“Why Gamay?” is the unspoken question Gamaynons imagine is in the mind of everyone in a first encounter with their beloved town. It is a question they are eager to answer, all quick to seize an opportunity to extol the greatness of their town with a little name.
Gamay is the Ninorte-Samarnon term for small. Yet no offence need be taken or presumed where none is intended. For to the first-time visitor to or motorist through Gamay, it is a charming little town. As when the first voyagers from the beyond the Pacific Ocean chanced upon it, Gamay remains a vibrant settlement along a serene cove, kissed by calm azure waters, shielded from oceans tantrums and nourished by a living river.
How Gamay came to be called such is a story in the legendary pattern of quite number of Philippine towns. Gamay, the local folk explain, is a term that also means fine or pino and described the type of fiber used by the early abaca weavers of the town. Gamaynon forebearers, they say, were known to produce the finest abaca fiber in the entire province, distinct from the medium or urubayon and thick or kadagkuan strands.
They are no longer into abaca production and weaving, but Gamaynons relish recounting the story that explains the origin of their town’s name and makes them proud of their history as hard-working people and exquisite weavers.
The municipality or at least the settlement that was then part of the mother town of Palapag, was originally called Binungtuan (village center) and was populated by seafarers of Malay stock who originated east of the Philippine archipelago. But one day, not long after the first Europeans arrived, a Spaniard approached a loom weaver to ask the name of the place. Not knowing what the white man with a strange language was talking about, she assumed that he was asking what she was working in with her hands, so she answered “Gamay”.
The name stuck, and in time everyone began calling the people of Binungtuan “Gamay”, and it remained that way, regardless of whether they were from town proper or not.
The original site of the Binungtuan, however, was abandon due to frequent Moro raids, as was the fate of most thriving coastal communities in Samar Island. The place was renamed Binayaan, which literally means abandoned, after the families established a new settlement near the mouth of Gamar River. this was a more strategic location that provided residents a vantage position from which to defend themselves against the assaults of Moro pirates on board colorful vintas from Southern Mindanao, or simply scamper away to safety.
When the United States took over the role of Spain as the new colonial masters of the Philippines, many Gamaynons fled to the mountain to join the Pulahanes, a staunchly anti-American group. However, the group was overwhelmed by the American’s vaunted firepower and eventually surrendered.
After being a part of Palapag for many years, Gamay became a separate municipality on February 26, 1947, by virtue of Republic Act No. 90, signed into law by President Elpidio Quirino. The original town of Gamay included the old barrio of Lapinig, which today is also a separate municipality.
The Nerve Center River
The original poblacion of Gamay and four of its 26 barangays hug the coastline, while the others are inland with largely moderate to extreme rugged terrain. The river that cuts through the town remains a vital nerve center for livelihood and transport as most of the interior Barangays are accessible only through the river of via feeder roads traversed by the ubiquitous habal-habal.
The economy is largely agricultural with coconut as Gamay’s premier product and the symbol of its prosperity over many years. Most of the land area is planted to coconut trees, with hardly anything left for other food crops such as rice, fruits, tubers, and vegetable. This explains why the town is a net importer of rive and other food crops.
The regular onslaught of typhoons affects the livelihood of the people, with destructions to life and property having drastic effects on their productivity. To augment food needs, the townsfolk resort to domestic importation, usually from nearby Laoang and Palapag, or farther off in Legazpi, Lucena, and Cebu.
The town is blessed with an irregular coastline, a cove, and deep waters that are ideal for harbors that can accommodate large seacraft. Aside from public piers, there are a number privately owned piers, one of which accommodates commercial ships from Cebu and other parts of the country.
Local tourism officials take special pride in Precious Moments, a resort within the town proper, a relaxing departure from most of the places to see in Gamay. It has mini-zoo, sprawling picnic ground, a nice view of the Pacific, a restaurant and decent karaoke bar, and cozy air-conditioned accommodations.
It may not exactly be what foreign tourists, or even some local urbanites, would want to visit in Gamay, but it is a welcome sight in a cluster of towns with hardly any accommodation facilities to offer. It is also a convenient and well-located jump off point for adventure tours around the Pacific towns and offers a respite from outdoor escapades in the towns’ unspoiled beaches, invigorating waterfalls, and magnificent caves.
There is likewise a well-appointed hotel Gold Rich Lodging House facing the Gamay River, built by a local trader for business travelers and tourist.
The real gems, however, are not to be found in the poblacion, but at its coastal edges around saltwater marshes and nature-hewn rocks. They are an hour or so habal-habal ride away, baktas (trekkin), or motorboat travel.
The five-tiered Matikawol Falls with three nature-carved pools at the head of the Gamay River is a must-see, with layers of cascading waters rushing from a rocky spout in endless motion, roaring from one layer to another in a breathtaking spectacle, creating one perfect moment after another. It is reached via a 45-minute motorboat ride upstream from the town center.
Sila Point, a monument-like rock formation off the coast of Brgy. Dao facing the Pacific Ocean, is now accessible only via a banca ride to the barangay and an hour or so of baktas along a dramatic shoreline of giant rocks and creamy sand. Local legend has it that Sila point is a mystical lighthouse guiding the port entry to the folkloric Araw City, described by the locals as the home of enchanted beings high up in the mountains of Brgy. Anito. To make the most of a trip to Sila Point, trekkers can take a break in Gapo Beach along the way and top off snorkeling or driving with seet refreshing silot (young coconut) straight from the tree.
With time to spare and at the hour of the day, visitors can join the barangay fishermen who head out for the islands such as Higunom and Hamtik, where marine harvests are more abundant. Similarly plentiful are the stories woven around them, but even sans the mystical tales, the islands are truly enchanting as they are really sandbars that make their appearance only when the tides are low.
There’s no need for a long trek, though, if your destination is the Bag-ot Falls, located in Brgy. Cabarasan and just off the main highway. There are two falls located in the same area, each one sculpted uniquely and masterfully by nature. A local organization has taken on the responsibility of maintaining the area around the falls.
The Nabunglayan Rock Formations are also close to the poblacion and can readily be reached by habal-habal or, depending on where you’re coming from, again by baktas. When the tides are low, one can walk all the way to the rocks, picking a careful path through the thick, seemingly ancient mangroves, and clamber to the top for a king-of-the-world ocean view.
When waters rise, people take the banca to enjoy the rock’s natural pool and feel the ocean’s teasing and exhilarating breeze. It is hands down the Gamaynon’s favorite rest-and-creation destination. Local folks advise tourists and trekkers to visit the tidal rocks during low tide to enjoy the added feature of watching live sea creatures crawling about the crystal clear and shallow ocean floor.