3/13/08

Baao and Ockhams’s Razor

While in discussion with two of my colleagues at USI, one teaching Philosophy and the other History, the latter brought up the subject of place-names and said that almost all places now seem to have a local legend as to how a place-name came to be and added this was the fault of the Americans who taught us to read and write about this stories. Incredulously I checked my files and but found this not true as my Spanish sources also contain explanations of the origin of place names but comparing the Baao history of Luis Dato with that of the Spanish historian Felix Huertas which are two popular sources, I found something interesting about the two. While Dato actually used Huertas as his source, it was only he who wrote about of the possible origins of the name Baao giving us three theories the first two being widely accepted:

1. Baao comes from the shape of the early settlement which was shaped like the backside/carapace of the turtle which in local vernacular referred to as a "ba-oo".

2. The name Baao came directly from the aforementioned reptile which in large numbers inhabits the lake.

3. The name came about due to the penchant of the inhabitants of eating left over rice locally called "bahaw".

Huertas, however, writing much earlier using Franciscan records mentions none of these, although he does so with other places. In Huertas’ 1855 Estado, the pertinent line referring to the origin of the town reads, “ Antiguamente, estuvo situado a la orilla de la laguna del mismo nombre, en el sitio llamado layoan.”. Translated it reads: In ancient times, (the pueblo of Baao) was situated in the banks of the lake of the same name, in the site called layoan.
This puts forward some questions like, which came first, the name of the lake or the name of the settlement? Did the name Baao came from the name of the Lake Baao or vice versa.
Which is connected with theory number two, did the lake or consequently Baao came from
an alleged preponderance of turtles in the area?
A year ago, I went to see these places mentioned by Huertas, The Lake would really be shallow to be able to see Layoan otherwise the place would be under water and indeed the banks would accommodate an ancient settlement that would have been widely spread out to give room for living space. About two kilometer south is sitio Mawacag, the ancient burial site that yielded a cache of Chinese porcelain giving proof to the site as a pre-hispanic settlement. If the Lake was named after the turtle, the reptile is now difficult to find now largely replaced by field rats. The ancient binanuaan site a circular mound overgrown with brush and bamboo is east of Layoan and would be too small to contain a village but most likely the site of a town center, a chapel or a market place, but again the lake would really be shallow for the mound to be of any use for human activity but from afar would look like the backside of a turtle just like any island would look in flat water. I understood why the village kept moving east up to the present site, if Layoan was inundated, binanuaanan was not, if binanuaanan was flooded the present site was not and I understood how Dato could make sense of all of these and came up with a believable theory.
Then my friend, the Philosophy teacher introduced me to William of Ockham and his scientific precept called Ockham’s razor. Ockham’s razor is a fundamental principle of modern science and philosophy which said that one should not assume the existence of more things than are logically necessary and the simplest explanation tends to be the correct one. A theory, using this principle, can be stripped down of the unessential with a metaphorical “razor” to reveal what would be the most likely explanation.
Using it on the Baao place-name and starting with the bare essentials, Baao was first used in a census document in 1590 with the spelling of “Bao”. The first time the place was indicated in a map was in Murillo-Velarde’s 1733 map but the village was not identified but the lake which was marked as “Laguna de Bao”.
We should remember that Bao or Baao is the name of a place not a group of people thus we can safely discard Dato’s number three theory that Baao came from the behavior of its people of eating cold rice, which anyone could do anywhere.
Now, is the name referring to the lake or the village? Before the Spaniards came there was no Baao as village, the inhabitants dwelt on the banks of the lake, only when they were converted did the people gathered in one place within reach of the church and the tribute collectors. The early settlement of binanuaanan, the one resembling a turtles back would be used only years later after the “encomienda” or “visita” Bao was already mentioned in documents.
Although it is not enough that Huertas mentions it and Murillo-Velarde used it, they are believable sources that say Bao came from the name of the lake. Common sense and experience will tell us that the natural tendency of place names being created and catching on is the presence of a prominent landmark. Notably, in the case of Lake Bao, a lake that is uniquely shallow. Thus, the theory that in ancient times, the place where the people on the banks of Lake Bao inhabited and which became a village to be called Baao is the simplest explanation that would result to satisfy Ockham’s principle. We now would find ourselves then trying to answer the question, from whence did the name Bao come from? Was there a abundance of turtle in the lake? To be simple again, let us assume there was not, and say that the name came from the description of the shallow lake, which in local dialect is variously “ababow” and “mababow” or a description of the banks “ibabow” all would be closer in phonation to the spelling of “bao” than “ba-oo”, a closer one would be the Tagalog “bao” which is unlikely as the Bicol equivalent is “soro” or the Baaoeño “abab”.
The simplest explanation then for the source of the name of Baao is that in on the banks of a shallow lake {mababow) inhabited a group of people which the Spaniard unified into a village which they called “Bao” from the name of the lake. The name was carried whenever the people moved eastward to avoid the constant flooding and in four centuries the Municipality of Baao became better known than the lake from where it got its name.

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