By Apolinario Villalobos
Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Negros Island was known as Buglas. The Spaniards, however, who saw the island inhabited by Negritoes, called it Negros which stuck until today.
Starting as a military district during the occupation of the Spaniards, the western part was sparsely populated, with only Ilog and Binalbagan as the major settlements. For administrative purposes, the western part became a part of the Province of Iloilo with Ilog as the capital. The seat of government, however, was transferred to Himamaylan, then to Bacolod, the present capital.
Don Emilio Saravia was the first politico-military General when Negros was raised to the category of a politico-military province. Rapid growth took place in the last half of the nineteenth century during which there was a heavy incursion of migrants from Antique, Capiz and Cebu, who occupied sparsely populated districts. Sugar cane plantations mushroomed. Partly responsible for the remarkable increase of haciendas, were the opening of Iloilo and Cebu ports the ports to foreign commerce. As for the province, strategically located harbors became the site of busy days in hauling loads of sugar canes to barges and ships.
The island was divided into two in 1890, but the civil government was established only on April 20, 1901. The islanders were lucky for not having experienced a bloody revolution, unlike the provinces of Luzon. This could be attributed to the lax administration of the Spanish and the ingenuity of the Negrenses during the “actual” revolution which lasted for only twenty-four hours. Revolutionary plans which were closely coordinated with Aguinaldo in Luzon were also smoothly carried out on the island.
November 5, 1898 saw the forces of General Araneta converging at the town plaza of Bago and amidst shouts tinged with patriotism, proclaimed the “First Republic of Negros”. It was the beginning of the island’s own version of revolution which was full of bluff. The Negrenses were poorly armed, though overwhelming in number compared to the only three hundred but well-armed Spanish soldiers and two platoons of native civil guards who were concentrated at Bacolod. The governor-general during that time was Col. Isidro de Castro y Cisveros.
The Negrenses’ only armament consisted of three guns: a mauser rifle, a Remington revolver, and a shotgun. The rest were with knives, bolos, and spears. The ingenuity of Gen. Araneta made him thought of letting his men carry nipa stems to look like rifles and pull rolled “sawali” mats to look like cannons which they did at dawn. The effect was tremendous, that the outnumbered Spanish forces under Castro did not offer any resistance at all.
The bluff which probably was the biggest and most daring in the annals of the country’s historic past made Negros Occidental a free province while on the island of Luzon, lives were sacrificed and bloods were shed.
The Negrenses as the rest of the Filipinos in other parts of the archipelago had all the reasons to fight to the last for freedom’s sake. They knew the extent of the land’s fertility which is particularly suited to sugar cane. It once competed with Cuba and other sugar producing countries in supplying the world market with the sweet granules, reputed in the ancient times as the food of the kings.
Occupying the northern and western part of the island in the heart of the Visayas region, the province has an area of 774,000 hectares with 560,988 actually cultivated, the bigger chunk of which to sugar cane.
By sea, the province is accessible through the ports of Pulupandan on the west, Escalante on the north and San Carlos on the east. The northern and western portions of the province are characterized by vast plains. The rest are mountain ranges that vary in elevation. Sulphuric and medicinal springs are found in the province, but the most popular is Mambucal of Murcia. Rivers break the monotony of the coastal plain, with Silay, Ilog, Binalbagan, and Bago as the major ones.
The people of Negros Occidental, as those on the oriental side, may be called Negrenses, Negrosanon or Bisaya. A few of the Negritoes who were originally, the settlers of the island, can be found in the hinterlands. And, those who claim to be “natives”, are actually descendants of migrants from the nearby provinces of Cebu and Panay Island. The middle part of the Spanish era saw the peak of their influx and some had intermarried with these foreigners, a reason why some of the Negrenses are mestizos.
The Negrenses are characterized by their kindness and gregariousness. There’s always the presumption that those who come from Negros are rich, and this embarrases the real Negrense who is actually, humble. Very likeable, the Negrense easily trusts even strangers. Seldom can one find a suspicious Negrense. On the other hand, he will always find a way to help a stranger. A happy lot, they call each other and even strangers “migs”, a contraction of “amigo” or “amiga”, Spanish for “friend”. Eighty to ninety percent of the population speaks Hiligaynon, and the rest speaks Cebuano. Although, Filipino is taught in school, this is seldom used.
The 15,606 hectares of fertile land referred to by the natives as Bacolod is known before as “Buklod” or “Bakolod”, which means, “hump”. Governor General Narciso Claveria declard it as the fourth capital of the whole island in 1848. It was only later that the big portion of the land was planted to sugar cane, as during the arrival of the Spaniards, the natives were planting only palay, corn, and sweet potato in a settlement which was then called, “Daan-Banwa”.
The rich Hispanic heritage of the province is showcased in Castillian residences distributed throughout the province but with most, concentrated at Silay City, touted as the “Paris of Negros”. Foremost of these historic landmarks is “Balay Negrense”. Other remarkable landmarks are the Palacio Episcopal, San Sebastian Cathedra and the Capitol Building.
Serving as reminders about the rich past of the province during the heyday of sugar production, are the steam locomotives in some towns that used to carry sugar canes to azucareras.
Notable too, are the province’s nationally- recognized personas, such as Leandro Locsin for Architecture, and Conchita Gaston for music, the latter as an internationally- recognized mezzo-soprano. A unique Negrense art is well- expressed in the Victorias Milling Company chapel with a mural of the “angry” Christ as its centerpiece, a masterpiece of local artist, Alfonso Ossorio.
Negros Occidental’s enticement is not limited to its historic heritage, but also in its fiestas or carnivals. The most popular among these fiestas is the “Masskara” of Bacolod City which features colorful smiling masks worn by street dance performers. The rest of the festivals are “Pasalamat” of La Carlota, “Pintaflores” of San Carlos, and the “Bailes de Luces” of La Castellana. While the festivals have their own dates for celebration, they are showcased during the “Pana-ad sa Negros Festival” held every April in the vast 25 hectares Pana-ad Stadium. The so-called Festival of festivals, bring together all the 13 cities and 19 towns of the province in several days of collective activities that include tourist,trade,commercial and cultural fair. Exhibits, beauty and talent competitions, as well as, games are crammed in the limited days of the celebration.
For outdoor sports enthusiast, the province offers Mt. Kanlaon National Park that teems with different species of indigenous plants teeming birdlife. The mountain is the object of yearly summer climb of mountaineering groups and individuals, both local and foreign. Aside from the national park, other unspoiled natural charms of the province may be discovered, as one explores areas that are off-the-beaten trails…the non-traditional destinations, such as Cauayan, 133 kilometers away from Bacolod City. The town has its own white beach, the Punta Bulata, aside from its being the take-off point for Danjugan Marine Life Sanctuary which is a veritable dive and snorkeling spot, aside from the varied birdlife for the delight birdwatchers. The town’s picturesque Lina-on Bay offers a nice perch for a sweeping view of the Sulu Sea. It would also be nice to take a respite at the Punta Sojoton lighthouse for a view of the extent of the Cauayan coastline.
Other destinations that should not be missed because of their natural attractions are Sipalay with its forty-two identified dive sites, white beaches, and wrecks at Campomanes Bay; Hinoba-aan, the tuna capital of the province, also, with its white beaches, and Ubong Cave; Ma-ao with its Kipot Falls; and, Silay’s Patag Heights from where the breathtaking canyon of Mt. Marapara can be viewed.
The province can be accessed via flights from Manila, as well as, ports of Pulupandan, Escalante and San Carlos. For those who are interested to scale Mt. Kanlaon, arrangement should be made with the local government’s tourism office.