History and Profile of Davao City, the Durian Capital of the Philippines

Local historians claim that the word Davao came from the phonetic blending of the word of three Bagobo subgroups when referring to Davao River, an essential waterway which empties itself into Davao Gulf near the city.

The aboriginal Obos who inhabit the hinterlands of the region called the river, Davoh; the Clatta or Guiangans called it Duhwow, or Davau, and the Tagabawa Bagobos, Dabu. To the Obos, the word davoh also means a place "beyond the high grounds", alluding to the settlements located at the mouth of Davao River which were surrounded by high rolling hills. When asked where they were going, the usual reply is davoh, while pointing towards the direction of the town. Duhwow also refers to a trading settlement where they barter their forest goods in exchange for salt or other commodities.

What can be constructed of Davao history in the 1600s and 1700s is based on the incidental mention of davao in Spanish and Dutch documents. It was only after the conquest of Davao by the Basque Spaniard Jose Oyanguren in 1848 that Davao would have a history of its own.

Spanish influence was hardly felt in the Davao until 1847, when an expedition led by Don Jose Oyanguren came to establish a Christian settlement in an area of mangrove swamps that is now Bolton Riverside. Davao was then ruled by a Moro chieftain, Datu Bago, who held his settlement at the banks of Davao River (once called Tagloc River by the Bagobos). After Oyanguren defeated Datu Bago, he renamed the region Nueva Guipozcoa, in honor of his home in Spain, and became its first governor. Oyanguren's efforts to develop the area, however, did not prosper.

Spanish rule in Davao was very unstable as the native inhabitants, both Lumads and the Moros, resisted Spanish efforts to resettle them and make them pay tributes. After fifty years of occupation, the Spaniards abandoned Davao in 1899, and the Americans took over.

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.

The Americans succeeded in imposing their hegemony in Davao and transformed it into huge abaca and coconut plantations. It was during American rule that more settlers came to Davao, including the Japanese. The Japanese began as imported labor in 1903, but in succeeding years, enterprising Japanese managed to own land and increase their hold on the abaca industry by buying out the Americans.

A Japanese entrepreneur named Kichisaburo Ohta was granted permission to exploit vast territories which he transformed into abaca and coconut plantations. The first wave of Japanese plantation workers came onto its shores in 1903, creating a Japan kuo, or 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.

This, in broad outline, is the history of Davao. It is a history of conquest and migration and the ensuing conflict over territory and resources. What the various documents so far say is that Davao Gulf was ruled by Magindanaw royal families coming from Cotabato, representing either the Magindanaw Sultanate or Buayan Sultanate or both. However, at some point, davao Gulf would apparently be ruled by strong leaders who did not dance to the tune of the Magindanaws. By the late 1700s and early 1800s the Davao polity under Datu Bago, although of Buayan lineage was practically am independent kingdom lording it over Davao Gulf.

Ever since its conquest by the Basque Jose Oyanguren in 1848, the Davao Gulf region has been open to settlers from the different parts of the country, including many foreigners. The type of settlers changed over the years. During the Spanish period, there were some Spaniards, a handful of Chinese residents, and a few dep33ortees from Luzon and the Visayas. During the early years of the American regime, around 200 Americans, including some Europeans, came to settle as planters.

Due to the severe labor shortage, the Americans allowed the massive entry of Japanese labor into Davao. With the boom in abaca, Japanese investors also came, and by the 1920s the Japanese had displaced the Americans as the biggest planters in Davao. Japanese migration peaked in the 1930s, earning for davao the “Little Tokyo”.

During the American occupation, the Japanese made extensive inroads into the abaca plantations. Slowly they displaced the Americans as the chief planters in the area, and by 1918, most of the farms were already owned by the Japanese through lease or outright purchase.

As most of the Japanese laborers who came were young single males, many of them married local women. The first intermarriages usually involved women of the datu class. By the 1920, the Japanese community had to become so established that Davao has known as “Davao-kuo.”

In the 1930’s, Japanese control of Davao was complete, particularly in the Guianga District. The Japanese dictated both the economic and political life of the town. As Japan was becoming a world power, fears were raised about Japanese intentions in the country especially as the Philippines would soon get its independence. Japan had already annexed Korea in 1906 and manchuria in 1931.

With their absolute predominance in the abaca industry, the Japanese became the most powerful group in Davao. They had their own schools and hospitals and they could dictate to the local officials. This situation so alarmed the national government that Davao City was established as a chartered city by joining the Guianga Municipal District and the town of Davao. In this way, the local government would be appointed by Manila, thus lessening the political manipulation of the Japanese.

