BAAO HISTORY: Facts and Myths

The article was published in the Kaiba newsletter in 1994.

(Condensed by R.B. Quiñones from Luis G. Dato’s Short History of Baao, 1946 and Vignettes of Baao History which he co­authored with Rev. Andres Mariano; and the Municipal Socio-­Economic and Physical Profile (MSEPP)’s Historical Profile of Baao, 1987-88).

by Luis G. Dato

BAAO HISTORY

Baao, land of rice and coconut palm, art and pretty women, early cradle of Catholicism in Camarines Sur, has had a colorful history whose early period and pre-­Spanish beginnings are lost in the mists of fable, legend and mystery. Its written history, which antedated the Spanish conquest and preserved in native scripts of the ancient Malay characters and alphabet, was destroyed by the Missionaries who regarded them as works of Satan. Only the history which began to be written by the Spaniards themselves, friar or functionary, some travelers, as well as a rare number of natives, have been preserved as the foundation and origin of local written history.

Origin of the Name — Baao

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Freshwater turtle — Ba-oo

Little is known about the exact history and origin of the name Baao. Except for the fragment of history that were complied from sporadic sources combined with the tales and legends cul­tured by transfer of tongues from generation-to-generation.

Tradition says that the town earned its name from the word ba-o-o, a local term for the native fresh-water turtle, which grew excessively in abundance in the vicinity of the ancient settlement site of Binabaloy, Binanuaanan and Layoan, where the Spaniards found the early Baao folks, and which place then formed a part of the adjacent town of Bula. It is said that for purposes of geographic references, the Spaniards designated the place as Baao, a close resemblance to the word ba-o-o, which was probably difficult for a foreign tongue to pronounce.

Another theory relates its significance to the topography of the early site of the poblacion which was the turtle-shaped sitio Binanuaanan. This southern bank of the lake Baao, when viewed at a vantage point in the mountain ranges, reveals a concave shape. With its arable fields cris-crossed with dikes and ditches, it closely resembles the back of the turtle.

Still another theory takes into account a remote possibil­ity that the name Baao evolved from the manifest disposition of eating left-over rice from previous meal. The natives at that time and even now relish from what they call ba-wow which means not hot in the local dialect.

What really is the basis of its name remains in doubt and mystery. Credence is attributed mainly in the legends and tales that made Baao known to the present day.

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Baao Centro Photo by Anton Mapa

Historical Profile

Baao Church History

Archeological artifacts undoubtedly point that Baao was in fact already in contact with other ancient municipalities such as the medieval towns of Bula and Milaor as far back as the 13th century or the Ming Dynasty. Porcelain wares of that period were excavated in 1975 at sitio Mawacag at the bank of the Bicol River, part of the old site of the town. Other proof of crude settlements were likewise traced at the National Museum and Archives including manifestos and treaties written in archaic Spanish language which are difficult to interpret but supportive of the accepted theory as the word Baao prominently surfaced in many documents.

Baao is said to be under the parochial and territorial jurisdiction of Bula during the early Spanish days upon the Philippine discovery by Magellan in 1521. The early settle­ment of Baao and Bula placed them among the oldest municipalities of Ambos Camarines, a province founded by the Spaniards in the early part of the 16th century.

Religious records reveal that somewhere in 1731, the first church was built in the old site of the town called Binanua-anan. (Because of the concentration of the state and religious power, the township usually establishes only upon construction of a church covering one parish.) Baao became an independent parish with certain Fr. Jesus as curate in 1771. Its political affairs were first separated from those of Bula at the turn of the 17th century, later to be followed by a separation in ecclesiastical affairs to form early in the 18th century a new independent pueblo.

Early Filipinos were known to have established their habitat along the banks of the seas, rivers, and lakes. In the case of Baao, its first site is located along the marshy lowland stretches of sitio Binanua-anan, Binabaloy and Layoan. How­ever, at the onset of the rainy season, everyday living proved to be much of an ordeal within the area, prompting the settlement to transfer its site southward along the higher banks of Langday and Bay rivers where barangay San Fran­cisco is now located.

Archeological history

It was somewhere on this site where ground-well drillers or workers digging to erect posts for building new houses were astounded to excavate human skulls and bones and bits of ancient Chinese porcelain of the Yuan or Ming dynasty which was popular with the Filipinos in Spanish and pre-­Spanish times, and which were believed buried with the dead. And yet, the muddy surroundings proved the same inconven­ience and the search for the higher dry land ended in the present day poblacion where the seat of Baao is now located.

