March 2, 2018

The 1749 Eruption of Taal Volcano which Forced 2 Pueblos to Become One as Tanauan

The present-day city of Tanauan is among the Province of Batangas’ oldest population centers. It can trace its roots back to two pueblos set up by Augustinian missionaries back in the sixteenth century. A pueblo was a Christian community or mission which the Spaniards set up in their colonies around the world during their country’s heyday as a world power.

These pueblos were Tanauan and Sala. According to Augustinian records, Tanauan was the fourth pueblo set up in Batangas in 1584 after Taal (1572), Batangas (1580) and Tabuco (1580, presently Cabuyao and part of the Province of Laguna). Sala was set up two years later in 1586. All these pueblos were still situated along the shores of Lake Bombon (Taal Lake in the present day) and part of what was then called the Province of Balayan1.

Prior to 1749, there were nine previously recorded eruptions of Taal Volcano during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines. Most of these were invariably written accounts by Augustinian friars, since it was the Augustinian order which had been given the task of founding pueblos along the perimeter of Lake Bombon.

In 1572, for instance, the same year when the pueblo of Taal was founded, Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin described the volcano’s activity, “There is a volcano of fire which is wont to spit forth many and very large rocks, which are glowing and destroy the crops of the natives2.”

For the duration of the seventeenth century, Taal Volcano was relatively quiet except for the occasional rumblings of the earth and solfataric activity, i.e. the release of steam through its vents3. The quiet was broken in 1707 when the crater called Binintiang Malaqui “burst forth with a tremendous display of thunder and lightning…” Fortuitously, no damage was done to the pueblos along the shores of the lake.

Almost a decade later, in September of 1716, Taal Volcano burst into activity again. The eruption was from the crater known as Calauit Point, which was facing the pueblo of Lipa, then located at the present-day village of Tagbakin along the shores of the lake. Seismic activity during the eruption caused seiches4 which in turn caused waves to rise as high as 16.7 meters. Volcanic activity in 1716 forced the relocation of the pueblo of Lipa to what is presently the village of Lumang Lipa in Mataasnakahoy in 1724.

There were further eruptions in 1729 and 1731, but in 1749 would come Taal Volcano’s most violent eruption during the Spanish era, or at least up to that point. An eye-witness account of the event was written by the Augustinian priest Fr. Buencuchillo, parish priest of Sala at the time.

Volcanic activity, Buencuchillo wrote, began at night on the 11th of August. He noticed “an extensive glare over the top of the (volcanic) island.” He gave the matter no further thought and retired to his room to get some sleep. At around three in the morning, he was awakened by “something like heavy artillery fire and began to count the reports…”

Buencuchillo thought that it was the galleon due to arrive from Nueva España (Mexico), which as per tradition upon entering Balayan Bay saluted the Our Lady of Caysasay with a barrage of artillery fire. But before long, the explosions had exceeded one hundred and still would not cease; and four natives were soon shouting at him, imploring him to leave because the volcano had erupted.

At dawn, the entire pueblo could see what had happened in the dark of the night. Buencuchillo described “the immense column of smoke which rose from the summit of the (volcano) island…” From the water “arose enormous columns of sand and ashes, which ascended in the shape of pyramids to marvelous heights and then fell back into the lake like illuminated fountains.”

Earthquakes which accompanied the volcanic activity were such that, Buencuchillo wrote, they left “nothing movable in its place with the convent.” He also went on to describe how the pueblos of Tanauan and Sala, among the oldest in the province if not the country, were destroyed.
“During these terrible convulsions of the earth fissures opened in the ground amid horrifying roars, said fissures extending from the northern and northeastern beach of the lake as far as the neighborhood of the town of Calamba. Here as well as elsewhere, the whole shore of Lake Bombon has been disturbed. The entire territory of Sala and part of that of Tanauan have been rendered practically uninhabitable the water courses have been altered, former springs have ceased to flow and new ones made their appearance, the whole country is traversed by fissures, and extensive subsidence5 has occurred in many places.
“During my flight I saw a great many tall trees, such as coconut and betel-nut palms, either miserably fallen, or so deeply buried that their tops were within reach of my hands. I likewise saw several houses which formerly, in accordance with Philippine custom, had their floors raised several yards above ground, but had sunk to such a degree that the same ladder which once served to ascend into them, was now used to descend to them. The most remarkable thing about this is that the natives tranquilly continue occupying them, though they find themselves buried alive.”
If the 1716 eruption had forced the inhabitants of the pueblo of Lipa to move northeast, the 1749 eruption rendered the pueblos of Sala and Tanauan virtually uninhabitable and forced its inhabitants eastward and further inland, away from where the volcano’s wrath could do them harm. There, the Jesuit priest Miguel Saderra Maso wrote, the “former (Sala) was united with the latter town (Tanauan).” From this new town that the eruption’s survivors would build would grow the Tanauan as we know it in the present day.

But the volcano was far from done. Five years later, in 1754, would occur not only its most violent but also its most prolonged eruption in recorded history. This eruption would, in fact, change the topography of parts of the Province of Batangas. The story, however, will have to be told in another article.

Notes and references:
1Memoria acerca de las Misiones de los PP. Agustinos Calzados en las Islas Filipinas: presentada al Excmo. Sr. Ministro de Ultramar,” Madrid, 1892.
2 Most of the information contained in this article is taken from “The Eruption of Taal Volcano January 30, 1911,” by Rev. Miguel Saderra Maso, S. J., published 1911 in Manila.
3 Merriam-Webster online.
4 A seiche is the oscillation of lake waters that can be triggered by seismic activity. Wikipedia.
5 Subsidence is the motion of the earth’s surface moving or shifting downwards or closer to sea level. Wikipedia.

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