The Town History of Mati

Based on the Historical Accounts from Mati High School Submitted to the Bureau of Public Schools, Division of Davao on August 14, 1953,

Socio-Economic Profile of Mati Davao Oriental on February 17, 1975

Profile of Municipality of Mati on October 1977 and Comprehensive Development Plan of the City of Mati for year 2016-2022

Compiled and Insight by : Everindo L. Esver

City Tourism Office


“Mati is the most progressive town of the East Coast of Davao. It has a population of 16,000 and an area of 120,000 hectares. It is a second class municipality with an annual income of P75,000.00. Generally, the people of the población are highly literates while those in the barrios are illiterate.” As introduced from the historical accounts of the Mati High School submitted and received to the Bureau of Public Schools, Division of Davao on August 14, 1953.

The majestic Pujada Bay which is now accepted as one of the Most Beautiful Bay in the World and is set to undergo ground validation sometimes on the year 2020 has already been a forefront identity of Mati as the said readings made mention of “Mati boasts itself of its beautiful bay , a replica of Manila Bay ; its majestic coconut trees, all planted along the shore; its beautiful wharf, where you can watch the beautiful sunset ; and the Buso plateau with its high grade of iron ore and hot spring. It is in the making of a city considering its rapid progress after the liberation”.

The composition of the people is cosmopolitan. There are Spaniards, Chinese, Americans, Filipinos from different sections of the country, and natives considered the aborigines of the town. These groups of people hve their customs and traditions which differ from each other. Society belongs to the upper class with marked distinction to the lower class or the laboring group.

The Official name of the town is Mati. Its former name is Maa-ti , a Mandayan word. The official name is derived from the native word, meaning it dries quickly. This refers to the Mati Creek which surprise the “conquistadores” when they were told by the natives that it dries quickly even after a heavy rain. The town was founded in two different dates. Some claimed that it was founded 1864; others was as early as 1861. It was discovered by Nazareno, a man from Baganga. The first inhabitants were the Lementes, and the Bandigans who were natives of the place. Others were the Palmeras, Rojas, Morales, Cuabos, Balugos and Plazas. Most of these families came from Baganga.

The first site of this municipality was in Aga-on which was formerly inhabited by the Moros, their leader of whom was one named Silatan, who had seven wives.

During the Spanish time, education was only for this few. The Spaniards were only interested to spread their religion and to acquire lands for themselves. It was only during the American regime that education for the masses was awakened . In 1903, the late General Leonard Wood, who was in Mati, constructed the present Mati Central School. (still standing and strong) It is in this school that mass education begun. But the elementary education was already the end , for children could no longer further their studies due to strong family ties. This may be one of the reasons why there are no professionals who are natives of the community.



There was a destructive typhoon in 1912, but no lives were lost. A severe earthquake rocked Mati in April 1924. Lives and properties were lost during the World War II. Prominent men who lost their lives were Salvador Lopez, Angel Vizconde, Juan Gamalong and Pablo Quilab.

The greatest accident in Mati was in February 22, 1948 when 12 innocent children boarded a Cali plane that was crushed and all lives were lost including the pilot



  1. Traditions and Customs:

    Chewing of the beetle nut is an old custom and practice that could never be removed even among some of the civilized Mandayans. They even smoke the “torotot” (Rolled piece of banana leaves or banban) Among the old women, they still practiced\ the wearing of the “dagmay” (abaca cloth) with many apparels on their feet and hands. Tattooing of the body is still rampant among the ignorant natives. An oldman or woman, when travelling even to his neighbor carries with him a knapsack (cabe) of abaca, where all his worldly belongings are placed.


  3. Folkways

    The early hinterland tribes have no common dialects. Their arts and beliefs as to the creation of the world led to the necessity of understanding each other. Communication by signs , timely beating of the drum (agong) , and smokes were their original methods of communication.

    The people believe in the spirit as basis of their religion. To them Diwata is the fortune bringer and Busao is the evil spirit that brings misfortune. They offer sacrifices to satisfy the spirits . The rich select animal life while the poor select beetle nuts and fowls as offerings.