There are still many gaps and mooted questions in Baao’ s long and chequered history awaiting the assiduity of future local historians. On pp. 213-215 of the Estado Geografico; Topografico, Estandistico, Historico, Religioso, de le Provin­cian de San Gregorio Magno del ano 1576 al 1885 by Rev. Felix Huerta (Manila), he says of Baao’s still unclarified beginnings:

“Although the chronicles of this holy province of San Gregorio in folio 338, book 2, part 2 No. 206 speak of the town: It is a tradition that it was founded in the time of our Santo Custodio Fr. Pedro Bautista (1586-1591), this only can have truth if understood to mean that in that year the conver­sion of the town began because in the acts (tablas capitulares) of our corporation to which we give credence.”

“Tradition does not mention Baao until the year 1656 and it was then men­tioned as a barrio of Bula, continuing to be mentioned as such in said acts until the year 1793, at which date Rev. Fr. Domingo de Palencia was assigned as the first curate. From some documents referring to this town, which are preserved in our archives in Manila, it can be inferred that it was separated from the town of Bula in civil matters quite some time before its separation in spiritual matters.”

“This site is also marshy, and of unwholesome humidity, for which reason the town was moved again in 1731.” Houses kept moving southward seeking higher levels, and a less damp climate. “The church under the advocacy of San Bartolome was constructed of bamboo and nipa at the site where the town was moved for the second time while it was still a barrio of Bula. In the year 1634, a church of wood was constructed which was destroyed by a typhoon in the year 1706. In 1729, _or thereabouts, a new church of wood with stone foundations was constructed until 1731 when the town was moved to its present site and a church of stone was constructed, which was repaired and painted in 1850 by Rev. Fr. Francisco Cabrera, although the belfry destroyed in 1801 has not been rebuilt until this day.”

“The cemetery is outside the poblacion and is very well located. The parochial convent is of good construction, rebuilt largely by the aforementioned Fr. Cabrera in 1843. To the northeast of the town, there is a barrio called Agdangan, distant one and one-half leagues, another called Buluang toward the northeast at a distance of one-half league and another barrio to the east. It is connected by a good road to the capital ofthe province and by two other roads to the towns of lriga and Nabua.”

But this account of Baao’s beginnings is contradicted by Rev. Fr. Eusebio Gomez Platero in his work, “Catalogo geographico de los religiosos Franciscanos de la Provincia de San Gregorio Magno de Filipinas desde 1577” (Manila, 1880). On pp. 308-9, he says: “The venerable Fr. Alfonso Caparros, confessor, was appointed… and administered in Camarines in the towns of Libong, in 1679, Cagsawa, Qui­payo, Piris, Pacolao, Camalig, Bula, Naga and again Bula, Baao, Libmanan, Camalig and Libmanan which he renounced in April, 1706, dying inNaga, December 8, of the same year.”

On pp. 363-4, Fr. Platero says: “Fr. Matias· Guadalupe administered in Camarines the towns of … Baao in 1793. On pp. 525 he says: “Fr. Gomez, Jose predicador, administered the town of Oas, Bula, Baao, Camalig, Nabua, Milaor and Minalabac where he died onNovember 15, 1711. Fr. Jose Jesus de Maria, predicador, administered in Cama­rines and dfo:d in Baao where he was the curate on May 11, 1772.”

“This shows that as early as 1706 or earlier, Baao was already an independent parish from Bula, or at least 87 years than the date of the ecclesiastical separation of Baao from Bula as mentioned by Fr. Huerta.”
The plan of families (plan de almas) of the year 1851 signed by Fr. Francisco Cabrero says about the founding of Baao: The town was founded in 1590 under the advocacy of St. Bartholomew and has 1,207 native tributes, two and one-half tributes of sangleys and a population of 5,307.

It is interesting to note that in 1793, in the plan of families, Baao had 1,947 while Bula had 668. In 1792, Baao had 1,939 and Bula had 628. In 1790, Baao had 1770 and Bula 662 families.

Territorial Boundaries of Baao

Due to the frequent inundation and to keep pace with population growth, the town site was moved further south­east, in the confluence of Bay and Langday streams, at ap­proximately what are now the barrios of San Francisco, San Jose and San Roque.

From these spots, spreading north, east and south, the municipal territorial jurisdiction was formed bounded on the north by the Pawili River, on the east by an imaginary line running roughly north to south from the sources of the Pawili, on the old site of the defunct town of Mabato-bato, to the sources of the Waras River, and on the west by stone land­marks of early Spanish date following a straight line from Baras on the Waras river to Baao Lake. At the northwest, the boundary with Bula is the .Hararom na Cale, beyond the Agdangan Creek.

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Photo by Anton Mapa

Early Inhabitants and Settlers

While the main bulk of Baao’s population is Malay or Indonesian, or both, the Negrito element has survived in sufficient numbers and to limited extent, inter-marrying with the above racial groups. The Negrito colony formed a part from the first of the local population. While many of them were never converted to Christianity, they adopted Christian customs and the ways of town folk while retaining their own.

