The recorded history of Tabaco began in 1587 when Franciscan missionaries began converting the inhabitants of the town of Cagsawa to Catholicism. In 1616, the Rev. Fr. Pedro de Alcareso, became the first permanent minister of Tabaco. He built a stone church dedicated to Christ’s forerunner St. John the Baptist who since then became the patron saint of Tabaco.
Over the years, Tabaco became the largest and the most strategic settlement and in mid-17th century, the province of Albay was divided into two. The first was Partido de Tabaco which included the present-day towns of the First District of Albay, Legazpi, Daraga and Catanduanes. The other division, which was Partido de Iraya, included the towns currently making up the Third District and parts of Camarines Sur.
Known even then for being a town of great charm and character, Tabaco was in fact no stranger to natural calamities. In 1811, a powerful typhoon wreaked unimaginable destruction on Tabaco. Because the storm all but stripped the town bare, it earned the nickname Bagiong Oguis (white typhoon).
Three years later, in 1814, tragedy struck anew. Mayon Volcano erupted violently and rivers of molten lava rampaged down its slopes even as showers of white hot ash and burning boulders destroyed villages and completely buried Tabaco’s neighbor Cagsawa. The eruption claimed an unprecedented number of lives and took away much of the people’s livelihoods since rice fields were rendered completely unproductive for many years thereafter.
Tabaco was spared much of Mayon’s wrath but it took a full decade for it to recover from the damage.
The Americans arrived in Tabaco on February 9, 19 00 under the command of Col. Walter Howe. Despite the well-documented courage and patriotism of Tabaquenos, the superior armaments and well-trained soldiers of the American army hastened its conquest of Tabaco and adjoining towns.
With the restoration of peace after World War II, the residents of Tabaco started rebuilding their lives and their land. By the time the Philippines gained independence, Tabaco was once again a thriving town.
OSIPON: The Folk Stories of Tabaco
A question, a beautiful maiden and a jealous father, according to one of the more popular legends, gave the city its name. The story goes that Spanish conquistadores, with their “Que lugar este? (What place is this?)” inquisition and thoughtless ignorance of other cultures, happened to stand dangerously close to a young woman who was the daughter of an overprotective father. The predicament was made even worse by the visitors’ and the locals’ incapability of understanding one another. So when the enraged father kept shouting “Tabak ko! Tabak ko! (My Bolo! My Bolo!)”, the clueless Spaniards mistook this excitement as jubilation at their arrival and took the words as the answer to their question. Thus, the frenzied screams of “Tabak ko!” of a father who only wanted to protect his daughter from harm, became the name of our city.
Another related tale, more romantic but less humorous, describes pre-Hispanic Tabaco, a self-sufficient, peaceful and prosperous town with the ancient name of Pagkamoot (Love) under the able leadership of the warrior Datu Maisog (Brave) who had an exceptional daughter, the Princess Nayoka or Magayon (Beautiful). Although the staple formula of miscommunication between the locals and foreigners and the expected clash of cultures is present, this version supposedly happened during the wedding feast of Princess Nayoka-Magayon to a distant cousin named Makusog (Strong). While everyone was preparing for the wedding, armed visitors of a strange race beached the shores of what is now Natunawan, and the natives, anticipating trouble, cried out “Tabak ko! Tabak ko!”. And like in the first version, the foreigners recorded this as the name of the place.
Funny or heroic, truth or mere myth, these different stories relate to us only one thing, Pagkamoot or Tabaco, as described by Congressman Edcel C. Lagman, is truly the home of a proud and gallant race. Although there is now nothing remotely warlike about Tabaco whose people are peace-loving, gentle and warm, the name never lost its ancient connotation. Just as the bolo, which is the premier product of a city renowned for its blacksmiths, is a balance of beauty, represented by the craftsmanship of its sheath and polo or handle and brutality, symbolized by the lukas or blade, Tabaquenos, are also of a dual nature. Their passionate nature and fiery disposition hide just beneath their calm and laid-back exterior and this altogether makes for a remarkable and unusual combination.