    Superstitious beliefs among the people also abound. This is their great drawback to civilization. An expectant mother believes in the performance of a Balyan to facilitate delivery. In general, sanitation before and after delivery is neglected which is cause high infant mortality among the people. When asked why several of their children die as infants, their answer is “Pagboot ni Bathala” – The will of God (spirits)


    In agriculture, the people believe in the anting-anting (sacrificial offering to the spirits). These beliefs are found before and after the planting and harvest season. Not only these people adhere to these customs but even civilized people who are religious . During the planting of the palay, they use the todak system in digging the ground. The todak is a sharpened bolo at the tip with a wooden handle and at the end are splitted bamboo that when you strike the ground it makes a good sound. After planting, the owner has to offer drinks and eats in the belief that his plant will be productive. During harvest, the old man will be the first to get a stalk of palay to be placed in the granary immediately. In the course of harvest, nobody is allowed to talk or make unnecessary noise in order not to lost the graces of the God (spirits)


    Long before the Mandayans saw the light of civilization, they believed that sickness is the work of the evil spirit. (Busao) When a person is sick, a ritual is chanted and the house is decorated with arches and leaves. A sacrifice is made by the Balyan. They sacrifice pig or fowl is tied to a sticker or platform while the Balyan moves around is sternly looking at it (pig) as the singing and shouting are progressing. Finally the balyan, thrusts a dagger into the neck of the pig and sips the first blood with bare hands. The Balyan, then continuous dancing around the house where the sick person is, counter clockwise, shouting at times in an effort to scare the evil spirit away.


The Silay (quack doctor) is their medical man. The Silay believes in like manner as the Balyan that evil spirit would be removed from the body of a sick person in practically the same ritual. He dances and makes offering to the spirit also.

From the Chapter 2 of the Socio-Economic Profile of Mati Davao Oriental completed and published on February 17, 1975, the writer presented a historical facts with reference from legal acts or Organic Act and from oral accounts from well trusted people of Mati.

Poetically written, the book describes Mati as beautiful and exotic municipality that took its name from native dialect “ma-ati” which means “it dries quickly” in reference to Mati creek that believed to be so easy to dry despite the occurrence of heavy rains.

“As oral accounts would put it, the town was founded sometimes in 1861 by Prudencio Garcia and Juan Nazareno, two strong political leaders of the east coast who were also known as the builders of the towns of Baganga and Cateel.


Various cultural influence could account for most of what Mati is now. Among the foreign cultural influences are the Spanish, American and the Chinese. These exogenous cultural factors mixed with the endogenous native cultures of the Visayans, Tagalogs and the Ilocanos.

The settlement founded by Garcia and Nazareno eventually become a regular Municipality in 1903 by virtue of Act No.21 of the Organic Law providing for the establishment of the Municipalities of Mati, Davao, Cateel, Baganga and Caraga.

The territorial limits of Mati as political subdivision is provided in section 2 of Act No. 21 of the Organic Law:

    The Municipality of Mati shall include all territory between the seventh parallel of North latitude and Cape San Agustin, bounded by the Pacific Ocean, on the west by the Watershed of the Deno de Davao, and shall include in addition to the mainland, all leagues, except the island of Taluna, Samal and Sta. Cruz, which shall be included I on the Municipality of Davao. The municipal town shall be Mati.


Act. No.221 which created the town of Mati was subsequently amended by Act No. 189 enacted on May 24, 1907. This amendment was specifically provided in section 2 of said act:

    The Municipality of Mati shall include all territory between the seventh parallel of North Latitude and cape San Agustin, bounded on the East by the Pacific Ocean, on the West by the Crest of Watershed terminating at Cape San Agustin and shall include in addition to the mainland all the islands laying off coast within the distance of three marine league.


From its humble beginnings, the municipality of Mati has developed to become the capital town of the province of Davao Oriental. In terms of land area, it ranks 3rd in the whole province and in classified as first class-5 municipality.

From the recent Comprehensive Development Plan of the City of Mati CY 2016-2022 contained a presentation (bullets) of historical accounts of the City of Mati which obviously taken from the accounts reflected and as cited above. To wit:

  • The term “Mati” comes from the native word “maa-ti” meaning “dries up quickly”.
  • It refers to a creek in the heart of the town which was known to dry up quickly even after heavy rain.
  • Founded in 1861 by two political leaders Prudencio Garcia and Juan Nazareno
  • Early residents are the Mandayans, Kalagans and Maranaos.
  • It became a regular Municiplity in October 29, 1903 by virtue of Act No. 21 of the Organic Law
  • The law was later amended by Act No.189 in 1907 affirming further the constitution of the Municipality.
  • Became the capital town of Davao Oriental 60 years later.
  • The first appointed Mayor was Francisco Rojas while Mr. Patricio Cunanan was the first Mayor to be elected in 1923.
  • Became a City by virtue of RA No.9408 on March 24, 2007 and ratified through a plebiscite on June 18, 2007.

