Datu Bago, the Moro chieftain of Davao Gulf the Spanish-led conquerors failed to capture in 1848, has always been portrayed the way oral tradition pictures him due to the paucity of sources that accurately describe his persona. He is even accused of being a pirate and slave-raider.
Even the Muslim genealogies only provide obscure details on who the man is. Although he is known as the son of a Maguindanao-Tausug couple, the names of his siblings propagated in traditions have no definitive confirmation in colonial accounts and archival documents. If that sounds odd, let’s start our sleuthing from the name of this intriguing personality.
Firstly, the name Datu Bago appears chiefly in Jesuit letters and chronicles which later became sources of American historical synopses of Davao about Spanish occupation. In Muslim tarsilas, he is identified as Datu Mama Bago. Mama stands for ‘man’ in Maguindanao, indicating the figure is masculine, while bago, a common term in many dialects, means ‘new.’ Collectively, the chieftain was a new male leader carrying the title datu.
Second, Datu Bago, as the name offers, is depicted as a new ruler in the gulf, suggesting he is not the ultimate ruler of the bay but one of the leaders. There is no account or record that shows there indeed was a struggle for new leadership in the gulf to assert who the supreme leader was nor was there a declaration of any form that a new datu was installed as chief ruler.
In the August 13, 1804 report of Don Salvador Ximenez Rendon, then governor of Caraga Province, Datu Bago, identified in the account as Mucamad Amilbansa Harial, was chief of Davao, a sitio that was compared to Manay, Davao Oriental at the time. According to Datu Ladiamura Pampang who met the alcalde mayor at the ‘new village of Caraga,’ his deputy was Datu Damuli, suggesting the chief datu’s rule could have been confined only to the ‘sitio of Davao.’
Third, Campsa Israel, which eerily sounds like Mucamad Amilbansa Harial is identified in Spanish accounts as the datu of Davao. Davao historian Dr. Macario Tiu learned from the supposed Datu Bago scions that Israel is a Tausug or Joloano name—which is peculiar.
Israel is Hebrew, meaning ‘triumphant with God.’ Though it is associated in Qur’an with the Jewish land, it is firmly linked to the biblical Jacob who was named Israel. In Islam, many Muslim scholars connect prophet Muhammad’s pedigree to Ishmael, the son of Hagar, an Egyptian slave who became Abraham’s ‘other wife.’ For that reason, the Muslims call themselves the Ishmaelites.
In other words, Israel, being a Hebrew name, could have not been associated with Jolo, which was principally Islamic during Datu Bago’s birth. You can find biblical names in the Qur’an being given new identities such as Isa (Jesus), Maryam (Mary), and Imran (Aaron) but not Israel. Additionally, the ‘el’ in Israel and Emmanuel refers to God. This makes Harial more plausible.
Fourth, documentary and genealogical accounts almost conclusively point to Datu Bago’s lineage as coming from Maguindanao. This assertion, though, does not point decisively that he was the head of the entire gulf. The narratives that the fiefdoms around the gulf were dependent on the naval assets of the Maguindanao sultanate do not necessarily spell dominance.
And fifth, Datu Bago, if we go by traditions, both oral and written, was hardly a part of the larger picture when the sultanates of Cotabato, Maguindanao, and Sulu were overlord of the seas in terms of piracy and slave-trading. In fact, the decades leading to the conquest by the Spanish-led invaders, the ‘office, dignity, or power’ of the three sultanates had started to decline.
Future researchers, in order to understand more pervasively Datu Bago’s rule over a territory that included the delta of Davao River, must turn to southeast Asian histories which can shed light on the unknown aspects of how Davao’s legislated hero once governed the gulf.