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Datu Mama Bago: villain or hero?

(We are taking the liberty of printing this article on Datu Bago, the city’s hero, which came out on the March 9, 1998 issue of Mindanao Times.)

DATU MAMA Bago was a Moslem chieftain at the turn of the century who was known far and wide as the naval lord of Davao Gulf. His heroism and patriotism were evident in his valiant and stubborn opposition to Spanish incursions to his territory from 1842 and culminating in his strong resistance to superior forces mastered by these Spanish voyageur Don Jose de Oyanguren in July 23, 1848. For this feat, he earned for himself a distinct place in the annals of Davao.

The bust statue of Datu Bago at the Museo Dabawenyo along Magallanes St. in Davao City. (Photo taken from Bro. Karl Gaspar’s Facebook post)

From his settlement at Pinagurasan (now Bangkeron, Davao City) his realm extended from Sumlog River in Lupon to Kingking (Pantukan), down to Mabini and the isthmus of the gulf passing Iho, (Tagum) and farther south towards Sirawan Beach, to as far as Sta. Cruz and Malita. He was known as the naval lord of Davao Gulf.

The Spanish chroniclers may have belittled the feat of Datu Bago and reduced his stature by calling him a pirate and slave-trader. Datu Mama Bago may have been all of these, but if ever he was a pirate and as slave-trader, custom and tradition of his time may have influenced it. Yet if valued his nobility and was a true of Islam, this could hardly be possible, since such acts are anathema to the teachings of Mohammed.

At any rate, an official of the office of the Muslim Affairs said we have no actual records of Bago’s piracy and slave-trading activities; but if he was one, it can partially be attributed to hostility against Spain and her Filipino sympathizers.

Long before the Spanish conquest of the Philippine Archipelago, Chinese junks plied the South China Sea and maintained brisk trading in the ports of Southern Philippines. Mindanao and Sulu have opened their ports to Chinese comers even before Manila was opened to trading with countries friendly to Spain in 1834. Marine and forest products of Mindanao were bartered for guns, gun powder, opium, and modern implements.

Commerce and friendly relations also flourished between the Muslim migrants of the coastal areas of Mindanao and the indigenous tribes of the hinterlands. According to anthropologist, Heidi Gloria, we can be fairly deduce that the “demands of trade and other survival factors made imperative” the harmonious interact on between the natives of the locality.

With the coming of the Spaniards, and given the Moslem hostility against Spain and her native sympathizers, coupled with the need to keep pace with the demands of commerce, the Sultan and Datus of Sulu and Mindanao reverted to privateering and slave-trading activities. Death slavery, which reduced a tribe to vassalage was also a means to controlling a certain tribe of the interiors who supplied the Moslems with resins and forest products valuable to trade. (Dr. Eric Casno, 1982).

The arrival of the conquistadores, however, affected the social, political, and economic life of the inhabitants. The natives, with their peaceful dispositions and crude armaments, were no match to the formidable weaponry of the invaders. Survival demands that the natives have to abandon their lifestyles and beliefs and embrace the cross, fearful of the consequences of not doing so. According to Gloria Dabbay, in her book, History of Davao (1981), the Mandayas of Davao “were the first to be Christianized.” The actual colonization of Davao was “a result” of Oyanguren’s “successes in subduing the Moros under Datu Bago” (Dabbay, 1981)

The Moslems, settled in strategic points of the coast along Davao Gulf, were more war-like in the temperament. This collective consciousness was always rooted in their religion and culture, which were their point of reference in life. It is not hard to imagine then the presence of a Moslem hostility towards the conquistadores. In Davao, Datu Mama Bago strongly resisted Oyanguren’s intention of subjugation, only to bow down to superior might in the end.

The Bago Tarcela

Datu Macadungo Mamarinta of Piapi, Davao City, related a story that Datu Mama Bago was one of five children of noble parents from Cotabato. Mindanao was divided under the Datuship of these children.

On the other hand, the Cotabato Tarcela relates that Datu Mama Bago is the son of a Maguindanao chieftain, Sultan Mohammad Dimasangkay Bago and Bai Putri Mirganding. The five children born of this marriage were: Ugay, the Sultan of Barongis; Mama Bago, Sultan of Nunangan, Talayan (before he migrated to Davao); Abdul, Sultan Linangtangan; Dindog, whose wife was the sister of Dilangalan (Midsayap, North Cotabato); and Gansing, Raja Muda of Pagalamatan.

In his youth, Datu Bago resided in Raja Buayan and later married Bai Gomegocop, who bore him a son, Datu Malanon.

In 1830, Datu Bago migrated to Davao and established residence at Pinagurasan, at the mount of the Davao River, where Bangkerohann Market in Davao City is now situated. Under the canopy of giant trees, he built his fortress for his men and their families. Eventually, Pinagurasan became the seat of his government from where he launched his offensive against the Spanish invaders.

He took another wife in Pinagurasan, Bai Aw, the daughter of Datu Bagacay who gave birth to Bai Malanch. In time Bai Malanch married Datu Cando and begot Bai Cabobayan, who later married Sultan Ebno. The couple had five children namely: Datu Cacase Bago, Datu Paramainan Bago, Bai Tenaytay Bago, and Bai Sedji Bago.

Datu Paramainan married Bai Macayon and they were blessed with four offsprings namely: Datu Subahana Bago, Datu Loposan Bago, Bai Soba Bago and Datu Angon Bago.

In the first marriage of Datu Loposan Bago to Bai Saparog, they begot three children: Sultan Macato Bago, Bai Rasada Bago, and Datu Coran Bago. Datu Loposan later took another wife by the name of Bai Ranonon, who bore him a son Sultan Caneda Bago.

