Gabriel Jose Gonzalez, SJ
DAVAO City–Karl Gaspar’s “Davao in the Pre-Conquest Era and the Age of Colonization” delivers a brief and thoroughly honest account of the history of the Davao region. The account tells us about the various waves of peoples who have dominated the region over the past 150 years or so; from the first known inhabitants we collectively call the Lumads, to the American speculators, to the Japanese settlers, and then to the Christian migrants from the Visayas and Luzon.
The account strongly leaves a sense of the briefness of the history of Davao as a socio-political unit, spanning not more than a hundred fifty years. This, on the one hand, gives cause for wonder and admiration at how in this short period of time, Davao has overcome the tremendous distance it has from Manila to become a city that counts in the national consciousness. On the other hand, this brief history together with the quick turnover of dominant groups also leave a feeling of wonder whether the increasing prosperity of the region has reached a point of stability or shall it experience a decline as quickly as its ascent. The short life span of the socio-political unit, its connectedness as periphery to metropole Manila, and its proximity to war-torn areas do not yet give that permanent confidence in the development it has so far attained.
This is why I find the account given by Karl thoroughly honest. It does not present a triumphalist picture of the development that Davao has seen, as many politicians may be tempted to do in an election period such as the one we are in. It reminds us that the development of Davao is still very much subject to economic, political, and social forces from outside and that these forces can destabilize its economic progress and its hard-earned peace and order. Perhaps it poses a challenge to the people of the Davao region to more actively contribute to the development and security of the whole island of Mindanao, for only this will provide that permanent confidence in the region’s gains this past century.
I also thought Karl’s account to be honest because it does not privilege any one of the waves of people who have dominated the region. In fact, laying out very factually of how the region was dominated first by Lumads who are the first known inhabitants of the region, then the Americans who first saw its economic potential, then the Japanese who saw that potential towards realization, and then the migrants from Visayas and Luzon who presently dominate the region, the account places in its center not any of these peoples but the region’s environment and natural resources, how it has served the inhabitants and how it is truly the one most responsible for whatever economic progress there has been in the region. Karl’s account gives a strong sense of who we really are in this region: we are settlers using the resources of this region for our own interests; and as such we have the responsibility to regulate the use of these resources so that they may still serve the generations to come. We also have the responsibility to be mindful that these resources also benefit those who had occupied this environment before us.
Indeed, having read Bro. Karl’s account of the history of the Davao region this way, I got the very strong sense that we are, in a way, all transient inhabitants of this environment. And we have the great responsibility of ensuring it will benefit those with whom we share this space as well as those who would come after.
(Fr. Gabriel Jose T. Gonzalez, SJ shared this piece during the launch of Karl M. Gaspar’s books – Davao in the Pre-Conquest Era and the Age of Colonization and Si Menda ug ang Bagani’ng gitahapn nga mao si Mangulayon — at the Ateneo de Davao University this Dec. 11. Fr. Gonzalez earned his PhD in English Literature from Fordham University in New York. He is the academic vice president of the ADDU.)