Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tambacan (Iligan City): What's in a name?

picture from "A Woman's Journey Through the Philippines" by Florence Kimball Russel
When I did an undergraduate thesis on the folklore of Tubod River here in Iligan back in 2007, I stumbled upon a book published in the 1900s on the internet and found a good online copy of it from the internet. By way of pictures and illustrations, it showed the first hand experience of an American woman who traveled with the American servicemen to work on some communication lines between the almost isolated places in  Mindanao and Visayas. One of those I saw were a chapter pertaining to their experience here in Iligan and the picture on the left is one of those.

Seeing this picture could indicate the background is the main municipal buildings of Iligan during the American period in the 1900s. The author of the book suggested that it was a typical market day on Saturdays with the 'moros' or the popular connotation of the Spanish referring to Muslims of Moroccan descent who they battled with in history. This picture shows some Muslim Maranao indigenous people selling goods at a simple market place by a shore. Basing on this picture, could it mean that these very people are standing on somewhat to be the shores of Tambacan? And if so, could the name of Barangay Tambacan, as it is popularly known, have really stemmed from the word "tambak" which is a local word for "dump" or "leave as a pile on the ground" which also in turn allegedly stemmed from how the Japanese left the bodies of people they executed during their occupation of Iligan?

There are interesting facts to note however also from the internet that could also somehow point to this speculation from a fellow Iliganon. According to Ricardo Caluen's (2008) comment from the Muog blog website, "it is noted that Don Remigio Cabili transferred the site of Iligan–from somewhere in the northwest of the old mercado—to its present location in 1850 as the old settlement was eaten by the sea, aided by the flooding from the Iligan River. It is also recorded that another great flood took place in 1916. Eventually, the major flood of 1923 swept away whatever was left of the old fort—which is generally believed to have been located in the general area of the PNB in downtown Iligan. So, two dates we can sure of: 1916, 1923." (Caluen, 2008). Caluen's (2008) post in Muog blog (, makes us point out and establish the notion that the location of Iligan's town on picture is also location as we see it today. Again looking at the picture, perhaps the side of shore they are standing could be here in Tambacan, name that is taken from the root word, "tambak", or to stock in pile or simply to put down on the ground, which according to popular belief, came from how the Japanese left dead bodies of executed Filipinos during the 1940s. It is also noted, accordingly, to some of the pioneering residents of Tambacan, the main road was only opened during the time of former Brgy. Captain William "Bill" Wright Jr. in the late 1960s to early 1970. If the throwing of dead bodies during the Japanese occupation would be pointed out, there is no access road that directly makes them leave bodies in the barangay as accesss road was not yet present during the time which also undermines of the use of  "tambak" as a word that the popular belief is thought to be although some old residents surmised of a wooden raft that people used in order to cross the river from the barangay to the main municipal center of Iligan in the early times. Another notable consideration is that according to old folks, the majority of the Japanese executions happened at the sprawling field of the present Iligan City National High School main campus at Barangay Mahayahay which to me indicates also that the bodies thrown could not easily determine the exact location since there is a river right after the execution place of the Japanese. And then, mostly when executions happen, as notably observed with how the Nazis, which are the allies of the Japanese in World War II, they execute the Jews and just behind the people executed are directly the dug out land for easy disposal of bodies. Although the holocaust undermined the provision of highly escalated disposal of bodies to dig out lands to bury the bodies, the Japanese in this part of the Philippines could perhaps execute and also leave bodies in a nearby land somewhat walking distance from where they did their execution. That is why what I have in mind is a possiblity: the picture showing a marketplace with some 'moro' traders selling goods along a coconut tree lined shore which seems to be of the present barangay Tambacan, the next barangay from the present city center to the south could be it. And somehow could also necessarily identify of how the name of barangay Tambacan came to be. Could the name "Tambacan" stemmed from the popular connotation of "throwing of bodies to the place" or "tambak that designates a place for goods for trading"? It is highly debatable though but any speculation could be true. With little artifacts to see such as this picture shown above, there may be little possibility of changing the popular connotation as to how our barangay's name came to be and much more, there are few or none who have talked about this possibility in our vicinity--not even our local leaders. As to how Tambacan's name came to be, that will always be a question remained unanswered.


ronjie atillo said...

Hi, good day! I'm Ronjie, a fourth year AB history student of MSU-IIT. I am currently conducting a research entitled "A photo documentation on Landmarks in Tambacan Iligan City, from 1965-2013".I humbly ask your knowledge to share your thoughts and ideas in the above mentioned topic at your most convenient time. It is a big help in my career as a future Historian thank you!

Aris J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aris J. said...

Hi Ronjie, On this area of my blog which i tackled about the marketplace of the picture above taken from the book "A Woman's Journey to the Philippines" is just a speculation on the possibilities if either it is Tambacan or not. Because Tambacan as a name, according to some people, it was named from how the Japanese used to throw bodies of people they executed at the present Iligan City National High School grounds. It was how this operation of the Japanese that some people thought how barangay Tambacan got its name. This article of mine is a sort of trying to guess with a thinking of its possibility. Previously, I was really almost sure that it was Tambacan but to really think of Tambacan's present population, I don't think the barangay's population during which the picture was taken was already that big and that the beach area of this place was thriving of such marketplace because as stated by most people here in Tambacan, the number of houses here in 1950s can be counted to only about 3 spread among the present 12 puroks here in the barangay.

I have to tell you I am only 33 but I can lead you to the most prominent people who are among those first who dwelled here in the past. You may add me on my facebook ( if you want to contact me further. Thank you for your reply! :)

ronjie atillo said...

dear Aris,

Sorry for the late response , unfortunately, i have to change my topic to historical sites in Iligan city during Spanish regeme. one of my focus are those forts which according to the speculations of some historians located at present day Barangay Tamabacan. I've read your conversation with Sir Recardo Caluen ( i've noticed you have an idea, an acoount, or a source about the forts in Iligan. may you allow me sir to have a copy of your sources including your undergrad. study?

anaways sir, i have already sent a friend request in your facebook account, pls check