No te vayas de Zamboanga

My morning name on Sunday was Zamboanga, which I immediately recognized as a placename, for a city on the island of Mindanao, the southernmost large island of the Philippines. And I immediately understand why it was in my memory: it’s from a song in the music book I had in the 3rd or 4th grade (I’m not sure which — look, this is all from almost 70 years ago), a compilation of folk songs for children. Which included a song about Zamboanga.

The original of the song was in Spanish — “No Te Vayas de Zamboanga” — or possibly in the Mindanao creole called Chavacano or Chabacano, but we sang it in English, probably in the widespread mistranslation “Do Not Go to (Far) Zamboanga”. (A more accurate translation is “Do Not Go from Zamboanga” or “Do Not Leave Zamboanga” — Zamboanga being both a place of great physical beauty and the home of the singer’s beloved.)

The mystery in all this is why this particular childhood memory surfaced on Sunday morning.

What follows will be long and complex, in part because of the complexity of the facts, in part because they have to do with geography, history, languages, cultures, and societies that will not be familiar to many readers of this blog, and partly because it’s hard to piece together facts about popular culture from even 100 to 120 years ago (as in this case): much is murky. (Then there’s the fact that on-line sources, especially of videos, photos, and texts, are often frustratingly lacking in crucial metadata.)

The song. The Chavacano text (there are, of course, variants):

No te vayas, no te vayas de Zamboanga
Que me puedes, que me puedes olvidar
No te vayas, no te vayas, ni me dejes
Que yo sin ti, no puedo estar

No llores, paloma mia
No llores que volvere
No llores que en cuando llegue
Paloma mia, te escribire

Con una pluma de ave
Y un pedazo de papel
Con la sangre de mis venas
Paloma mia, te escribire.

Three performances: a vocal solo by an old woman (with accompanying historical photos of Zamboanga); a guitar solo by Erwin Ornido (with accompanying photos of modern Zamboanga); and a version by the male singing group Major Chords (with accompanying lyrics on-screen). Warning: the song is bright and peppy, but also “sticky”, with high earworm potential; it’s been in my head all week.

The vocal solo (which you can listen to here). On-line notes:

Canción popular zamboangueña también conocida como No te vayas a Zamboanga. Incluida en el disco Canciones de Zamboanga, publicado por la congresista filipina Mª Clara Lobregat.

Wikipedia on congresista Lobregat:

María Clara Rafols Lorenzo Lobregat (April 26, 1921 – January 2, 2004) the first woman mayor and also a representative to the Philippine Congress of Zamboanga City.

Ornido on guitar (which you can watch here). Your first response should be that this would fit perfectly in a Mexican mariachi band, and that’s just right. The Spanish influence in Zamboanga culture (including the creole) seems to be significantly through Mexican, rather than peninsular, sources. Things that make Zamboanga “Asia’s Latin city” rather than “Asia’s Spanish city”.

Ornido, originally from Zamboanga City, now lives and performs in Austin TX.

The Major Chords (who you can listen to here). I haven’t found much information on this (apparently) Zamboanga group: “Major Chords” in a search gets me pages of stuff on tonic, dominant, and sub-dominant chords (and their fingering).

Folk music. I got into this through that book of folk songs for children. The songs I can remember from the book are:

— “Don’t Go to Far Zamboanga” (or whatever the hell it was called). From a site about the song (by Luz Malonzo, reproduced here as is):

 [LM] ”Certain it is that ballads have been written about Zamboanga City, and songs have been sung of it,” writes David Potter in “Sailing the Sulu Sea:”

Songs and music constitute the most developed phase in the cultural life of the Zamboangueño. They have been known far and wide, and sung through memory by everyone in Zamboanga.

One of the most popular of these songs is No Te Vayas de Zamboanga. This was composed by Juan Cuadrado, Sr., a Spaniard who decided to stay in Zamboanga after the Spanish troops left the country [in 1898]. He later married a Zamboangueña with whom he bore several children. According to the old-timers of the city, this song was composed among the taverns which Cuadrado used to frequent. There was no real intention to write the song, for Cuadrado was not a musician. But when the heart was full, then it was only music that could express its real feelings. The song was popularized when a Colonel Loving placed it down in music.

Everyone seems to agree that the song was composed by Juan Cuadrado, Sr., but there are problems in nailing down the date. I’ll take this up in a digression, below.

— “Low Bridge, Everbody Down”, about the Erie Canal. Written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen.

— “Funiculi, Funicula”, From Wikipedia:

famous Neapolitan song composed in 1880 by Luigi Denza to lyrics by Peppino Turco. It was written to commemorate the opening of the first funicular cable car on Mount Vesuvius.

