Kagay-an, the historical name of Cagayan de Oro

FEATURE
By Mike Baños
June 15, 2021

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Kagay-an is a word that directly relates to the city's culture, history and people, who call themselves Kagay-anons.

Cagayan has always been pronounced by lumad Kagay-anons as Kagay-an. In fact, nobody says Kagayanon but Kagay-anon.

It is the historical original name of Cagayan de Oro, formerly known as Cagayan de Misamis. Even the original citizens of the capital town of the Segundo Partido de Misamis pronounced it Kagay-an, attesting to the timelessness of the name. 

Historical documents prove Kagay-an was used to refer to Cagayan de Oro as early as 1571 (Fray San Francisco de San Antonio, 1738-1744 & de Loarca). 

It is cited in the Olaging (chanted) epics of the Proto Northern Manobo (Cagayan de Oro's proto people) describing Yumagmag Katiguman, wife of the hero's elder brother Paumulaw as 'Queen of Kagay-an, Queen of Lambagohon' (Opeña, 1979) (Montalvan, 2007)

Kagay has its origins in the Filipino word for river, and ostensibly refers to the riverine origin of the city. It is a word recognizable in most places in the Philippines as river (or something close or similar to it like the Northern Cordillera kagayan, the Ilokano karayan, or the Kapampangan kayayan).

According to some friends who are members of the Ancient Baybayin Scripts Network (a Yahoo Groups Forum) Dr. Lawrence A. Reid, researcher emeritus of the University of Hawaii's Department  of Linguistics, and Richard Elkins, ethnic linguist on the Manobo and Tasaday, agree that Cagayan comes from the ancient word for "river." Some sources say that the original word for river is kagay, which, when combined with -an (place), became kagay-an (river place). 

Dr. Reid says the original word is unknown because the ancient speakers of the Proto-Philippine language are dead. But it can be scientifically reconstructed as *kaRayan, pronounced like "Cagayan".

The asterisk in *kaRayan is a linguistic symbol, indicating that the word is hypothetical. The capital R represents an unknown sound -- referred to by Reid as "proto-phoneme" -- that was most likely a fricative g, which is similar to the sound of g in "gamma". *kaRayan then evolved into the Northern Cordillera kagayan, the Ilokano karayan, the Kapampangan kayayan, and others. All these words mean "river".

Reid contends the word for river in the Philippines is one that evolved into karayan, kahayan, and others. Each of these words is a full word, with a complete concept, the concept being simply "river" and not a combination of two -- such as kagay + an.

Regardless of its origins, it has in fact evolved in time into Kagay-an, with a dash, or what is more technically known as a glottal stop. Mr. Elkins explains a glottal stop is not a hypen. 

The glottal stop simply indicates the phonetic spelling of the word.  You put a glottal stop when people pronounce it with a glottal stop. 

That's why Kagay-an should be spelled with a glottal stop and a K instead of Cagayan, to differentiate it from Cagayan de Sulu or Cagayan Valley in the North.

A footnote on the name Cagayan de Oro before we end. This is often credited to the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez since he filed the bill which eventually became Republic Act No. 521 which President Elpidio Quirino signed into law on June 15, 1950 creating the City of Cagayan de Oro.

However, without taking anything from the late statesman’s substantial contribution to the creation of the city, the name Cagayan de Oro actually antedates the city charter as proven by the existence of the Cagayan de Oro Hotel owned by the Bautista-Avanceña family, a 1939 photo of which is found in the book of Filomeno M. Bautista Sr. “Glimpses of Mindanao.”

Antonio J. Montalvan II, a Kagay-anon columnist, social anthropologist, university professor and heritage activist, also cites documents in the Archivo de la Unibersidad de Santo Tomas (AUST) where students from then Cagayan de Misamis enrolled in the Ateneo de Manila and the UST from the1890s listed their place of origin as “Cagayan de Oro.”

“So there already was a tradition for such a name,” Montalvan notes.

Not the least, not many Kagay-anons today are aware that while R.A. 521 was signed into law under the watch of then Misamis Congressman Emmanuel Pelaez, he was actually following up on an earlier bill for the creation of “Cagayan de Oro” filed by the late Misamis Congressman Pedro Sa. Baculio of present- day El Salvador City.

Kagay-an is the one easily recognizable word Kagay-anons all over the world, all over the country, and anywhere in the city can recognize, so from the name alone, any Kagay-anon worth his salt can easily tell it refers to Cagayan de Oro.

Thus, the name Kagay-an facilitates easy name recall not only to Kagay-anons everywhere around the globe, but to other Filipinos as well, without sacrificing its uniqueness as exclusively referring to Cagayan de Oro and not to other places with similar sounding names. 

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