Davao of the Past: A Reexamination from the South (Part I)

Sep. 12, 2017

In July this year, I received a fellowship grant to join the 2017 Japan Foundation Summer Institute along with other researchers from the USA, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Part of the requirement was that grantees should be able to present a paper related to Japan studies. As a “glocal scholar,” I brought in with me a research proposal on “A Reexamination of the Japanese Migrant Settlement of Davao in the 1920s to 1930s.” Prominent scholars and historian like Lydia Yu-Jose and Macario Tiu wrote extensively on the lively presence of Japanese migrants in pre-war Davao due to its noticeably thriving local economy predicated by a huge concentration of rubber, copra, and hemp plantations. Unsurprisingly so, when World War II broke out, it was reported that there were more than 21,000 Japanese residents in the Philippines with about 18,000 or more in Davao.

Just a quick background, I was enticed to pursue a study about this particular topic when I first attended the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto, Canada in March this year; again all thanks to Japan Foundation. At the said conference, the Hoover Institution of Stanford University also launched their new project, the Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection for their Japanese Diaspora Initiative. Excitedly browsing their digitized archival materials, the first thing I did was searched for “Davao.” And to my surprise, newspaper sources from the said collection accounted for “Davao land issue,” otherwise known as the “Davao problem” and the growing anti-Japanese sentiments in Manila in the late 1930s. These negative sentiments were obviously driven by the global dynamics among “imperialist states” or the core states back then vis-à-vis peripheral countries like the Philippines. Although a Commonwealth government, the Philippines was still under the American control before World War II. Thus, a tripartite relationship co-existed between the USA, the Philippines, and Japan.

Back at the Summer Institute in Japan, one of the major discourses was the interrogation of Trans-Japan as an emerging research methodology in approaching the study of Japan. Terms like “transnational” and “trans-local crossings” were introduced to the conversations in the workshops and plenary sessions.  As the only Davaoeño and “southerner” among the participants, it was my commitment and a humble endeavor to contribute something new to the “Trans-localization of Japan studies.” And so, this is where my journey all began. The window of opportunity came when we visited the Showakan, a national memorial museum in (Chiyoda-ku) Tokyo, which presents Japanese war time history through the lenses of war victims, “providing younger people with an opportunity to learn about this era in Japan’s history,” as their brochure says. Our group was introduced to its library and obviously upon searching their database-catalogue, it was all written in Nihongo (Japanese). I could not even read Kanji but gladly they have some Katakana and Hiragana keyboards though. Again, I key in the word “Davao” and to my surprise there was one book that came out on the computer screen, “Here’s Davao: The Promised Land.” And at that instant, I remember the famous destination of Davao in the 1990s which was Gap Farm with a well-known slogan written on its hilly ground “The Land of Promise.” The book is a collection of the old photos of the prosperous Davaokuo or “Little Japan” in the 1930s; showcasing the old downtown area overshadowed by Japanese shops and boutiques, attractive scenes of Davao, and the booming hemp industry. The book appears to be written and published by a certain A. Magoshi and Lucky Studio.

I can only recall a few months ago when I gave an assignment to the interns who assisted me on this project. The students came out with the following notes on Hoji Shinbun’s digitized sources on “Davao,” that the nature of Japan-Philippines relations was at first economic (1920s to 1930s); when tensions arose it became political (late 1930s), and then became militarized at the advent of WWII (1940s). True enough, hints of war tensions started as early as 1937 as Japanese residents were starting to raise funds in support of building their imperial forces back home. Nevertheless, it was a known fact that Japanese businessmen and entrepreneurs played a key role in the development of Davao as most of them comprised the dominant settlers back then. They were also known as the (old) pioneers, who also contributed to its success as “Builders of Davao,” which I will write about in the next series of articles.

With this enthusiastic rediscovery, I flooded the social media with some old photos about Davao. For instance, there was one photo on “A Bird’s Eye View of Davao,” another one on “Davao’s Busy Water Front” (presently Sta. Ana Port), “Davao Japanese Association: Here’s Where Japanese Residents Meet,” “The King of Fruits, Dulian (Durian),” and many more. It took me a while to realize that I was an avid follower of the Facebook page “Davao of the Past,” as instructional material for my teaching course, urbanization and development. Notwithstanding the very good images from the page available for public consumption, I happily shared the materials I have too for the said Facebook page. Clearly, it was a win-win solution for all of us in the era of the internet age and global network society.

And the trail did not just end there, I kept receiving personal communications of local enthusiasts, local historians, digital archivists, and personal collectors who are interested of such related items. And the list of meetings goes on and on. More importantly, the vantage point for all of these conversations is the opportunity to widen the network for scholarship and intensive local history writing of Davao and Mindanao. Indeed, in this trying times of ours, we need more of these people to reexamine our “history from below” using varied lenses and perspectives for a much wider angle of clarity and precision of the different conflicting “stories” of the South. (davaotoday.com)

To be continued

Andi, owing to the Japanese Romaji version of his Katakana nicknameアンディ, is a loving husband to a wife, a teacher, researcher, political analyst, and a community development specialist. He finished his PhD in Japan and has travelled extensively around East and Southeast Asia.

, , , , , , , ,
comments powered by Disqus