Leyte Island, Philippines

As Thanksgiving was yesterday, we all had a chance to reflect on what we’re thankful for.  While one can certainly be thankful for the positives, negatives can be good “to have” too:  for example, not living in Syria or in the path of a tornado, not “owning” a botched website rollout, etc.

If you lived in the Philippines (especially) and were out of the path of Typhoon Haiyan, you’d be thankful of that.  The Typhoon roared through the Philippines on November 8th and placed life-changing hardships on millions of people.  The storm and its aftermath have been on the front page of the New York Times more than any other story in a long time:  over half of the past 21 days have had Typhoon related photos on the front page; 7 days have had front page articles and 3 additional days had front page redirects to major articles inside.  It is a rare event that garners so much front page real estate.

At landfall in the Philippines, the Typhoon had sustained winds estimated at 195 MPH, a record for any storm ever, easily qualifying as a Super Typhoon (150 MPH sustained for a minute).   The wind and tides caused a surge of 4-5 meters over much of the eastern coast of Leyte Island– since much of the island’s coast is low, and torrential rains accompanied the winds, flooding was severe.

As of November 27th the Typhoon’s death total was 5500; over 1000 people are still missing.  Property damages are estimated at $12-$15 billion, an enormous amount for a lesser developed country such as the Philippines (5% of GDP).   The losses of humans, not counting deaths, but just counting the dislocations, anguish, medical, and other natural disaster related tolls on the living is impossible to calculate, but it is surely much greater than the property damage costs.

Much of the Typhoon’s impact was in its direct path on the island of Leyte, in particular Tacloban City, the island’s major city and capital.  (Tacloban, which is/was a city of 220,000 on the Gulf of Leyte, site of the definitive Naval battle of WWII, was pretty much wiped out.)

All this havoc took place in a country with a per capita GDP in 2012 of only about 1/20th that of the U.S., according to the IMF (International Monetary Fund – $2611/person vs. $51,704).

The Philippine government estimated that foreign aid received as of November 27th totaled $12.1 million in cash.  As of that date an additional $500 million or so in aid had been pledged, largely in kind items.  That doesn’t seem like much.  Great Britain has provided the most aid of any country, and many countries lead the U.S. in aid per capita.

The news and stories on Typhoon Haiyan were especially poignant when contrasted with the results a contemporaneous art auction at Christie’s in New York City.  The November 12th auction, for buyers who were willing to pay big dollars for something of basically zero utility in a natural disaster, was breathtaking in light of the suffering in the Philippines.

(It was reported that a not well-known painting was auctioned off for a world record amount, $142.2 million (a figure that doesn’t include sales taxes or the buyer’s premium of over 12%).  For an interesting article aligned with my views on that world, see Art Is Hard to See Through the Clutter of Dollar Signs).

On a brighter note, there is a wonderful 14 minute non fiction film that very effectively conveys interesting and unique aspects of life on Leyte before the Typhoon. The Selling Songs of Leyte was completed about 10 years ago as a labor of love by a native of the Philippines.  With footage exclusively from Leyte Island, the film offers an original and well edited record of life on Leyte before the Typhoon.

The Selling Songs of Leyte was largely a personal project of Eli Africa, a resident of California’s Bay Area, who conceived it,  made several trips to the Philippines to film, did the editing, promoting, etc.

At its second annual festival in 2005, the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival screened The Selling Songs of Leyte.  For me, having participated in 10 years’ of annual SF Ocean Film Festivals and viewed hundreds of ocean-related films, Selling Songs of Leyte remains high on my list of most memorable.

For the full 14 minute film on YouTube, click below:

As of the film’s release date in 2003, the life style and custom reported on was said to be dying.  The Typhoon didn’t help because its bull’s-eye was the location of all the Selling Songs footage.

The singing fishmongers and fishwives profiled were a truly unique cultural feature of Leyte and our civilization.

Notwithstanding the Typhoon, one can only hope those hard working, colorful men and women of Leyte will be able to reestablish their presence and continue their unusual, authentic, melodic tradition.


P.S.  I’m really thankful Eli Africa had the interest, commitment, and skills to memorialize the selling songs and singers so well.

About Krist

Companion of Wally who is featured at MrWally.com. More at https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristjake/
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