10 must-knows to complete your Araw ng Dabaw experience

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By Mags Z. Maglana

The Point Being

Friday, March 14, 2014

DAVAO is celebrating its 77th anniversary as a city this week. Being the commercial, financial and educational hub of Southern Mindanao and a favorite tourism destination, there are many aspects of Davao that often get promoted. Chief of these are, invariably, the security arrangements in the city and the many innovations of the local government in the past 25 years.

But there are many facets about Davao City's history that bear knowing or recalling so that one has a better appreciation. I would like to highlight 10 particulars, most of which were sourced from “Davao Reconstructing History from Text and Memory” by Macario Tiu, a must-have book, informative, insightful and instructive.

The origins of the name of the city are explained by three theories according to Mac Tiu.


The first ascribes it to the term daba-daba that means fire, ostensibly in reference to Mt. Apo. However, this theory is now believed to be a creation of migrants and has fallen into disfavor.

The second theory links Davao to dabu, davoh or duhwow that are indigenous terms that mean "beyond the high grounds" pertaining to the hills of Buhangin, Maa, Magtuod and Matina that surround the flatlands of Davao. This theory seems to be the favored explanation of the moment.

The last theory honors a Datu Dabao, a chieftain who might have come to the area after attacking and obliterating a Spanish garrison in Bunawan, Agusan in 1651. However, this theory fell into disrepute because a document written by Dutchman Daniel Ottens in 1628 already mentioned a place named Djabu in Davao Gulf then called by the Dutch as Boetuan Bay.

Davao was among the last in the Philippines to be conquered by the Spanish forces. It was only in 1848 nearing the dying days of Spanish colonialism that the attacking forces led by Jose Oyanguren beat the Bagobos under Datu Bago and set up regular presence in the area.

Tiu narrated that Oyanguren established his capital on the ruins of Datu Bago's settlement in Bangkerohan, calling it Nueva Vergara after the intruder's Spanish hometown. The larger politico-military province was called Nueva Guipuzcoa, also after the home province of Oyanguren.

Apparently, the inhabitants insisted that the name of the place be returned to its previous name, Dabao. Starting 1867, reference to Nueva Guipozcoa ceased and the area was henceforth referred to as Davao Province.

Tiu in another book shared that during the time of the Americans the Davao area was described by the publication Mindanao Herald as "the garden of the gods."

Call me biased and conditioned but I must admit Nueva Vergara City does not have the same ring as Davao City; and while the Island Garden City of Samal has already beat us to it, I still would not mind claiming that I live in Davao City, which is part of the garden of the gods.

The Davao Province of colonial times used to cover a considerable area stretching during the 1840s from Cawit in Surigao to Punta Malaluna in Cotabato as described by Tiu. Ernesto Corcino, another local historian, has documented the changes in Davao's territorial scope.

What used to be one Davao Province was initially split into three by RA 4867 in 1967: Davao del Sur, Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental. Davao del Norte in turn got divided into two in 1998, giving birth to Compostela Valley. Very recently, Davao del Sur was also subdivided and the province of Davao Occidental was created by RA 10360 enacted in July 2013.

Davao City is not part of any province. Voters of the city do not elect a Governor and members of a Sangguniang Panlalawigan. But when pressed by one of those online forms that require filling out a province, the go-to answer seems to be Davao del Sur.

Davao Gulf used to be known as Tagalook (also spelled Taglooc in some references) by Magindanawans and other ethnic groups who controlled the area during the pre-colonial times, and as Boetuan Bay by the Dutch in the mid-1600s. Tiu said that the latter was in reference to a place called Butuan somewhere along the western part of the gulf; and is not to be mistaken with the Butuan Bay in Northern Mindanao.

Davao City has its own Chinatown. But it also used to host a significant Japanese population such that in the 1920s it was called "Davao-kuo" (Little Japan) per Mac Tiu's narration.

Perhaps Davao as place, and its diversity and energies inspired and shaped many women and men who have made their mark in politics, culture and economics not just locally or nationally but also internationally.

From Datu Bago who fought the Spaniards and Mangulayon and Balawag who resisted American troops; to Socorro Par, Taking Lanzona, Edgar Jopson and many others who opposed the Marcos dictatorship; to the multitudes who made the first Welgang Bayan happen in the 1980s and continue to keep the protest movement alive; to Don Pagusara, Fe Remotigue, Tita Ayala, Carlotta de Pio, Ricky de Ungria, Aida Ford, Joey Ayala, Noe Tio, Onie Badiang, Eric Gancio, Popong Landero, Richard Belar and Kaliwat, Bayang Barrios, Gauss Obenza, Geejay Langlois, Sheila Labos, Kakai Lamanilao, Marie Contaoi, Maan Chua and the rest of Mebuyan, Cynthia Alexander and MYMP's Juris Fernandez for their poetry, music and theatrical performances; to Ang Kiukok, Bert Monterona, Kublai Millan, Ruben de Vera, and Boots Dumlao who contribute to the visual arts and sculpture; to Ditsi Carolino, Arnel Mardoquio, Yam Palma, and Teng Mangansakan for eye and mind-opening films and documentaries; to Ernie Corcino, Karl Gaspar, Mac Tiu, Carol Arguillas and Kaloi Zarate who shape our understanding of local history and events through their writings and advocacies; to Irene Santiago, Luz Ilagan, Lyda Canson, Pat Sarenas and other women leaders; to the numerous civil society leaders engaged in peace and development work; to the Dutertes, the Bellos and the Nograleses; whether or not they were born here, at one point they called Davao home. The list of course is illustrative rather than exhaustive, and can only grow with more contributions.

Davao was formally organized as a city on March 1, 1937 through EO No. 132 following the signing into law of Commonwealth Act No. 51 (An Act Creating the City of Davao) by President Manuel Quezon on October 16, 1936.

According to Tiu, the March 16 commemoration of the Araw ng Dabaw began during the time of then Davao City Mayor Elias B. Lopez, apparently because Congressman Romualdo Quimpo filed the bill 609 creating Davao on March 16, 1936. As an interesting side detail, the birth date of the congressman's wife was March 16.

The city cannot be viewed in isolation from its larger environment. Many of what gets advertised as part of the Davao City experience like Mt. Apo and the Philippine Eagle technically are not just in Davao City but also in other locales (Mt. Apo is territorially part of North Cotabato and can be approached via Davao del Sur, the Philippine Eagle's range covers other places in Southern Mindanao and also Bukidnon); and as cultural-environmental heritages are shared with other areas and peoples.

So yes, those of us who call Davao home have a healthy pride of place, but ours is not misplaced arrogance brought about myopia. We draw our pride from a sense of being connected - to other peoples, to a larger sense of place, to being part of longer timeline, to contributing to an ongoing and exciting story, the next chapters of which are being played out even as this piece is being written.

Email feedback to magszmaglana@gmail.com

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 15, 2014.


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