Mabalacat became a first class municipality in July 1996. One barangay, Marcos Village, is inhabited by Negritos who live in bungalow houses and speak broken English. Its land of 15,262 hectares is more than double that of Angeles City’s. Two-thirds of the land area of Clark Air Base was taken from Mabalacat. Its people are peace-loving and God-fearing as well as hardworking and industrious. They speak the Kapampangan dialect, which is very rich in vocabulary and culture.
Legend & History
Mabalacat became a town in 1712. It was named after the ‘balacat’ tree, a fourth class timber. ‘Mabalacat’ means full of ‘balacat.’ Then a settlement of a Negrito tribe headed by a chieftain name Caragan, the area was a virtual forest of ‘balacat’ trees.
Before 1712, Mabalacat was a barrio (barangay) of Bambang, now Bamban Tarlac. There is no official record on the foundation of this town, but according to stories handed down orally from generation to generation, the first settlers were purely Negritos led by Caragan.
Caragan married Laureana Tolentino and adopted her family name. Laureana Tolentino was the first ‘cabeza de barangay’ of Mabalacat, a title now equivalent to barangay captain. Eventually, the Negritos were finally driven back to the nearby mountains and hills by the lowlanders who frequented the place to hunt wild animals and fowls.
The Natural History of Mabalacat
As one strolls around Mabalacat City, one may still observe the prevalence of volcanic ashes on its grounds. Also scattered around are stones and pebbles of volcanic origin such as granite, basalt, pumice and tuff. All these are mute remnants of thousands of years of active and oftentimes violent volcanic activities in the region. Looming at the background is the culprit, the mighty Mt. Pinatubo while on the southern side peacefully rests the legendary Mt. Arayat.
Geologic studies revealed that thousands of years ago, Zambales was once an island separated from the island of Luzon by a narrow strait. On the eastern shores of ancient Zambales island laid the area which eventually became the territory of Mabalacat. The narrow strait was connected to Manila bay.
A series of volcanic eruptions dramatically changed the landscape. Some 35,000 years ago, Mt. Pinatubo of the Zambales island erupted and deposited more than 100 meters of pumice and ash flows on all sides. Some 17,000 years ago, another eruption took place which produced two debris flow deposits now visible on the banks of the Sacobia River. Other eruptions which contributed to the dramatic change of the landscape included the Pasbul eruptive period which occurred 9,000 years ago, Crow Valley eruptions 6,000-5,000 years ago and Maraunot eruptions occurred from about 3,900 to 2,300 years ago. These volcanic eruptions reclaimed the ancient narrow strait and effectively sutured the islands of Zambales and Luzon. This former narrow strait became the bedrock of what are now the territories of the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac and Pangasinan.
The territory of Mabalacat east of Zambales became landlocked. The islets that once dotted the strait became hills and small mountains. After its last major eruption in the 13th century, Mt. Pinatubo rested for hundreds of years. The endemic forests slowly claimed the region. Lush endemic flora covered the area. Among the endemic trees, was the Balacat (Ziziphus talanai Blanco) from which Mabalacat derived its name. Forest animals like boar, deer, carabaos also abound. With this abundance, the region attracted the nomadic Pinatubo Aeta, who after journeying since time immemorial, have found a place which would become their ancestral home.
The Early Culture and Society of Mabalacat
According to Fr. Andres de San Fulgencio, the region of what is now the present territory of Mabalacat was inhabited by the natives who were ‘so savage and barbarous whose innate inclination is bow and arrow and the taking of lives, of cutting heads, having magnatos and feasts, drinking in skulls… Albeit brief, the description provided a glimpse of the early culture and society of Mabalacat.
The Pinatubo Aetas were the first inhabitants of Mabalacat. Physically, they possessed dark complexion, curly hairs and small body stature. With this racial phenotype, they belong to the Negroid race. The Spaniards called them negritos taking into account their black skin tone and small stature. The natives referred to themselves as Aetas. Early Spanish accounts confirmed their reputations of ferocity and notoriety not only among the Spaniards but also among the neighboring Kapampangans and Ilocanos.
Primarily, Pinatubo Aetas lived by hunting and gathering forests products for family consumption and for trading with its neighbor, the Zambals. As such, they mastered the forests and sharpened their skills in bows and arrows. They combed the mountains and valleys for honey, fruits, edible roots and other forest products. They hunted wild animals such as boars, deer and carabaos.
As hunters and gatherers, the Pinatubo Aetas were nomadic. They did not live in permanent settlements. They wander in bands according to seasons through the rough countryside and mountains. Accustomed to this nomadic life, they preferred to live in the mountains for their subsistence and livelihood. Thus, being resettled in the lowlands by Christian missionaries means food insecurity and hunger.
The constant and long standing trade between the Pinatubo Aetas and the Zambals resulted to many shared cultural practices among the two cultures. These included magnatos (religious rituals), ambas (chants), mangaw (head taking), among others.
Magnatos were religious rituals performed during celebrations, assemblies, marriages, feasts and healing the sick. These were facilitated by high priests called Bayoc. The rituals included a repertoire of chants, dances and non-stop drinking. The enemies’ skulls, accumulated during mangaw, were dried out and polished and fashioned into drinking cups and were used during these ceremonies.
Ambas were the songs and chants sung and recited during magnatos and during celebrations of victory over enemies. These songs and chants detail their exploits as they present cut heads of their enemies. The heads were displayed in their houses to flaunt their valor. Other terms of similar import are gamba and alaula – to sing of, or celebrate a victory after cutting off heads. The enemies’ heads, treated as war trophies, were known among the Kapampangans, the perennial victims, as dangin.
