Chapter One
3. Channel to Freedom

The first settlement was founded at the base of the hill, on a strip of land that could be approached only from the inland lagoon on which it bordered.  Called Dagat-Dagatan (miniature sea) because of its expanse, the lagoon was in the shape of a half-moon, running from Bitas, in Tondo, to the tip (Tangos) of Tambobong.  It was separated from Manila Bay by a narrow ridge running also from Bitas to a gaping hole in Navotas (Kinabutasan) where its waters joined the open sea.

Dagat-Dagatan was non-navigable, but there was a deep channel running from the mouth of Canal de la Reyna, hugging the shoreline as far as the center of the crescent before veering westward to the hole in Navotas.  A skilled sea-farer could pilot a light watercraft downstream from Bitas to within a hundred meters of Aromahan's shore.  A little more strength and daring would allow a banca to go upstream from Navotas to reach the same destination.

It is not known who first discovered Salusoy River, as the channel is now called, or whether the first settlers came downstream from Bitas or upstream from Navotas.  There is also no record as to when and why they chose Aromahan as a homesite.  We first find them already with a church built in Sitio de Espinas (Libis Espina), obviously the center of the Aromahan community.  This small church (only a chapel, in fact), was completed in 1765, built with stones quarried from the hill and with a roofing of red tiles.  [Dr. Fausto J. Galauran (1905-1971), one of the most important sources of historical data included in this book, wrote that as late as 1927, he saw the ruins of this church in Libis Espina, near the house of Mariano Galler.]

Thirty years later, Fray de Zuņiga found this church sorely neglected, and, in the manner of a missionary who could not explain the failure of his Order to produce good Christians out of the Indios, he attributed this impious neglect to the poverty of the parishioners, their deceitful ways, their addiction to gambling, thievery and violence.

Were the people of Aromahan really too poor or too vice-prone to support a church?   In calling them "deceitful", did not Fray de Zuņiga mean that they were not as naive as the rest of the Indios in the archipelago?  Were they deceitful or did they simply refuse to be deceived?  Were the fishermen on the shores of Dagat-Dagatan less easily frightened by the threats of hell and brimstone with which the Castillan missionaries sought to cow the natives into blind Catholicism?

What manner of people were these, who would choose to live in poverty and want, their feet on thorny soil, a forested mountain at their back and a treacherous swamp between them and the life-giving sea?  Why did they choose this God-forsaken place to live in, when adjacent to Manila, even then, beckoned with its gaslight, its cobblestone streets and all the then known comforts of civilization?

Was it because Manila, or even Tambobong, offered a less rigorous life only at the price of bondage?  Did the first settlers choose Aromahan, with all its isolation, all its dangers and privations because here there would no guardias civiles to impress them into forced labor or exact from them confiscatory taxes, no friars to brutalize them into submissive, unthinking creatures, slaves of the cross that was intended for their salvation?

Here, at least, in the middle of the espinas, their spirits would be free!

And when the inevitable happened, when the Franciscans followed them to their new-found home, when a church was built, undoubtedly with their unwilling labor, and they found themselves, once again, "tributes" of the King of Spain, was not their refusal to support the church thrust into their midst the first seed of rebellion that, in the 1890's, would fire them into joining and fighting in the forefront of, Bonifacio's Katipunan?