The Genesis, Disappearance, and Revival of a “Caraga region” in Mindanao
Peter Schreurs, MSC
State of the Question
On 23 February 1995, Republic Act No. 9701, or House Bill No. 10643, was officially signed by the President of the Philippines. Hereby, the CARAGA ADMINISTRATIVE REGION, to be known as “Region XIII,” was created. The explanatory note to House Bill 10643 states:
SECTION 1: The provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, and the Cities of Butuan and Surigao are hereby constituted to form Region XIII to be known as the “Caraga Region” with the regional center to be established at Butuan City.
SECTION 2: As a result of the creation of Region XIII, the new regional composition for Region X and XI shall respectively be as follows:
a) Region X to be known as the “Northern Mindanao Region” shall comprise the provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Occidental including the Cities of Oroquieta, Ozamis and Tangub and Misamis Oriental, including the Cities of Cagayan de Oro and Gingoog.
b) Region XI to be known as the “Southern Mindanao Region” shall comprise the provinces of Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur including Davao City, South Cotabato, Sarangani including General Santos City and Sultan Kudarat.1 House Bill No. 10643, in consolidation with Senate Bill No. 729, had been passed by both Houses on 16 February 1995 and 20 February 1995, respectively, and signed into law by President Fidel V. Ramos on 23 February 1995. The Bill had been introduced by the Congress Members Ty, Plaza, K.T. Estrella, Ecleo, Paredes Jr., Barbers, Sator, Apostol, and Tilanduca, ‘together with the Members of the Committee on Revision of Laws.
In 1995, several government authorities of Mindanao gathered at Butuan to announce the official inauguration of the new “District of Caraga.” It was probably hoped that such a “unified” district will give the region more punch to defend its interests before the national government in Manila. Of course, nobody will object to such a politically expedient intention. But what is striking is that Davao Oriental (with the very town of Caraga) is not included in the new “Caraga Region.” Such despite the fact that in most old documents, this region of Caraga begins near Punta San Agustin and from there runs northward. Luis de Jesus OAR mentions in 1674:
…the places Bislig, Hinatuan, Cateel, Baganga and Caragha. From the latter the province got originally its name because at that time it was a village of great importance.
Since the 16th century, some authors have clearly extended it only up to Surigao, others till Butuan and even Gingoog or Dapitan inclusively. Let me say beforehand that much depends on what in respective Spanish government reports or missionary accounts is understood by “provincia,” “distrito,” “region,” “jurisdiccion” or “administracion.”
Francisco Colin, SJ (1663)3 explains as follows: The first province to oppose the seas if one comes from New Spain [=Mexico] is that of Caraga, which begins at Punta San Agustin. From there it runs for a distance of 50 leagues up to the point of Surigao. From here, after rounding the northeastern part, it follows the coast to the west for 15 leagues till it reaches the river of Butuan…. At Butuan ends the maritime stretch of the jurisdiction and the government of the Caragans.
It is clear: in 1663 there was indeed a “province of Caraga” running from Mindanao’s southern eastcoast up to (incl.?) Butuan. The Spanish text seems ambiguous as to inclusion or exclusion of Butuan: “En Butuan se termina…”
In 1667, Francisco Combes, SJ, apparently only speaking of the whole area of east Mindanao, mentions:
… the coast of Caraga like a wall opposing itself to the immensity of so many seas, as if to stop a wave of 3000 leagues.
With these “3000 leagues” of water he could only have been referring to the Pacific Ocean east of Mindanao from Punta San Agustin up the Surigao, not to the Mindanao Sea north of the island which by far does not stretch for 3000 leagues. This seems to imply that at least Comb& did not include the coastal areas of Butuan, Gingoog and Dapitan in his Caraga.
In the opinion of some who have stated that already in pre-Spanish times the whole area in question would indeed have carried the name “Calaghan/Caraga,” the new District of Caraga created in 1995 was actually not something new but a return to an original or pre-colonial situation.
