FROM PAST TO PRESENT: From a village to a Spanish town

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 22 Aug) – In 1521, the typical houses of the Cebuanos were described by Antonio Pigafetta (1536), the Italian chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan, as made of wooden planks and bamboo and raised high on the ground on large logs. Ladders were used as means of entry and the house was divided into rooms like those in the West. Underneath the houses, the Cebuanos kept swine, fowl and goats. This was the type of houses that the Spaniards saw lining the coast of Cebu and as one claimed, it reached the coast of Mandaue. This same kind raised houses were then commonly found near the rivers, creeks and waterways for the ancient Filipinos loved to live near bodies of water.

There were other types of houses that the early Spanish explorers saw when they ventured into the interior areas. The Recollect missionaries who were the first to enter the Cagaiang territory (Cagayan de Oro) in 1622 wrote that the 500 Kagay-anons under their chief named Salangsang, lived on top of a cliff by a river. Their place was known as Himolugan. It was a strongly enclosed communal dwelling where each of the family had a room of their own that the priests likened to a Spanish cloister. In the middle of the communal quarters was an altar called the diwatahan that contained a wooden idol (Blair, E. and Robertson, J. vol. 21. 1903-1907). This showed that the settlement patterns of the prehispanic Filipinos were entirely different from that of the Spaniards.

However, with the arrival of the Spanish conquistador, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565, the landscape of Cebu and in most parts of the archipelago drastically changed. His troops burned the village of Cebu and later, his first official act was to inform the ruler, Tupas, that the Spaniards needed an area for a town site. When Legazpi was given a parcel of land, he drew a line demarcating the boundaries of the Spanish and Cebuano territories. On May 8, 1565, just two weeks after he and his men arrived in Cebu, he took possession of the land in the name of the Spanish king. Then the ground was broken for the construction of a triangular fort. Legazpi also marked out the sites for the Spanish quarter and the first Catholic church. He then proclaimed the establishment of the first Spanish settlement in Southeast Asia.

Legazpi’s act of possession and partition of the land into a town was patterned after a typical Spanish pueblo; it was to be repeated in many places around the country. This time, a Spanish missionary was tasked to create the town known as the “reduccion” or a compact town. Armed with a cord, ruler and a few pegs, he would staked out the site for three main buildings of the new town – the church with the convento, the plaza and the Casa Real, the seat of Spanish colonial administration. The principal streets of the town would also be plotted out. That done, the priest then planted a cross in the middle of the proposed plaza and began evangelizing the people (R. Javellana S. J. 1991).

The town of Cagaiang (Cagayan de Oro) started as a reduccion in 1624 by the Spanish Recollect missionaries. By the way, this is not an ancient town as many would like to believe. In fact, the present area of the city is considered a second settlement for the first one was in Himolugan. Today, we can still see the original layout of the old town and it is in Barangay 1, the oldest area of Cagayan de Oro City. There is the church, now the St. Agustine Cathedral, the combined area of the present city tennis courts and Gaston Park, was the original the size of the original town plaza. The old building of the City Hall near the bridge stands on the site of the old Casa Real. Historians consider Cagayan de Oro among the most Hispanized towns of northern Mindanao.

On the second floor of the City Museum, there is a copy of the 1739 map of the town of Cagaian which was then under the Alcalde of Zebu. The town was enclosed with a fort known as the Fuerza Real de San Jose or the Royal Fort of St. Joseph. There were neat rows of houses and well laid streets with the church at the center. It is a far cry from the typical prehispanic village that was composed only of a cluster of houses with the biggest one belonging to the village chief and usually enclosed with a wooden palisade.

The creation of the town by the Spaniards was their way of “civilizing” the prehispanic Filipino and forced them to look at the former as their central authority instead of the village chief. It took a long time for the people to get adjusted to living in a town under the new foreign colonial masters. It was unlike what they were used to for it was not well suited to their needs, temperament and beliefs. That was the way it was and that was how all towns came to be in the country.

[MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaViews. Paulita R. Roa is a member of the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission and Deputy of the National Museum in Cagayan de Oro.]