The Agusan Valley was settled by a variety of cultural communities like the Manobos, Mamanwas and Higaonons. Archeological excavations in the lower Agusan valley plains have uncovered evidence of strong relationships between the region and the Southeast Asian states. A golden image of Javan-Indian design unearthed in the 1920s and molten jars uncovered in Prosperidad are indications that the region had commercial and cultural ties with the coast.
The Jesuits established a mission in Linao, in the vicinity of present day Bunawan in 1614. However, mission work was hampered by the hostility of the surrounding Manobo tribes. At the height of the power of the Sultanate of Maguindanao in the mid-17th century, the Manobos of the Agusan Valley were in alliance with Sultan Kudarat. Linao was attacked several times during the 1629 Caraga Revolt and the 1649 Sumuroy Revolt.
Towards the second half of the 19th century, the Jesuits resumed missionary work in the upper Agusan region. Missionary work was interrupted by the Philippine Revolution when the Jesuits either fled or were arrested by revolutionaries. During the American occupation, lumbering became an important activity in Agusan del Sur. Visayan migrants settled in the cleared plains, pushing indigenous communities farther into the mountainous slopes.
The territory of Agusan del Sur was governed as part of the province of Caraga during most of the Spanish period. In 1860, it was placed under the comandancia of Butuan, a district of the province of Surigao. In 1914, the province of Agusan was created by the American government. Agusan was divided into Agusan del Norte and Sur in 1967 by virtue of Republic Act No. 4979.
People, Culture and the Arts
Though the majority of people in Agusan del Sur are descendants of Visayan settlers, a sizeable community of indigenous peoples exists in the forested foothills. The province is the home of the Higaonons. They are closely related to the Bukidnons and live in high tree houses, located on ridges. The Higaonon elite wears black trousers and shirts, with red and white trim. Filed and blackened teeth are a sign of beauty. Among them, oratory is a living art form and even arguments are carried out in metered verse. They also have their own system of writing. They use a memory device in the form of a piece of wood with notches and incisions representing units of narrative to remember history, religion, law, war, agriculture, and hunting customs.
A generally peaceful people, an ancient ritual for making peace or for settling modern-day conflicts is the tampudas hu Balagun, or the treaty of the green vine branch. Literally it means the cutting of the vine. It is symbolic of the act of cutting short feuds among the ethnic groups.
The indigenous religion of the Higaonon exists among the older generation. Most Higaonons have already embraced Christianity, but still recount the stories concerning their traditional religion. The Higaonon keeps two names after baptism—a Christian and a Higaonon name. Marriages, baptisms and other sacraments are done in churches administered by the Catholic priest or Protestant minister.
Agusan del Sur is not just rich in natural resources but also of the abundance of tales on archaeological finds unearthed in the sixties. Written accounts reveal that 12th century celadon plates , blue and white Ming jars and gold ornaments found along the river banks and burial mounds were sold for a song by the natives at that time.
Gold was always connected with the gods and the well-being of the Agusanons. Legend has it that a princess was madly in love with a Spanish missionary. With the priests’ vow of celibacy, marriage was inconceivable, and the princess died of broken heart. The princess father had his daughter buried along with her favorite slaves and all her royal treasures.
Trade and Investments
The province of Agusan del Sur has a total land area of 8,966 square kilometers and a population of 416,000. The province has fourteen municipalities occupying a landlocked area characterized by a flat and rolling topography crisscrossed by rivers. Almost 76% of the land is classified as forest area while a total of 127,641 hectares are classified as agricultural land. Agusan del Sur has a 238,000 strong labor force; 68% of which are currently employed, mostly in the agricultural sector.
The province may be reached by land travel. Bus services plying the routes of Cagayan de Oro – Davao and the neighboring province of Surigao del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Agusan del Norte pass through Agusan del Sur. The routes to Cagayan de Oro and Butuan Cities provide the province access to a commercial airport and an international seaport respectively. The province has 16 postal stations, 5 telegraphic stations and six telecommunications center. There are eight banks operating in the province, 3 are government controlled, 1 is a universal private bank and 4 are rural banks. The local power requirements come from a local electric cooperative. Water facilities are limited to the poblacion area but a large number of other ground water sources make up for this limitation.
The business trade and investment opportunities in Agusan del Sur are mostly agriculture-based. Increasing local production, processing activities and establishment of allied support services are the general business options for the interested investors.
At the forefront of Agusan del Sur’s development agenda is the preservation of its natural endowments, a task of regaining its once lush forest cover. At present, 281,611 hectares of land consisting of old growth forests, marshes, watershed and other reservation areas are threatened by illegal logging and rampant extraction of precious minerals. These areas, particularly the wetlands, do not only function as a natural water holding pond, but also have some of the most diverse wild life in the country. The ill-effects of the damage done to these wildernesses have already caused flooding that destroy crops and property during the rainy season.
Acting on these urgent concerns, the provincial government developed its Provincial Physical Framework Plan that sought to reconcile the complex interrelationship between the human population, resources and environment. Population growth and development have put increasing pressure on local resources and have led to the environment's destruction. In order to pursue this plan, the provincial government built up its capabilities, set-up mechanisms that tapped various units of the government and recognized the importance of working with the local people. While the local government drew the line between people’s rights and government responsibility to protect its resources, it also saw the importance of giving the local people a stake in management and preservation of natural resources in order to sustain the efforts.
Development Initiative Highlights: