National Geographic : 1944 Nov
Mindanao, on the Road to Tokyo BY FREDI)RICK SIMPC'H IKE a mammoth steppingstone on a watery path from New Guinea to Tokyo lies big, rich, relatively unexplored Minda nao, southernmost main island of the Philip pine group.* Its gold mines and vast primeval forests, its cattle ranges and as yet unharnessed water falls, make it resemble the empty but rich California of ninety-odd years ago. By last August, General MacArthur's ground forces had pushed their way to the Schouten Islands, 800 miles southeast of this rich Jap-held island, and the American beach head at Sansapor, at the tip of New Guinea, was about 700 miles from the city of Davao (map, pages 542-3). Aerial bombardment of Jap positions began August 7, 8, and 9, with three successive raids on Davao. Though still little known, pioneer planters have already proved this tropic region ideal for growing rubber, coconut, and quinine trees, and juicy pineapple crops (pp. 544, 567). Long ago, from a Moro proa offshore, I saw the half-naked tinted hills of Surigao penin sula, now acclaimed by geologists as one of Asia's greatest iron ore deposits (page 563). Slightly larger than Indiana, Mindanao is second in size only to Luzon. Moslems under the Stars and Stripes Among its colorful tribes are some 400,000 Moslem Moros, the only big Mohammedan colony ever under the American flag. With these fanatics the Spaniards had struggled for 300 years, till Admiral Dewey took Manila in 1898. Then American soldiers, with native scouts and constabulary they trained, for years carried on the Moro campaign. Finally, leav ing them to their own customs and life under the Koran, we almost pacified the Moros. Emphasize almost! Negritos and other wild tribes still prowl the hills and jungles. Some hunt with spears, eat bats, and take fish by throwing intoxi cating weeds into the pools. Here, too, are man-eating crocodiles, eagles that kill mon keys, lizards that fly. Battles occur between vicious wild boars and big pythons.t Drama and tragedy swept Mindanao in the early summer of 1942 as Japs sought to mop up the last of the Americans. Gen. William F. Sharp had surrendered on May 11. For General MacArthur, the late President Manuel Quez6n, President Sergio Osmeia, and other dignitaries, Mindanao was the last jump ing-off place for Australia. From Borneo came a few of our surviving bombers, to rain ruin and death on enemy ships and docks at Davao. Daringly, Lt. John D. Bulkeley's MTB's (Motor Torpedo Boats) harassed Jap warcraft off Mindanao's coast or sneaked into Mindanao ports by dark of night, bringing fugitives for rendezvous with Australia-bound planes or submarines. One MTB was actually dismantled, hauled up to Lake Lanao, and rebuilt for use in a last desperate stab at the Japs. Cruelty to American captives was unspeak able, as told in The Dyess Story. In Davao prison camp the Japs concentrated a large number of Americans, and it was from here that the late Lt. Col. William E. Dyess, Lt. Comdr. Melvyn H. McCoy, and others escaped. Pirates, Pearls, and Slave Girls Most vivid South Sea fiction tales are no more exciting than the bald history of Mindanao. Its Moro lands include the musi cally named islands of Basilan, Jolo, and Tawi tawi, which string out toward Borneo. Pirates and pearls, slave girls and smug glers, tribal raids and war canoes loaded with spearmen carrying shields, and mortal hand to-hand battles had made Mindanao known from Arabia to South China even before Co lumbus sailed west (page 560). Magellan got to the Philippines in 1521 and anchored at Limasawa, a small island northwest of Surigao. Here two kings of the north coast of Mindanao came out to visit him. This was before the great navigator went on to Cebu, and later to Mactan, where he was killed. After his death, his ships continued the voyage and touched at western Mindanao. They also sighted Jolo Island, but contrary winds prevented them from visiting it. Jolo is the old home of the Sultan of Sulu. Since the death of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, in June, 1936, without an heir, the sultanate has been in dispute, and the title may *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Facts about the Philippines," February, 1942, and "Return to Manila," October, 1940, both by Frederick Simpich; "Unexplored Philippines from the Air," by Lt. George W. Goddard, September, 1930; "Philip pines," August, 1905, "Ten Years in the Philippines," February, 1908, and "Some Impressions of 150,000 Miles of Travel," May, 1930, all by William Howard Taft. t See "What the Fighting Yanks See," by Wanda Burnett, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for October, 1944.