The evolution of the name “Zamboanga” provides an interesting insight into its historical background. The early Malay settlers called the region “Jambangan”, which means Land of the Flowers.
These Malays who built their settlements by the river banks were the subanons, that is the “People of the River”. Their chief, Saragan, lived with his family atop the legendary Mount Pulumbato that today lords over Pasonanca and Climaco Freedom Park (formerly Abong-Abong Park) then later on, the Samals and the Badjaos who came on their frail vintas also settled here, building their frail huts along the shorelines and confused “Jambangan” with “Samboangan” which comes from the word “Sabuan”, the wooden pole used to help push their vintas in shallow waters or to tie them for anchorage purposes.
The Spanish colonizers found difficulty in pronouncing “Samboangan” and instead called the place “Zamboanga”.
The Tausugs are Muslim natives of the Sulu Archipelago. They practice the tenets of Islam. They attend services in the mosque and say their prayers five times a day.
Culturally speaking, the Tausugs can be distinguished from other groups of Filipinos. We can say that the Tausugs have adapted Western ways of dressing. This is because education and travel have greatly influenced their lives. Of course, it is observed that Tausugs greatly appreciate their native dress particularly the “sablay” of the women. As a matter of fact, the Tausug men and women have different attires for different occasions.
The Tausug whether modern or traditional, put the greatest value on the reputation of the family. A Tausug will never commit an act of cowardice that might leave a blemish on the family’s name. it is the prime duty of every member of the family to perpetuate the good name of the house. A saying which best exemplifies this particular Tausug trait, goes this way, “You can never expect a Tausug to run from a good fight.” This is because they believe that running away from a fight is considered shameful.
The artistry of the Tausugs can be seen in their dances, particularly in the graceful movements of the hands using the janggay. Bright and beautiful colors also characterize the Tausug’s love for music and arts.
One of the natives of Zamboanga Peninsula are the Samals or Sama. They live in houses built on bamboo stilts along the seashore and their main occupations are fishing and trading. The Sama are spread in many parts of Mindanao. In this part of the country, this indigenous group of people is best known for their skills in boat building, mat weaving, and pearl diving. When not in fishing, some are engaged in agriculture. Their principal crop is cassava.
One group of this tribe is called Sama Bangingi who used to live in Taluksangay. “Taluk” in the samal language means violet, a favorite color of Samals, while “sangay” means a sandy place where birds flock.
Rabana is the Samal’s favorite indigenous instrument, together with the kulintang and other gongs.
The original people of Zamboanga were the Subanen of Indonesian origin who came at about 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. They were coastal people who believe in the spirit of their ancestors and the forces of nature. When the Muslims arrived, they were pushed into the hinterlands and lived along the riverbanks. Thus, the name “Suba,” meaning people of the river.
The Subanens who communicate through their Subano language prefer and wear colorful clothes and accessories. Black, red, and white are their favorite colors. The women often wear red earrings that match with beaded necklaces. Like other tribes, Subanens have their own entertainment or way of enjoying life. They like music. The Ginarang or Migboat, Basimba, Gatagan and Sirdel or Sumumigaling are some of their songs. These are sung with the accompaniment of their instruments like Gong, Kutapi, Sigitan, Lantoy, Kulaying and Tambubok.
Subanens court through songs and dances. Their marriage custom is done through taltal. But aside from their court dance, they also have war and ritual dances that they perform during social gatherings and special occasions such as weddings, etc.
The tribe’s political structure consists of a Timuay equivalent to the barangay captain that we have today. The Timuay tries cases involving crimes and moral turpitude. In case the Timuay cannot decide on the case or if the case involves heinous crimes, he does not give the final verdict.
The Badjaos are called “Sea gypsies” because they move with the wind and the tide on their small houseboats called vintas. They live in boathouses or in bamboo stilt houses along the coast of the little islands of the peninsula. Even up to the present, many badjaos still live in boathouses. They use “saguan” to push their boats in the water. They are likewise excellent swimmers. Because of their great experience in diving, they can stay underwater longer than most casual swimmers.
Some people have the impression that the Badjaos aimlessly wander from island to island.
The Badjaos are primitive people, friendly and meek. They are among the world’s peace-loving people. They are also described as seafaring people and the first group of inhabitants in the island provinces of the region. The tribe’s main livelihood is fishing although many have gone into agar-agar (seaweed) farming,. Badjao women attend to their home and children.
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.
* 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.
Before the coming of the Christian migrants from Luzon and the Visayas which had accelerated the growth of settlements and subsequently gave rise to bustling municipalities, this area named Cotabato was inhabited by various ethnic groups namely: the Manobos, the Bagobos and the Muslims sometime in 1500 A.D. These various tribes are believed to be descendants of Indonesian immigrants owing to their similarity in physical structure and language.
