Long before the coming of the Spaniards, Kawit was already a thriving settlement, and when the colonizers came, they called the settlement “CAVITE EL VIEJO”. It is the oldest of the three parishes established during the administration of Manila Archbishop Garcia Serrano (1618-1629).
How the town got its name maybe based on the hook-shaped shoreline from Manila to Sangley Point, Cavite City. The Pilipino term for the word “Hook” is Kawit.
The town was the first anchorage established by the Spaniards in Cavite province. It was where the Jesuits built a parish church in honor of Saint Mary Magdalene. The colonizers soon found a better place, also a part of Kawit, and developed it as site of its navy yard. This former town of Kawit is now known as Cavite City.
A short distance from Cavite navy yard was a placed called “TIERRA ALTA”, which, because of its higher elevation, fine stream, cool climate, and rich vegetation, became a favorite vacation resort and hunting ground for Spanish ‘conquistadores”. This territory referred to by the Spaniards is now the Municipality of Noveleta, which seceded from Kawit in 1908.
Beside Cavite City and Noveleta, the Municipality of Imus was also in the early days of the Spanish rule, a part of Kawit. As far back as October 1795, the people of Imus, through a Recollect Father, petitioned the Spanish government that they be permitted to secede from Kawit and to establish a separate parish. Thus, from the old settlement of Cavite el Viejo sprang Cavite City and the Municipalities of Noveleta and Imus.
Kawit played a major role in the Philippine Revolution of 1896 and in the Filipino-American War. It was in this town where the Spaniards met their first major setback when Filipino insurgents, led by the town’s Capitan Municipal by the name of EMILIO AGUINALDO Y FAMY, captured a contingent of Spanish soldiers from Dalahican headquarters who where about to arrest Aguinaldo and other municipal officials suspected of being Katipuneros.
The initial victory of the Katipuneros under the leadership of Aguinaldo was followed by a string of other successful battles against the Spaniards, bringing fame and glory to their young leader and laid foundation to his becoming the President of the First Philippine Republic. It was on June 12, 1898 when General Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the Philippine Independence on the balcony of his Mansion (The Aguinaldo Shrine).
Beside Gen. Aguinaldo, this small town gave the country five other generals of the revolution, namely: Candido Tria Tirona, Crispulo Aguinaldo, Daniel Tria Tirona, Baldomero Aguinaldo and Tomas Mascardo. The histoty of Philippine struggle for freedom will not be complete without mentioning the prominent figures who contributed immensely to the establishment of the First Nationalist Democratic Republic in Asia.
Aptly described as the "Flag Town of the Republic," Kawit is the oldest municipality in Cavite Province, having been founded in 1587, 16 years after Miguel Lopez de Legazpi occupied Manila and proclaimed as the capital of the Philippines. Another source, however, says that Kawit was founded in 1600. Kawit is also the most literate town of Cavite Province.
Because of the independence proclaimed by General Emilio Aguinaldo in Kawit eighty-six years ago, the Philippines ceased to be a Spanish colony and became free, independent, and sovereign nation. Like the United States the Philippines was born of revolution. The Philippine Republic inaugurated in Malolos on January 23, 1899 was the first such republic in Asia, antedating the Chinese Republic under Sun Yat-sen by 12 years. In the words of President Marcos, it was "the first republic established by a brown people."
The name Kawit is derived from the Tagalog word kawit (hook) which is suggestive of its location at the base of a hookshaped shoreline along Manila Bay extending to the tip of Cavite City. Kawit was the most thriving settlement prior to the coming of the Spaniards. In fact, it provided the first anchorage of the Spaniards in the province, whence colonization and proselytization of the Christian religion began, spreading to all corners of the province.
Legend, however, gives another version on how the town got its name. One day a Spanish visitor asked a native blacksmith about the name of the village. The latter was busy at the time pounding on the anvil a piece of hot metal that looked like a hook. He hesitated to speak, not understanding what the stranger was asking, but when pressed for an answer, and thinking that he wanted to know what he was doing, he merely said kawit (hook). The Spaniards left muttering the word kawit. In the course of the time the word kawit evolved into "cawite," and finally "cavite".
For a long time the place was called by the Spaniards "Cavite el Viejo" or Old Cavite to distinguish it from "Cavite la Punta" or "Cavite el Puerto," the commercial port and naval base (now Cavite City) whence came many Spanish marines on shore leave who made frequent visits to Cavite el Viejo, eventually turning it into a red light district. The bad reputation of the place, however, was completely wiped out when it was placed under the spiritual supervision of the Jesuits during the administration of Manila Archbishop Miguel Garcia Serrano (1618-1629).
