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The beginnings of Davao as a distinct geopolitical entity started during the last fifty years of Spanish rule in the country. While Spanish sovereignty had been established along the northeastern coasts of Mindanao down to Bislig as early as 1620, it was not until the conquest of Davao Gulf area in 1848 that Spanish sway in these parts became de facto, and Davao’s history began to be recorded.

In that year, Don Jose Cruz de Oyanguren, a native of Vergara, Guipuzcoa, Spain, having received a special grant from Don Narciso Claveria, Governor- General of the Archipelago, “to conquer and subdue the entire gulf district, expel or pacify the Moros there, and establish the Christian religion....” arrived in Davao as head of a colonizing expedition comprising 70 men and women. They found an ally in Datu Daupan, chief of the Samal Mandayas, who saw in Oyanguren’s colonizing venture a chance to get even with Datu Bago, Muslim chief of Davao Gulf, who had treated the Mandayas as vassals. Oyanguren’s initial attack against Datu Bago’s fortified settlement at the mouth of Davao River proved futile. His ships could not maneuver in the narrow channel of the Davao River bend (where Bolton Bridge is now located) and was forced to retreat. He erected at Piapi a palisade for his defense and constructed a causeway across nipa swamps to the dry section of the meadows (now at Claveria Street junction), inorder to bring his canons within range to Datu Bago’s settlement. In the three months that he devoted to constructing the causeway, Oyanguren had also to fend off Datu Bago’s harassing attacks against the workers.

Finally, late in June help came from Zamboanga. Don Manuel Quesada, Navy Commanding General, arrived with a company of infantry and joined in the attack against Datu Bago’s settlement. The out-gunned defenders, despite their tenacious resistance, finally fled in the cover of night to different Muslim communities in the hope of carrying on the fight some other day.Oyanguren was reported to have peaceful possession of the Davao Gulf territory at the end of 1849, despite lack of support from the government in Manila and his principals in the venture. He campaigned hard among the different tribes --the Mandayas, Manobos, etc. urging them to live in settlements or reducciones in order to reach them for trade and commerce, but to no avail. The Moros** continued to threaten those who collaborated with the Españoles. Little headway was made in economic development of the gulf region.


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* Excerpts from a manuscript “Davao: An Introduction to its History” by Ernesto I. Corcino.
** Moros here is used interchangeably with Muslims, and refers generally to believers of Islam.
Moslem is the preferred usage in Islamic countries in the Middle East, where the Islam believers were called Moors in older times. Moros refer specifically to believers of Islam in Southern Philippines as distinguished from the Moors of earlier century, Islam believers in Southern Spain and North Africa.

By 1852, due to intrigues by people in Manila dissatisfied with his Davao venture, Oyanguren was relieved of the command of Davao by Governor General Blanco, Marquis de Solana. By that time, Nueva Vergara had a population of 526 residents and while relative peace with the natives prevailed, population expanded very slowly that even in the census report of 1855, the Christian inhabitants and
converts increased to only 817 which included 137 exempted from paying tributes.

In 1867, the original settlement by the side of Davao River (end of present Bolton Street) was relocated to its present site with the Saint Peter’s church as the center edifice on the intersection of San Pedro and Claveria Streets.

In the meantime, in response to the Davaowenos’ clamor, Nueva Vergara was renamed “Davao”. The name is derived from its Bagobo origins: the Tagabawa who called the river “Dabo”, the Giangan or Diangan who called it “Dawaw”, and the Obo who called it “Davah”, with a gentle vowel ending, although later usage pronounce it with a hard “v” as in “b”. The pioneer Christian inhabitants of the settlement understandably were the proponents behind the official adoption of the name “Davao” in 1868.

The arrival of an initial batch of three Jesuit missionaries in Davao in 1868 to take over the mission from the lone Recollect priest in the Gulf area, marked a systematic and concerted effort at winning over the native inhabitants to the folds of Christian life. Through their zeal and frequent field work, the Jesuit fathers gradually succeeded in winning over the different indigenous tribes to live in reducciones, thus easily reached for instructions in Christian precepts and practices.

