Long before the colonists made their presence felt in Davao, the region, by studying the names of present-day barangays, towns and cities, was a lush floral paradise bustling with diverse plant species whose indigenous names were used by natives to identify a location.
Curiously, many of the names the lumads applied had their provenance from the flora found along waterways or rivers, which served as transport channels in accessing the open sea or bringing in food harvests from remote forest regions to settlement centers.
In ancient times, naming places after rulers, persons, or events was a rare event. Only when the Spaniards arrived that the adoption of proper names as geographic identifies, mostly from saints, village leaders, and high-profile personalities, were institutionalized, albeit informally. As a result, towns like San Isidro, in the provinces of Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental, remind Catholics of San Isidro Labrador, the patron of workers.
But not all names that start with ‘san’ refer to saints or holy people.
The old ‘San Vicente’ (Laak) and ‘San Mariano’ (Maragusan), in Compostela Valley Province, were at first proposed by outgoing Davao del Norte Gov. Rodolfo del Rosario to honor Vicente Duterte, father of incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte, and Mariano Marcos, father of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos and one-time deputy governor-at-large of Davao but President Marcos changed these by adding the saintly appellation, which was adopted and in use centuries ago by the Spanish missionaries.
Being a coastal region, Davao’s place-names, from north to east, are an assembly of plants thriving in or near brackish water. If you are familiar with names like hagonoy (Chromolaena odorata), padada (Sonneratia caseolaris), and piapi ((Avicennia marina), these appellations refer to indigenously named mangroves.
Going upstream from the river delta, you will be surprised to know that some plants growing along riverbanks have also been adopted as names of existing towns. Popular among them are the kolambug (Cuambog or Mabini), a flowering plant of the Dillenia family; Manay, a wild tree species; and Cateel or catil (Eriosema chinense Vog.), an edible medicinal tuber.
And then there are Tagum or tayum (Indigofera suffruticosaÂ Miller), also known as añil; binuang (Cabinuangan or New Bataan), scientifically known as Octomeles sumatrana Miq.; and bagangan (Baganga), a wild berry.
On the other hand, some municipalities got their names from terms with direct relevance to the water: Tugbok is Bagobo for ‘spearfishing’; Digos is Bagobo for ‘taking a bath’ in the river; Maragusan is Mandaya for ‘river without water’; Mati is ‘dry riverbed’; Saug (Asuncion) is Bagobo for ‘to sprinkle water’; Malalag refers to ‘yellowish river’; Bansalan is Spanish for ‘boat rudder’; Kapalong is the powerful current of an ‘enchanted’ river that ‘can put out a fire’; and Labo (Santa Cruz) is Bagobo for ‘marsh’; and Caraga, a variation of Kalagan or ‘river.’
In the 1918 report of the Division of Statistics of the agriculture department, P.J. Wester, an agricultural advisor, observed that fruits cultivated in Davao were rare, but the population of wild fruit trees “grow luxuriantly in the forest and are gathered and marketed.” In particular, he cited the native citrus fruit (Citrus excelsa var. davaoensis West.), which was produced in great abundance. The other fruits mentioned included the lamio (Dracontomelum edule Skeels), buol (Ximenia americana L.), dao (Dracontomelum dao), inyam (Antidesma ghaesembilla Gaert.) and maigang (Eugenia garciae Merr.), which were originally identified by E.D. Merrill, director of the Bureau of Science in Manila, as few of the endemic varieties never mentioned before as food plants found in the country.
The other fruits discovered in Davao and were included in the 1919 agriculture catalogue were the banana (Musa sapientum L.), bauno (Mangifera caesia, Jack.), barobo (Diplodiscus paniculatus Turcz.), bignay (Antidesma bunius Spreng.), breadfruit or kolo (Artocarpus communis Forest.), cacao (Theobroma cacao L.), carambola (Averrhoa carambola L.);
Arabian coffee (Coffea arabica L.), cashew or kasuy (Amacardium occidentale L.), citron (Citrus medica L.), coconut (Cocos nucifera L.), custard apple (Annona reticulata L.), duhat (Eugenia jambolana L.), durian (Durio zibethinus L.), guanabano (Annona muricata L.), fig (Ficus carica L.), guava (Psidium guajava L.), huani, a mango variety (Mangifera odorata Griff.), jak (Artocarpus integra L.);
Kabuyao (Citrus hystrix DC.), kalamondin (Citrus mitis Bco.), kalpi (Citrus webberi West.), kamia or balimbing (Averrhoa bilimbi L.), kamanchile (Phecolobium dulce Bth.), kandiis (Garcinia sp.), lanno (Spondias pinnata Kurz.), lanzon or lansones (Lansium domesticum Jack.), lemoncito (Triphasia trifolia P. Wils.), lime (Citrus aurantifolia Swg.), macopa (Eugenia javanica L.), mandarin (Citrus nobilis Lour.), mango (Mangifera indica L.)
Marang (Artocarpus odoratissima Bco.), orange (Citrus sinensis Osb.), papaya (Carica papaya L.), pomelo or buongon (Citrus maxima Merr.), pomegranate or granada (Punica granatum L.), pineapple (Ananas sativus Schult.), santol (Sandoricum koetjape Merr.), sugar apple (Annona squamosa L.), talisay (Terminalia catappa L.), and tamarind or sambag (Tamarindus indica L.).
There were also fruits with no herbarium values obtained and known to grow in Davao, among them the angos, balangas, bunani, kamapasiau, kanobi, kape, kalapi, katmon, kagokoo, kolotkolotan, langauisan, lambog, labno, labonao lowaw, monane, olingon, parale, pili, posdan, and the tapaok.