Pigafetta: Analysis of His Relevant Text and Map
But had that set-up, i.e. an autochthonous region under one name, indeed existed already before 1521? In other words: was that the geographic situation which the Spaniards found? It looks as if after 1521 the regional nomenclature including Butuan in a “district of Caraga” came into existence, because later Spanish authorities had unwittingly followed a meanwhile accepted uncritical translation of a passage from Pigafetta’s report in which that author related or “translated” some words of Butuan’s chieftain Aui whom he met at Mazaua. European editions had followed Pigafetta in rendering it unquestioningly: “That island of his was named Butuan and Calaghan.” This version was also accepted by Fabre-Ramusio5 and the passage survived till James Robertson’s English version’ which is also used in the Phibpiniana Book Guild edition XIV’ and in some local Filipino quotations of the text.
But what had really “been said” on Mazaua? And how was it communicated? While standing on that island, Siaui must have pointed to his island Mindanao, and Pigafetta writes: “…that island of his was called Butuan and Calagan.” However, let us earnestly try to imagine the actual circumstances surrounding that event: all the while Siaui was talking in a lan-guage which Pigafetta did not understand but of which he just bead only a number of sounds or words, among which: “Butuan” and “Calagan.” The conversation between Pigafetta and the Butuan chief had by force to be very elementary and underlined with a lot of body language. On the part of the chief it probably sounded somewhat like: “Didto… kuan… didto… Butuan… didto Calagan…What else could Pigafetta, never having been on Mindanao soil, put on paper than: “that island of his was called Butuan and Calagan.” In this context, we may ask ourselves also if one more symptom of their very rudimentary communication and of Pigafetta’s very vague understanding, is that the chief of Butuan (while at Mazaua), did obviously not make it clear enough to Pigafetta that the real name of his island was: Mindanao. Pigafetta never even mentions that great island by its own name, not after Homonhon, not at Mazaua, not on the way to Cebu, not afterwards near Bohol, at Quipit or Cagayan de Sulu. Only near the latter island does he mention the place or area of “Maguindanao,” again not even naming the large island where it was located. Always he writes: “the island of Butuan and Calagan.”
Considering the circumstances and the existing geographic reality of the large island then and now, the “communication” at Mazaua may be paraphrased more truthfully as meaning,”… he pointed in the direction of his island and I heard him say Butuan and Calagan…” Mutually, the two parties were unable to converse in polished grammar with the proper subjects or objects, declinations, tenses or adjuncts, etc. And let us not overestimate the assistance of Pigafetta’s Malay companion Enrique. Despite the allegations of some, he was not a Bisayan but a Malayan from Sumatra. Moreover, another expedition member, Gines de Mafra, later said of him that “he was of little use as an interpreter because he was drunk at that time!”9 Enrique’s intoxication is also mentioned by Pigafetta. With our present geographical knowledge of the region, which neither Pigafetta nor Enrique had – and which Siaui could not clearly communicate – we know that it was all about the island of Mindanao where Butuan and also Calagan are located. However, it is the just mentioned Gines de Mafra who writes clearly that at Mazaua the local chief mentioned Butuan by name and also its location on the northern stretch of Mindanao, 15 leagues away.1° Nothing about an island with the “double name” Butuan and Calagan. He knew what he was talking about because he had visited the region twice, in 1521 and in 1543.
One may wonder if, without the unquestioning acceptance of Pigafetta’s terminology, Spanish colonial authorities, from the 17th till the mid 19th centuries would ever have thought of making one continuous “district” or “province” of (a part of) the region between Agusan and Punta San Agustin in Davao. At any rate, there are ample reasons to question (more than to accept) the actual existence of a pre-Spanish geographic and political unity named “Calaghan.” At most, for reasons of administration it was later made into a unity by the Spanish authorities. Of course, we have to assume that the administrators of then and of now each in their own way had considered their reasons.
Nevertheless, the existence of one “district” covering so much (and such!) territory, seems a priori physically and culturally improbable in the pre-Spanish Mindanao. Reputable authors, among them Juan de Plasensia (1589)”, Juan Francisco de San Antonio (1738)12, and Robert Fox (1958 & 1979)13, have explained that at the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the population lived mostly in limited numbers in rather small communities under the leadership of chieftains with whom they had some tribal or kinship affinity. Referring to the 16th century society found by the Spanish colonizers, the Filipino historian Eliodoro G. Robles writes:
Governmental development above the village level was loose and virtually non-existent. The people, although of common racial ancestry, were divided – due mainly to geographical factors – into tribal groups, each pocketed in particular areas separated by water and mountain boundaries. Political identification therefore was in the main local. Antonio de Morga, who came to the Philippines in 1603 as a member of the Real Audiencia, wrote:
There were no kings or lords throughout these islands who ruled over them as in the manner of our kingdoms and provinces; but in every island and each province of it, many chiefs were recognized by the natives themselves. (In Morga’s `Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, Blair and Robertson XVI, pp.69-133).”
