Local historians of Davao claim that the word davao came from the phonetic blending of the word of three Bagobo subgroups when referring to Davao River, an essential waterway which empties itself into Davao Gulf near the city. The aboriginal Obos who inhabit the hinterlands of the region called the river, Davoh; the Clatta or Guiangans called it Duhwow, or Davau, and the Tagabawa Bagobos, Dabu. To the Obos, the word davoh also means a place “beyond the high grounds“, alluding to the settlements located at the mouth of Davao River which were surrounded by high rolling hills. When asked where they were going, the usual reply is davoh, while pointing towards the direction of the town. Duhwow also refers to a trading settlement where they barter their forest goods in exchange for salt or other commodities.
Spanish influence was hardly felt in the Davao until 1848, when an expedition led by Don Jose Uyanguren came to establish a Christian settlement in an area of mangrove swamps that is now Bolton Riverside. Davao was then ruled by a chieftain, Datu Bago, who held his settlement at the banks of Davao River (once called Tagloc River by the Bagobos). After Uyanguren defeated Datu Bago, he renamed the region Nueva Guipúzcoa, in honor of his home in Spain, and became its first governor. Uyanguren’s efforts to develop the area, however, did not prosper.
A few years after the American forces landed in 1900, private farm ownership grew and transportation and communication facilities were improved, thus paving the way for the region’s economic growth.
A Japanese entrepreneur named Kichisaburo Ohta was granted permission to exploit vast territories which he transformed into abacá and coconut plantations. The first wave of Japanese plantation workers came onto its shores in 1903, creating a Little Japan. They had their own school, newspapers, an embassy, and even a Shinto Shrine. On the whole, they established extensive abaca plantations around the shores of Davao Gulf and developed large-scale commercial interests such as copra, timber, fishing and import-export trading. Filipinos learned the techniques of improved cultivation from the Japanese so that ultimately, agriculture became the lifeblood of the province’s economic prosperity.
Because of the increasing influence of the Japanese in the trade and economy of region, on March 16, 1936, Romualdo Quimpo, the congressman from Davao filed Bill no. 609 and was subsequently passed as Commonwealth Act no. 51 creating the City of Davao from the Town of Davao (Mayo) and the Guianga District. The bill further called for appointments of the local officials from the President.
Davao was formally inaugurated as a chartered city on October 16, 1936, by President Manuel L. Quezon.The City of Davao then became the Provincial capital of the then undivided Davao Province.
On December 8, 1941 Japanese planes bombed the city. Japanese occupation started in 1942.
In 1945, American and the Philippine Commonwealth forces liberated Davao City from Japanese forces.
Thirty years later, in 1967, the Province of Davao was subdivided into three independent provinces, namely Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, and Davao Oriental. The City of Davao was grouped with Davao del Sur and was no longer the capital. However, it became a center of trade for Southern Mindanao. Over the years, Davao has become an ethnic melting pot as it continues to draw migrants from all over the country, lured by the prospects of striking it rich in the country’s third largest city.
In 1970’s to present, Davao became the Regional Capital of Southern Mindanao and with the recent reorganization, became the regional capital of the Davao Region (Region XI).