Caraga : A Region Reborn

by Fernando A. Almeda, Jr.

The new-born region we now refer to as Caraga is obviously named after the old, historic Caraga, an extensive landmass covering several provinces, in the northeastern seaboard of Mindanao whose existence outdated the arrival of the Spaniards in this country.

In 1521, Antonio Pigafetta, chronicler of the epic voyage of Magellan, called this region Calagam or Calagan. This was located in the Pacific Coast between Butuan or Benaiam in southeast somewhere in the vicinity of the present province of Davao Oriental.

Depending on the nationality of the map on which it is found, Caraga at various times was known by such colorful name as Cangaia, Candigar, Caragna, Caragha and Calagam or Calagan (in some accounts "K" instead of "C" is often used to spell Caraga thus Karaga or Kalagan instead of Calagan.) When the Spaniards eventually established a beachhead in the southern backdoor of the territory and founded a town by the name of Caraga (named after Calagan) at the mouth of a bay (which also bears that name now) in present-day Davao Oriental (eastern Davao town), Caraga became popularly known and permanently the name of the region-sized area apparently designated on a district and much later as a province.

The word Calagan means land of brave or fierce people. The Italian adventurer, Francisco Careri, who published a book of travels in the country, cited Fr. Francisco Combes, SJ, as a source in saying that Calagan is derived from two Bisayan words, namely: Kalag or Calag, which means soul or people and An (for land). This description is not without reliable basis in history. Fr. Pablo Pastella, a noted missionary chronicler, described Caraganons as fearsome.

Initially, the coverage of Caraga extended fom the deep south, starting at Cape San Augustine and going by Surigao on to Iligan up to Dapitan. It referred thus to east and west Mindanao until this enormous territory was by that name (Caraga) moved along the coast by Surigao and Butuan until Hingoo(Gingoog). Finally, beginning at Caraga (the town), the region/province ended at Butuan which became its western boundary. By today's reckoning, Caraga would consist of parts of Davao Oriental (the towns of Cateel, Baganga and Caraga), Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Agusan del Norte and the cities of Surigao and Butuan (includes the city of Gingoog at one time).

Then, as now, huge territories such as Caraga are divided into smaller political subdivisions for many reasons, one of which is better and efficient administrative control. Even the Americans, later on, described Caraga (or a region)covering two-thirds of Mindanao with a land area of over 3,000 square miles. It was, according to a Philippine Commission Report of 1901, ten times bigger than Rhode Island and three times the size of Connecticut. In February 18, 1847, Governonr-General Jose Narciso Claveria issued a decree creating the province of Nueva Guipoza with Davao as its capital and Jose Oyanguren as Governor. Tandag Caraga (the town) and all the others in the southern portion of the former province of Caraga, including Caolo (Numancia) and Siargao, were absorbed by Nueva Guipozcoa (also Guipozcua). Surigao became another province with the town in Surigao as its capital and its coverage included Butuan, Agusan and the rest of the towns in Southern Surigao except Tandag. This territorial division did not last long. In 1852, after a failed and disastrous attempt to climb Mount Apo, Oyanguren was stripped of the Governorship by the Marquis of Solana who succeeded Claveria. In 1859, Caolo and Siargao, Tandag and other southern towns in Surigao were turned to the jurisdiction of the district/province of Surigao. Caraga, Baganga and Cateel, however, perhaps because of their proximity to Davao remained in the province. Thereafter, the historic region of Caraga ceased to exist as such and the slow but inevitable fragmentation of what was once a territorial giant started. With the passage of Act 1693 in 1911, Agusan later on became a separate province. Butuan became a sub-province under Surigao until 1901. But with the passage of Public Law No. 82, Butuan became a provincial town and much later on as a chartered city. Surigao eventually split into Norte and Sur on June 19, 1960 with the passage of RA 2766.

Some old folks and a few local historian with a fond sense of remembrance would often conjure stories about the grandeur of the old Caraga. It is always with a sigh - oh Caraga! - that they would do this because, indeed, Caraga of old is but a sad memory buried in the dustbin of history.

All of a sudden - and perhaps quite unexpectedly, it has reborn rising gloriously like a phoenix from the ashes of old. RA 7901 has made that rebirth possible.

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