Further, the documents presented physical facts and figures of the City that states
Geo-physical Characters :

  • The City of Mati is 165 kilometers from Davao City, the regional center of Southern Mindanao (Region XI).
  • Located in the Southern part of Davao Oriental and of the entire Mindanao Island
  • Lying between 6 56’ north latitude and 126 13’ east longitude
  • On the north eastern side are the Municipalities of Manay and Tarragona
  • The eastern side is bounded by Great Pacific Ocean
  • The Southern tip is bounded by Celebes Sea
  • The lowland portion hugs almost the entire Pujada Bay.
  • It has a total land area of 79,109 hectares or 12% of the total provincial area, 2.10% and 0.22% of the regional and national total respectively.

From the first draft of the unpublish book written by then Department of Education Regional Supervisor for Culture and the Art Dioscoro B. Vicentino, a native Matinian, dated June 26, 2018 profoundly provided data of the History of Mati taken out from the different periods from pre-colonial , different era of foreign invasion and post colonial periods. Vicentino on his depiction of Mati presented a legend that runs:

Mati got its name from a folktale that started when foreigner who did not know the name of the place was reportedly standing by the bank of mati creek. Curiously, he asked a mandaya native as to what the name of the place was while pointing his forefinger down. The native, thinking that the stranger was asking what happened to the water of the creek, replied in mandaya dialect, “yamaati” (meaning dried up). The foreigner pronounced it as “Mati”. Since then the place is thus popularly known.

But as years passed by, there were times that Mati would experience a dry economy. It was then that some superstitious analysts would baselessly blame it on the negative meaning of Mati. Several years later, this author thought of writing a song titled “Taga Mati” with a positive message which starts thusO palangga, Syudad ng Mati, yang yaman mo di makaati (O beloved City of Mati, your wealth does not run dry).

Mati was founded in 1861 by Captain Prudencio Garcia, the pioneer political military head, and his comrade, Juan Nazareno. On October 29, 1903 thru the Organic Act No. 21, the Municipality of Mati was created. It was subsequently further reaffirmed in 1907 thru the act No. 189 which established its local government.

On June 20, 2007, Mati was officially proclaimed as City by virtue of Republic Act 9408, authored by Davao Oriental District II Representative Joel Mayo Almario.

The City of Mati is politically subdivided into 26 Barangays, namely: Badas, Bobon, Buso, Cabuaya, Central (City proper or the Poblacion), Culian, Dahican, Danao, Dawan, Don Enrique Sr., Don Martin Marundan (formerly known as Cabubuanan), Don Salvador Lopez Sr., Langka, Lawigan, Libudon, Luban, Macambol, Mamali, Matiao, mayo, Sainz, Sanghay, Tagabakid, Tagbinonga, Taguibo and Tamisan.




The original inhabitants of Mati are the Mandayas, Kalagans and Tagacaulos. The lingua franca of mati in the olden days was Dinabaw or Dabawenyo or the so- called “Tagalog sa Mati” which is a concoction of Visayan and tagalog Dialects. For example, delicious in “Tagalog Maynila” is “masarap” and very delicious is “napakasarap” but in “Tagalog sa Mati” very delicious is “masarapay”. With the influx of Visayans to Mati, it became more interestingly unique because the comparative degrees of beautiful are “maganda” , “ magandahay” (very beautiful) magandaahay (very very beautiful) “gwapa”, “gwapahay” “gwapaahay”. ( Please read related publication at the Mindanao Daily Mirror, “Do you know Tagalog sa Mati?” in the indices).

The favorite viand of the Matinians is composed of split gabi stalks known as “ugbos” which is cooked with soup that is spliced with a concoction of herbs called “tanglad”(lemon grass), “bawing”, “catotis” and served with a sauce of hot pepper and juice of “kabaywa” in Mandaya which corresponds to the American Lemon and called “biasong” in Visayan.

Another favorite vegetable viand of native Matinian is a round greenish eggplant , known as “talong mandaya” that is usually cooked as “tinola” or plain salad.