— “Cielito Lindo” started out as a song of the people. From Wikipedia:

a popular Mexican song from a Spanish copla, popularized in 1882 by Mexican author Quirino Mendoza y Cortés (c. 1859–1957).

— “My Hat It Has Three Corners” also has a popular origin; from Wikipedia:

The Carnival of Venice is a folk tune popularly associated with the words “My hat, it has three corners” (or in German, Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken).

I’m pretty sure we learned the three-cornered hat song in both German and English. For “Cielito Lindo” I don’t recall. For “Zamboanga” I’m sure we sung it in English only.

Two issues here: Why these particular songs? What counts as a folk song, anyway?

Why these songs? I believe we were told that the songs were to illustrate music around the world, or something like that. But my recollection is that they mostly bolstered a sense of America’s place in the world, with music from countries that had contributed significantly to American culture, like Germany and Italy; there were probably also English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish folksongs in there, and almost surely “Alouette”, representing Canada and France simultaneously, to go along with “Cielito Lindo” representing our neighbor Mexico. “Aloha Oe”, for Hawaii, probably was in the book.

I don’t recall anything Chinese, Japanese, or Jewish. And if the raucous “Waltzing Matilda”, representing Australia, had been in there, I would surely have remembered it. But there might have been something Russian, and something Scandinavian.

In any case, “Zamboanga” stands out in my memory as being truly exotic, a song from a tropical island nation on the other side of the world. I don’t think anyone told us that until three or four years before we got our music books, the Philippines had been under U.S. administration — from 1898 until 1946 — and that independence from the American yoke had not come easily. And I had to look up the Philippines at home, in my World Book Encyclopedia, to find out where Zamboanga and its island, Mindanao, were. Now from Google:


What counts as a folk song? The super-brief story, from NOAD2:

noun folk song: a song that originates in traditional popular culture or that is written in such a style.

The larger category is FOLKMUSIC, a type of music contrasted with the large categories POPMUSIC, taking in a variety of commercial styles of music, and ARTMUSIC, roughly “classical music”. As is customary with cultural categories, the lines between the categories are unclear, and there’s music that doesn’t fall easily into any of them. The Wikipedia entry for the label folk music gives some sense of the problems involved in trying to define cultural categories through strictly objective criteria (when functions in culture and society are almost always important):

Folk music includes both traditional music [another label for a slippery category] and the genre that evolved from it during the 20th century folk revival. The term originated in the 19th century, but is often applied to music older than that. [That is, the category FOLKMUSIC was recognizable from earlier times, but the label folk music was first applied in the 19th century.] Some types of folk music are also called world music. Traditional folk music has been defined in several ways: as music transmitted orally, music with unknown composers, or music performed by custom over a long period of time. [It’s clear from the examples above that none of these criteria is adequate on its own.] It has been contrasted with commercial and classical styles.

Starting in the mid-20th century, a new form of popular folk music evolved from traditional folk music. This process and period is called the (second) folk revival and reached a zenith in the 1960s. This form of music is sometimes called contemporary folk music or folk revival music to distinguish it from earlier folk forms.

On top of everything else, artistic categories are notoriously variable from one sociocultural context to another and from time to another.

Digression about the history of “Zamboanga”. Luz Malonzo in [LM] above puts the composer, Juan Cuadrado, Sr., in Zamboanga in 1898, writing the song at some point after that. This is part of a more complex origin story that seems to have been spread by word of mouth — a good story, with war and romantic love and love of country all mixed in — but without supporting data. (The origin story would make a pretty good song all on its own.) The only relevant data source I’ve been able to find, a genealogy site, comes up with a Juan Cuadrado, Sr., born 1/17/07 in Palawan, Mimaropa Province, Philippines (just off the left edge of the map in #1), died at 76 on 9/1/83 in Manila (occupation: golf course manager). Now the personal name Juan and the family name Cuadrado (‘square’) are both common Filipino names, so there could have been two men named Juan Cuadro, Sr. in the southern Philippines early in the 20th century. For now, the matter is open.

The big historical picture, and the local terrain. For the very big picture, the overview in the Wikipedia piece on the Spanish Empire:

The Spanish Empire was one of the largest empires in history. It reached the peak of its military, political and economic power under the Spanish Habsburgs, through most of the 16th and 17th centuries, and its greatest territorial extent under the House of Bourbon in the 18th century, when it was the largest empire in the world. The Spanish Empire became the foremost global power of its time and was the first to be called the empire on which the sun never sets.

