Saturday, July 15, 2017



As a young pupil, I was always teased by my classmates as to why I had the same family name as the Quiaoit River near our elementary school. I would respond jokingly that, “perhaps my family owns it and it was named after us”. At other times I would say, “we were named after the river”. Later on I would find out that indeed the river was named after a great ancestor who was then a leader of the town.

Andres Quiaoit was first a Capitan Bazar (head of a community) in 1710, then a Gobernadorcillo (governor) in 1719 and 1722. He diverted the flow of water in the river traversing the town of Batac, Ilocos Norte to prevent it flooding the town proper and instead allowing it to stream into farms for irrigation before flowing all the way to China Sea.

I was also told of the origin of the Quiaoit name. Apparently, during the early Spanish era in the Philippines (named after Prince Philip of Spain), following the discovery of Ferdinand Magellan (1521), the inhabitants were ordered to report to the Spanish officers for registration and conversion to Christianity. They were indigenous or native people and some were originally seafarers and traders from China, Japan, Indochina and other Asian countries who had decided to stay or get married to the native inhabitants. They were given names by their ancestors upon birth but did not conform to the Spanish regulations. So their names were changed to Maria, Jose, Ana, Juan, etc.  An individual or head of a family was allowed to choose a family name from the natural elements, the arts, the cosmos, occupations or places of origin that would indicate relationships.  Some copied Spanish surnames.

A certain Pedro could not think of a surname. On a tree nearby two birds were fighting, one was saying “kiaw, kiaw” and the other was answering “wit, wit”. The Spanish ruler then decided that Pedro would be given “Kiawit” as his surname from the sounds of the birds. Using the Spanish equivalent of K, which was Qui or Que, he wrote down “Pedro Quiaoit” in his registry book. Such was the LEGEND of my family name as related by my parents and relatives.

As I was interested in updating my family tree, I dug further down into how the early inhabitants got their names. With the information I gathered from my family, that my early ancestors came from mainland China and the research I did through the Internet, I had a different idea of how my ancestors got our surname. In stories that I read, some people combined the names of their ancestors to use as family names, such as Tanseco or Gokongwei. Some referred to their ancestral places: Del Mar (of the sea) Bundok, (forest). Others would add to their surnames the order of their birth or succession, such as first, second, third etc. (junior, the third, etc.) I had thoughts that my early ancestors came from a place or village called Quia, Quiao or with the same sound as Kiaw, and that Pedro Quiaoit was the first to be baptized, therefore “It” or first (number 1)was added to his name from the Fukien (a province in China) dialect and numbers. Pedro Quiaoit has been listed in my family's genealogical records as the first leader of the converted Christians, as well as the the first Capitan Bazar, (head of community) in 1708 in Batac Ilocos Norte.   

I had also wondered why during those times and until today, all families with the surname Quiaoit were located or living in Barrio Lacub, (meaning an enclave or enclosure). Was Lacub a Parian, similar to where the Spanish rulers relocated all Chinese people in Binondo, Manila, now known as Chinatown? Lacub is partly on the banks of Quiaoit River and two intersecting secondary streets, also known as processional roads. They are used mainly for church processions and community parades.

Curiosity about my roots got me digging into whatever I could get from the internet. At one time the Asian Genealogical Index compiled by the Church of Latter Day Saints in Utah, U.S.A. could be accessed for free. Unluckily I was not able to print copies as the index provided the “pedigree” and civil registry data for most of the members of my “clan”. Later another Ancestry website took over and fees must be paid to access the records.

Unbeknownst to me, a relative from Chicago was also interested in digging our “roots”. He got lucky when he visited our hometown and was able to look into archived records of our genealogy and copied them on to a disk. He and his wife painstakingly translated some of the records from Spanish to English, then coded them according to the branches of the families, originating from the source: Capitan Andres Quiaoit. The Gobernadorcillo that created the Quiaoit River had a dozen children; some could not be traced but at least six were listed and four lived in our hometown. Many of his children and grandchildren became successful leaders of communities during the Spanish Colonial regime till Philippines became an independent country. Some predecessors are still doing so to this day, engaged in politics and community services.

In 2013, at Haven Writing Retreat in Whitefish, Montana, U.S.A facilitated by best-selling author Laura Munson, the participants were asked to write a poem of something from the past and relating it to the present.  I wrote the following poem to address my concerns about the Quiaoit River.

My dear river...
  my old grandpa created you
  you were named after him.
  he dug up the ditch to widen you
  so your waters will flow to the sea
  and not flood the town.
  you divided the town from west to east
  a wooden bridge closed the gap
  so people could walk over you
  as horse drawn carriages travelled through
  you were full of life.
  flood waters rose
  the bridge disappeared.
  engineers replaced it
  with a concrete span
  cars and bicycles crossed
  daily, a dozen times.
  there was a legend to your name
  you were the landmark of the town
  fishes, turtles swam around
  children played on your banks.
  I came to see you once again
  like some tourists coming to visit
  once a rustic town, now a busy city.
  my dear river, what happened to you?
  a pool of water here,
  grasses on some islets there
  plastic bottles floating
  papers littered on your banks
  murky waters, no longer flowing
  no fish, no turtles swimming
  how will they save you now
  my dear old, legendary river?

In an effort to preserve our legacy, relatives from the different branches have updated their own “family trees” for future generations. Likewise the government officials of Batac, Ilocos Norte, now a city, created the “Save the Quiaoit River” program for the purpose of preserving the historical landmark, the Quiaoit River.

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