By the 1890’s, even the Moslems were starting to become converts, through the efforts of their own datus (Datu Timan and Datu Porkan), although many others remained steadfast in their Islam faith. Fr. Saturnino Urios who labored among the Moros of Hijo in 1892 further swayed the latter’s faith that led to the splitting of their population. Those who wanted to live among the Christians left Hijo and were resettled in Tigatto and Ma-a, under the supervision of Don Francisco Bangoy and Don Teodoro Palma Gil, Sr. respectively. These separatist groups generally refer to themselves today as Kalagans.

During the early years of American rule which began in late December 1898 the town began to mark its role as a new growth center of the Philippines. The American settlers, mostly retired soldiers and investor friends from Zamboanga,Cebu, Manila and the U.S. mainland immediately recognized Davao’s rich potential for agricultural investment. Primeval forest lands were available everywhere. They staked their claim generally in hundreds of hectares and began planting rubber, abaca and coconuts in addition to different varieties of tropical plants imported from Ceylon, India, Hawaii, Java and Malaysia. In the process of developing large-scale plantations, they were faced with the problem of lack of laborers. Thus, they contracted workers from Luzon and the Visayas, including the Japanese, many of whom were former laborers in the Baguio, Benguet road construction. Most of these Japanese later became land-owners themselves as they acquired lands thru lease from the government or bought out some of the earlier American plantations.The first two decades of the 20th century, found Davao one of the major producers of export products --- abaca, copra and lumber. It became a regular port of call by inter-island shipping and began direct commercial linkages abroad - US, Japan, Australia, etc. Some 40 American and 80 Japanese plantations proliferated throughout the province in addition to numerous stores and business establishments. Davao saw a rapid rise in its population and its economic progress gave considerable importance to the country’s economy and foreign trade.

Japanese immigration to Davao increased substantially from 1903 to 1925 and their domination of Davao’s economic life engendered suspicions of their presence as inimical to the national interest. Davao became the subject of national and international commentaries and projected Davao’s economic opportunities, which in turn attracted laborers most from the Visayas to come. The national government in turn campaign among the landless to come and encouraged settlement in the Mindanao region by homeseekers from Luzon and the Visayas.

Government roads leading to wide inaccessible virgin plains were constructed with workers given free transportation and subsidized food supply. It was a move to accelerate Davao’s or Mindanao’s development by Filipino themselves and check expansion of Japanese land acquisition.

Opportunities engendered by the presence of these foreign investors had in no small measure enhanced in-migration from different parts of the Philippines. Davao progressed more than it had ever experienced before. This was Davao when its leaders with the encouragement of President Manuel L. Quezon, opted to create Davao as a city.

On October 16, 1936, by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 51 otherwise known as the Charter of the City of Davao, the municipality of Davao became a city under the sponsorship of the then Assemblyman Romualdo C. Quimpo. The city was joyously inaugurated in March 1, 1937 with Hon. Elpidio Quirino, then the Secretary of Interior as President Quezon’s representative in the celebration program. Davao City’s territory of 244,000 hectares covered the municipality of Davao and the municipal district of Guianga. A photo taken of that inaugural ceremony held on the large stage along the steps of the City Hall - shows Secretary Quirino, Mayor Santiago Artiaga, the appointive city mayor with member of the city council, Assemblyman Romualdo C. Quimpo, Dr. Alberto Zamora, last Municipal President of Davao, Father Reyes of the San Pedro Parish, Gen. Paulino Santos and many leading citizens of Davao.

When the City of Davao began on March 1, 1937, its population was listed at about 68,000. By 1940 it increased to 98,000. By 1945,despite the toll and dispersion caused by the Japanese invasion in December 1941, the city’s population by estimate in 1946 increased to 111,263. In the census of 1960, population figure doubled to 227,635. In 1970, this rose to 750,000. (population estimates by officials and business sector).