Cavite el Viejo was then a big town, comprising the municipality of Kawit today, Cavite la Punta (now Cavite City), Noveleta (called Tierra Alta by the Spaniards), and Imus. One after the other these three barrios seceded and became independent municipalities. For instance, Cavite la Punta became Cavite, the provincial capital, and later Cavite City.
Shortly after the discovery of the Katipunan in Manila on August 19, 1896, Cavite el Viejo became the nerve center of the Revolution. Emilio Aguinaldo, the capitan municipal, led the capture of the tribunal or municipal building of Cavite el Viejo on August 31, between two and three o’clock in the afternoon. Earlier that same day the towns of San Francisco de Malabon (now General Trias) and Noveleta had risen in arms and overthrown the local Spanish administration.
Right after the capture of the Kawit tribunal, Aguinaldo issued a manifest inviting his fellow capitane municipal in Cavite province to "join me in rising against Spain and break the chains of slavery that have bound us with her all these hundred years…" Furthermore, Aguinaldo, already thinking in terms of a national liberation struggle, issued another manifest on October 31, calling for the creation of a revolutionary government to carry on the revolution against Spain.
Aguinaldo had defeated the best of the Spanish generals (Ernesto de Aguirre in the Battle of Imus, September 3, 1896; Ramon Blanco in the Battle of Binakayan, November 9-11; and Antonio Zaballa in the Battle of Anabu, February 1897) in fair combat, giving him the reputation of Indio conqueror of the Spanish conquistadores. Con sequently, he became a living legend even before Andres Bonifacio came to Cavite in a vain attempt to wrest the leadership of the Revolution from Aguinaldo.
Realizing that the name Cavite el Viejo was a Spanish corruption of the fine Tagalog word kawit, the Philippine Commission on September 20, 1907 approved Act No. 1718 changing the town’s name to Kawit.
The history of Kawit is inextricably linked with the life of Aguinaldo. To paraphrase Thomas Caryle (1795-1881), the great Scottish historian and philosopher, the history of Kawit is the story-biography-of Aguinaldo, its most illustrious son.
Aside from Emilio Aguinaldo, Kawit has produced six other revolutionary, generals namely, 1) Candido Tria Tirona (1862-1896), 2) Crispulo Aguinaldo (1864-1897), 3) Baldomero Aguinaldo (1869-1915), 4) Tomas Mascardo (1871-1932), 5) Daniel Tria Tirona (1865-1939), and 6) Gregoria Montoya (1863-1896), posthumously promoted to general. The story of their lives makes up the most glorious chapter not only of the history of Kawit but also of the Philippines.
Such a glorious past cannot but serve as a worthy prologue to an equally distinguished contemporary history of Kawit. The past always serves as a challenge to the present characters or dramatis personae on the stage, among them the following Kawiteños: 1) Cesar E. A. Virata, prime minister of the Fourth Republic; 2) Supreme Court Associate Justice Ameurfina Aguinaldo Melencio Herrera, who spent a great part of her young life in Kawit although she was born in her father’s home province, Nueva Ecija; 3) Dr. Josefa Ilano, former chairman of the board of trustees, Siliman University; 4) Brig. Gen. Jaime Muyargas of the Philippine Air Force, and his brother, Brig. Gen. Rodolfo Muyargas of the Philippine Army; 5) former Ambassador Benjamin Tria Tirona (now deceased), member of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan ng Cavite; 6) Maximiano S. Janiro, retired colonel, U.S. Army, member of the Philippine bar, and a graduate of the the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (class of 1926). Incidentally, Col. Janairo, who now resides in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.A, with his wife, the former Amelia Romualdez, daughter of the late Manila Mayor Miguel Romualdez, has two sons, Maximiano, Jr. and Antonio, both graduates of the famed West Point Military Academy, and a daughter, Lita.
Kawit’s 12 Barrios
(11) Sta. Isabel
(12) San Sebastian
Several of these barrios/barangay have names suggestive of their origin. Binakayan, for instance, was drived from the Tagalog word bakay (to watch); Marulas from madulas (slippery); Gahak from gahak (torn to destroyed); Tabon from tabon (to cover or covered); Kaingen from kaingin (forest clering); and Panamitan from paminwitan (fishing grounds). Each barrio has a legend of its own explaining how it came into existence.