Mangaw were headhunting expeditions to attack and cut off heads of enemies and intruders. The Pinatubo Aeta and Zambals always kept with them a long pointed blade called bararao. This weapon was sharp enough to cut off human head with one stroke. During the mangaw, brave Pinatubo Aetas hid themselves behind thick vegetation along travelers’ route awaiting ambush. When an unfortunate passer by traverse the ‘dangerous passage’ (cabalingan) or the ‘scary place’ (pipacdayan), the Pinatubo Aetas began to scream (buyao) and stage the heinous attack. If by miracle, traveler escaped, then he was just ‘scared away’ (mabuyao), if not, then his head became ‘war booty’ (dangin).
This was the cultural landscape of Mabalacat during the times the Spaniards started to explore and attempted to colonize Pampanga.
MABALACAT FOUNDING YEARS
For the imperial Spain, the 17th century was a period of consolidation of its control over the Philippines. In Luzon, many areas of the Northern Provinces of Ilocos and Pangasinan have long been colonized by the mighty Spain. These provinces were governed from Manila, the colonial capital.
Traveling by land, the emissaries from Manila must pass through the Provinces of Bulacan and Pampanga to reach the Northern Provinces. However, the route between Pampanga and Pangasinan was very dangerous. It was a desolate territory where travelers were exposed to the attacks of the headhunting Aetas and Zambals from the Zambales Mountains. The Aetas were known among the Spaniards for their ferocity. Around 1648, many reckless Spaniards and natives died in the hands of the Aetas.
If one goes there by land, he must inevitably pass through a stretch of unsettled country for a day’s journey, between the province of Pampanga and that of Pangasinan, from the village of Magalang to that of Malunguey. One cannot pass it with security without an escort of Zambals, who are, like the Pampangos of elevated villages in that province, a brave people. The reason is that that entire unsettled portion is exposed to the incursions of the blacks from the mountains of Playa Honda, who are the cruelest of all scattered nations… Many other Spaniards have been killed by their carelessness and great confidence, and consequently, that unsettled stretch is very dangerous.
It was not only the Aetas who terrorized the region but the Zambals themselves. A 1684 letter reported that the Zambals came down from the nearby mountains and raided the Province of Pampanga. They captured and enslaved the Kapampangans who were peacefully working on their fields. Thus,
The Procurator of this City (Manila) reported that those of this race (Zambals) were a people who lived in the hills without settlements, and they were so given to killing that they usually spent all their time at it, descending on the province of Pampanga and capturing the natives who were working in their fields, by which they caused grave dangers.
Equally brave but socially organized, the Kapampangans fought back with impunity and killed or enslaved many Zambals. However, these unabated Aeta and Zambales incursions made the terrain unsafe. And the best way to keep this important route from Pampanga to Pangasinan safe and open was to humanize and Christianize the Aetas and Zambals. Hostile and deprived, these races were so difficult to Christianize much more civilize, la escoria del genero humano, as a missionary would later put it.
To put an end to the Aeta and Zambal incursions, Governor General Martin Ursua y Arizmendi, in 1712, ordered the establishment of towns along the Pampanga-Pangasinan route. Incidentally, on the same year, the spiritual administration of the territory was restored to the Augustinian Recollects of the Province of de San Nicolas de Tolentino de Filipinas after a prolonged legal dispute with the Dominicans. Thus, the execution of the Governor’s order fell on the hands of the Augustinian Recollects. They opposed the order because of the inherent difficulty of its execution. But the Governor insisted and even invoked the name of the King in his second order. The Recollects bowed in obedience. The Rector Provincial, Fr. Jose de San Nicolas de Tolentino, sent the best and the brightest missionaries to start the missions. The first missionaries were Fr. Manuel de San Nicolas, Fr. Andres de San Fulgencio and Fr. Juan de Santo Tomas de Aquino. Soon, the missions of Alupay, Mabalacat and Panipoan or Bamban were established.
The Founding of the Mission of Mabalacat
Father Andres de San Fulgencio founded the Mission of Mabalacat in the year 1717. He noted that in the mountains of Mabalacat, there lived more than a thousand Aetas and Balugas. Fr. Andres convinced the heads of the clans to relocate to a more convenient town site to facilitate their Christianization. He believed that when the heads are resettled, their followers would be tagged along. More or less thirty (30) native chiefs and their families acquiesced. They constructed their houses and fields around the town site centered on the church. They comprised the core populace of the town. On September 3, 1717, Fr. Andres de San Fulgencio blissfully reported:
The town of Mabalacat, that began in the year 1717, is currently showing auspicious beginnings, not only in spiritual terms but also temporal, with the fields and houses that were already made, with many requests for baptism and of making the township an excellent foothold towards the mountains, where, as I already indicated, it is more convenient and proportionate to the ends that are being attempted.
I have dwelt this year (1717) among them in these mountains of Mabalacat; having reduced the natives of the elevated vicinity, making them go down and settle in this place that I believe at this moment is very convenient for such purpose…
Fr. de San Fulgencio started the catechism, instruction and baptism of this new town. Before September, he baptized at least ten natives. However, many of the natives slipped back to their nomadic lives. The natives were, by occupation, hunters and gatherers and as such, they relied on the mountain resources for their sustenance. The attempts at relocation drove them to hunger.