Excerpts from:

Regio de Gente Animosa
(Regio - Political History of the Province of Caraga)
by:    Fr. Joesilo C. Amalla

In 1521, March 31, the celebrated "Primera Misa", an Eastern Sunday Mass, was held in the Philippine Territory on the order of Ferdinand Magellan. Two of its prominent attendees were the Butuan brother kings: Rajah Colambu of Butuan and Rajah Siagu of Calagan.

For the first time, these places were mentioned in Philippine history and found their way in print in Antonio Pigafetta's travel chronicle of historic circumnavigation of the planet earth (photocopy of this Italian document from Bibleoteca Ambrosiana of Milan, Italy now exists in the Butuan Dicesan Museum).

In 1538, Capt. Francisco de Castro together with Fr. Fernando Vinagre and Capt. Rodrigo de las Islas with Fr. Martin de Rada, OSA (from Legazpi's expedition in 1596) made their subsequent anchorage in Butuan, the latter being an important port of call and slave market in the era. This slave trade was formally checked by the government in 1650.

The work of evangelization then was under the "descubrimiento- pacificacion-poblacion" tactic of the "conquistadores". The cross would go together with the sword: hence, "missioneros" were needed in colonialization and were also considered necessary in the crew of their flotilla. Sometimes they would fight like soldiers in extraodinary situations like that of "El Padre Capitan."

So, from Butuan, the conquistadores started going upstream to the interiors of Agusan. But due to acute shortage of Jesuit personnel in their Cebu Residence, these Jesuits of 1596 were recalled by Sp. Agurto. Later, the missioneros sent to Butuan came in an intermittent manner though the conquistadores continued in their temporal mission even in the absence of priests in their settlements or encomiendas. From 1521 to 1622, there were already a dozen missioneros who worked in Butuan and this fact could not be duplicated anywhere else in Mindanao.

Whence the name Caraga?

The "Calagan" in the travel diary of Antonio Pigafetta (in 1521) and the "India Orientalis" map of Abraham Ortelius (in 1570) can safely be pinpointed as the Caraga.

The author of "Historia de Mindanao of Jolo" published in 1667, Fr. Francisco Combes, SJ, said the word "Calagan" was derived from the word "calag" meaning soul or spirit in the Visayan tounge....Therefore, the name "calagan" would mean the territory where "spirited" or "courageous people lived" (regio de gente animosa).

How vast was the province then?

From Punta San Agustin (where the province started) up to Gingoog in Misamis Oriental was the territory referred to as the province of Caraga. The ethnic inhabitants belonged mainly to the Manobo, Mamanua, Mandaya and Lapaknon tribes, plus migrants from nearby Visayan provinces.

These native Caraguenos were noted for their bloodthirsty fury and bravery. Even among themselves, they practiced slavery. Slave trade then was a lucrative trade mostly in Butuan even before the coming of Spanish colonizers in the Philippines.

Formal creation of the province of Caraga

In 1609, the conquistadores who arrived in Tandag constructed an inequilaterally-formed stonefort (a militray garrison actually) to strengthen their conquest of the locals. This caused the Northeastern portion of Mindanao to be raised to the status of a province. This "distrito" was called "Provincia de Caraga" with Tandag as the capital.

Tandag was chosen as the capital because of her strategic location (away from where the Moslems were concentrated). But the prime reason really was because of the stonefort, which was primarily intended for native rebels and also as protection from Moro invasions.

It also served to check the passage of Moros as they proceeded to Visayas and plundered the Christian settlements there. The province of Caraga got no real peace during its temporal existence with the Moros of Mindanao.

In 1622, the systematic evangelization of the province began with eight Recoletos from Manila. They arrived in Tandag where they branched out to outstations in the district, namely: Butuan, Surigao, Dinagat, Gigacquit, Numancia, Cantilan, Iranza and Bislig. They were headed by their Superior Fray Miguel de Sta. Maria, OAR. During this year, Cagayan and Camiguin had their first taste of hispanization and christianization while other districts did not receive the light of faith yet.

In 1754,the fort of Tandag was reduced to ashes by Moro attacks. Tandag fort fell to the invaders because it had no naval squadrons that could resist the enemy while at sea. At the same time, Jesuits were suppressed worldwide in 1768. By 1797, only two Recoletos were left in the entire Caraga province. Some of the Recoletos had to fill up the vacated stations manned by the Jesuits.

During this time the provincial capital was transferred to Surigao. This was triggered by the continuous attacks of the Moro from Nueva Vergara (Davao) and the final annihilation of Tandag Fort. By 1816, not a single Recoleto fraile was left. Mindanao, in general, and Caraga, in particular, reverted to paganism and its ancient savagery.

In 1848, Don Jose Ayanguren, last Spanish Conquistador, suppressed the Moros in their Davao Gulf Battle. His victory even stretched farther the province of Caraga up to Punta Cauit in Davao and drove the invaders to Cotabato.