Despite the fact that Kawit is the oldest municipality in Cavite, the available records in the National Archives date only from 1774 to 1900. However, the first map showing the town of Cavite el Viejo is dated 1734. It is included in the book written by the Jesuit historian, Fr. Pedro Murillo y Velarde, S. J., Historica general de la Provincial de Filipinas de la Compania de Jesus. Manila, 1749. The map was engraved by Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, a Filipino printer.
Town Heads of Kawit
The incomplete list of gobernadorcillos and tenientes primero of Cavite el Viejo follows:
GOBERNADORCILLOS: (1) Leoncio de Sta. Rita, June 26, 1827; (2) Leoncio Ramos, June 1829; (3) Ladislaw Lucero de Medina, c1833; (4) Leoncio Mateo, December 4, 1834; (5) Bonifacio Juan Ronquillo, December 1837; (6) Pedro Juan Capistrano, 1842-1844; (7) Anacleto de la Cruz, 1844-1846; (8) Jose lopez Luibao, gobernadorcillo, and Teodorico Samaniego, teniente primero; (10) Estanislao Tria Tirona, gobernadorcillo,and Remigio Matro Mateo, teniente primero;
(11) Ignacio Samaniego, December 1858; (12) Estanislao Tria Tirona, 1872; (13) Carlos Aguinaldo, gobernadorcillo, and Manuel Basa, teniente primero, 1875-1877; (14) Mariano Ayson, gobernadorcillo, and Rufino Rieta, teniente primero,1877-1879; (15) Agripino Rieta gobernadorcillo, and Agaton Diaz, teniente primero, 1789-1881; (16) Licerio Lagda gobernadorcillo, and Mariano Ayson, teniente primero, 1881-1883; (17) Justo Dano gobernadorcillo, and Valentin Mascardo, teniente primero, 1885-1887; (18) Crispulo Aguinaldo gobernadorcillo, and Tiburcio Diaz, teniente primero, 1888-1890, and 1890-1892; (20) Eusebio de Castro, 1892-1894; and (21) Crispulo Aguinaldo, 1894;
CAPITANES MUNICIPAL: (1) Emilio Aguinaldo, 1895-1896; and (2) Candido Tria Tirona,1896 (under the Revolutionary Government).
The designation gobernadorcillo was changed to capitan municipal under the Maura Law of May, 1893 which was implemented in the Philippines starting the year 1895. Thus Crispulo Aguinaldo was the last gobernadorcillo, and his younger brother, Emilio, was the first capitan municipal of Cavite el Viejo.
In the souvenir magazine "The 3rd Glorious Centerary of Kawit, Cavite, 1624-1964," the following were also mentioned as having been former capitanes municipal of Cavite el Viejo: Angel Janigorge, Julian Legaspi, and Benigno Santi. It is possible that they had been appointed capitan municipal in an acting capacity after the death of Candido Tria Tirona on November 10, 1896 until Aguinaldo’s return from Hong Kong and the proclamation of the Philippine independence on June 12, 1898.
A Spanish document in the National Archives also contains the following list of "Cabezas de Barangay of Cavite el Viejo, 1778-1779":
A. First Class (Native): (1) Juan Manuel; (2) Miguel de Sta. Rita; (3) Julian de los Reyes; (4) Tomas Perez; (5) Francisco Ronquillo; (6) Manuel de Jesus; (7) Alejandro Rodriguez; (8) Domingo Alonzo; (9) Joseph Lorenzo; (10) Juan Pablo Malysay; (11) Pedro Arquiza.
B. Second Class (Mestizo): (1) Antonio Quiamzon; (2) Lorenzo Patricio; (3) Fransisco Medina; and (4) Luis Bautista.
MUNICIPAL PRESIDENTS (American Regime): (1) Justo Kalagayan; (2) Canuto Encarnacion; (3) Manuel Victa; (4) Aurelio Santonil; (5) Gabino Toledo; (6) Mateo Red; (7) Potenciano Resurreccion (father of incumbent Mayor Ramon B. Resurreccion); (8) Fransisco Ramos; (9) Marcelino Vales; (10) Segundo Caimol; and (11) Agapito Quiamzon.
MUNICIPAL MAYORS (under the Commonwealth and Third and Fourth Republics): (1) Epifanio Victa; (2) German Bay; (3) Florentino A. Bautista, Jr., and (4) Ramon B. Resurreccion, 1979