FAST BACKWARD: Davao as Spanish pueblo

FAST BACKWARD: Antonio Figueroa

After the fall of Datu Bago in 1848, the campaign to rid the Davao region of Moro stragglers was high on the colonist’s agenda. Spanish troopers, with support from Filipino fighters, combed the coastal areas of the gulf, chasing Moro warriors sympathetic to the fallen Tausug chieftain.

While the mopping-up operations continued, the plan to build a new town, a pueblo, on the riverbanks of Davao River started in earnest. Filipino survivors of the Davao attack, who were promised rewards if the battle was won, opened a settlement with Spanish help.  A new community with a population of less than a hundred settlers started to evolve. The ‘Diccionario geografico estadistico historic de las islas Filipinas’ described how this new village looked like in 1850:

“It has very few houses, all of very simple construction, the only one of some note being the parish house and the so-called casa real which also contains the jail. There is a primary school supported by fronds from the community but with few pupils. The church is… served by a priest belonging to [the Recollect] Order. Near the church is the fairly spacious cemetery.

“Travel to the neighboring places is by sea when the prevailing winds allow it. Travel by land is over roads that are roads only in name, being merely very bad paths. Mail from other parts of the archipelago takes unpredictable lengths of time. This town was founded only in the last few years by the incumbent governor, who has built a fort as protection against Moro pirates who in the past and even in the present have been the scourge of region.

“The territory is quite extensive, mostly covered with forests of various kinds of hard wood. It affords good hunting of wild boar, buffalo, deer, doves and wild chicken and all kinds of birds. In the tree trunks and other sheltered places are the beehives with plenty of wax and honey, which the inhabitants harvest for their needs. All the land although fertile is in a virgin state, with only small parcels under cultivation, planted to rice, cacao, maize, vegetables and fruits. The people’s occupation is mostly farming and fishing. Being a new town, the people are still exempt from the tribute.”

A census done included in the 1858 Guia de Foresteros stated that Davao by this time had a population of 800, with 304 natives. There was no mestizo recorded, but the records showed that since its establishment the pueblo had registered 21 births, nine deaths, and 18 marriages.

In 1862, new developments became palpable. According to ‘Plano del pueblo de Davao Cabesa’ and ‘Reconocimiento de Davao,’ the town already had a triangular fort, church, Casa del Governador, government house, galleria, tribunal (town hall) and pantalan (port), part of 50 to 60 structures dotting the municipal landscape. Two years earlier, Fr. Juan Bautista Heras, SJ, made a short visit to Davao and described his sojourn:

“Nueva Guipozcoa [Davao Province] is noted for its varied forest products and by the variety of native tribes… [They] lived submerged in the crassest of ignorance and gross idolatry, and the Bagobos even sacrificed human victims…

“They did not accept currency, and instead bartered their wares with plates, garnet, yards of yellow wire, which they used for arm and leg bracelets, cloth, beads for necklaces, etc. Their main items of barter were beeswax, tortoise shells, balat, mastic, cinnamon, unhusked rice


, bird nests, cacao, coffee, abaca and sugar. Gold was extracted from alluvial deposits coming from the mountain of Quinquin [Kingking]…

 “The growth of the mission was slow at the beginning, with about 800 or more souls in the head town of Nueva Vergara, and in one of the mission outposts, there were 24 baptized pagans, among them Manobos from Cape San Austin who settled in Samal.”

In 1880, Davao’s geographic delineation was more defined. Fr. Francisco X. Baranera, a Jesuit priest, in his 1880 ‘Compendio de Geografia’ (later translated as Handbook of the Philippine Islands by Alexander Laist in 1899), described the progressing settlement as follows:

“The District of Davao is bounded on the north by Surigao, on the east by Pacific ocean, on the south of Celebes sea and on the west by Cottabato (sic) and Misamis.

“While it is fertile, its population is small. There are 14,000 inhabitants in 8 towns and 3 barrios and a number of savage and Mohammedan tribes. The government is military.

“The capital, Davao, is 3,308 population, lies on the gulf of the same name. Oyher towns are Matti (sic), recently founded, having an excellent harbor, the posiion of which promises much for the future of the settlement; Caraga, with 8,408 inhabitants; and Catel (sic) and Baganga.

“Only about 8 square miles are under cultivation. Cacao, coffee, palay, abaca, cinnamon, cocoa-nuts, and sweet potatoes are raised. There is some barter of mastic and wax fo cloths. The forests are rich in good timber.

“Cebuan (sic) Visayan is spoken, each of the uncivilized having its own dialect.

“The majestic Apo is situated in this district. The altitude of its highest peak is 10,965 feet above the sea level. From it a range of mountains extends to the interior. Mount Matutum, a volcano now extinct, lies at the head of Sarangani bay.”

Today, Davao City, for one, is home to close to two million inhabitants.