World War II brought considerable destruction to the new city and numerous setbacks to the earlier economic and physical strides made prior to the Japanese occupation. Davao was among the earliest to be occurred by the invading Japanese Forces, and they immediately fortified the city as the bastion of Japanese defense system. It was subjected by the returning forces of Gen. Mac Arthur to constant bombing, long before the American Liberation Forces landed in Leyte in October 1945.

In the US Liberation of Davao, the Japanese Forces put up their tenacious stand in countless pillboxes and tunnels. It was here where the longest battle campaign took place in the liberation of the Philippines: six months duration and the enemy holding on for over a month more following the officials surrender of Japan in mid - August 1945. More lives were lost here than in any other city in
the country. Davao’s destruction, followed by a swell of thousands of guerrillas who wanted to squat former-Japanese owned plantations, together with a deluge of sickly refugees from the mountains, added to the physical and economic problems of the City.

The concomitant process of rebuilding was greatly assisted by the US Army’s PCAU-29 officials and President Roxas’ promise of distributing enemy property to the veterans. These twin factors attracted more veteran settlers speculators and sincere investors to Davao.

Gradually, the city regained its status as the premier agricultural and trade center of Mindanao. Logs, lumber, plywood, copra and banana products gradually replaced abaca as the major export product. Numerous varieties of fruits have likewise been produced for country-wide consumption as some, like bananas and mangoes , are now being exported. While its rich mineral resources particularly
copper and gold remains a challenge for those with capital to invest, thousands of manual gold diggers and panners have began to extract the precious metal, particularly in Mt. Diwata , Northern Davao and the eastern side of Davao Gulf at Boringot , Pantukan.

Today, the City of Davao looks forward to accelerating further its economic development. The lure of business opportunities with the fast rising population, along with its agricultural and industrial potentialities, has continuously brought ever increasing number of adventurous and equally ambitious investors as well as men and women of every profession, art and trade. Tagalogs, Pampangos,
Ilocanos and Visayas have found grounds in the city wherein to start or renew their base in life. They have all molded to become Davaoweños and Davao City has earned the honor and is justifiably proud to be called “the Melting Pot of the Philippines”. And more, they are participating in reaching out to supplement the government’s activities to realize Davao’s thrust as the new Gateway of the
Philippines. Mindanao envisions closer tie-up with its neighbors to the south in renewing its ancient cultural , economic and commercial relations.

One interesting feature of Davao is the composition of its inhabitants--- a mix 5 that would make a visitor or newcomer readily feel “at home”. That mixture--- of indigenous “natives” and practically all the ethnic groups representing the different parts of the country from the Ilocos region, the Mountain Provinces of Luzon, the Capampangans and Tagalogs of Central Luzon, the Caviteños, Batangueños and Bicolanos have blended into a new breed of Filipinos as they came in contact with the Visayas---Ilongos, Negrenses, Cebuanos, Boholanos and Leyteños--- in their search for new homes and opportunities for advancement in life. They have come to the welcoming and helpful arms of inhabitants preceding them in Davao.

The Davaoweños have imbibed the religious precepts and teaching in their early contact with Spanish missionaries, the pragmatism, punctuality and promptness exacted by the Americans, the determination, cooperation and devotion to duty of the Japanese, traits which combined to develop a helpful, hardworking, sympathetic and kind people in the present generation of Davaoweños.

The trend to identify the ethnic origins of the diverse Davao “natives” today are beginning to resurge after a prolonged silence, as tourism promotion thrusts highlight their unique culture, customs, dances, songs and varied art forms in weaving, metal crafts, and other personal adornments. How the promotional attributes given vis-a-vis “nativo” culture affects the younger generation of Davaoweños in their personal conduct and inter-communication with people from other parts of the country or foreigners in general, can be appreciated when they openly admit now that his father or mother is Bagobo, Mandaya, Kalagan or whatever else.

Home province languages or dialects have given to the general usages of Cebuano, Tagalog and English. However, one can speak the current dialects spoken in different regions of the country and most likely would be understood by the elder ones and even the smarter teenagers.

