By Antonio V. Figueroa
February is considered “love month.” Whether in literature, cinema or history, romantics talk about battles that have been waged in the name of LOVE.
In Homer’s historical novel,Â Iliad, Helen of Troy, the most beautiful Greek woman, married Menelaus, king of Sparta. But the wedded bliss was short-lived. Paris, son of King Priam of Troy, fell in love with Helen. She was abducted and brought back to Troy. To retrieve her, the Greeks assembled a large army under Agamemnon, Menelaus’ brother. As a result of the siege, Troy was ruined and Helen was returned safely to Sparta to reunite with her spouse, Menelaus.
The love story of Antony and Cleopatra is also immortalized in literature. They fell in love at first sight and would place Egypt in a dominant position. But the love affair enraged the Romans. Amid threats, the two still got married. It was while fighting the Romans that he got hold of the bogus news of his wife’s death; devastated, he fell on his sword. When Cleopatra learned of her husband’s death, she also took her own life.
‘Gone with the Wind’
The most moving portrayal of love in a movie was immortalized in Margaret Mitchells’Â Gone with the Wind,Â a story of love and hatred between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, who entered into a stormy marriage. Scarlett, who was teasing, loose, and alluring, had another suitor, Ashley Wilkes. When she finally decided to wed Rhett, her promiscuity forced her spouse to move away just as the American Civil war was raging. Rhett left town while Scarlett longed for the day when they would be reunited.
Close to home, theÂ Siege of Baler, a historical war drama, tells of a forbidden love between a SpanishÂ mestizoÂ soldier and a Filipina, at the turn of 19thÂ century. The young couple fought with great effort to keep their illicit love alive despite family opposition and political tensions that culminated in 11-month-long cordon. The event took place while the Filipino revolutionaries laid siege to a fortified church manned by colonial Spanish troops in Baler, Quezon Province.
Conversely, Davao’s history, which is about the conquest of Datu Bago by Basque colonizer Don Jose Oyanguren, was launched in the name of love.
According to the Suazo family tradition, Maria Luisa Azaola and her brother Antonio, both Spanish orphans, were living in Sigaboy when she met Oyanguren. Antonio, a trader, was then opening new trade links with the fiefdoms around the gulf but she opposed her brother’s plan to go to Davao for fear he would meet the pirates. With the pledge to bring back brassworks, pearls, and gold dust they would sell in Spain, and the assurance his trip would be safe, he eventually prevailed.
(The Suazo patriarch was recruited in Tandag by Oyanguren.)
The Bislig (now a city in Surigao del Sur) governor arrived in town just days after Antonio and an interpreter left for Davao. His arrival, expectedly, drew public attention. Brash and arrogant, he had been a frequent visitor to the place. The people knew he was not coming to town simply to visit the settlement as part of his control.
Everybody also understood he was courting Maria who, until then, was more focused in helping her brother. That night, she was listless knowing her brother was travelling to uncharted territories. Fortunately, she did not have to worry about meeting the governor because the following day the politician left.
Antonio’s trip to Datu Bago’s kingdom, fortuitously, was a success. He was diplomatically welcomed by the chieftain and his lieutenant, Datu Nakoda, although there were times when the datus had to wrestle with the idea of harming him because he was a Spaniard. The Muslims never disappointed Antonio.
Bronze ornaments from the best foundries, pearls and other commodities were bartered. Both sides exchanged pleasantries. At one point, Datu Bago encouraged the Spaniard to bring Spanish muskets during his return, but Antonio was quick to retort that such act was against colonial laws. Feigning satisfaction, the two datus simply smiled and bade the trader adieu, assuring him he was still welcome in his next visit.
The second stopover at Datu Bago’s turf, true to Maria’s fear, ended in tragedy. Antonio was allowed to trade peacefully but on his way home to Sigaboy he was intercepted in the open sea, arrested, and accused of betraying the Muslims. The charge was an offshoot of the tragic incident that happened while Antonio was in Datu Bago’s territory. A Muslim fleet that left a few nights after the Spaniard’s arrival was badly decimated by a superior force, which the Muslims thought was the handiwork of a Spanish navy, with the knowledge of Antonio, to spy on the Muslims.
In exchange for Antonio’s freedom, Datu Bago wanted 10,000 pesetas. To make his intention known, he allowed Pantayani, the Spaniard’s trusted interpreter, to sail on a small boat to Sigaboy. The Muslim ruler wanted the ransom delivered in two weeks, inclusive of the length of travel Pantayani had to make in bringing the demand to Maria’s attention.
But the amount asked was only partially complied with. The trusted ally had to hurry back to Davao to offer what was collected in the hope of saving Antonio from imminent death. The effort was not worth it because by then Antonio had already been killed. Pantayani still managed to escape from his captors despite being injured, and reached home to convey the sad news.
The historical accounts, though, differ slightly from folklore.
Towards the end of the first half of the 19th century, unrest was brewing in Madrid, and Oyanguren, aÂ hidalgoÂ (knight), was forced to leave Spain after his maverick political stance did not sit well with authorities.
The Constitution passed by the Cortes, the Spanish legislature, embraced the liberal idea the Charter was not exclusive to Spaniards in their homeland but also to Spanish subjects the world over.
Oyanguren, a Basque born in 1800, resented the liberalism of the law, which was contrary to the position of the Basques, who were mainly Carlists. He and other Carlists were rounded up for execution, but the Spanish authorities thought it was prudent to banish them to Marianas, far from the motherland, to undergo hard labor.
When Oyanguren arrived in Manila in 1825, Spanish rule in the country was on the decline. Muslim raids in many parts of the archipelago were sapping the government’s resources. There were ongoing revolts in various areas of the country, mainly against colonial abuses. While Europe was on the brink of industrial revolution, the condition in the islands was deteriorating, in part due to the excesses committed by the colonizers. Still, these unsettling developments did not dampen Oyanguren’s interest to explore possibilities in the islands.
Claveria treated Oyanguren well during his exile in the islands. He issued him three ships, which the latter used for trading with theÂ Provincias de MorasÂ (Moro Province) in the 1830’s. It was in one of his sorties in Tandag that he met Luisa, the daughter of aÂ capitan generalÂ by a local resident. The two agreed to live together as partners because Oyanguren, a Catholic, could not marry her because he had a wife in Spain.
She later bore a son by a man surnamed Monteroso whom she married years after the Basque colonizer had died.