The beginnings of Davao as a distinct geopolitical entity started during the last fifty years of Spanish rule in the country. While Spanish sovereignty had been established along the northeastern coasts of Mindanao down to Bislig as early as 1620, when the Spanish brigadier general Agustin Bocallan claimed the area in what is now Davao City for the Spanish Crown, despite opposition by the Sultan of Maguindanao. Official colonization of the area, however, began in 1848 when an expedition of 70 men and women led by Don José Cruz de Oyanguren of Vergara, Spain, having received a special grant from Don Narciso Claveria, Governor- General of the Archipelago, “to conquer and subdue the entire gulf district, expel or pacify the Moros there, established a Christian settlement in an area of mangrove swamps which is now Bolton Riverside. Davao was then ruled by a chieftain, Bago, who had a settlement on the banks of the Davao River (then called the Tagloc River by the Bagobos). Bago was the most powerful datu in the Gulf area at that time.
They found an ally in Datu Daupan, chief of the Samal Mandayas, who saw in Oyanguren’s colonizing venture a chance to get even with Datu Bago, Muslim chief of Davao Gulf, who had treated the Mandayas as vassals. Oyanguren’s initial attack against Datu Bago’s fortified settlement at the mouth of Davao River proved futile. His ships could not maneuver in the narrow channel of the Davao River bend (where Bolton Bridge is now located) and was forced to retreat. He erected at Piapi a palisade for his defense and constructed a causeway across nipa swamps to the dry section of the meadows (now at Claveria Street junction), inorder to bring his canons within range to Datu Bago’s settlement. In the three months that he devoted to constructing the causeway, Oyanguren had also to fend off Datu Bago’s harassing attacks against the workers.
Finally, late in June help came from Zamboanga. Don Manuel Quesada, Navy Commanding General, arrived with a company of infantry and joined in the attack against Datu Bago’s settlement. The out-gunned defenders, despite their tenacious resistance, finally fled in the cover of night to different Muslim communities in the hope of carrying on the fight some other day. Oyanguren was reported to have peaceful possession of the Davao Gulf territory at the end of 1849, despite lack of support from the government in Manila and his principals in the venture. He campaigned hard among the different tribes –the Mandayas, Manobos, etc. urging them to live in settlements or reducciones in order to reach them for trade and commerce, but to no avail. The Moros** continued to threaten those who collaborated with the Españoles. Little headway was made in economic development of the gulf region.
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 as the center edifice on the intersection of San Pedro and Claveria Streets.
In the meantime, in response to the Davaowenos’ clamor, 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.
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. The American settlers, mostly retired soldiers and investor friends from Zamboanga,Cebu, Manila and the U.S. mainland immediately recognized Davao’s rich potential 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, etc. 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.
Gradually, the city regained its status as the premier agricultural and trade center of Mindanao. Logs, lumber, plywood, copra and banana products gradually replaced abaca as the major export product. Numerous varieties of fruits have likewise been produced for country-wide consumption as some, like bananas and mangoes , are now being exported.
oday, the City of Davao looks forward to accelerating further its economic development. The lure of business opportunities with the fast rising population, along with its agricultural and industrial potentialities, has continuously brought ever increasing number of adventurous and equally ambitious investors as well as men and women of every profession, art and trade. Tagalogs, Pampangos,
Ilocanos and Visayas have found grounds in the city wherein to start or renew their base in life. They have all molded to become Davaoweños and Davao City has earned the honor and is justifiably proud to be called “the Melting Pot of the Philippines”. And more, they are participating in reaching out to supplement the government’s activities to realize Davao’s thrust as the new Gateway of the
Philippines. Mindanao envisions closer tie-up with its neighbors to the south in renewing its ancient cultural , economic and commercial relations.