The Pre-Spanish Era
Before 1521, Davao Oriental is marked by a very primitive way of life. It has been populated by lumads with similar worship, culture, customs and tradition. They were known as the Mandaya, Mansaka, Mamanua, Manubo, Mangguangan, Tagaculo and the like. They settled near the shores of the Pacific Ocean, some were on the riversides and others were in the forests. Because of these, river basin became their center of transportation. Due to the Bagani System, some built their houses on the trees to secure themselves from the enemies. They were known to be paternalistic based on governance due to the presence of bagani, datu or rajah,. Their way of survival was dependent on primitive agriculture, hunting, fishing and small barters. Primitive agriculture is based on “kaingin” which is characterized by nomadic attributes wherein they transferred from one place to another depending on the type of soil for planting. Most of the men were indulged on hunting called the “panayam”. Lumads were known to be generous. They shared whatever they have brought home after the hunt. Lumads make their own clothing. They weave theirs clothes using abaca fiber called “dagmay”. Weaving is accompanied by rituals and only skilled members of the tribe were allowed to follow this practice. They also have their own unique musical instruments, dance, music and ornaments. The lumads cultural dance reveals the sacredness of the land. They dance with bare feet in order for them to fully express their closeness to the land. They have different dances for different moods like joy, sadness and hatred. If they want to retell stories of the past, they dance with a chant called “dawot”. When it comes to worship, Diwata System is the center of their belief. they were known to be maternalistic on this aspect. They singled out gifted women of good standing in the community and called them Balyans dancing priestesses and the Catalunans or the singing priestesses. There is a tripod in their faith and these are: God whom they called as the “tagallang”, magpabaya or mansilatan; second is nature and the third is man. The lumads believe in God and has a deep respect to nature. Their love for Mother Earth made them worship close to it. They put greater attention to land. For them, the land is sacred and holy. They believe in the principle that the land is not to be owned, because man is only a steward to it. The man will die, but the land will always remain. As a whole, the Province of Davao Oriental during the pre-Spanish era was composed of twenty five indigenous tribes which include the abovementioned major groups. The challenge to preserve the lumad culture needs respect cooperation, awareness and plan of action from the church and the government.
The Spanish Era
When the Spaniards led by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan came to the Philippines in 1521, the Southeastern part of Mindanao was then known as the Calaghan Island. It is derived from the name “calag” which means spirit or soul. So when the Spanish government created the territory of Caraga Province, they referred to it as “regio de gente animosa” or the region of spirited men. Caraga Province which was created on 1609, covered by a long coastal area from Cape Surigao to Cape of San Agustin was inhabited by the “Calaghans” or “Caragans” known as the Mandaya, Mansaka, Mamanua, Manubo, Mangguangan and Tagaculo. The name “Calaghan” is still widely used by the Muslims until today. The early Spanish exploration of Davao area during 1528 was traced during Saavedra’s visit to the Sarangani Islands located in the southwestern part of Davao Gulf. He coasted along the shores of Davao Oriental and finally settled in Caraga. The first settlement by Saavedra was then followed by several missionaries sent to Caraga during the 16th to the 19th century. Those settlers were considered the prime movers of the creations of towns and villages in the province. They introduced informal education to the natives by teaching them how to fish and plant, read and write. They brought horses from Mexico and taught the natives to plow the fields for farming. Davao Oriental was only a part of Caraga Province before,but under the “Encomienda System” the first municipalities known as the “centennial municipalities” were created. These are: Caraga, Cateel, Baganga, Manay, Mati and Sigaboy. In the long run, the other municipalities followed. Upon the order of the Spanish Governor, General Narciso Claveria, a distinguished lawyer, Don Jose Uyanguren organized settlements on the respective municipalities specifically in the municipalities of Mati, Governor Generoso and Baganga. This expedition in 1846 brought about a successful conquest by defeating Datu Bago, a Bagobo chieftain. After this incident the Datu Empire ended. The number of settlements continued to grow as far as Davao City. So in February 27, 1849 in honor of this victory, Governor Claveria decided to divide Caraga Province to Surigao Province in the north and Nueva Vergara in the south with the town of Caraga as provincial capital. When the Americans came, Nueva Vergara including its adjoining areas became popularly known as Davao, a district of the Moro Province, later the Department of Mindanao and Sulu. In 1898, Davao became a district of the Moro province created as part of Mindanao by the Americans. In 1916, Jones Law converted the Moro province into department of Mindanao and Sulu.