As it had always been in the past, the Davao population milieu has rich components of Mandayas, Bagobos and other “nativos”. The Islams from Lanao Province or Maranaon the Tausug or Jolonos and the Maguindanawons (from Cotabato, the original realm of the Sultanate of Maguindanao) are present in the heart of the city but they are less noticeable wearing clothes like anyone else as they pursue their daily activities to earn their living. There is however a growing number of Muslim women going about town in their white shawls and the cap, indicating that they had joined on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Davao “nativos” definitely are no longer distinct from any other people inhabiting Davao except perhaps when one speak a distinctly Davaoweño dialect, in which case the “nativo” would brighten up and perhaps wonder how the speaker has acquired the dialect.

The people of Davao, like people from anywhere else in the country is definitely worthy of one’s trust, for basically he is a friendly, helpful and understanding person who has long recognized that Davao is a melting pot that has opened for their elders precious opportunities for a new base in life, and thus highly sympathetic towards those seeking guidance or assistance.

Visitors to Davao may still wonder what has happened with the aboriginal inhabitants --- the “Nativos” or “Lumads”. Basically in the area surrounding Davao City particularly to the west from upper Bangkal to Catalunan, Ula and Biao could be found some remnants of the Bagobos. Up beyond these places towards the boundary of Cotabato/Bukidnon still reside the Obos, another subgroup of the Bagobos. The same Obos also are known as Guiangans.

Places surrounding the approaches to Mt. Apo are still populated by another sub-tribe of the Bagobos, who prefer to be called Tagabawa. They are the more numerous of the Bagobo tribe and occupies the Catigan, Toril, Sirib, Sibulan, Sta. Cruz and down to Bansalan territory.

To the north in the uplands, west of Davao del Norte could be found the Atas, while along the shores on the mouths of rivers such as Lasang, Tuganay, Bincungan, Libuganon and Hijo could be found the Muslims. Many of them are identified as Kalagans, meaning those who are not fully islamized in their religious beliefs. The Kalagans could also be found at Sirawan, and at the sitios of Mandug and Ma-a.

Also in the north could be found the Mansakas, whose last enclave is in the uplands of Maragusan Valley. Further up north and to the west of the Compostela-Butuan rivers are the Manobos and the Dibabaon’s with some Mandayas. Towards the east of Northern Davao down to the coast line of Davao Oriental from Cateel down to Mati are the Mandayas who were considered the most numerous of the Davao lumads. The mountains between Mati to Sigaboy are inhabited by remnants of Manobo and Mansaka tribes.

On the western side of Davao Gulf, starting at Sarangani are the Sangils and the B’laans. The latter dominate the highland up to the mountain range that extend to Malita. Among the B’laans’ area, a sprinkling of Tagacaulos can be found.

From Malita to the highlands of Padada and Magsaysay towns are still B’laans territory. The southern side of Mt. Apo is the place of some B’laans with the Tagabawa Bagobos.

The Atas who are similar to the Obos, are the earliest lumads who have inhabited Davao thru the centuries. Their numbers have diminished greatly and were forced to flee into the hinterlands of Davao as stronger and dominant successive tribes came to settle in this territory. There is a group who identifies themselves as Matigsalug, most likely the result of the admixture of the Obos and the Ata groups.

It should also be noted that most of the Bagobos who originally possessed the lands surrounding Davao Poblacion and the coasts to Digos have intermarried with the Spaniards, the Americans and later the Japanese, thereby creating the mestizo breed of Spanish-Bagobos, America-Bagobos and Japanese-Bagobos.

The Lumads from Malita down to Sarangani have mainly intermarried with the American pioneer planters in that territory and have produced the American - B’laan mestizos. The eastern gulf of Davao from Sigaboy down to cape San Agustin and up to Mati and Cateel, Davao Oriental, the main lumad group, the Mandayas had primarily came in contact with early Spanish explorers and settlers
and thus we have among them the preponderant Spanish-Mandaya mestizos/mestizas.

It is therefore no wonder that Davao may rightly claim the honor as the place of beautiful people, for reasons that the inhabitants here have been exposed to a more varied racial stock for over three centuries!

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