Spanish conquest and administration
Conquest of the area
Spanish influence was hardly felt in the Davao until 1848, when an expedition of 70 men and women led by Don Jose Cruz de Uyanguren, a native of Vergara, Guipuzcoa, Spain, came to establish a Christian settlement in an area of mangrove swamps that is now Bolton Riverside. Davao was then ruled by a chieftain, Datu Bago, who held his settlement at the banks of Davao River (once called Tagloc River by the Bagobos). The chieftain was the most powerful datu in the area during that time. When Uyanguren met with the Mandaya chieftain Datu Daupan, he allied with the chieftain to help defeat Datu Bago, who treated their neighbors Mandayas as tributary barangays. Uyanguren attempted to defeat Datu Bago, but failed when their ships were outmaneuvered in crossing the narrow channel of the Davao River bend, where the Bolton Bridge is now located. Three months after the battle, he was forced to build the causeway that connects to the other side of the river, but Datu Bago’s warriors raided the causeway and harassed the workers. However, a few weeks later after the battle, Don Manuel Quesada, Navy Commanding General of Zamboanga, arrived with a company of infantry and joined in the attack against Datu Bago’s settlement.
Establishment of the town
After Uyanguren defeated Datu Bago, he renamed the region Nueva Guipúzcoa and founded the town Nueva Vergara, which was Davao, in the year 1848, in honor of his home in Spain, and became its first governor. He himself was reported to have peaceful conquest of the entire Davao Gulf territory at the end of the year, despite lack of support from the Spanish government in Manila and his principals during the venture. He attempted to make peace with the neighboring tribes—the Bagobos, Mansakas, Manobos, Aetas, etc. — to urge them to help develop the area; his efforts to develop the area, however, did not prosper.
The region under a new governor
By 1852, due to intrigues by people in Manila dissatisfied with his Davao venture, Marquis de Solana, under Governor General Blanco’s order, took over Uyanguren’s command of Nueva Guipúzcoa (Davao) Region. By that time, the capital town, Nueva Vergara, which is Davao, had a population of 526 residents and while relative peace with the natives prevailed, population expanded very slowly that even in the census report of 1855, the Christian inhabitants and converts increased to only 817, which included 137 exempted from paying tributes.
In 1867, the original settlement by the side of Davao River (end of present Bolton Street) was relocated to its present site with the Saint Peter’s church (now San Pedro Cathedral) as the center edifice on the intersection of San Pedro and Claveria Streets.
In the meantime, in response to the Davaoeños persistent demands, Nueva Vergara was renamed “Davao”. The name is derived from its Bagobo origins: the Tagabawa who called the river “Dabo”, the Giangan or Diangan who called it “Dawaw”, and the Obo who called it “Davah”, with a gentle vowel ending, although later usage pronounce it with a hard “v” as in “b”. The pioneer Christian inhabitants of the settlement understandably were the proponents behind the official adoption of the name “Davao” in 1868.
The arrival of a group of three Jesuit missionaries in Davao in 1868 to take over the mission from the lone Recollect priest in the Davao Gulf area, marked a systematic and concerted effort at winning souls over the native inhabitants to the folds of Christian life. Through their zeal and frequent field work, the Jesuit fathers gradually succeeded in winning souls over the different indigenous tribes to live in reducciones, or settlements, thus easily reached for instructions in Christian precepts and practices.
By the 1890s, even the Muslims were starting to become Christian converts, through the efforts of their own datus, Datu Timan and Datu Porkan, although many others remained steadfast in their faith to Islam. Fr. Saturnino Urios who labored among the Moros of Hijo in 1892 further swayed the latter’s faith that led to the splitting of their population. Those who wanted to live among the Christians left Hijo and were resettled in Tigatto, Mawab, and Agdao, under the supervision of Don Francisco Bangoy and Don Teodoro Palma Gil, Sr. respectively. These separatist groups generally refer to themselves today as Kalagans.
United States of America administration
Initial growth of the town
A few years after the American forces landed in 1900, private farm ownership grew and transportation and communication facilities were improved, thus paving the way for the region’s economic growth.
During the early years of American rule which began in late December 1898 the town began to mark its role as a new growth center of the Philippines, which it will be a city for the next 38 years. The American settlers, mostly retired soldiers and investor friends from Zamboanga, Cebu, Manila and the U.S. mainland immediately recognized the rich potential of the region for agricultural investment. Primeval forest lands were available everywhere. They staked their claim generally in hundreds of hectares and began planting rubber, abaca and coconuts in addition to different varieties of tropical plants imported from Ceylon, India, Hawaii, Java and Malaysia. In the process of developing large-scale plantations, they were faced with the problem of lack of laborers. Thus, they contracted workers from Luzon and the Visayas, including the Japanese, many of whom were former laborers in the Baguio, Benguet road construction. Most of these Japanese later became land-owners themselves as they acquired lands thru lease from the government or bought out some of the earlier American plantations. The first two decades of the 20th century, found Davao one of the major producers of export products — abaca, copra and lumber. It became a regular port of call by inter-island shipping and began direct commercial linkages abroad – US, Japan, Australia, and many other countries. Some 40 American and 80 Japanese plantations proliferated throughout the province in addition to numerous stores and business establishments. Davao saw a rapid rise in its population and its economic progress gave considerable importance to the country’s economy and foreign trade.
A Japanese entrepreneur named Kichisaburo Ohta was granted permission to exploit vast territories which he transformed into abacá and coconut plantations. The first wave of Japanese plantation workers came onto its shores in 1903, creating a Little Japan. They had their own school, newspapers, an embassy, and even a Shinto Shrine. On the whole, they established extensive abaca plantations around the shores of Davao Gulf and developed large-scale commercial interests such as copra, timber, fishing and import-export trading. Filipinos learned the techniques of improved cultivation from the Japanese so that ultimately, agriculture became the lifeblood of the province’s economic prosperity.
After the Second World War, though the forces of the Empire of Japan inflicted a heavy toll over the city and its citizens during the war, the city still continued on its economic growth. Its population rose to 112,000 in 1946; its Japanese inhabitants, which consist 80% of the population of the city that time, were incorporated to the Filipino population; some of them are totally expelled from the country. The city resumed its role as the premier agricultural and economic hub of Mindanao. Logs, lumber, plywood, copra and banana products gradually replaced abaca as the major export product.
Thirty years later, in 1967, the Province of Davao was subdivided into three independent provinces, namely Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, and Davao Oriental. The City of Davao was grouped with Davao del Sur and was no longer the capital. However, it became a center of trade for Southern Mindanao. Over the years, Davao has become an ethnic melting pot as it continues to draw migrants from all over the country, lured by the prospects of striking it rich in the country’s second largest city.
From the 1970s to present, Davao became the Regional Capital of Southern Mindanao and with the recent reorganization, became the regional capital of the Davao Region (Region XI) and the Highly urbanized city in the Province of Davao del Sur.
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