Heritage Conservation Advocates
First of two parts. Click page 2.
History of Cagayan de Oro
By Antonio J. Montalván, Ph.D.*

The Higaonon are early settlers of Cagayan de Oro

The Higaonon are early settlers of Cagayan de Oro.

CAGAYAN DE ORO AND ITS SURROUNDING were occupied by people around 350 AD. Signs of ancient habitation were discovered in 1970 by field researchers of the National Museum. The researchers were exploring Huluga, a place eight kilometers south of the present Cagayan de Oro City.

Huluga is a promontory** with two main sections: a set of caves and an Open Site . The Open Site appears to be the village of the original people of Cagayan de Oro.

Inside the cave were skeletons, pots, potsherds, tools, possibly Indian glass beads, Chinese pot fragments, and vestiges of possibly Annamese and Thai wares -- indications of overseas trading. The Open Site yielded potsherds, Chinese celadon sherds, and obsidian flakes.

Researchers sent a skull fragment to Dr. Jeffrey Bada of the external site Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, where it was subjected to acid racemization, a dating technique. Bada then wrote a letter to anthropologist Dr. Linda Burton of Xavier University, indicating that the sample came from 350 AD,*** the Late Neolithic Period.



Spanish Arrival

In 1622, two Augustinian Recollect missionaries first came to Huluga, then called Himologan. Here they met a mixed stock of Bukidnons and Visayas who lived in a settlement perched on a cliff, overlooking a river. The men had massive tattoos, like those of the Visayan pintados, and the women wore intricate jewelry, some made of gold.

The priests were Fray Juan de San Nicolas and Fray Francisco de la Madre de Dios. According to their journals, the natives were polytheistic animists, not Muslims. But they paid tributes to Sultan Kudarat through his emissaries.

Huluga stone toolsStone tools found in Huluga and on display at Museo de Oro, Xavier University. Photo by Elson T. Elizaga, Nazca Graphic Design & Photography.




Spanish documents in 1500s already referred to the area around Himologan as Cagayan. On January 25, 1571, the Spanish government granted this area, including what is now Northern Mindanao, as an encomienda to Juan Griego. There is also a Cagayan in Luzon and another in Sulu. What is the meaning of this name?

According to Dr. Lawrence A Reid, cagayan or kagayan means "river". Other similar words --karayan, kahayan, kayayan, kalayan and kayan -- mean river and may have evolved from an ancient word with the same meaning.

Reid is Researcher Emeritus of the Department of Linguistics, University of Hawai'i. [
See Reid's detailed explanation.]


Degrading Huluga

By Elson T. Elizaga

In 2003, mayor Vicente Y. Emano destroyed a huge portion of the Huluga settlement site to give way to a bridge project. The next year, under intense criticism from various groups, Emano hired a team from the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program (UP-ASP) allegedly to conduct a comprehensive research on Huluga and two other sites.

Instead, the UP-ASP team declared Huluga a "camp-like" area, after less than two weeks of digging on top of Obsidian Hill only. It did not study the artifacts and fossils found by the Heritage Conservation Advocates (HCA), and did not coordinate with archaeologist Dr. Erlinda M. Burton, historians, and other stakeholders. It also ignored a midden near their excavations. Burton maintains that Huluga is an ancient settlement site.

In 2007, I wrote a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and accused the UP-ASP team of being commissioned to degrade Huluga. The team and the Historical and Cultural Commission of City Hall denied the charge. In May 2011, a graduate of UP-ASP published a book, which briefly described a "a social-anthropologist claiming to be an archaeologist in Cagayan de Oro" -- an apparent attack no longer on Huluga but on the credibility of Burton. --Revised May 10, 2011.

Remaining section of Huluga settlement site being subjected to quarrying.

Remaining section of Huluga Obsidian Hill being subjected to quarrying in 2007. Flat area used to be part of the hilll. Quarrying continues as of September 2009.

See large photo.



Conversion to Christianity

In 1626, a 26-year old Augustinian Recollect friar arrived in Cagayan. His name was Fray Agustin de San Pedro, a Portuguese. Before his priesthood, he studied mathematics, architecture, gunnery, and military strategy at the University of Salamanca.

