The province takes its name from the mighty Agusan River, which literally means ‘where water flows’ in the local language. The mouth of the river was an old settlement site. Recent excavations have unearthed old balanghais or boats that were constructed between the fourth and thirteenth centuries, as well as gold artifacts and Chinese ceramic wares from as early as the T’ang Dynasty. Between the 9th and 13th centuries, the area of Butuan was a thriving commercial center with regular trade links with China and other ports in Southeast Asia, the earliest known center of trade in the Philippines.
The explorer Ferdinand Magellan visited the region in 1521 and many claim that the first Catholic mass on Philippine soil was celebrated not on Limasawa Island in Southern Leyte but on Masau Island near Butuan. Jesuit and later Recollect missionaries established missions in Butuan but were unable to move upriver because of the hostility of the natives. During the Spanish period, the region suffered from continuous Moro raids limiting the growth of settlements along the coast.
Agusan was part of the province of Caraga during the Spanish administration of the islands. In 1860, the comandancia of Butuan was part of the reorganized province of Surigao. In 1901, Butuan became a sub-province of Surigao and in 1907 was later constituted as the province of Agusan together with Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon. In 1914, after the Department of Mindanao and Sulu was reorganized, Agusan became one of its seven provinces. On June 17, 1967, the province was divided into Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur by virtue of Republic Act No. 4979.
People, Culture and the Arts
The flat marshland composing the estuary of the Agusan River in northeastern Mindanao is inhabited by a group of people now known as the Butuanon. But the native Butuanon, would much rather call himself a Lapaknon or a person who lives in the swampy areas in Libertad. The people and folk historians, however, believe that they were a descended from Manobo populations of the Agusan Valley. On the other hand, the Butuanon language is more closely related to Cebuano than any of the Manobo tongues. In fact, Butuanon, Tausug of Jolo and Kamayo of Bislig have a very close kinship and are comprehensible with each other. Butuanon cuisine, which is abundant in seafood, pao (the native rootcrop), kayam, and onao, is a unique experience. The population of Agusan del Norte is at present highly urbanized with a defined Visayan culture highly-influenced by the Cebuano.
Higaonons also reside in this province. They are among the warmest people one can find in the world today. They believe in a mystical world full of divinities, and that their existence is dependent on the pleasure of the gods. Thus, a bad harvest is a consequence of the displeasure of the gods. The gods are the Higaonon’s way of explaining the unknown and their way of coping with uncertainties.
Butuan City, the ‘Prehistoric City by the River’, is the capital of this province. Balanghais or wooden boats and other archaeological artifacts have been found in the vicinities of Butuan city, which bolsters the claim that it is the oldest settlement in the Philippines. The Museum of History in the city displays ancient human bones, stonecraft, metalcraft, pottery, burial coffins and balangays believed to be pre-11th century.
Every July, the Sta. Ana-Abayan Festival is held. The celebration includes baroto (small boat) races along the Agusan River. Another colorful and festive event is the Balangay Festival in May.
Trade and Investments
Agusan del Norte may be reached by plane, boat and land vehicles. It has a land area of 259,029 hectares, a population of 465,458 and a labor force of about 90,000. The local climate has no definite dry season and has a pronounced rainfall throughout the year. Almost a third of the land is classified as agricultural and more than half is considered as forest areas. Agusan del Norte produces rice, banana, vegetables, rootcrops, mangoes and coconuts. Livestock and poultry production includes swine, chicken, cattle, goat, ducks and turkey. The province has 25,948 square kilometers of marine fishery areas and 24,000 hectares of inland fishing grounds. The mineral resources are great and generally untapped. Agusan del Norte also has potential areas for tourism.
The province has a sufficient road network to link its municipalities as well as connect with neighboring provinces. There is an international seaport in Nasipit while the Butuan City airport serves as an air link for travelers. The province has 11 telegraph stations and host two telecommunications companies providing local and long distance telephone services. Power supply for the entire province is drawn from the Agus grid in Iligan City while water supply is made available to 10 municipalities through a level III water supply system. The local financial institutions have a deposit base of 1 billion pesos and an estimated 800 million pesos available for loans.
The investment areas in Agusan del Norte range from industrial centers to service-related businesses. Agriculture-based ventures include production and processing of bananas, pineapple, mango and coconut products into chips, flour, ketchup, puree and juice drinks, nata de coco, oil, coconut wood, handicrafts, coprameat and desiccated coco. Other agricultural products that can be grown and processed are vegetables, and coffee. The extensive area of Lake Mainit alone provides lucrative business opportunities in the production and processing of prawns, milkfish, crabs and tilapia. Mineral-based ventures focus on ceramics and gemstone production while forestry-based businesses can center on establishment of tree plantations, and the manufacture of furniture. The identified investment areas on service related ventures are following: bulk handling, inter-island shipping, telecommunications, ship/ boat building, foundry and machine shops, metalworks and steel service centers. The province is also in need of tourist accommodation facilities like restaurants, hotels and resorts.
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