DATU PIANG, Maguindanao – I have just returned from a brief visit to this landlocked commune which is one of the 10 towns located on the outskirts of the largest wetland in the country, the Ligawasan (Liguasan) swamp (estimated total area: 220,000 280,000 hectares).
The other communes bordering the marsh include two others which are now part of the province of Sultan Kudarat (Tacurong and Quirino); and (North) Cotabato (Kabacan, Pikit, Midsayap and M’lang). The interior part of the swamp includes the towns of Maguindanao of Sultan sa Barongis, Rajah Buayan, Datu Salibo, Salipada K. Pendatun.
Part of the wetland, much of Datu Piang is surrounded by marshes, swamps, small ponds, and part of the greater Pulangi or Rio Grande. Often this large river is redundantly called the Pulangi River; Pulangi is the Magindanawn word for river. The Spanish colonizers called it Rio Grande (great or great river) because of its length and width: it goes from Bukidnon to the basin-shaped towns of Maguindanao and to the town of Cotabato.
With my husband and a small group of community organizers and facilitators, I walked a distance of about a kilometer from the driest point of Sitio Tangguapo to Barangay Damabalas here. It wasn’t a nice, leisurely walk for exercise or anything; we walked slowly and cautiously along narrow paths covered in thick sticky mud under the scorching sun. We had to be very careful where we were going slowly, as a mistake could drag us into the swamp or pond. Seeing that I was walking with a slight limp on my left foot, our friends in the community asked someone who owned a small commuter vehicle, locally called a “multicab” to come and pick me up in the middle of the trail. But when the small vehicle hit the deepest part of a mud puddle, its front tires got stuck. With the help of a few passers-by, he was brought back to the driest part of the trail.
This short one-day visit brought back happy memories of over four decades ago, when I first did fieldwork in Damabalas and the Datu Piang poblacion for my first dissertation. graduate studies in anthropology. I chose Datu Piang because it is the oldest “regular” municipality in the province, having been established as the city of Dulawan in 1936, under Executive Decree No. 66 signed by President Manuel L. Quezon.
Moreover, it was then famous as “the cradle of the Maguindanao civilization“.
My fieldwork from 1978 to 1979 was basically making a collection of puzzles and lapidary forms of Magindanawn folklore. I was fascinated then by the educational value of this folklore genre, as there were no other “educational” social media or other media platforms apart from black and white radio and television sets.
By the late 1930s, Dulawan was considered one of the largest municipalities in the entire region and the Visayas. It had a total area of 386,234 hectares, with 104 barrios and a population of 42,858 at the 1948 census. Some of these barrios (today we use the term barangay) are now municipalities and / or localities included in three other provinces, namely Sultan Kudarat, and North and South Cotabato.
While working in the field, I asked my informants why the name “Dulawan”. Many of them recount how progressive the old town was, being called “da lawanin” (Magindanawn for “peerless” or incomparable to others, in a very positive way). With its vast territory of 104 barangays, there was indeed no match in this city.
The former rulers of this future town of Dulawan / Datu Piang received two cannons from the Spanish colonial government allegedly to convince the rulers of Maguindanao and then to help the Spaniards defeat the Dutch colonizers. The latter also wanted to conquer parts of Mindanao for their own imperialist ends. These two old cannons are now embedded in a closed concrete structure placed on either side of the door leading to the municipal hall.
(To be continued)
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