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Gold!

A. Paulita Roa

IN 1950, the Municipality of Cagayan, Misamis Oriental became a chartered city by an Act of Congress. The bill sponsor, Rep. Emmanuel N. Pelaez gave the new city a new name: Cagayan de Oro. As a young student, I had the privilege of listening to Pelaez speak on why he added “de Oro” to the city’s old name, and his reason was that he knew of the fact that since time immemorial, the rivers and hills of Cagayan abound in gold. Pelaez was so right about this.

Centuries before the coming of the Spanish conquistadores to our shores, the inhabitants around the archipelago were already bedecked with exquisitely made gold jewelry and many were also gold traders. Visayans called gold “bulawan” and fine gold as “himulawan.” It was common at that time to see the Visayan men carrying little scales and weights with them in a special pouch to make spot purchases. It is said that they can tell where the gold was mined by just looking at it.

The gold mining and trading gradually declined during the early Spanish colonial period starting at the time when Spanish soldiers destroyed the graves of the Visayans and took the gold funeral masks, jewelry and even gold-filled teeth of the dead! When in Manila, please take time to go to the Ayala Museum and the Bangko Sentral Museum where you can see gold jewelry handcrafted by ancient Filipino goldsmiths notably in Northern Mindanao and the Visayas Islands whose superb work and artistry can never be surpassed even to this day.

There are several documents written during the Spanish colonial era that spoke about the people of Cagayan who were engaged in placer mining and gold trading. That Pigtao, a place on the hills somewhere in the western side of the province  between Molugan and Alubijid, was often raided by the Moros because it was rich in gold deposits. At present, no one can tell me where Pigtao is. However, there is a barangay in El Salvador City that is called Sambulawan. But to the locals, “Sambulawan” means “false gold.”

Below is Agustin de la Cavada’s report that came out in Estadistica de Misamis in 1894:

“En Misamis, se presenta el oro ordinariamente en los aluviones entree Iligan y Cagayan. Las principales lavadores se hallan en Initao, Iponan y Pigtao.” (In Misamis, gold is normally present in the river beds between Iligan and Cagayan. The main placers are found in Initao, Iponan and Pigtao).

A much earlier report written in 1879 by the Spanish missionaries of the Order of the Agustinian Recollects, said that there was gold trading in Cagayan de Misamis and that an average of more 35 pounds of gold was sold there annually.

The late Henry R. Canoy, founder of the Radio Mindanao Network, in his fascinating autobiography titled “RMN: The Henry R. Canoy Story  1997,” mentioned briefly about gold mining in Cagayan de Oro during the American colonial era with former American soldiers as the leading prospectors. They established a gold mine in Tumpagon, a barangay that is bordered by the province of Lanao del Norte and intersected by the Iponan River. He said that there was a popular ditty sung by him and other kids in town about the young men who worked in the gold mines of that area:

Abi ninyo sayon

Atik pangita-on?

Trabaho kamo, trabaho kamo

Didto sa Tumpagon.

(You think its easy

To make money?

You have to work hard

There in Tumpagon.)

What I learned from an old aunt was perhaps a continuation of that Tumpagon ditty and it goes like this:

Abi ninyo sayon,

Adto sa Tumpagon?

Pang-pang sa kilid

Pang-pang sa atubang

Didto sa Tumpagon!

(You think it is easy

To go to Tumpagon?

There are cliffs on the sides,

There are cliffs in front of you

Out there in Tumpagon.)

What I know was that because of great mining activities in the hinterlands as well as in our the rivers, there was an abundance of gold bars owned by Kagaya-anons during the Spanish and pre-war eras. I saw a 1930 wedding picture of a Kagay-anon bride who wore a pair of  drop earrings that consisted of three big gold nuggets on each ear. Then there is a story of a grateful Kagay-anon who gave a Manila surgeon a gold bar after saving his life and this was during the pre-war era. Now the gold is not anymore in the hands of the local residents for many foreigners are said to be mining gold up in the hinterlands of the city using sophisticated instruments and chemicals.

Mining that was done here through the centuries but our rivers and our environment were then clean and safe. We had our pigok, balanak, pili and delightful bounties from our rivers that were  not polluted by mine tailings and other chemicals. Those gold miners mined the riches from the depths of the earth as well as in our rivers without destroying our land and polluting our waters. But can we say the same thing of the local miners today?

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