In 1565 when a patache of the Legazpi expedition came to Butuan, the pilot Rodrigo de Espinosa reported that Butuan had only “some 80 to 100 houses because there was no space for more.”ls He does not mention a Caraga at all in his Butuan context. Juan Francisco de San Antonio says:
The “Barangay” was made up of some one hundred persons, more or less, depending on what they knew to be sufficient for their territory.16 To which Fox adds that: Characteristically, communities formed independent and separate social, political and economic entities. Social rather than geographical isolation divided neighboring communities.”
In the context of north and east Mindanao, we may even say that in addition to social and cultural factors (races, tribes or dialects) there were also very pronounced geographic and topographic dividing factors which must have made any form of unity among the people there highly improbable. Existing early reports suggest the opposite, e.g. Gaspar de San Agustin writing in 1596 about “the ministries of the province of Caraga, Tandag, Butuan and Siargao…”18 Once, probably in 1603-04 when the Butuanos revolted against the local Spanish authorities, “They joined their strength with the rebellion of the bellicose Caragans, their neighbors, those bloodthirsty corsairs.” This seems to suggest that formerly both were separate.
Indeed, for quite some time after 1521 (Pigafetta) there is not one single bibliographic reference to be found in which Butuan and Caraga are described or even just suggested as forming one single region or one “district of Caraga” as the Spaniards made of it afterwards. Some might try to do away with the above given critical text-analysis of the relevant Pigafetta pericope and call it just my personal “interpretation.” They should note that in 1523, only two years after Pigafetta wrote the pericope in his text, that analysis was clearly also made by Nuno Garcia de Toreno when he supported it cartographically (with the help, no less, of the expedition captain Delcano and other survivors of Magellan’s voyage). His map, made for the guidance of the Loaisa expedition of 1525, shows a Mindanao with a Butuan but without a Calagan at all (Map 1).
But of course, aside from the place Butuan, there definitely existed a place Calagan on Mindanao. However, the actual geographic diversity and distance of the locations of Butuan and Calagan (as we know them now) was subsequently, i.e. after the Loaisa (1525) and Saavedra (1527) expeditions, clearly depicted in the sketch of Mindanao reproduced in Blair & Robertson, Vol. 33, page 230 (Map 2 shows that relevant [truncatedl] section of which the lower portion was clipped by a European hand). The complete Mindanao is shown in Otto Koelliker’s rendition (1908) of Mindanao (Map 3). For a proper reading, both sketches should be partially tilted clockwise.° Koelliker rejoins the clipped portion to the rest. It shows also a “Calagam,” but my Jarate from Butuan, on the eastern coast of Mindanao. The earliest 16th century map makers (from whom B&R and Koelliker took their version) had clearly possessed additional information obtained after the two mentioned voyages which had indeed visited the east coast (unlike Magellan and Pigafetta) and also provided a location “Benaiarn” which both expeditions had mentioned as being in the southeastern region.2° There is not the slightest hint, however, of a single area named “Butuan and Calagan”: the place Butuan is here and the place Calagan is there.
Later Reports and Maps
Except for Sanson d’Abbeville’s map (1652), all subsequent 16th and 17th century Mindanao maps that show Butuan and Calag(h)an/Calagam/Calegan follow the completed version shown by Koelliker which depicts Butuan and Calagan far away from each other.
That geographic di versio, can also be glanced from the reports of the expedition of Legazpi (1565) which (unlike Magellan’s) did visit northern Mindanao. They never mention Butuan in conjunction with Calagan, neither in their texts nor their geographic sketches. Understandably, because while they were in the strait of Surigao, an informed native of Cabalian (Leyte) named Camotuan, had told them that in one place Sugud was located and:
[refer to the original copy]
Note the separately mentioned Butuan, Surigao and Calagan along the coast in a correct sequence. This was indicated by a knowledgeable native and reported by a Spaniard whose very job it was to report the correct geographic situation. On Mindanao, after Butuan, there was the Surigao area, and Calagan must then have been somewhere after Surigao/Cantilan in the region where the eastern coastline of Mindanao begins running southward. The only thing which the places had in common was that they were all located on Mindanao soil.