The town as constituted consisted of only a few hundred inhabitants as may be judged by the fact that in the earliest baptismal records, there were only two or three baptisms every week. From 1787 to 1800 only 1,439 births were recorded for this period of 13 years, or an average of 110 yearly. The years 1796 to 1800 showed only 221 deaths, or an average death rate of 55 person per year. Marriages aver­aged 8 or lower for the same period.

The earliest baptism whose record had been preserved in full in the parochial archives of Baao was on September 29, 1798. The child was 10 years old, the daughter of Francisco Ludovico and Agustina de los Angeles, belonging to the barangay of Don Manuel de San Esteban. She was baptized with the name of Rafaela de San Blas, with Timoteo Cande­laria as the sponsor and Fr. Pedro dela Santisima Trinidad, cura propio regular, officiating.

The earliest recorded marriage was on October 27, 1806. The entry appears in Book 1 page 40, which also contains baptismal entries which read: “En el afio del Senor 1806 en 27 dias del mes Octubre, habiendo precidido las tres denun­cias que disponse el Sagrado Concillo de Trento, y no habi­endo resultado impedimento alguno, yo Fr. Jose Diaz de! Rosario, cura propio de esta iglesia de San Bartolome Apostol de esta pueblo de Baao, asisti personalmente y autorize el matrimonio que en facie ecclesie contrajeron-de Alcantara, hijo de Juan Espiritu y de Ana San Jose del barangay de Don Marcos Evangelista, con Maria Magdalena, daraga, hija de Felipe de la Cruz, difunto, y de Rosa de Trinidad del barangay de Don Francisco Jacinto.

“Todas naturales de este pueblos, las cuales contrayentes expresaron ambos se mutuo consen­Limiento por palabra de presente ante mi y los testigos que foeron Don Marcos Eugenio y Don Felipe Lornaad. Reci­bieron todas las bendiciones nupciales segun el rito de nuestra madre iglesia. Y porverdad, lo firmo. (Fdo. Fr. Jose Diaz del Rosario) (rub).”

The earliest recorded burial was on June 14, 1796, of the cadaver of Maria Francisco Agustina, daughter of Francisco de Asis. Fr. Jose de Fuensalida officiated.

Early Families

A characteristic of the Baao population is the close blood relationship of the most of the inhabitants and intermarriages between families within the third or fourth degree. Some foreign blood, Chinese and Spanish, and to a limited extent German and Italian had found its way in the population as a result of our long political relation with China and Spain, and through Spain and the Church with Italy and Germany. The latter formed for some time a part of the Spanish Empire of Charles V or were of the the ecclesiastical heirarchy of which Rome was and still is the center.

Of such families, those of lmperial, Fajardo and Sanchez may be mentioned. Tradition has it that the Imperials de­scended from three German travelers who were wrecked near the Philippines. They were lured by the absorbing beauty and charm of our land and people and decided to stay and make the province their new home. At all events, they and their descendants intermarried with the indigenous elements so that today no caste is set apart from the mass.

The earliest or oldest families are the Esplana, Barrameda, Buena, Badong, Badilla, Bulalacao, Banaria, Borela, Bicenio, Bricenio, Badiola, Breboneria, Brigola, Baesa, Barcelona, and Palencia families, which jointly with the other newer and less numerous families can account for as much as 80 percent of the total population by consanguinity or affinity. A conservative estimate will place this at about 70 percent.

It is strange, however, that despite its being one of the biggest and certainly one of the oldest families in Baao, no entry of the Barrameda family appeared in the baptismal registry until the year 1852. In that year, appeared the first Barrameda names on record: Inocencia Barrameda, baptized Jan 5, daughter ofPedro Barrameda; and Manuel Barrameda, baptized Gumabao, Jan. 11, son of Mariano Barrameda Gumabao.

Other early Barrameda baptisms were: (1) Tomasa Barrameda, bap. Sept. 23, 1855, daughter of Francisco Barra­meda Candelaria, (She was the grandmother of former Vice-Governor Jack Arroyo.); (2) Maria Barrameda, bap. Sept. 30, 1855; father: Matias Barrameda de los Santos; (3) Josefa Barrameda, bap. Jan. 31, 1858; father: Andres Barra­meda; (4) Francisca Barrameda, bap. Sept. 18, 1858; father: Francisco Barrameda; (She is the mother of the late Felix Imperial, former municipal president of Baao.); (5) Jose Barrameda; bap. Oct. 31, 1858; father: Francisco Barrameda; (6) Francisca Barrameda, bap. Oct. 31, 1858; father Mariano Barrameda; (7) Pedro Barrameda, bap. Dec. 5, 1858; father Francisco Barrameda of Mabatobato.

