A. Paulita Roa .
EARLY Spanish records show that the 16th century Visayans called gold as “bulawan” and fine gold as “himulawan.” When Ferdinand Magellan and his men came to this country in 1521, they were amazed at the quantity of the gold that they saw everywhere they went. In fact, it was common to see Visayans with gold and it was said that they could tell where any gold came from by just looking at it.
This is not at all surprising because many archaeological evidence point to the appearance of gold as early as 400-250 BC. The Italian chronicler of Magellan, Antonio Pigafetta, wrote that during their visit to Mazaua island, there were pieces of gold the size of eggs and walnuts; that these were found by just sifting the earth in the island of the king, and all of his dishes were of gold; and that this ruler had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold.
Decades later, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the first Spanish governor general of the Philippines, wrote that “… gold was found in all of these islands; it is obtained from rivers, and in some places, from the mines, which the natives work. However, they do not work the mines steadily, but only when forced by necessity… they do not even try to become wealthy… the land possesses much gold; for much men,whether they be chiefs or not, whether freeman or slave, extract and sell gold…” (Blair and Robertson 1973).
When the Spaniards came here, gold mining, trading and the fabulous gold jewelry were very much a part of the daily life and culture of the pre-hispanic Filipinos. When you happen to be in Manila, please take the time to see the gold jewelry that were intricately made by our ancient goldsmiths at the Ayala Museum and the Bangko Sentral Museum.
So what about the gold in Cagayan de Oro? When I was the curator the City Museum, I was often asked why is it that “de Oro” was affixed to our city’s old name? Our usual answer is that it was in 1950, when the then Rep. Emmanuel N. Pelaez’s bill granting cityhood status to Cagayan was passed, that he added the “de Oro” to our city’s name in recognition of the fact that since ancient times, gold was found in the rivers and hills of Cagayan. Is gold really in abundance in our city?
I can only find very few reports in the 1800s that mentioned about the gold in Cagayan de Misamis. The first one is by Agustin de la Cavada who reported that Cagayan’s gold was extracted through placer mining. The second came from the 1879 report of the Agustinian Recollect Missions in Northern Mindanao. It mentioned briefly that a total of 500 taels of gold were traded annually in Cagayan de Misamis. And then, we have in our local lore about a huge golden fish named “Oro” that lives under the St. Agustine Cathedral. I was also asked about the “Oro” fish many times, if it really existed, and I sometimes tell them, “Dugay nga kini nahimo ug tinola.”
Many of our old families here have their share of stories about the gold of Cagayan. First, let me tell you of a pre-war wedding photo that was shown to me where the bride wore a pair of dangling earrings studded with gold nuggets. Her grandfather bought the nuggets from a gold panner in upper Iponan River. During the American colonial period, there were many gold prospectors in Cagayan. One of them was my uncle, Antonio Chaves Roa. He and his wife, Nene and children, lived most of the time in Dansolihon where they employed Galis to work in their mining area. They were fluent in Ginali, a dialect spoken by this group of people that belongs to the Higaunon tribe. Tio Tonio’s son Oloy told me that as a boy, he earned money by carrying the things of a gold prospector from Luzon named Paul Aquino. He was the older brother of Ninoy. Then, there is this story about a wealthy couple in the pre-war days who hired a minerologist to examine the gold that was extracted locally. His verdict? Our local gold is of inferior commercial quality. The couple decided to buy big tracts of land around Cagayan instead of investing in gold mining. Today, their grandchildren have struck a bigger gold–in real estate.
Thanks to the present technological advancements that are readily available to us, one can now search for areas where gold is located even in the confines of one’s home–with the aid of satellite imaging and other high-tech gadgets. The lure of gold is stronger than ever and this explains the presence of big and small mining outfits in Iponan, Dansolihon and other places in Cagayan de Oro. But the dangers that mining brings to our environment are real too–rivers poisoned by mercury and hills destroyed like what happened in upper Iponan area and river. Also, there are major environmental problems that are caused by strip mining and other forms of destructive mining activities.
What we need to do today is to strive to become good stewards of our hills and rivers for the sake of the future generations of Kagay-anons. Gold in Cagayan is not all about the yellow mineral, the fine gold here or the himulawaan is the Kagay-anon and his land. Kagay-anons, let us start to be vigilant and start caring and protecting our real himulawan–our land. This is our God-given bahandi or wealth that we truly have long after the gold in our rivers and hills are gone.