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ABACA: The socio-economic and cultural transformation of frontier Davao, 1898-1941

Dacudao, Patricia (2018) ABACA: The socio-economic and cultural transformation of frontier Davao, 1898-1941. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis studies the encounter of the local and the foreign in Davao, a region in the southern Philippines, during the first half of the twentieth century. Davao, under American rule, was a multi-layered contact zone where local peoples met and interacted with foreigners and their market systems, and appropriated and consumed their manufactured goods and ideas.

Divided into three parts, the thesis begins with how the indigenous world dealt with Spain and the United States at the turn of the century. It explores how the idea of the frontier, and its progress and development, as conceived by the Americans in their westward movement was carried over to an area of Mindanao being settled by a Filipino majority co-residing with other nationalities, including Spanish, American, British, Chinese, and Lebanese people, as well as a significant Japanese population.

Abaca, the crop from which cordage fiber was produced, lured these diverse peoples to Davao. Consequently, utilizing a commodity-based approach, the second part of the thesis investigates how Davao’s mono-crop economy and frontier was developed by plantations producing this export commodity. The plantations transformed Davao from what was regarded by the colonial regime as an isolated “backwater” comprised of small coastal villages to a thriving agricultural and commercial center, supplying the United States, Britain and Japan’s demand for abaca. In the process, new production techniques and marketing methods evolved by combining traditional practices with modern technologies on a developing resource frontier.

The third part examines the cosmopolitan character of Davao through material exchanges and personal encounters, providing a social and cultural dimension to history. In the same way that the multinational population of Davao appropriated imported goods through the sensory experiences of taste, sight, sound and touch, their day-to-day interactions with one another also transformed existing cultures, giving rise to new cultural forms and practices. What arose from these encounters of mentalities, economies, and material life is a history and culture that was both cosmopolitan and, ultimately, distinctly Filipino.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Asia Research Centre
Supervisor(s): Warren, James and Warren, Carol
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