The island of Negros in the Spanish era


The island of Negros in the Spanish era

When the Spaniards began to explore the Philippine archipelago, from 1565, Negros did not escape their attention. Esteban Rodriguez and his men, members of the Legaspi expedition, would be the first white men to have set foot on the coasts of Negros (Alcina 1960). The Spaniards noticed that the island, called by the natives Buglas, was inhabited by blacks; thus, they gave the name of Negros. Miguel de Loarca, one of the first encomenderos based in Panay, pointed out in 1582 that the side of Negros facing Panay was quite populated while the one opposite Cebu was sparsely inhabited (Blair & Robertson, 1903-1909).

The first missionaries who were the first to evangelize blacks in the 1570s were the Augustinians. In 1575 they established a mission in Binalbagan and in 1584 in Ilog. Missionary work in the eastern part began in 1580 with the founding of Tanjay, which at that time included the sites of Dumaguete, Marabago (Bacong), Manolongon (part of Sta. Catalina) and Siaton (Ruiz, 1925). Shortly after, the Récollets arrived on the island and continued the work of proselytism begun by the Augustinians. Other religious orders, such as the Jesuits and the Dominicans, eventually followed suit. In the latter part of the Spanish rule, especially in the 19th century, the secular clergy took over the administration of the parishes of Negros but due to the shortage of secular priests, the task of administering the parishes was again entrusted to the recollets. . It was in 1849, an event followed by the admission of young indigenous girls to the seminary for priestly formation. The plan was for Filipino priests to take over parishes temporarily occupied by the regular Spanish clergy.

During this period, the western part of the island called Negros Occidental was administered from Iloilo, while Negros Oriental was ruled from Cebu. It was not until 1734 that the island was established as a separate military district during the reign of a corrector, a Spanish military officer, who dealt with the collection of tributes and the administration of justice (Martinez 1893). Its capital was established at Ilog, later transferred to Himamaylan and ultimately moved to Bacolod in 1849. The decision to make Bacolod the capital stemmed from its proximity to the newly developed areas north of Negros, later including the cities of Cadiz, Manapla, Minuluan (Talisay), Saravia, Silay, Victorias and others (Cullamar 1986).

The rapid growth and development of Negros took place in the second half of the 19th century. It coincided with the opening of the port of Iloilo to world trade in 1855 and the subsequent development of the sugar industry in the region. The island was declared an independent politico-military province in 1856 and the first politico-military governor was appointed Emilio Saravia. The 1850s until the end of Spanish rule saw the exodus of wealthy families from Iloilo to Negros and developed large haciendas on this island, the owners of which were later called hacienderos or “sugar barons”. In the wake of these hacienderos were the poorest class of migrant workers who provided the necessary labor in these haciendas, which later became collectively known as the sacadas. A writer, Francisco Varona (1958) called this mass crossing to Negros “the Ilongga migracion”. Another writer, R. Echauz (1894), noted how many towns were founded, churches built and mills established by the “insulares de Jaro y Molo”. Negros Oriental also received its share of migrants from Cebu and Bohol during the second half of the 19th century, although on a smaller scale compared to the western side. Negros, in fact, has become “El Dorado” or land promised to these peoples from neighboring islands. Thus, according to Echauz, of the estimated 30,000 inhabitants of the entire island in 1850, it had climbed to 320,606 by 1893.

Administratively, it was not until 1890 that Negros was split into two provinces, each placed under a politico-military governor. Bacolod remained the capital of Negros Occidental while Dumaguete was chosen as the capital of Negros Oriental. The island of Siquijor, which was once part of Bohol, was annexed to the Negros Oriental (Cullamar 1986). The Negrens defeated the Spaniards in the 1898 revolution but submitted to the Americans soon after. In 1899, with the establishment of the US military government in the archipelago, the entire island of Negros was briefly politically unified. The island was again divided into two provinces in 1901 with the institution of the American civil government.

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