CALBAYOG CITY, July 3, 2016 – The Christ the King College (CKC), the oldest Catholic school in Samar-Leyte region located in the City of Calbayog, commemorated the 86th birth anniversary of Fr. Cantius J. Kobak, OFM, the “Historian of Samar.”
Local historians, writers, scholars, researchers, teachers, CKC students, and Kobak’s former students from various parts of Samar Island, especially those who joined the historian priest’s archaeological expedition in the 1960s, attended the event held at the CKC Samar Archaeological and Cultural Museum on June 29.
“We will never know about Samar past, the documentations of Philippine 16th century society by Fr. Alcina if not for Fr. Kobak…,” said local historian and writer Charo Cabardo, who noted the priest’s seminal research on the Jesuit Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina’s Historia de las Islas e Indios de Bisayas … 1668.
Fr. Kobak, an OFM Franciscan from the Province of Pulaski Wisconsin USA, was assigned in Samar from 1959 to 1970, which he mostly spent in researching and writing about Samar history and culture.
The commemoration was made possible through the leadership of Br. Ariel C. Manga, OFM, president of CKC, home of the famous Christ the King College Youth Symphony Orchestra (CKC-YSO). CKC-YSO is a youth orchestra composed of 60 musicians and instrumentalists that performed during the Closing Mass of Pope Francis’ pastoral and state visit held in Luneta in January 2015 and during the Opening Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu in January this year.
Fr. Laurian Janicki, OFM, Kobak’s contemporary, celebrated a special Mass at the Christ the King Chapel, which houses a bone relic of St. Francis of Assisi.
Born Zdzislaw (Jesse) Kobak in Poland on June 29, 1930, he migrated in 1937 to the U.S., where he finished his studies. In 1939 he became a Franciscan and was ordained priest in 1957.
Enthralled by newsletters coming from friars in the Philippine missions, Kobak had one desire by the time of his ordination: to serve the poor in Samar Island. He became a teacher at CKC and Guardian of the Franciscan community in Calbayog upon his arrival in Calbayog in 1959.
Manuscripts turned botica wrappings
During academic breaks, Kobak did archaeological diggings in various areas of the island, which yielded treasures from Samar’s past that led to the establishment of the Samar Museum at CKC in 1968. With an SVD priest, he also co-founded the Leyte Samar Museum in Tacloban in 1967.
He was the foremost researcher about the Sumuroy Revolt of Palapag, Samar from 1649 to 1650.
His scholarly articles were published by the now defunct Leyte-Samar Studies of the Divine Word University in Tacloban and in the Philippiniana Sacra, the journal of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), Manila.
His greatest scholarly achievement was the tracing (in various European and American museums), translating from Spanish to English, and preparing for publication all extant copies of Jesuit Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina’s Historia de las Islas e Indios de Bisayas … 1668.
Local historian and writer Charo Cabardo said, “Fr. Alcina was a missionary assigned in Samar in 1634. During the 34 years he was in Samar, he documented ancient customs, traditions, beliefs, poems, songs, epics, histories, and even made illustrations of flora and fauna. He completed his nine books in 1668 and sent the manuscripts to Spain for publication in 1672. Unfortunately, he died two years later and never saw his manuscripts again.”
Cabardo continued, “the Alcina manuscripts resurfaced in 1786 as wrappings for powders and ointments in a ‘botica’ in Spain.”
Grand contribution to history
After 332 years, with the collaboration of two Dominican priests from UST, Alcina’s grand contribution to Philippine history was published with the “painstaking translation made by Fr. Kobak”, said Cabardo.
UP professor Rolando O. Borrinaga, who co-authored a book with Kobak, said the Alcina manuscripts on the Visayas “provide the most complete and extensive ethnographic account of any regional group in the Philippines in the 17th century.”
Beloved Bisayans, Samarnons
Cabardo, who edited four local historical books including the Diocese of Calbayog, 100 Years, said, ”my major source of data is Fr. Alcina and this would have never been possible without the translation by Fr. Kobak.”
She said, “Fr. Alcina and Fr. Kobak were only in their 20s when they came to Samar. Both priests stayed in Samar for more than 30 years. Fr. Kobak left the Philippines in 1989, but continued his work on Samar until he died in 2004.”
“Like Fr. Alcina who called the people of the Visayas his ‘Beloved Bisayans’, I am sure, Samarnons were also the “Beloved Samarnons” of Fr. Kobak,” said Cabardo.
(Carl Jamie Simple S. Bordeos / CBCP News)