The traits and characteristics of a typical Matinian are capsulized in the City Hymn of Mati entitled “Taga-Mati”. Its music and lyrics are reproduced in the initial pages of this book.”


Vicentino (2018) further presented the History of Mati through the different era starting with the Spanish Era. As it runs thus;

  1. Mati During Pre-Spanish Era

    Before the landing of Ferdinand Magellan, a Portugese explorer, in the Philippines on March 16, 1521. The Southestern part of Mindanao was then known as the “Calaghan Island”. It is derived from the term “calag” which means spirit or soul. So, when the Spanish government created the Province of Caraga , they referred to it as “region de gente animosa” or the region of animated man.

    Caraga Province which has created in 1609. Covered a long coastal lines from Cape Surigao to Cape San Agustin , inhabited by the “Calaghans” or “Caragans”composed of the Mandayas, Mansakas, Mamanuas, Manubos, Tagacaulos, and Mangguangans. The term “Kalagan” or “Kaagan” is still widely used by the Muslim Dabawenyos until now. They endured Spanish Colonization of over 300 years, while other Dabawenyo tribes, especially the Mandayas readily embraced Christianity.

    The natives of Mati were leaving a primitive way of life. They settled near the seashores for fishing which are either and in the forests for farming. Their method of agriculture was primitive, using the”kaingin” system which is nomadic in attitude. They transfer from one place to another depending on the type of soil they tilled.

    Since there was no monetary system during those days, they used the “barter system” wherein the fishermen would exchange their caught fishes for their equivalent in farm products produced by the farmers.

    During the olden days, these people made their own clothing called “dagmay” or “ampik” which corresponds to the “malong” of the Muslim tribes in Southern Mindanao. The process of making this is called “ablon” and the clothes thus made is called “inablon”.

    Their leadership style was based on “Bagani” system which was patriarchal and ruled by tribal chieftain called “Bagani”, “datu” or “sultan”. They built houses which are either on trees or with tall posts to protect themselves from “bukad” or “pangayaw”, a ground-to-air tribal war using spears.

    They entertained themselves or visitors through barefoot dancing and chant called “dawot” which is equivalent to Maguindanao’s “bayok” to the accompaniment of tom-tom or snare drum called “gimbal” and drumstick called “barabad”.

    They worshipped God called “Tagallang” or “Magbabaya” but practiced “Diwata” system in which they would single out a woman of good standing in the community called “balyan”, a spiritual quack doctor to perform the ritual ceremony to heal the sick.

  2. Mati During the Spanish Time (1521-1898)

    The 377-year Spanish colonization of the Philippines has left a significant influence on the life of the Matinians which remain up to the present. Mati old-timers still speak some Spanish words like antes (Before), despues (after) ahora mismo (right now) ensegida (immediately) de modo or entotes (therefore), numerals such as uno, dos, tres, and so on; primera, segunda, tercera, etc. In sports games, they say rebanse for replay or rematch, and in gambling , they say buenas (good luck), de malas (Bad luck) and use of traje de boda for wedding gown, and many other Spanish vocabularies in their daily conversations.

    The negative attitude of manana habit (procrastination and siesta time or noon nap) are still observable among the Matinians like most other Filipino tribes but the positive influence of the Spaniards, however, are the religiousness and the piety which accounts for mati San Nicholas Parish Church as one of the oldest Catholic Churches in Davao Oriental.


  4. Mati During American Period (1901-1941)

    Like the Spaniards, the Americans have left an indelible imprint on the life and lifestyle of the Matinians, with the latter having created the more lasting one. Speaking English and high educational attainment became a social status symbol. In the 60’s when there were no colleges yet in Mati, people would study in Davao City, braving the inconveniences of having to travel on long bad roads and temporary bridges.

    The arrival of the first wave of American teachers in the Philippines who were called “Thomasites”, so named after MV Thomas which transported them from the United States in 1901, accelerated the general education of the Filipinos. The Gabaldon School buildings were constructed and reserved in the many parts of the country like the one that still exists and being used at Mati Central Elementary School I.

    Among the early beneficiaries of the “Thomasites” were the Ilocanos from Luzon who are typically of their strong passion for taking teaching as their profession. This explains why the early teachers and school officials were Ilocanos. Notable among them were Principal Leoncio Failma of Mati High School, Mrs. Petra Luna- Failma and Mr. Macario Peralta who were the pioneering teachers of this premier high school in Davao Oriental