performed in procession similar to the Ati-atihan in Aklan and the Cebu Sinulog.
Relics, symbols and sites
Almost at the doorstep of the church is the sprawling town plaza that exhibits relics and symbols of the town’s past, such as war cannons used by and on its people, and large banga (water jugs) that represent the natural resources Bobon was known for.
At Rizal Park close by stands a round concrete water tank that has been preserved and continues to perform the function for which it was built in 1925. The tank is reported to have been constructed at the initiative of a Dr. Alfredo Paredes to collect rain water which he believed was medicinal and so should be made readily available for use the Bobon folk.
Beyond the town center are the other attractions that draw visitors to Bobon today as in the past. In Brgy. Dancalan at the eastern side of town is a long stretch of white sand beach that has long been a favorite summer jaunt by the locals and along which many resorts with upgrading amenities have since been built. Calicuran beach, likewise a popular destination, is reached via a boat ride down scenic Bobon River.
Mombob Islet is the town’s picturesque landmark to the open sea and, some insist, may also be the root or basis for the settlement’s name – or vice versa.
The Lulugayan Falls, located in the interior barangay of Balat-Balud, closed to the mountains, is fairly well-known to serious mountaineers and trekkers but few of the locals from beyond the barangay have ventured there because there are no clear trails for now.
An accessible and interesting stop on the main highway that cuts through town, on the other hand, is the Colgante Bridge – the present structure which offers a long view of Bobon River and the ruins of the old stone bridge built in 1910 during the American Period, and that survived for a century until it collapsed in the rushing torrent of an overflowing river.
No visit to or stay in Bobon is ever complete without a sampling, savoring and pasalubong (take-home gift) of pinangat, a dish made of taro leaves boiled in coconut milk and spices. Pinangat is known and prepared all over the province, but Bobon lays claim to having the most sought-after products.
There are market and roadside stalls selling the delicacy, or for those on truly culinary quest, there are local homes where one can actually observe the step-by-step preparation of the dish.
The delicacy, and other marine produce of the town, are also available in the increasing numer of restaurants in this municipality just beyond the capital town. A particular roadside restaurant named Fishville, build on stilts above a fishpond and partly on the bank of a scenic river, is a regular travel stop or suburban even place. With its floating ding cottages and evening entertainment offerings for dancing and music lovers.