During the Caraga Convention of 1924, the municipal leaders of Caraga, Cateel, Baganga, Manay and Mati approved a resolution to declare Eastern Davao, “the contracosta”, as a sub-province called as “Plaridel”. This petition only remained a promise administration. After the World War II in 1945, large number of immigrants arrived in Davao Oriental. Immigrants from Luzon, Visayas and other parts of Mindanao joined together at the Eastern part of Davao. Different businesses were introduced. There were occurrences of intermarriages which was one of the factors of Davao Oriental’s growing population. In the year 1956, Congressman Ismael Veloso of Davao passed a bill in Congress creating Davao Provinces. He proposed the separation of the municipalities of Lianga, Hinatuan, Bislig and Lingig from the Surigao Province and to be combined with the cobtracosta towns. Unfortunately, the bill failed the approval of the Senate. He then passed another bill dividing Davao into three provinces. The Lower House approved it, but failed the Senate’s approval. In 1965, the bill was revived by Congressman Lorenzo Sarmiento. This time the bill was approved both in the Lower House and the Senate with the help of Senator Alejandro Almendras. Then on July 1, 1967, under Republic Act 4867, Davao was divided into three provinces: Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental. The Province of Davao Oriental The three provinces comprising Davao are Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental. Their respective capitals are Tagum, Digos and Mati. The Creation of the provinces was in accordance with the Republic Act 4867 which was approved on July 1, 1967. Davao Oriental is found on the easternmost part of Mindanao, wherein Pusan Point of Santiago, Caraga is located. It ranges about 189.30 kilometers from its bondaries. It is bound by the Pacific ocean in the East, Davao Province in the West, Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur in the North and Davao Gulf and Celebes Sea in the South. It is strategically located due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, Davao Oriental is branded as the “Gateway to the Pacific”. The Province has a land area of 5,146 square kilometers. The Mandayan Tribe is the major settlers in Davao Oriental. They are mostly found on the east coast part of the province. They are proud of their rich culture and heritage that is why they are greatly considered as honorable. After several years, Visayan settlers were brought forth by the Spanish missionaries. They gradually entered into intermarriages with the local ethnic tribes. Once the natives were converted to Christianity, they come down from the mountains and formed settlements along the seacoasts area known as “pueblos” or “visitas”. This marked the emersion of the mixed culture of Davao Oriental. There were distinctions between tribes. But diverse as they were, they still managed to remain respectful, peace-loving and united.
Davao Oriental survived from the hands of the elected officials through the years. The first of the Governors elected was the late Ponciano Bangoy. The Honorable reigned from July 1 up to December 31 of 1967 by virtue of the creation of the province. He was succeeded through an election by the late Hon. Leopoldo N. Lopez for three years. And that was from January 1, 1968 up to December 31, 1971. He then was followed by Hon. Teodoro Palma Gil from January 1, 1972 up to February 16, 1978. Then on March 1, 1978, Hon. Francisco G. Rabat was elected. He stayed on the position for years and ended his term on March 11, 1986. That was the time when the EDSA Revolution took place. As a result of the Filipino revolt against the Philippine Government, Hon. Josefina C. Sibala was appointed Governor of the province until March 19, 1987. Another appointment was made in the persona of the late Hon. Leopoldo N. Lopez who held the power from April 13 to November of 1987. Then an officer-in-charge was designated from November 24, 1987 until January 26, 1988. He was the late Hon. Teodoro Palma Gil. On February 8, 1988, the late Hon. Leopoldo N. Lopez was reelected. During his administration, his ultimate death on August 12, 1991 ended his term. By the Law on Succession, Hon. Josefina C. Sibala took over and instantly became the Governor until June 30, 1992. Another election took place last May 11, 1992 which was won by Hon. Rosalind Y. Lopez. She ruled for three consecutive terms which started from July 1, 1992 and ended on June 30, 2001. After Lopez’s term, she was succeeded by Hon. Ma. Elena T. Palma Gil on May 14, 2001. During the 2007 election, a landslide victory took place and was contended by Hon. Corazon N. Malanyaon. She officially assumed the position and sworn before the government on July 1, 2007. Up to the present, she is still holding the highest seat in the Province of Davao Oriental.