Looking for better means vis-a-vis the great expanse of the province, a division was deemed necessary. Caraga was divided into Northern and Southern provinces. Surigao was retained as capital of the north Caraga; Caraga town became the Southern Capital. The south was also called the province of "Nueva Guipuzcua."

Six years later, the entire island of Mindanao was subdivided into six districts or provinces:

  • Primero Distrito - Zamboanga
  • Secundo - Northeastern District (Cagayan-Misamis)
  • Tercio - Eastern District (Surigao-Agusan-Caraga)
  • Quarto - Nueva Vergara
  • Quinto - Central District
  • Sixto - Basilan

By virtue of the Royal Decree of June 30, 1859, Mindanao had six districts and was consolidated a year after to constitute the first politico-military government for the entire island.

Thereafter, the Royal Decree of 1864 granted police power to governors of these provinces to require that all pagans, 10 years after their baptism, should pay taxes until they reached 60 years old. And those who lived in "reducciones," (settlements gathered together to facilitate evangelization and administration) either Christians or pagans should serve 40 days of compulsory labor per year.

It should be known that the primary purpose of accompanying the missioneros to Mindanao was to convert the pagan population and to staff the created pueblos and mssions. All alone by themselves, the Recoletos were not able to put this into effect as planned. The Spanish Cortes in Madrid, Spain, lamented this status and in effect, ordered the Recoletos to give up their sheperding over the Christianized villages and "rancherias". This was followed gradually until finally they gave up Tandag in 1894, the last parish from where they triumphantly anchored in 1622.

The 262 years of apostolic endeavors in the province was no an easy task. There were about 251 Recoletos who toiled in the area.Fifty-one of them died in the province. With the series of invasions and local rebellions, not much evangelization and hispanization were accomplished. The ruins of their lone structural legacy in Butuan -- a beautiful stone church and a camposanto (cemetery around a church) built in Lilo, Banza, were a grim reminder of that past. What remained today is a campanario covered by thick "balete" foliage.

At the onset of the Philipine Revolution, another turmoil came. The Spanish soldier, Don Prudencio Garcia revolted against the Spanish authorities and played another "reign of terror" over the province. Meanwhile in Butuan in May 1899, Valentin Calo had his famous coup-de-etat as the Katipunan Revolution was coming to an end. Canuto Rosales became the self- proclaimed "Governador de Agusan". He was deposed the following year and Butuan was "returned" to its mother province.

During the Spanish-American War (1899-1901), the ministry of the Jesuits in the district was temporarily broken. Jesuits scattered all over the province and the Benedictine monks who staffed some Surigao parishes were all incarcerated in the capital. Those kept in jail for 72 days in Surigao were 16 Jesuits and 12 Benedictines. The departure of the missionaries was masterminded by the Gonzalez brothers: Simon and Wenceslao.

With the coming of the Americans, another series of revolts plagued the district and elsewhere in the country. Capt. Gumecindo Flores, Capt. Andres Atega and Capt. Daniel were the Agusanons who tried to resist the Americans.

Fr. Urios' second arrival to Butuan amidst "mar de deficultades" was indeed a blessing par excellence. His mastery of Butuanon, Surigaonon and Manobo tounge made him close to his parishioners even to the fierce "baganis". His knowledge of the English language served him best, for he was able to act as an interpreter between the Americans and the alarmed Butuanons. His expertise in reconciling warring natives invited even those from Surigao to come to him for amicable settlements and paternal bvlessing. His Jesuit confreres continued their apostolic labors full of vim and apostolic zeal. These missionaries of St. Ignatius of Loyola paved the way for Mindanao's eventual embrace of the Faith in contemporary times.

At the turn of the 20th century, the "provincia de Caraga" was no longer called as such but was changed to "provincia de Surigao."

On June 19,1960, by virtue of RA 2786, Surigao was divided into two: Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur. Likewise, Agusan became Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur upon signing of RA 4979. What was called as "provincia de Caraga" of 1609 was finally subdivided into five provinces with Butuan and Surigao as their prime cities.

The twin provinces of Agusan and Surigao del Norte originally belonged to Region X, while Surigao Sur and Davao Oriental belong to Region XI.

By February 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos signed RA 7901 creating region Caraga XIII. Two days before this historic signing, President Ramos also approved RA 7916 "The Special Economic Zone act of 1995." This act provided the legal framework and mechanisms for the creation, operation, administration and coodination of special economic zones in our country.

In Section 5(2) thereof, Butuan City and Agusan del Norte were among the places in the country referred to as economic zone...

Such was the politico-religious history of the province of Caraga that started as a coastal kingdom of Rajah Siagu in 1521, converted into aprovince in 1609 and ultimately became a region in 1995.

Source: Historical Compilations of Fr. Joesio C. Amalla, Curator, Butuan Diocesan Museum, Saint Joseph Rectory

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