Rodrigo de Espinosa (1565), the captain of Legazpi’s patache sailing from Bohol to Butuan, gives a very detailed descripton of the bay of Butuan, the river, and the place.
Already in 1579 Butuan is described as being pacified by military force, without any Caraga being mentioned.23 The rampages by “Caragans” frequently reported in the 1600s, clearly refer to people of the eastern coast of Mindanao and not to Butuanons.
Also the reports about the earliest encomiendas Limasawa, Butuan, and Caraga speak about wholly separate locations, e.g. in 1582 (Limasawa and Caraga); 1591 (Butuan); 1598 (Caraga); 1602 (Butuan), 1616 (Caraga, including Bislig and Cateel), 1622 (Butuan), 1623 (Caraga), 1626 (Butuan), 1627 (Butuan), 1650 (Butuan).
Equally relevant is a report concerning the arrival of the Recoletos in Mindanao in 1622: Bishop Pedro de Arce of Cebu entrusted to them the following areas: “the encomiendas and villages of Butuan, Sampongan [=Jabonga] and Caraga…”25 Note the connective and Camp. They were also entrusted with “the hinterlands of Butuan.” The conclusion seems to be: Butuan and Caraga were two distinct areas. The mission of the Recoletos had started in Tandag in 1622 and covered successively Siargao, Butuan and the far southern village/area of Caraga proper.
In his description of the Visayans of eastern Leyte, Francisco Alcina SJ writes in 1668:
…on the point of the island of Leyte facing Caraga, the people are presently very similar to the Caragans, in stature, facial expression and in many of their customs; also their language or pronunciation is like theirs.
It is, however, not clear if Alcina includes in his Caraga also the coast running westward to Butuan.
There is a revealing V.O.C. (United East India Company) document to be found among Dutch colonial records covering 15 June 1700 till 14 January 1701. It refers to an existing situation and contains a list of Maguindanao settlements with the number of able-bodied men living there, plus the names of their rulers. For Caraga we find: “the king is named Maninkabu and there are 1000 able-bodied men.” A note adds: “At Caraga ends the domain of the Maguindanao kyser (chief) at this side of the island, and that of the Spaniards begins.” For Zamboanga a note is added: “Here ends the domain of the Maguindanao keyser and starts that of the Spaniards.” The document is in the State Archives of The Hague.27 As said, the given boundaries and the existing political authority of the territories refer to the year 1700.
When reading the missionary reports of the Recoletos, we must realize that these accounts, when speaking of a “provincia” and “jurisdiction” of Caraga – running from Caraga in southeastern Mindanao via Surigao to Butuan – often use their own contemporary ecclesiastical and missionary terminology. Herein, “province” often refers to a canonical subdivision of the whole Order and “jurisdiction” to the administration of a certain working area or mission of the Order.
As for geographical delineation, it is interesting to read a report of Joseph Torrubia OFM of 1753 but containing older details, which says about Mindanao:
In the eastern [emphasis mine] part of this island one finds a large coastal stretch with 12 villages, each with some hamlets, which make 10 the province of Caraga. It lies between two capes, viz. that of San Agustin in the south and that of Sabgao or Banajao in the north. [Emphasis mine]. This area is under Spanish control, as is stated in an official government report issued in Manila on 28 June 1721. It says the following about the province of Caraga:
“The province of Caraga is composed of twelve villages, of which three are encomiendas of His Majesty, whereas some parts of them plus the nine other ones, all with the given number of taxpayers, are encomiendas of the private persons whose names will be stated yet. They are all under the administration of the holy Province of San Nicolas of the Discalced Recoletos.”
Torrubia’s description: “the area between cape San Agustin (Davao) and Banajao (Surigao)”, and (by inference) the government report of 1721 mentioned by him, both exclude Butuan from the “province of Caraga.”
