History of the City

The evolution of the name “Zamboanga” provides an interesting insight into its historical background. The early Malay settlers called the region “Jambangan”, which means Land of the Flowers.

These Malays who built their settlements by the river banks were the subanons, that is the “People of the River”. Their chief, Saragan, lived with his family atop the legendary Mount Pulumbato that today lords over Pasonanca and Climaco Freedom Park (formerly Abong-Abong Park) then later on, the Samals and the Badjaos who came on their frail vintas also settled here, building their frail huts along the shorelines and confused “Jambangan” with “Samboangan” which comes from the word “Sabuan”, the wooden pole used to help push their vintas in shallow waters or to tie them for anchorage purposes.


The Spanish colonizers found difficulty in pronouncing “Samboangan” and instead called the place “Zamboanga”.


The city has rich and colorful history. It was the center of barter trading among Chinese, Malays and the native TausugsSamalsSubanons, and the Badjaos as early as the 13th and 14th centuries.


It was in 1569 when the Spaniards made their presence felt with a small Catholic Mission established briefly at La Caldera, now known as Recodo.


Much later on June 23, 1635, the cornerstone of what is now known as Fort Pilar was laid by Father Melchor de Vera, a Jesuit Priest-Engineer and the Spanish authorities. This date marked the change of the name of the place from Samboangan to Zamboanga. It is the city’s founding date.


In 1899, immediately after the Spanish-American War in the Philippines, the United States of America established full authority in Zamboanga. A special form of government was established in Mindanao and Sulu. Zamboanga was made the capital. The first form of which was the Moro province and during the 12 years of its existence, the American Military Government in the Philippines converted Zamboanga into a city in the Commission Form, the first province of Mindanao to become a city. However, the government of the Moro Province was abolished to give way to a new form of government, the Department of Mindanao and Sulu. This form of government entrusted to the Filipino residents of Zamboanga practically all positions in government.


The commonwealth of the Philippines on 1936 declared Zambaonga as a Charter City. Progress and development in Zamboanga continued and in 1983, the Minister Interior Jose Roño proclaimed Zamboanga City as a highly urbanized city.



The Tausugs are Muslim natives of the Sulu Archipelago. They practice the tenets of Islam. They attend services in the mosque and say their prayers five times a day.


Culturally speaking, the Tausugs can be distinguished from other groups of Filipinos. We can say that the Tausugs have adapted Western ways of dressing. This is because education and travel have greatly influenced their lives. Of course, it is observed that Tausugs greatly appreciate their native dress particularly the “sablay” of the women. As a matter of fact, the Tausug men and women have different attires for different occasions.


The Tausug whether modern or traditional, put the greatest value on the reputation of the family. A Tausug will never commit an act of cowardice that might leave a blemish on the family’s name. it is the prime duty of every member of the family to perpetuate the good name of the house. A saying which best exemplifies this particular Tausug trait, goes this way, “You can never expect a Tausug to run from a good fight.”  This is because they believe that running away from a fight is considered shameful.


The artistry of the Tausugs can be seen in their dances, particularly in the graceful movements of the hands using the janggay. Bright and beautiful colors also characterize the Tausug’s love for music and arts.


One of the natives of Zamboanga Peninsula are the Samals or Sama. They live in houses built on bamboo stilts along the seashore and their main occupations are fishing and trading. The Sama are spread in many parts of Mindanao. In this part of the country, this indigenous group of people is best known for their skills in boat building, mat weaving, and pearl diving. When not in fishing, some are engaged in agriculture. Their principal crop is cassava.


One group of this tribe is called Sama Bangingi who used to live in Taluksangay. “Taluk” in the samal language means violet, a favorite color of Samals, while “sangay” means a sandy place where birds flock.


Rabana is the Samal’s favorite indigenous instrument, together with the kulintang and other gongs.


The original people of Zamboanga were the Subanen of Indonesian origin who came at about 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. They were coastal people who believe in the spirit of their ancestors and the forces of nature. When the Muslims arrived, they were pushed into the hinterlands and lived along the riverbanks.  Thus, the name “Suba,” meaning people of the river.


The Subanens who communicate through their Subano language prefer and wear colorful clothes and accessories. Black, red, and white are their favorite colors. The women often wear red earrings that match with beaded necklaces. Like other tribes, Subanens have their own entertainment or way of enjoying life. They like music. The Ginarang or Migboat, Basimba, Gatagan and Sirdel or Sumumigaling are some of their songs. These are sung with the accompaniment of their instruments like Gong, Kutapi, Sigitan, Lantoy, Kulaying and Tambubok.


Subanens court through songs and dances. Their marriage custom is done through taltal. But aside from their court dance, they also have war and ritual dances that they perform during social gatherings and special occasions such as weddings, etc.


The tribe’s political structure consists of a Timuay equivalent to the barangay captain that we have today. The Timuay tries cases involving crimes and moral turpitude. In case the Timuay cannot decide on the case or if the case involves heinous crimes, he does not give the final verdict.


The Badjaos are called “Sea gypsies” because they move with the wind and the tide on their small houseboats called vintas.  They live in boathouses or in bamboo stilt houses along the coast of the little islands of the peninsula. Even up to the present, many badjaos still live in boathouses. They use “saguan” to push their boats in the water. They are likewise excellent swimmers. Because of their great experience in diving, they can stay underwater longer than most casual swimmers.


Some people have the impression that the Badjaos aimlessly wander from island to island.


The Badjaos are primitive people, friendly and meek. They are among the world’s peace-loving people. They are also described as seafaring people and the first group of inhabitants in the island provinces of the region. The tribe’s main livelihood is fishing although many have gone into agar-agar (seaweed) farming,. Badjao women attend to their home and children.


The Department of Social Welfare appropriated funds for their livelihood program and they are now engaged in colorful mat weaving which is now a favorite tourist spot.