Pre-Colonial Los Baños
by Oliver Carlos
I was made, born, and raised in the town of Los Baños. I studied elementary, high school, college, and graduate school in the same campus in my hometown. I had all my jobs, except my current job, in my beloved birthplace. I think I have been to every corner of Los Baños, including the peak of Mount Makiling, its famous mountain.
Los Baños is indeed a very special and unique town. There’s something different in the atmosphere above it. You can ask the thousands of UPLB alumni and Los Baños visitors, they would all say that its aura makes them long for and return to Los Baños. My town is very cozy and relaxing, it makes people, including visitors, feel that they’re truly at home.
My town is relatively an old one. It was formally established as a pueblo (that’s how they call a town or municipality back then) on September 17, 1615. So today, Los Baños is more than 400 years old. But do you know how it looked like and what’s life like in that place before that date?
Certainly, Los Baños isn’t called Los Baños yet before the coming of the Spanish conquistadores. The natives don’t know any Spanish word yet at that time, they spoke Tagalog. Los Baños is a Spanish term which means, “the baths” or “the bathing place.” This is because the Spaniards found many hot springs in the vicinity. Mt. Makiling is a volcano, and so the water underneath the ground gets heated by magma. This water bursts forth in springs which the Spaniards found suitable for bathing and therapy of various illnesses. Incidentally, there’s no written record of a volcanic eruption of Mt. Makiling in the whole Spanish Era up to the present. Therefore, its last eruption must be in the pre-colonial times, or more than 400 years ago.
So what’s the old name of Los Baños? Old folks say it was “Mainit,” which is also the name of a barangay of Bay, Laguna. During the pre-colonial times, present-day Los Baños was part of the kingdom of Bai (pronounced as Ba-e, and is spelled as Bay today). Bai was the largest settlement of natives that the Spaniards saw when they first arrived here. They made it the first capital of the province. As for the lake, the colonizers named it Laguna de Bai, which means “lagoon of Bai.” So, during the 1500s, present-day Los Baños must be a lot of jungle with very few residents, because the main bulk of the houses was in the present-day town of Bay.
Digging deeper into history, way back in 900 CE (900 AD), or 600 years before the Spanish Era, I believe that the Los Baños-Bay area must be the old Dewata kingdom mentioned in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI), the oldest written document dug up in the country. Familiar-sounding names of kingdoms were also mentioned there such as Tundun (Tondo), Pailah (Pila), Binwangan (Binangonan), and Puliran (Pulilan). There’s a big possibility that Dewata was somewhere near those places. And since the natives then believed in Makiling, a goddess who was said to dwell in the imposing mountain in the vicinity, chances are high that the kingdom at its foothills was the Dewata polity referred to in the LCI.
In 900 CE, the natives spoke an unknown language that is older than Tagalog. Centuries later, their language evolved into Tagalog. Since then, my hometown has gone a long way. A portion of Dewata became known as Mainit. Then the Spaniards arrived, separated Mainit from the main community of Bai, and named the place Los Baños. That’s what we call it today. Thru the years, Los Baños has been blessed with prosperity. Its good soil made the American colonizers build UPLB (old-name: UPCA) on it in 1909. Los Baños then transformed into a university town teeming with businesses that catered to students, tourists, and townsfolks.
But the best thing I like about Los Baños is that it always leads me to imagine God’s power and faithfulness. Whenever I look at the beauty of my hometown, I get reminded of the One who created all these. It’s his hand that carved out Mt. Makiling, the hills, the lakes, the creeks, and the falls. It’s God who planted the lush forests and green plains. It’s God who blessed us with good soil, businesses, and prosperity, and it will still be him who will continue to shower us with more blessings in the future. I’m echoing what the psalmist says in Psalm 90:1–2 (ERV):
“My Lord, you have been our home forever and ever. You were God before the mountains were born, before the earth and the world were made. You have always been and will always be God!”
That psalm ended with a prayer. Let this be our prayer too for today:
“Lord, our God, be kind to us. Make everything we do successful. Yes, make it all successful.” (Psalm 90:17, ERV)