During the Constitutional Convention in 1934, Davao Delegate Pantaleon Pelayo Sr. Denounced the control of the Japanese in Davao and their unlimited acquisition of land. The issue became a national concern so that davao was made into a chartered city with appointed officials instead of elective officials. It was feared that if the officers were to be chosen through eclections, the Japanese- supported candidates would win. It was the first elected Assemblyman of Davao, Romualdo Quimpo, who filed Bill no. 609 or Commonwealth Act no. 51, An Act creating the City of Davao. It was signed into law by President Manuel Quezon on 16 October 1936. This was followed by the issuance of Executive Proclamation no. 132 that formally organized the City of Davao on 1 March 1937. In 1939, the Japanese population in davao stood at 17, 888.

During the Second World War, the Japanese settlers supported the Japanese war effort. Filipino oral tradition says some Japanese settlers turned out to be military officers. The Japanese defeat in the Second world War spelled the end of Japanese presence in Davao. Their land was taken over by the government and distributed to most of the Filipino settlers.
Davao City’s true wealth lies in its culture and history, thanks to the legacies of its indigenous and muslim tribes – Ovu Manuvu, K’Lata, Matigsalog,  Tagabawa, Ata Manuvu, Kalagan, Sama, Tausug, Maranao, and Maguindanao.

According to historians, the word Davao is a result of the phonetic blending of words from three Bagobo sub-groups, meaning “beyond the higher grounds” or “over the hills yonder”, a reference to the location of Davao River, a trading settlement. When different tribes went to the area, they would say that they were going to davoh (Obo group, considered the earliest tribe to settle in the area), duhwow (Clatta group) or dabu (Tagabawa group) as the place was surrounded by the hills of Buhangin, Magtuod, Maa, and Matina.

Led by Alvaro de Saavedra, the Spaniards – the first non-natives to visit Davao – arrived in the region in 1528. After the Spanish troops slayed Moro leader Datu Bago in    1847, a local hero who protected Davao from foreign invaders, Don Jose Oyanguren became the first governor of the undivided Davao province and he renamed the place Guipuzcoa.

Way before World War ll, Dabawenyos had amicable relations with Japanese. In 1900, a group of Japanese established extensive plantations of abaca around the gulf area and was engaged in logging, fishing and trading. The increase of Japanese residents earned Davao the title Japan kuo or “Little Japan.”

Davao finally became a city in October 16, 1936 when President Manuel Quezon signed Commonwealth Act No. 51, also known as the Charter of the City of Davao.

Davao was formally inaugurated as a charter city in March 16, 1937 by President Elpidio Quirino. Thirty years later, Davao was subdivided into three independent provinces, namely Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, and Davao Oriental. 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 third largest city.

(Sources : Some excerpts were taken from "Reconstructing History from Text and Memory" by Macario D. Tiu)

Davao City Profile

  • Approximately 588 statute miles southeast of Manila and 241 statute miles to Cebu City.
  • Traveling by sea, its location from Manila and Cebu is 971 and 593 nautical miles respectively.
  • It is the capital of the Davao Region and is the biggest urban Market in the growth polygon called BIMP-EAGA (Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area)

  • Typhoon free, with distributed temperature, rainfall and humidity throughout the year.  

City People

Majority of the Davaoeños are migrants dominated by Visayans, Chinese and Muslims, the province is touted to have the most number of indigenous tribal communities or lumads (meaning literally "from the bowels of the earth") living within its territory.

Among these are the Bgobos who live along the slopes of Mount Apo. Being the most colorfully dressed among the tribes, their hand-woven abaca garments are embroidered with geometric patterns and adorned with beads, shells and metal disks. The Bagobos are farmers who live in the hinterlands of Davao. The Guiangans, or Obos, like the Bagobos, are forest-dwellers. The Mandayas and the Mansakas, the more musically-inclined among the tribes, are skilled silversmiths. They inhabit the eastern areas of Davao del Norte and the remote mountain clearings of Davao Oriental. West of Davao del Norte are the Atas while along the shores of Davao Gulf dwell the Kalangans. The Manobos, also known as the Manubas or Man-subas (suba, meaning river in the Visayan dialect), are river-dwellers who are closely related to the Atas. Samal Island is occupied by the Samals while the Maguindanaoans inhabit parts of Davao Gulf and Saranggani Islands.

Like most indigenous tribes anywhere else in the world, these lumads face the constant struggle of protecting their ancestral lands from being plundered by unscrupulous new settlers, and by trying hard to preserve their culture in the changing world of traditions.