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A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Davao Gulf, Datu Bago and Davaoeños today

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 March) – If one were to make a survey among the close to 2 million citizens of Davao City (1,632,991 in 2015 Census) – reputedly the largest city in the country that traverses across an area covering 2,443.61 sq.m. (943.48 sq.mi.), my wager would be that less than 10 percent would adequately know about the historical significance of Davao Gulf and Datu Bago.

I have been on the road giving lectures on Davao history and when I start with asking a set of questions, very few would know the answers to the following:

  1. What is the old name of Davao Gulf before this name arose?
  2. Name at least one very important incident that took place on the seas of the Davao Gulf at the dawn of colonial history?
  3. Who was Datu Bago and what ethnolinguistic group did he belong?
  4. Why should we consider him Davao’s first heroes?
  5. How come the city celebrates March 16 as Araw ng Dabaw?

The value of history, of course, goes beyond knowing the answer to the above questions. In fact, the problem with how most teachers of Philippine history (very few would teach the subject – Mindanao history) teach this subject to our youth today is that the emphasis is on memorizing dates, names of persons and places and not the significance of these information to the city’s and the peoples’ identities. Still, knowing about basic facts has its own value.

In my youth, there were hardly local Davao (and Mindanao for that matter) history books that students can read in the library, let alone their classrooms. The few books that are in the library’s reserve sections and used as textbooks were the Manila- and Luzon-centric history books with little reference to important historical moments that took place through the centuries in Mindanao/Davao. It was as if our existence were just adjuncts to the lives of those in Manila/Luzon. And no one raised an objection for so long, including the first waves of activists who insisted we spoke in Pilipino.

Thankfully in the past few decades the likes of Ernie Corsino, Eric Casiňo, Rudy Rodil, Macario Tiu, Patricio Abinales, Antonio Figueroa et al. have come up with their articles and books filling in the gap to assert that historical moments in Mindanao/Davao should be incorporated in a truly inclusive Philippine history. So there is no excuse for the majority of us still not knowing about these important events.

To answer the above questions for a quick lesson on knowing more about the Davao Gulf, Datu Bago etc. and why we Davoeños should care about the significance of these data. In pre-colonial history, Davao Gulf was known as Tagalooc. Reading the word aloud, one can immediately see how it confirms the Austronesian theory as it connects with other languages, e.g., Cebuano-Bisaya (look to mean a place that is coastal but not exposed to the open sea making it an ideal location for docks). Later the Spaniards would rename it as Seno de Davao (seno being the Spanish for bay; synonym – bahia, golfo).

No one has yet written extensively on the importance of the Tagalooc to Mindanao/Davao history, but many important events took place across this very strategic gulf through the centuries of pre-colonial history until today. Because the boat technology arose way way back in humanity’s timeline – long before anyone thought of automobiles, buses, trains, airplanes, rocket ships, space shuttles – there were the balanghaivintakarakoa, paraw and much later the galleons. Long before the Portuguese, Spaniards, the Dutch and the Americans found their way to this seno, there were Arabs, Hindus, Malays and Chinese who docked their boats here on account of trade. Being the most lucrative enterprise of the times – linking Mindanao to fabled places like the Meluka (aka as Muluku) and other places with spices, gold, ceramics, etc. – trade linked various ports of call in this part of the planet.

It was the Spaniards, however, who subjugated the indigenous peoples who already resided across the gulf long after the establishment of the Spanish empire in las islas Pilipinas which began with Magellan in 1521 and got entrenched with Legazpi in 1568. Very few among us know that there is a postscript to the tragedy that hit Magellan and his men in Mactan Island. In the aftermath of that failed conquest, a depleted crew escaped and got lost, drifting to Sarangani Island on 26 October 1521, still hoping to make it to Meluka.

The setting up of the first Spanish reduccion by the Davao Bay (in what is now the area occupied by the Sangguniang Panglungsod, the city hall and San Pedro Cathedral) was established only on 29 June 1848 (thus San Pedro’s fiesta up to this day celebrated on this day). It was, however, in February 1845 when he first arrived at Malipano island across Samal Island. The Moro warriors attack on San Rufo, a veteran trading vessel with its cargoes pillaged and the traders and crew members killed, provoked the anger of Don Jose Oyanguren y Cruz. Securing the full support of Governor General Narciso Claveria, Oyanguren set out to conquer the bay, expel the Moros and set up a Christian settlement.

It was this incident that brought Datu Bago into the pages of local history books. He and his fellow baganis resisted the entry of the colonizers, thus making Datu Bago one of the first local heroes to oppose colonial rule, but of course, long before he – very much like Lapulapu and other indigenous warriors – would have imbibed an anti-colonial perspective in contemporary terms. But Datu Bago and a few of his men managed to escape and then fled to Tagum via the Davao River, even as others fled to Sarangani Island and even as far as Lake Buluan.

Just a few weeks ago – in time for the 2018 celebration of Araw ng Dabaw, Davao City’s Sangguniang Panglungsod passed a resolution declaring Datu Bago the city’s local hero. March 16 has nothing to do with Datu Bago; this is the date to commemorate the approval of the city’s charter which took place on 1 March 1937. But how do we honor him today? Is it enough to name the yearly awards to outstanding citizens as the Datu Bago award? Or could we honor him by naming a major public space to pay tribute to him – e.g. the Rizal Park, the People’s Park, Magallanes St., McArthur Highway and others ?

Or better still – to make sure that the youth of this city can integrate an anti-colonial perspective within a critical mindset that advances an anti-colonial resistance encompassing not just the US Regime but those of other more powerful nations that are out to subjugate us at the present moment? Will I dare point my finger to CHINA and get away with it under the present dispensation?

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations” and two books on Davao history launched in December 2015. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]

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