2. Daughter of Lawaan: Origins of Lawaan

2. Daughter of Lawaan:  Origins of Lawaan

by Michael D. Sellers

To understand the world that Rena grew up in, it helps to understand what that world evolved from. So she has agreed to let me write a page on the origins of Lawaan, and one on the Philippine American War and American colonial period in the Philipplnes to set the stage.

The earliest historical records in the Philippines date to the period 500-1000 AD, by which time there were emerging several maritime societies scattered throughout the islands without a unifying political state encompassing the entire Philippine archipelago. The islands were dotted by various semi-autonomous barangays (settlements ranging is size from villages to city-states) ruled by datus, rajahs or sultans.

Early Philippine royalty - to the left, a general of the Rajanate of Butuan, and to the left, a princess of Tondo
Early Philippine royalty - to the left, a general of the Rajanate of Butuan, and to the right, a princess of Tondo

Around 900 the Dynasty of Tondo emerged around Manila Bay and engaged in active trade with Chinese and Malay traders in the area. A document of debt forgiveness to Lady Angkatan and her brother Bukah, the children of Tondan nobility Namwaran, is the oldest known document emanating from the Philippines and is known as the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. (pictured below).picture-352

On March 16, 1521 Ferdinand Magellan, a Portugese explorer in the employ of the Queen of Spain, on his attempt to circumnavigate the earth sailed past Homonhon Island and into Leyte Gulf on a route that would ake him directly past Lawaan in route to Cebu. Magellan forged an alliance with Rajah Humabon of Cebu, and had designs of converting him to Christianity. The Rajah, who must have been a rather cunning fellow, prevailed upon Magellan and his men to attempt to defeat Humabon’s local rival, Lapu-Lapu. Magellan and his men attacked Lapu-lapu but miscalculated the shallowness of the water, leaving their cannons useless, with the result that Magellan died at the hands of the Filipino warrior chieftan.

Death of Magellan at the hands of the Filipino Datu Lapu Lapu
Death of Magellan at the hands of the Filipino Datu Lapu Lapu


Note from Rena: Michael found a beautiful story of the origins of Lawaan written by Mr. Crispin G. Gavan, the 17th and final “teniente del barrior” (head of the town) of Lawaan. We changed it slightly to include a few extra points but kept it mostly the way Mr. Gavan wrote it because it has a wonderful old-fashioned feel to it and it makes Lawaan seem special — which it is.

Halfway between the northern and southern extremities of the Philippine archipelago lies what is now known as the Leyte Gulf. The entrance to the Leyte Gulf from the Pacific Ocean passes by the peninsula of Guiuan, which juts southward on the island of Samar and forms a barrier between the Pacific Ocean and the Leyte Gulf. About the 15th century or so the enterprising family of Guingot Gabrillo and Etifania Halbay from Guiuan sailed westward from along the shores of the Leyte Gulf in search of better living and stumbled upon Monbon, an islet off the mouth of what is now the Lawa-an River. Threatened by a storm, they moved to the mainland to take shelter beneath a gigantic lauan tree growing majestically on the coastal jungle of what is now named Rawis. Successive trips to the mainland followed. Lured by the discovery of rich jungle growth: rattan, “hagnaya” vines, teeming marine and abundant wildlife, the young family decided that the place would make an ideal place to dwell in. The settlement was born. Guingot sailed back to Guiuan to tell his tale and to proclaim his discovery saying, “I will live and die in Lawa-an” (naming the place for the first time). Don’t hesitate, it’s easy to find because from the sea you’ll see the highest and biggest tree, which is Lawa-an.”

Word spread and in trickles, settlers came from various places, some from nearby, others from distant shores, all attuned to the prospect of adventure and romance in the new haven. Later came the Spaniards, first in the person of Ferdinand Magellan (who was Portugese but sailed under the Spanish flag) who sailed past Lawaan and forged successful bonds with some natives in the region–but was killed on Mactan Island when he attempted to exact tribute from Lapu-Lapu, that island’s chieftain. With their leader dead, Magellan’s fleet left the Philippines and continued on, completing the first circumnavigation of the world and bearing news of the Philippines. More Spanish came and the Philippines became a Spanish colony — and the prospect of spreading the Christian faith gave more impetus to the stream of migrants into the settlement. Pioneers from the nearby regions of Leyte and Bikol trekked in; Boholano peddlers who arrived chose to remain in permanence to implant the seed of what is now the Gacho family. And one tale of romance survives to this day — how Julian Flores, a desperado, wanted by the Guardia Civil in Manila, paddled his way to the Capines Point, then hobbled eastward until he came upon Guingot and his band of settlers. Embraced by the village and given a new identity as Julian Gadicho, the now reformed escapee quickly proved himself a ready hand to the settlers. He married Guingot’s daughter, Marciana, and soon the couple brought forth an heir, Carlos, who would become the first Teniente del Barrio of Lawaan. After inheriting the entire land of the present town proper of Lawaan, Carlos voluntarily distributed the area among the villagers without benefit of payments.

Decades and centuries passed. Although the land was often disturbed by raids of “Onglos” and marauding Moro vintas (pangkos) that sold their captives to the Tidongs of New Guinea and Borneo, they did not deter the life and growth of the then emrging community. Families became clans, and clans intermarried to form new ones. and Lawaan evolved, first under Spanish rule, then in 1898 the Americans defeated the Spanish and it was the Americans who became the colonial masters.

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