Local historians claim that the word davao
came from the phonetic blending of the word of three Bagobo
subgroups when referring to Davao River, an essential waterway
which empties itself into Davao Gulf near the city.The aboriginal
Obos who inhabit the hinterlands of the region called the river,
Davoh; the Clatta or Guiangans called it Duhwow, or Davau, and
the Tagabawa Bagobos, Dabu.
To the Obos, the word davoh also means a place
"beyond the high grounds", alluding to the settlements
located at the mouth of Davao River which were surrounded by
high rolling hills. When asked where they were going, the usual
reply is davoh, while pointing towards the direction of the
town. Duhwow also refers to a trading settlement where they
barter their forest goods in exchange for salt or other commodities.
Spanish influence was hardly felt in the Davao
until 1847, when an expedition led by Don Jose Oyanguren came
to establish a Christian settlement in an area of mangrove swamps
that is now Bolton Riverside. Davao was then ruled by a Moro
chieftain, Datu Bago, who held his settlement at the banks of
Davao River (once called Tagloc River by the Bagobos).
After Oyanguren defeated Datu Bago, he renamed
the region Nueva Guipozcoa, in honor of his home in Spain, and
became its first governor. Oyanguren's efforts to develop the
area, however, did not prosper.A few years after the American
forces landed in 1900, private farm ownership grew and transportation
and communication facilities were improved, thus paving the
way for the region's economic growth.
A Japanese entrepreneur named Kichisaburo Ohta
was granted permission to exploit vast territories which he
transformed into abaca and coconut plantations. The first wave
of Japanese plantation workers came onto its shores in 1903,
creating a Japan kuo, or Little Japan. They had their own school,
newspapers, an embassy, and even a Shinto Shrine.
On the whole, they established extensive abaca
plantations around the shores of Davao Gulf and developed large-scale
commercial interests such as copra, timber, fishing and import-export
trading. Filipinos learned the techniques of improved cultivation
from the Japanese so that ultimately, agriculture became the
lifeblood of the province's economic prosperity.
Davao was formally inaugurated as a charter
city in March 16, 1937 by President Elpidio Quirino. Thirty
years later, Davao was subdivided into three independent provinces,
namely Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, and Davao Oriental. Over
the years, Davao has become an ethnic melting pot as it continues
to draw migrants from all over the country, lured by the prospects
of striking it rich in the country's third largest city.