Cavite Province and Its History – Part I

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons by Jimboy085

Cavite province extends south of Manila along Manila Bay and includes Corregidor Island, and bounds the provinces of Rizal, Laguna, and Batangas. The proximity of Manila provides a job and agricultural market, particularly for coastal residents. In 1954, Trece Martires City was created as a planned capital city from portions of Tanza, Indang, Naic, and General Trias. Despite the transfer of capital status to Imus in 1979, Trece Martires retains many offices of the provincial government, acting thus as the de facto capital and seat of the government of the province, although Imus is the official (de jure) capital.

Cavite takes its name from the Hispanicized form of kawit, or it may be an altered form of kalawit, Tagalog words for “hook”, in reference to the hook-shaped peninsula jutting out to Manila Bay. The name initially applied to the peninsula, Cavite La Punta (now Cavite City), and the adjacent lowland coastal area of Cavite Viejo (now Kawit). At the hook’s tip is Cavite City. Another theory suggests that the name is a Hispanicized form of kabit, Tagalog for “joined”, “connected”, or “attached”, referring to the peninsula’s topographical relation to the mainland. Edmund Roberts, in his 1821 memoir, stated that the “natives” called it Caveit due to the “crooked point of land extending into the sea”.

Archeological evidence in coastal areas shows prehistorical settlements. According to local folklore, the earliest settlers of Cavite came from Sulu or Borneo. The land was formerly known as “Tangway”.

Cavite has a long tradition of maritime trade links dating back to the thirteenth century, when Chinese junks often moored at Sangley Point, at the tip of Cavite peninsula, to barter for exotic goods with the settlements around Manila Bay. From there, they crossed the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay. Sangley is said to be an adaptation of seng-li or xang-li (“trade” in the Amoy Chinese dialect).

The vibrant mix of traders, Spanish seamen from Spain and its Latin-American colonies, and local residents gave rise to the use of pidgin Spanish called Chabacano. The main languages spoken are Tagalog, Chabacano, and English. Chabacano or Chavacano is known in linguistics as Philippine Creole Spanish. Most of the Caviteños that lived in Cavite City and Ternate after the arrival of the Spaniards three centuries ago originally speak Chabacano. The various groups in the area of different linguistic backgrounds adopted a pidgin language, primarily Spanish vocabulary, to communicate with each other. As children grew up in Cavite with that pidgin as their native language, it evolved into a creole language. It is used almost exclusively in Cavite City and coastal Ternate, mainly by the older generation.

Many Mexican men had settled at Cavite, spread throughout Luzon, and integrated with the local Philippine population. Some of these Mexicans became Tulisanes (Bandits), leading peasant revolts against Spain.

Cavite was sparsely populated when the Spanish arrived. The Spanish colonizers who arrived in the late 16th century saw the unusual shape of land jutting out on Manila Bay and saw its deep waters as the main staging ground where they could launch their bulky galleons. It would later become the most important port linking the colony to the outside world through the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade. Cavite City became an essential part of the commerce between Asia and Latin America.

In 1571, Cavite City was founded, the same year as Manila. Spanish colonizers established the port and City of Cavite. As with many other provinces organized during the Spanish colonial era, Cavite City, the name of the capital, was applied to the whole province, Cavite. The province covered all the present territory except Maragondon, which used to belong to the Corregimiento of Mariveles. Maragondon was ceded to Cavite in 1754 when Bataan province was created from Pampanga province.

The Spaniards fortified the settlement as the first line of defense for the city of Manila against marauding Moros. A defensive curtained wall was constructed the length of Cavite’s western side, beginning from the entrance, “La Estanzuela”, and continuing to the end of the peninsula, “Punta de Rivera”, with the eastern shore unprotected by a wall. An old Spanish shipbuilding and naval center, the historic city of Cavite, was once like Manila’s Intramuros, with a fortified wall, old Spanish forts, government offices, churches, mission buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, and colonial houses, some with decorated eaves and gables. Only a few of the Spanish homes have survived WW II.

Cavite was an important maritime and Jesuit center in the early colonial period. Docks were in place to construct galleons and galleys, but without a dry dock, ships were repaired by careening along the beach. Here, giant galleons, constructed from the wood of molave trees, were built and fitted at the port and sailed to Mexico filled with exquisite goods from China. Many Chinese merchants settled in the communities of Bacoor and Kawit, opposite the Spanish city, to trade silks, porcelain, and other oriental goods. The galleons Espiritu Santo and San Miguel, plus six galleys, were constructed between 1606 and 1616.

Fort San Felipe, La Fuerza de San Felipe, was built between 1609 and 1616. This quadrilateral structure of curtained walls, with bastions at the corners, contained 20 cannons facing the seashore. Three infantry companies, 180 men each, plus 220 Pampangan infantry, garrisoned the fort.   Fort San Felipe served as guardian of Manila Bay and now has an exhibit of Philippine Navy memorabilia.

In 1614, the politico-military jurisdiction of Cavite was established. It became a Jesuit stronghold. Encomiendas (Spanish Royal land grants) were given in Cavite and Maragondon to Spanish conquistadores and their families. The religious orders began acquiring these lands, with some donated, enlarging vast haciendas (estates) in Cavite during the 18th and 19th centuries, enriching themselves. These haciendas became the source of bitter conflicts between the friar orders and Filipino farmers and pushed several Caviteños to live as outlaws. This opposition to the friar orders was an important factor that drove many Cavite residents to support reform and later, independence.


Philippines Handbook by Carl Parkes

Philippine Guide by Jill & Rebecca Gale de Villa

Inside Guide Philippines by Discovery Channel

Traveler’s Companion – Philippines by Kirsten Ellis


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