Caneda Bago married Bai Tecoda, who begot four offsprings, namely: Bai Sarah Bago, Bai Anica Bago, Amar Bago and Saddam Bago.

Datu Bago’s exploits

In 1842 Datu Bago struck his first blow against the landgrabbing new commerce in Sigaboy and the neighboring settlements along the coast. He attacked and plundered Spanish traders and Spanish occupational forces. Including their native sympathizers. But Datu Bago, the “brigand and pirate” (cursorily branded as much in written records of the arrogant foreigners) strictly exhorted his men to the distribute the plunder to the poor of his community.

In 1843, Datu Bago was recognized naval lord if Davao Gulf. He systematically attacked and plundered all entering merchant ships and controlled the Gulf as far as Bulataki to Sarangani Bay. For this feat, he became the Lord of Davao and was crowned Sultan.

The different Datus who helped Datu govern his territory were: Datu Pagpugusan, datu of Sumlog, Caraga, Sigaboy, Lupon, Kingking, and Mabini; Datu Casiyaman, datu of Iho, Cuwambog, and Madaum; Datu Mataw, datu of Tagum to Bunawan; Datu Macopa, datu of Bunawan to Pagamican, Sasa; Datu Bagacay, datu of Malita to Sarangani; Datu Pangurima Gund, datu of Ma-a to Sirawan; Datu Borodto, datu of Inawayan in Toril to Digos; Datu Baringdong, datu of the coastal area of Sta. Cruz to Padada, and Malita; Datu Mangkias, datu of Tagaud group; Datu Kelatan, datu of Tababawa and Obo Groups; Datu Talisay, datu of Guiangan group; Datu Taupan Sama, datu of Callawa group; Datu Domaong, datu of Mandaya group; Datu Agtos, Datu of Ata group; Datu Maglintang, datu of Dababa-on group; Datu Kolokay , datu of Bila-an group, and Datu Magsalokayy, datu of Kalagan and Tagakaulo groups.

The beleaguered Spaniards made negotiations with Sultan Escandar Quadratullah, who claiming suzerainty of Mindanao, ceded his territory to Spain in 1846. Learning of this development, Sultan Mama Bago revitalized his forces and doubled the theory of his exploits against the foreigners.

On that same year, San Rufo, a Spanish trading vessel carrying a letter of introduction from Sultan Escandar, was attacked, pillage and burned by Sultan Bago. The Spanish government called Sultan Escandar to account for the plunder of a Spanish vessel, but the Moslem Sultan disowned authority over the Moslems of Davao, stating that if they did not honor his letter, then they were not his subjects.

With the Sultan waiver, Oyanguren finally petitioned Spain to grant him permission to effect the conquest of Davao Gulf. In return for his services he asked to be appointed governor of Davao and granted the monopoly of its commerce for ten years.

On February 27, 1947, the governor general of Manila, Narciso de Claveria, gave Oyanguren authority to recruit men and organized his punitive expedition; he was also awarded the special concession as Governor of Davao and a monopoly of its commerce for the first six years upon his conquest of Davao. Narciso de Claveria wanted to stop Sultan Mama Bago’s depredations in the shortest time possible, so he supported Oyanguren’s offer to subdue the Moslems.

Oyanguren sailed towards Davao Gulf, passing Cagayan and Surigao, recruiting Christian volunteers. At Caraga, the soldiers of Maria Azaola, joined the expedition of Oyanguren to avenge the death of Maria Azaola’s brother, Antonio, who earlier was killed when he attempted to land in Bago’s territory.

On July 20, 1848, the combined forces under Oyanguren reached the islet of Malipano, in Samal Island. More natives from Samal and Talicod islands led by Datu Panod joined Oyanguren.


The conquest of Davao

Oyanguren’s first encounter with the Moslems was met with stiff resistance resulting to three casualties on his side. He retreated to what is now Piapi in Davao City routing some minor settlements there.

On July 26, 1848, part of Oyanguren forces, aided by native guides, passed through a trail in the mangrove swamps, were Oyanguren Street (later changed to Ramon Magsaysay Avenue) is now, through the thick forests by the side and along the riverbank. Meanwhile, a causeway was constructed through the marshes of Piapi into dry land, where Bonifacio Extension is now. This causeway was made way for Oyanguren’s canons to be brought near enough to bombard Bago’s fortifications. Oyanguren himself entered the mouth of the Davao River towards Bago’s fortress on oar-driven bancas. Thus, Datu Bago’s force was encircled by the invading forces.

The major fight took place in an area where Fr. Selga Street is now situated. Datu Bago and his warriors fought valiantly, but he knew that Oyanguren’s supremacy in arms and numbers sealed his defeat. As a good commander who knew that his forces, together with their families will be massacred if they continue their resistance, he decided to retreat to safer grounds. He dispersed the remnants of his army and he retreated towards Lapanday and then set forth to Pagsabangan, Tagum. Thus ended Sultan Mama Bago’s stubborn resistance to foreign domination.

He made a new home by the Pagsabangan River and died on March 15, 1850. The descendants of Datu Bago now honors him by visiting his grave in the middle of the Pagsabangan River. Tradition has it that the river’s currents and the floods cannot prevail upon the burial grounds of Datu and his son. His other relics – the kris, paspe, surban, and tubaw are now in the keeping of Sultan Caneda Bago, his sixth descendant.

(This account of the life and times of Datu Mama Bago was culled from accounts of the Sultan Caneda Bago, Datu Mamarinta Macadungo, most of which were corroborated by officials of the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA) Region XI. Lilian Joyce of the Davao City Library helped in the research of what little account about Datu Bago is available. Reprinted with permission from the September 1993 issue of the East ASEAN Dimensions Magazine.)


By Chita Conollinares


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