The Spanish Empire originated during the Age of Discovery after the voyages of Christopher Columbus. It comprised territories and colonies of the Spanish monarch in the Americas, Asia, Oceania and Africa, as the Greater Antilles, most of South America, Central America, and part of North America (including present day Florida, the Southwestern, and Pacific Coastal regions of the United States), as well as a number of Pacific Ocean archipelagos including the Philippines; and it lasted until the early 19th century Spanish American wars of independence, which left only Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines and various territories in Africa still under Spanish rule. Following the Spanish–American War of 1898, Spain ceded its last colonies in the Caribbean and the Pacific to the United States. Its last African colonies were granted independence or abandoned during Decolonisation of Africa finishing in 1976.

After first contact, the spread of the empire to the Philippines largely came in two steps. From another Wikipedia article:

During most of the colonial period, the Philippine economy depended on the Galleon Trade which was inaugurated in 1565 between Manila and Acapulco, Mexico. Trade between Spain and the Philippines was via the Pacific Ocean to Mexico (Manila to Acapulco), and then across the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean to Spain (Veracruz to Cádiz). Manila became the most important center of trade in Asia between the 17th and 18th centuries. All sorts of products from China, Japan, Brunei, the Moluccas and even India were sent to Manila to be sold for silver 8-Real coins which came aboard the galleons from Acapulco. These goods, including silk, porcelain, spices, lacquerware and textile products were then sent to Acapulco and from there to other parts of New Spain, Peru and Europe.

Some settlers came from Spain, but great numbers came from New Spain (Mexico), which is where we get the Mexico-Philippine connection.

Meanwhile, administrative arrangements and cultural practices tended to reproduce themselves throughout the empire. Which is why the central plaza of Zamboanga City looks like almost any provincial town in the empire, right down to the heroic statue. The City Hall and Plaza Rizal:


That could be in Argentina, or Cuba, or Mexico. (Note, by the way, the McDonald’s on the corner.)

On the city

Zamboanga City (Chavacano: Ciudad de Zamboanga, Filipino: Lungsod ng Zamboanga) is a highly urbanized city located in Mindanao, Philippines. It has a population of 861,799 people as of the 2015 census. Zamboanga City is the 6th most populous and 3rd largest city by land area in the Philippines.

… Zamboanga City used to be known as Samboangan in historical records. It was founded by the Subanen people during pre-Hispanic times. After independence from Spain in May 1899, Zamboanga became the Republic of Zamboanga with Chavacano as its official language and Spanish as its co-official language. After American armed intervention, the republic was incorporated into their Philippines colony and became the capital of the Moro Province, now Mindanao, from 1903 to 1913. On October 12, 1936, Zamboanga City became a chartered city under Commonwealth Act No. 39

… Known for its Hispanic influenced culture, the city bears the nickname “Asia’s Latin City”.  (Wikiped link)

And on the language:

Chavacano or Chabacano is a Spanish-based creole language spoken in the Philippines. The word Chabacano is derived from Spanish, meaning “poor taste”, “vulgar”, for the Chavacano language, developed in Cavite City, Ternate, Zamboanga and Ermita.

… Chavacano is the only Spanish-based creole in Asia. It has survived for more than 400 years, making it one of the oldest creole languages in the world. Among [indigenous] Philippine languages, it is the only one that is not an Austronesian language, but like Malayo-Polynesian languages, it uses reduplication [as do pidgins and creoles around the world]. (link)

Finally, on Mindanao, a rich agricultural territory, green, with beautiful beaches and a troubled political history:

Mindanao is the second largest and southernmost major island in the Philippines. It is also the name of one of the three island groups in the country (the other two being Luzon and the Visayas), consisting of the island of Mindanao and smaller outlying islands.

… Davao City is the most populous city in Mindanao hosting 1,632,991 people, followed by Zamboanga City (pop. 861,799), …

Parts of south-western Mindanao island group, particularly the provinces of Maguindanao, Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi (part of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)), are home to a sizeable Muslim population, making the island group, along with Palawan, the only area of the Philippines with a significant Muslim presence. The island has seen a communist insurgency as well as armed Moro separatist movements.

Mindanao is considered the food basket of the Philippines. (link)

So I was led to this sign:


From a local blogger in 2014:

Don’t leave Zamboanga campaign banner in chavacano is posted all over the city, mostly in public places, and I’ve seen a couple at the rear side of a tricycle. Jun, a gracious host and a Christian local says residents are in exodus. He mentioned about the unsolved crimes, and I listened to his tales about the 2013 MNLF siege such as how they brought food to the displaced residents, how they can’t still use the sports complex as the grandstand became a shelter for evacuees, thus he runs at the Pasonanca Park instead. Through him,  I actually saw the displaced residents at the sea boulevard, and even “toured” the “ground zero” with all those burned down houses and structures ruined by bullets. With his tales, it’s not surprising that plenty have opted to relocate in order to live in a consistently secure place.

Still a plea not to leave, but now a much sadder one.


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