According to a Manobo creation myth, the fertile flood plain between the Kulaman and the Pulangi Rivers was the birthplace of life on earth. Soil stolen from another world was deposited in this place, which they refer to as pinamua or “land of the beginning”.
When the Maguindanao Sultan acceded to Spanish sovereignty in 1861, the colonial government organized several districts to cover the vast plain of the Pulangi. Those who resisted the Spaniards fled towards the interior, to Pagalungan and continued resisting Spanish intrusion into the region. The district of Cotabato was formed in 1860. In 1871, the district covered the military areas of Polloc, Malabang, Reina Regente, Taceran, Babia, Illana, Baras and Lebac. What is presently Cotabato remained outside the area of Spanish activities.
The area covered by the empire Province of Cotabato is the territory presently occupied by the provinces of Cotabato (the mother province), South Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat, including the area now covered by General Santos and Cotabato Cities. “Cotabato” comes from the Maguindanao “Kuta Wato”, or “Stone Fort”, and bespeaks of the long tradition of courage and resistance that marks the history of the Pulangi River basin. Its capital was then Cotabato (now a city, a town along the Rio Grande some five kilometers from where said river empties into the sea on the west).
The total land area of the original Cotabato before its division was 2,296,791 hectares or about one thirteenth of the whole country which has an area of about 30 million hectares. So big was the original province that its area was about the size of the central plain of Luzon and bigger than six states in the United States, including the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The total land area of the Hawaiian Islands (now a U.S. state) is only about three-fourths that of Cotabato.
The effectivity of the operation of the original province of Cotabato was on September 1, 1914. The date when the creation of the Department of Mindanao and Sulu took effect pursuant to the Philippine Commission Act No. 2408 dated July 23, 1914, an Act providing for a temporary form of government for the territory known as the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, making applicable thereto, with certain exceptions the provisions of general laws now in force in the Philippine Island, and for other purposes.
Before the passage of the above-mentioned Act by the Philippine Commission, Cotabato was never called a province. It was just categorized as a mere district of the Moro Province. The Moro Province was composed of all the political subdivisions of Mindanao and Sulu, excluding the two Misamis Provinces and Surigao. The huge province (Moro province) was created by the Philippine Commission on July 15, 1903 in Act No. 787 and probably because no Filipino had any knowledge of surveying at the time, the territorial jurisdiction of the Cotabato District was roughly described, wanting in definiteness and usually giving rise to boundary conflicts with neighboring provinces.
The Moro province was governed by military governors, the last being General John J. Pershing, who was succeeded in December 1913 by the first civilian governor, Frank W. Carpenter. The early Filipinos were pagans – worshippers of the sun, the moon and some animals like Kalupindo (Parrot). Mohammedanism or Islam was the first “imported” religion in Cotabato. It was first introduced in the later part of the 15th century by Shariff Kabunsuan, a legendary Muslim missionary who later ruled Cotabato with his descendants and established the Sultanate of Mindanao.
Shariff Kabunsuan and his descendants ruled Cotabato until the coming of the Americans in the early part of the twentieth century. One important feature established by the reign of Shariff Kabunsuan was the introduction of a system of government called Datuism. The system of government is until today still being practiced by some Mohammedans who revere the datu as the dispenser or lawgiver of death. This system developed Muslim culture and kept Muslim united in their struggles against foreigners.
The northern part of Cotabato particularly along the boundaries of Davao and Bukidnon was relatively unaffected during the emergence of Mohammedanism in the province. The reason was that, as mentioned earlier, some of the datus had settled at the foot of Mt. Apo and inland transportation was still difficult during those days so that the only convenient way was thru the river. Even then, the tribes who occupied the highlands, along the Pulangi river, which extends up to the province of Bukidnon were not converted to Mohammedanism. When the Muslim converts and missionaries migrated further north thru the river, the Malayan highlanders just went upward to the foot of Mt. Apo in different groups, which then developed into different ethnic groups.
The influx of Spanish “conquistadores” also did not affect the northern part of the province. The Spaniards came to subdue the “Moros” or Muslim pirates who attacked several islands of the Visayas and Luzon, at the turn of the 17th century. To prevent the further penetration of Muslim pirates, a fort was established at Tamontaka.
The Spaniards arrived in Cotabato way back in 1696 when Captain Rodriguez de Figueroa obtained from the Spanish government the exclusive right to colonize Mindanao. On February 1, 1596, he left Iloilo and landed at the mouth of Rio Grande de Mindanao, in what is known today as Cotabato City. With Cotabato as the base, the Spanish “conquistadores” attempted to enter the interior region following the Rio Grande and reached as far as Pikit to protect the Spaniards from continuous harassment from the Mohammedans. Today, the Spanish Fort in Pikit still stands as the only relic of Spanish colonial power in the province.