Davao Occidental, prewar abaca capital

Recognized as Davao’s youngest province, Davao Occidental, during the prewar era, hosted the most number of hemp and coconut plantations in the entire region. Though most of these farms were relatively smaller than Japanese-owned abaca estates, nearly all of the agricultural lands in the area were owned and cultivated by American landowners.

Most of the areas in Davao Occidental, geographically, are littoral regions and hilly areas. N. H. Duckworth, president of Davao Chamber of Commerce in 1926, described part of the province in an article he wrote for The American Chamber of Commerce Journal in January 1926.

“Beginning at Sarangani channel, there are a number of small holdings in valleys along the beach front. These small holdings extend through the districts of Batulaki and Caburan and are owned by Bagobos, which tribe has inhabited these districts from time prior to the discovery and conquest of the Philippines by Spain.

“The Bagobos, Manobos and Bilaans comprise the principal pagan tribes of Davao and are to be found in small settlements through the province. They are best organized in the Batulaki, Caburan and Malita districts, where they have numerous small plantations. In these districts, which are from 40 to 80 miles from the town of Davao, the small plantations of the pagan tribes mentioned are near the coast, while in the districts nearer Davao they are farther inland, having no doubt been pushed back by later settlers, Spaniards, Filipinos, Japanese and Americans…

“The country in the region of Batulaki, Caburan and Malita is very mountainous. From Batulaki to Malita the mountains extend to the shoreline in many places, forming high cliffs at the water’s edge. The valleys along this shoreline are very fertile; they are excellent for plantations of both Manila hemp and coconuts. At Malita the flat country begins to widen, affording ample room for many plantations some distance from shore. The country along the shore continues flat with a fairly wide stretch of plain up to Tubolan (sic) point, where the mountains touch the shore again.”

Davao Occidental, comprised of the towns of Don Marcelino Jose Abad Santos, Santa Maria, Malita, and Sarangani, was home to about a dozen farms before the war. Among the establishments in 1926 were Luayon Plantation Co., Lamidan Plantation Co., Calian Plantation Co. and Lapuan Plantation Co., Mt. Apo Plantation Co., Talagutun Plantation Co., Lais Plantation and Trading Co., Malita Culaman Plantation Co., Lacaron Plantation, and Basiawan Plantation Co..

Found along the shore north of Caburan, Jose Abad Santos, Luayon Plantation was a large farm situated after entering the gulf of Davao. Opened in 1912 with Maj. Wegge was one of its owners, the plantation was originally planted with rubber, but the farm owners later decided to switch planting over to 20,000 hills of hemp and 6,300 coconut palms.

Lamidan Plantation Co., meanwhile, was owned by J. M. Johnson, whose scions still live in the area. The estate was planted with 2,000 coconut palms and 30,000 hills of hemp. Calian Plantation Co., originally owned also by Johnson, and Lapuan Plantation Co., on the other hand, were the properties of Henry W. Pahl. Comparatively, Calian Plantation Co. was smaller; it only had 1,000 to 3,000 coconut palms and 10,000 to 15,000 hills of hemp, while Lapuan Plantation Co. had 10,000 coconut palms and 20,000 to 30,000 hills of hemp.

Mt. Apo Plantation Co., informally called Lawas, was owned by Duckworth. It had 18,000 coconut palms and 30,000 hills of hemp. Talagutun Plantation Co., meanwhile, was owned by Filipino Marcelino Maruya, after whom one of the towns of Davao Occidental was named. It had only 1,000 to 5,000 coconut palms and 20,000 hills of hemp.

Owned by H. Peabody, Lais Plantation and Trading Co. was home to 150,000 hills of hemp and 12,000 coconut palms. On the other hand, Malita Culaman Plantation Co., owned by Orville V. Wood, a former acting district governor of Davao, was the leading farm in the area, hosting 20,000 coconut palms and 180,000 hills of hemps. Managed by W.T. Patstone, Lacaron Plantation Co. was home to 11,000 coconut palms and 75,000 hills of hemp, while Basiawan Plantation Co., owned by George Van, was a new farm.

Geographically, the plantations of Lamidan, Calian, Lapuan, Mount Apo, and Talagutun were situated in today’s Don Marcelino town, while Luayon was in Caburan, Jose Abad Santos. Lais Plantation & Trading Co., Malita Culaman Plantation Co., and Lacaron Plantation Co. were in Malita, and only Basiawan Plantation Co.was in the town of Santa Maria.
Outside Davao Occidental, the other abaca plantations were Comassic Plantation Co., Malalag, Davao del Sur; Malalag Plantation Co., Malalag; Mindanao Estates Co., Padada, Davao del Sur; Christensen Plantation Co., Padada; Digos Plantation Co., Digos City; Furukawa Plantation Co., Daliao, Davao City; Piedad Plantation Co., Daliao; Ohta Development Co., Talomo, Davao City; Talomo Plantation Co., Inc., Talomo; Bunawan Plantation Co., Bunawan, Davao City;

Lasang Plantation Co., Lasang, Davao City; Madaum Plantation Co., Tagum City; Pindasan Plantation Co., Mabini, Compostela Valley; Mampising Plantation Co., Mabini; Tagnanan Plantation Co., Pantukan, Compostela Valley; Bongabong Plantation Co., Pantukan; Tagdangua Plantation Co., Pantukan; Magnaga Plantation Co., Pantukan; Gulf Plantation Co., Pantukan; Southern Cross Plantation Co., Pangasinan; and Piso Coconut and Cattle Co., Lupon, Davao Oriental.