Fray Agustin persuaded the leader of Himologan, Datu Salangsang, to transfer his settlement down river, to the area of today's Gaston Park and San Agustin Cathedral. Here, Fray Agustin built a church of native materials. Inside, he baptized Datu Salangsang and his wife, and later his people.

Fortification of Cagayan

Maria Jennifer Precious Gaston
Maria Jennifer Precious Gaston is Miss Cagayan de Oro 2008. She wears a Higaonon-inspired dress during the beauty pageant.

In response to the conversion, Sultan Kudarat sent a fleet of warriors to drive away the Spanish missionaries and to regain the lost tributes.

Kudarat's attacks prompted Fray Agustin to build a wooden fortress and watchtower in Cagayan to protect Salangsang's people. He called the fortress Fuerza Real de San Jose, and it occupied an area now filled with Gaston Park and San Agustin Cathedral. Fray Agustin's defense of Cagayan earned him the title "El Padre Capitan".

The fortress was rebuilt with stones in 1730. But Lt. Col. Jose Carvallo, the Spanish politico-military governor of Misamis, demolished it in 1875 and used the stones to pave the streets of the town.

Church Construction

The Recoletos made Cagayan their mission center in 1674. But only on August 28, 1780 did they declare San Agustin the patron saint of Cagayan.

In 1845, Fray Simon Loscos de Santa Catalina reconstructed the church, using marine stones from China. It had protruding buttresses and a single belfry. Inside were a magnificent altar and sanctuary with carved wooden niches and paintings.

This church was destroyed during the Japanese bombing of Cagayan in 1945, exactly a hundred years later.

A skull of a 30-year old woman in HulugaHuluga female cranium on display at Museo de Oro, Xavier University. Photo by Elson T. Elizaga, Nazca Graphic Design & Photography





Cagayan de Misamis

In 1818, the Manila Spanish divided Mindanao into politico-military districts, one of which was the Segundo Distrito de Misamis, the largest district in Mindanao. This area was composed of today's Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Camiguin, Bukidnon, Lanao, Zamboanga del Norte, and the northern part of Cotabato.

The capital was the town of Misamis, today called Ozamis City, where a fort and garrison bigger than those in Cagayan were constructed.

On February 27, 1872, the Spanish Governor General Carlos Maria de la Torre issued a decree declaring Cagayan the permanent capital of Segundo Distrito de Misamis. All Spanish politico-military governors of Misamis, who were all lieutenant colonels, lived at the Casa Real de Cagayan, built in 1831, the site of today's city hall of Cagayan de Oro. During this era, the name of the town was "Cagayan de Misamis".

In 1888, the Recoletos erected a wooden cross -- "Santa Cruz" -- outside the San Agustin Church. It still stands today.

[Proceed to page 2.]



*Antonio J. Montalván II is a Mindanao anthropologist and ethnohistorian. He is a Ford Foundation scholar for the doctorate in anthropology on Mindanao Studies with the Mindanao Anthropology Consortium. Montalván has written articles about Mindanao history and culture in academic journals, and contributes an opinion article to the Philippine Daily Inquirer twice a month. Montalván is also the author of "A Cagayan de Oro Ethnohistory Reader", launched on March 8, 2004.

** A promontory is "a high ridge of land or rock putting out into a body of water; a headland" -- The American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition.

*** The letter from the Dr. Jeffrey Bada stated that the Huluga bone sample was 1600 years old. Burton interpreted this to mean "1600 before the present" -- the present being 1950 in scientific terms. The number 350 is arrived at by deducting 1600 from 1950. Thanks to Vito Hernandez of Archaeological Studies Program (ASP) for the heads-up. The webmaster is responsible for the error of putting "377 AD" as date of skull. See external site excellent explanation of "before present" in Wikipedia.

Published by the Heritage Conservation Advocates, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, January 16, 2002. Updated October 16, 2009. Updated further on September 25, 2016. Footnote on Montalván corrected September 28, 2019.

Photos of Huluga artifacts are made possible with the help of Luis E. Ostique, curator of Museo de Oro, Xavier University; and George Ang, photographer.

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