Uncovering city's rich history

TRYING to uncover Davao City’s history thru research and visits to its three museums comes at this time when this southern city is marking its 75th Foundation Anniversary from March 1 to 31. A month-long celebration of “Araw Ng Dabaw” is expected to bring thousands of visitors, tourists, transients and travelers to the city.

History buffs, who still can’t figure out whether or not Davao has really a rich history worth talking about, will be surprised at the wealth of materials found among the long-ignored passages of Davao history books and other historic references.

Although this southern city does not have historic ruins like Manila’s Intramuros, Cebu’s Fort San Pedro or Zamboanga’s Fort Pilar, to show off to visitors and tourists, there are at least some historic markers and monuments around the city that tell us how this place started as a Moro settlement that was later invaded and overran by Spanish colonizers who helped the early natives re-build the settlement and brought early civilization here starting in the late 1850’s.

EARLY DAVAO

Panel exhibits at the Museo Dabawenyo today show that the early Davao area was first known as “Nueva Guipuzcoa” to the Spanish colonizers. This area in southern Mindanao stretches from Surigao, Davao to South Cotabato provinces and was not known as a geopolitical entity until the middle of the 19th century.

Governor General Narciso Claveria came out with a Spanish decree on January 29, 1849, proclaiming the previously uncharted territory under Spanish control as “Nueva Guipuzcoa” to honor Oyanguren for his conquest of Davao. Oyanguren came from the Spanish town of Vergara in the province of Guipuzcoa in Spain.

FIRST AMERICANS

An American flag was flying on the Davao shore when the first American troops arrived on the steamer boat SS Brutus on December 20, 1899 — unlike the bloody welcome that Oyanguren got from Datu Bago and his Moro warriors when they first set foot here in 1848.

About a week earlier on December 14, 1899, a delegation of Davao town officials boarded the steamship SS Manila and personally welcomed the arrival of a top American military official General J.C. Bates, US Army commanding officer of the Mindanao and Jolo areas.

Six days after this visit by Bates, the first group of American occupation troops arrived, commanded by Major Hunter Ligget.

Over the years, the Americans built roads, bridges and opened vast tracts of land areas for coconut and abaca plantations in the Davao area as well as rubber plantations up north in an area known today as Makilala. Many American soldiers who retired from the army in those early days and decided to stay here for good, also acquired lands and put up their own abaca, rubber or coconut plantations.

JAPANESE SETTLERS

In the early 1900’s, Davao was bustling with economic activities and seen as a more promising place to stake one’s future, even compared to early Japan. As such, the Japanese had a very strong presence in Davao from 1903 to the late 1930’s. They came by the thousands as settlers and workers to work for Japanese abaca producers who invested and developed huge tracts of agricultural land to grow and process abaca for export to Japan and the world’s export markets.

Most of these abaca plantations were located in Mintal, Calinan and Panabo, as shown by the history panel exhibits at the Museo.

The first batch of Japanese who arrived in Davao were the hundreds of workers who were earlier hired by the Americans to build the winding Kenon Road in Baguio.

Japanese workers and settlers steadily increased over the years, from only 30 workers in 1903, surging to 550 workers in 1910, hitting over 7000 in 1919, settling to around 4,500 and ballooning to 15,000 in 1937.

During this period called “peacetime”, the Japanese controlled almost all the businesses in Davao – hotels, department stores, factories, bars, restaurants, etc. – that the city became known as “Little Tokyo.” (This area in Davao today is located along San Pedro St, Magallanes St. and Anda Street)

BIRTH OF THE CITY

The idea to create Davao into a city was first brought up by President Manuel Quezon to then assemblyman Romualdo Quimpo who eventually carried out the plan. Like many local officials of that period in the mid-1930’s, he was also worried and growing more concerned about the rising economic power and influence of the Japanese in Davao.

But it was also recognized and understood by officials that the presence of these foreign investors boosted the growth of Davao’s economy and progress all those years.

When Davao was finally inaugurated as a city on March 1, 1937, thousands of Davao residents swarmed and flooded the streets to celebrate.

Officials then realized that it wasn’t just the worrying presence of Japanese traders, investors, settlers and workers that led to the creation of the city, but also the people’s overwhelming desire to govern themselves and the bright prospects of Davao’s economic growth.

Possibly the most prominent of these Japanese traders was Ohta Kysaburo who was known in the Philippines during that era as K.S. Ohta whose aggressive business penetration in Davao boosted in the 1900’s the overwhelming Japanese presence in this southern part of the country, shown by the old historic photographs being exhibited at the Museo here inside the former Court of Justice building, also an old 1930’s building.

JAPANESE LABOR

It was Ohta together with labor recruiter Nagasuke Matsuda who first supplied 180 Japanese workers on September 1904 to American-run abaca plantations in Davao.

As a result, more and more Japanese workers by the hundreds and thousands arrived in the ensuing years. Seeing the bright prospects and great opportunities in Davao, K.S. Ohta gave up and sold his company in Manila and transferred his entire business operations to Davao, opening a department store first to supply the needs of Japanese workers and settlers here.

Several months later, he started his own abaca plantation in Mintal which grew over the years. Like many American abaca producers who had experienced lack of capital and scarcity of workers to work in his plantation, Ohta held on patiently, overcoming many problems, but he never gave up until his risky abaca venture finally made him Davao’s top abaca tycoon in the late 1930’s.

Today, a big towering Ohta monument can be seen beside the Mintal Elementary School grounds, the site of one of his large abaca plantations during that time. This monument plus other historical markers around the city are now some of the major attractions for thousands of Japanese tourists, veterans, old-timers, who come yearly to Davao on homage and pilgrimage tours. (PHILPRESS FEATURES)

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