In his Cronicas (1738), Juan Francisco de San Antonio OFM states that “westwards from Surigao, the region of Iligan and Dapitan” were part of that Caraga.29 On the other hand, Recoleto statistics of 1750 submitted to the government, mention a part of north Mindanao that comprises Butuan, plus the eastcoast up to and including the pueblo of Caraga, as their missionary territory in the “Provincia de Caraga.”” We should note that the more western part (with Iligan and Dapitan) was then Jesuit territory. It is not always clear if authors just silently follow government – or missionary terminology, neither of the reports speak about their actual time of writing or refer to afortnerty existing state of affairs or nomenclature. After all, there was no dispute, at least not about the delineation of “Caraga,” which might have necessitated such specifica-tions. Juan F. de San Antonio adds that “later” the region had been “divided into districts.”
In 1833 Paul de la Gironiere31 quotes a government census of that year mentioning that the “Provincia de Caraga” has 30 villages and a total population of 32,150.
Inclusion, exclusion, ecclesiastic, missionary, monastic and government terminology… it is perhaps impossible to pinpoint the exact year when a certain area was administratively added to the “Provincial District of Caraga.” The whole genesis of the story had most probably something to do with the development and gradual phasing out of the encomienda system in the 1700s. On page 81, the Census of the Philippine Islands (Vol.I, 191 8) says very vaguely “From earlier days [since when?], Agusan formed part of the province of Caraga.”
The Spanish “Caraga District” Abolished
The ‘District or Province of Caraga” was gradually revoked in the 19th century. In 1 847 Governor General Claveria finally dismembered and reorganized its whole southern part and decreed the foundation of the new province of “Nueva Guipuzcoa,” with its capital at “Nueva Vergara” (the present Davao City). The names were given in honor of respectively, the Basque home province and the birthplace of Jose Oyanguren who in 1848-49 would suppress the hegemony of the local Muslim authority in the gulf of Davao. Oyanguren, the “last conquistador,” was appointed governor of a new province which along the east coast would stretch as far north as Tandag.
The reason given for the new division was that the southern area was too far away from its own capital Surigao and that especially the villages from Tandag southward were located along a coast where navigation was very dangerous for a great part of the year. Therefore, it was difficult to govern by the Alcalde Mayor of Surigao.
In 1850-51, describing the extension of the diocese of Cebu, Buzeta and Bravo mention that it includes “the civil provinces” of Misamis, Caraga and Nueva Guipuzcoa.”33 This seems to indicate that the civil province of Caraga (juxtaposed to Misamis) covered then only Agusan and Surigao up to and including Tandag, and excluding the southern rest of the east coast.
However, already on 19 December 1853 (Oyanguren had by then been dismissed) the interim Governor General Ramon Montero decreed:
Considering the excessive extension of the present territory known as the province of Nueva Guipuzcoa, and that experience has taught us that it is impossible that one single governor can visit the area as often as required by its backward state; and taking into account the good results obtained from reducing the administrative boundaries to where they are indicated by the condition of the area; convinced also that presently there is an urgent necessity to pay attention to the progress and good government of the villages constituting the said province, so that agriculture, commerce and the resettlement of non-Christians can be improved, I have decreed the following after hearing the consultative vote of the Royal Fiscals:
-The alcaldia of N. Guipuzcoa will be suppressed and from its territory two military districts will be created.
– One of these districts will include the coastal area and the villages from Cape San Agustin north up to Punta Cawit [Caraga, Baganga, Cateel, Lingig, Bislig, Hinatuan, Lianga, Tago and Tandag,]. The other will cover all the territory known as the gulf of Davao, beginning at Cape San Agustin.
– The first will be named District of Bislig and the second District of Davao. Both will be governed by a Politico-Military Commander.
In 1860, another change was officially decreed: the establishment of the first Politico-Military government for all of Mindanao. Under this new government set-up the island was divided into six Districts: (1) Zamboanga; (2) the Northern District, i.e. Cagayan/Misamis; (3) the Eastern District (Surigao & Agusan); (4) Davao; (5) the Central District; (6) Basilan.
On 4 April 1899, during the local turbulence of the Philippine Insurrection, murder was still committed at Cortes (Punta Cawit) because of the newly kindled dispute concerning the boundary between the southern “Caraga region” and “Surigao/Butuan.”
And on 1 May 1899 Butuan declared itself independent from Surigao/Caraga.