Still other entries where the following children of Mateo Barrameda Gumabao and Juana Bismonte Evangelista: (1) Basilia, bap. May 21, 1854; (2)Michael, bap. March 28, 1857; (3) Elena, bap. Dec. 18, 1855; (4) Gabriel, bap. march 20, 1~59; (5) Francisca, bap. Feb. 26, 1860; (6) Graciana, bap. Dec. 22, 1861; (7) Eugenia, bap. Nov. 19, 1862; (8) Valentin, bap. May 27, 1866; and (9) Gerarda, bap. Oct. 5, 1872.

Why as late as 1851 there was not a single baptismal entry carrying the Barrameda surname either among the baptized sponsors is surprising because the Barrameda family of Ngayo, Anas, Amorao, Dugo and at least two other branches (Barlin and Bersabal), is not only the biggest family in Baao, but also, if only on this account, the oldest. The direct and collateral lines of the Barrameda family touch almost every other Baao family, (including the nearly a hundred big families initially studied by Luis G. Dato) so that almost every Baaoeño is related to the Barrameda family, either by consaguinity or affinity.

The only plausible reason for the late appearance of the Barramedas in the church records appears to be that they used a different surnames or names or none at all before the year 1852. The use of the name came only sometime after the Royal Decree of Nov. 11, 1849, by Gov. Narciso Claveria, ordered the giving of Spanish surnames to all Filipino families.

The letter “B” was assigned to Baao which explains why most Baao surnames begin with the letter, such as: Baal, Babiera, Babilonia, Babingao, Babol, Babor, Bacagan, Bacud, Badian, Badilla, Badiola, Badong, Baesa, Bagasala, Balane, Balating, Baldonado, Baldos, Baliver, Barandon, Barayoga, Barbacra, Barcelona, Barcenas, Barlin, Barlin­tanco, Barrameda, Bascufia Batac, Baudin, Baydal, Bayos, Bayrante, Baz.ar, Bedural, Beldad, Beldua, Belmonte, Bel­tran, Benosa, Berifia, Berdol, Bergonio, Beroin, Berona, Bersabal, Bersola, Bertillo, Berza, Biag, Biando, Bibares, Bicaldo, Bigay, Bigueja, Biseiio.Bismonte, Bisufia, Bitagara, Blancada, Blando, Blaquera, Blasco, Boaquefia, Bofete, Bo­lalin, Bolin, Bolo, Bono, Bonfe, Bongcayao, Boni, Bonilla, Bonita, Borason, Borela, Borcta, Borja, Botardo, Brabante, Brebante, Bracia, Breboneria, Bricia, Brigola, Brisenio Bil­lanle, Brillo, Brifias, Briones, Britanico, Brisuela, Bruca, Brusas, Bucela, B’Jena, Bueta, Bufe, Bulalacao, Burgos, Busadre, Busiron, Bustarga, Bustenera, Bustilla, etc. many of which are related to the Barrameda family, in one way or another, remote or near, either by blood or marriage.

Early Industries

The traditional industries of Baao were hemp, rice, fish­ing, lumbering, and weaving. The abaca and copra industries which constituted Baao’s main money-crops in the mid-for­ties, were not as important as her rice and fishing industries in early days. Farming, fishing, lumbering and weaving com­prised the main economic pattern in the mid-forties.

In the old days, Baao’s cloth was well known in the province. However, its popularity and dominance in the field was outstripped by bigger and more bustling towns. Instead, there has been no progress but a marked decline due to competition from foreign cotton, wool and silk textiles. But during the Japanese occupation, it received a tremendous demand and stimulation. On the other hand, from a minor industry, copra-making and hemp-stripping have been stimu­lated by the American free market, to become by far the leading local industries.

Character and Lifestyles of the People

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Baao Cenakulo photo ny Anton Mapa

There was little, if any racial animosity or anti-foreign prejudice to break the traditional hospitality for which the Baaoeños were then well known. They were peaceful, law­ abiding, religious, conservative, politically conscious, and interested in education for their children and the masses. They were passionately loyal to America even during the darkest days, never giving way to petty mutual envy and jealousy which would deter their union and progress in economic, social and political fields. Although they sometimes exhibited a trend towards easy-street indolence and procrastination, they were courteous, kind, well-behaved and lovers of good times with wine, women, and the fine arts.


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  1. It is a beautiful article and just love knowing more about our town is amazing and educational.Having them published digitally will safeguard the story and origin of Baao. Thanks for the story,keep up the good works.

    • Hello Fernando. The article came originally from Luis G. Dato’s Short History of Baao, 1946 and Vignettes of Baao History, in his second term as Municipal Mayor of Baao. It was his gift to all Baaeños and to posterity. Please share the link to all. Thank you.

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