History of Palawan

Discovering the Rich History of Palawan

Delve into the rich and fascinating history of Palawan, an island in the western Philippines that has been inhabited for thousands of years. From ancient times to colonization by the Spanish and Japanese invasion during World War II, Palawan's history is a tapestry of cultural influences and historical events that have shaped the island's unique identity. In this article, we will explore the rich history of Palawan and learn about the many factors that have contributed to the island's rich cultural heritage.

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Visit Plaza Curatel during Puerto Princesa city tour

Palawan, known as “The Best Island in the World,” has a rich history that dates back thousands of years.
The early history of the province was uncovered by a team of researchers led by Dr. Robert Fox, who found evidence of human habitation in the Tabon Cave dating back over 50,000 years. The remains of “Tabon Man” were also discovered in the municipality of Quezon, leading anthropologists to believe that these early inhabitants originated from Borneo.

The Tabon Cave, which is often referred to as “the Cradle of Philippine Civilization,” is still being excavated and explored today in search of yet-to-be-discovered artifacts and remains that could offer further insight into Palawan’s history. The ongoing studies and research in the cave continue to shed light on the island’s past and its cultural heritage.
Palawan’s rich history is not only of interest to historians and archaeologists, but it also adds to the island’s allure for visitors. Tourists can explore the Tabon Cave and other historical sites to gain a deeper appreciation of Palawan’s fascinating past.

Palawan’s history is a testament to the enduring influence of its early inhabitants and the cultural exchanges brought about by colonization. From the discoveries in the Tabon Cave to the preservation of colonial-era buildings, Palawan offers visitors a glimpse into its rich past and cultural heritage.

Tabon Cave and ancient time

Tabon Cave is a limestone cave complex located in Lipuun Point, Quezon, Palawan, in the Philippines. It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country and has yielded numerous artifacts and remains that shed light on the ancient history of the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

The cave complex was first discovered in 1936 by an American archaeologist named Robert Fox. Fox conducted extensive excavations at the site, unearthing a wealth of prehistoric artifacts and skeletal remains that date back to around 50,000 years ago. It is believed that Palawan’s first inhabitants were migrants who reached Palawan during a period when sea levels were lower and land bridges connected the different islands in the region.

The artifacts and remains found in Tabon Cave suggest that the area was inhabited by early humans, including Homo sapiens and Homo erectus, as early as 50,000 years ago. The cave also provided evidence of a sophisticated ancient culture that had developed in the region, including pottery, jewelry, and other artifacts.

Today, the Tabon Cave complex is a protected area under the jurisdiction of the Philippine government. It has been declared a National Cultural Treasure and is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can explore the caves and learn more about the prehistoric history of the Philippines through guided tours and exhibits.

Pre-colonial time

Palawan’s earliest settlers are believed to be the ancestors of the Palaw’ans and Tagbanuas people, who have evolved unique cultures over time. They have established their own alphabet and trade system with sea-borne merchants, which adds to their distinctiveness. These communities have also developed an informal form of governance that has been passed down through generations, further cementing their place as the original inhabitants of this beautiful island paradise.

There is evidence showing that the island’s inhabitants were already engaged in commerce with ancient Chinese traders. The coastal areas of Calamianes were particularly active in this trade, as demonstrated by the vast collection of Chinese porcelain, jars, and other relics that have been discovered in Palawan today. These historical records paint a vivid picture of a thriving early civilization that flourished through the exchange of goods and ideas, long before the arrival of the colonizers.

n the 12th century, Malay immigrants arrived in Palawan, with most of the settlements ruled by a Malay chieftain. They cultivated agricultural products like rice, coconuts, ginger, sweet potatoes, sugarcane, and bananas, as well as raised animals such as pigs, goats, and chickens. Fishing, farming, and hunting using bamboo traps and bowguns were their primary economic activities. In the 13th century, Indonesians from the Majapahit Empire arrived, bringing with them Buddhism and Hinduism.

The southern part of the island, owing to its proximity to Borneo, came under the rule of the Sultanate of Borneo for over two centuries following the Spanish arrival.

Fascinatingly, the island’s pre-colonial inhabitants spoke a unique dialect composed of 18 syllables. This rich linguistic heritage is a testament to the cultural richness and diversity of Palawan’s earliest peoples.

During this period, trade relations became prevalent, and intermarriages between the natives and foreign traders, such as the Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, and Hindus, became common. The mixing of races resulted in a unique group of people in Palawan characterized by their physical stature and features.

Spanish rule

View of the Taytay Spanish Fort

The Calamianes Islands located in the northern part of Palawan were among the first to be colonized by the Spanish, which declared the area a separate province from the Palawan mainland. In the early 17th century, Spanish friars attempted to establish missions in several other towns such as Cuyo, Agutaya, Taytay, and Cagayancillo. However, they were met with resistance from the Moro communities. By the 18th century, Spain began constructing fortified churches to serve as a base for preaching and as a defense against Moro raids in Cuyo, Taytay, Linapacan, and Balabac. Many of these structures still exist today, offering a glimpse into Palawan’s colorful past.

The Taytay Spanish Fort is a well-preserved Spanish-era fortification located in the town of Taytay in Palawan, Philippines. It was built in 1667 as a military outpost to protect the town and its inhabitants from Moro pirate attacks. The fort is made of coral stone and features a quadrilateral shape with four bastions at each corner. Inside, there are two levels with rooms used as barracks, ammunition storage, and a chapel. Today, the fort is a popular tourist attraction in Taytay and is managed by the National Museum of the Philippines. Visitors can explore the interior of the fort, climb the stairs to the upper level, and enjoy views of the town and nearby sea. The fort also serves as a venue for cultural events and exhibitions.

In 1749, the Sultanate of Borneo ceded southern Palawan to Spain, which then established its control over the entire province. Originally, Palawan was a single province named Calamianes, with Taytay as its capital. Later on, it was divided into three provinces: Castilla in the northern section with Taytay as capital, Asturias in the southern mainland with Puerto Princesa as capital, and Balabac Island with its capital in the town of Principe Alfonso.

American rule

Visiting the Recreation Hall Iwahig

After the Peace Treaty between Spain and the United States in 1898, the American regime took over Palawan. In 1901, a Military Government led by Major John Brown was established, and in June 23, 1902, the Civil Government of Paragua was established with Major J. Brown as the appointed Governor. Following the implementation of Act No. 1363 of the Philippine Commission in 1905, the name of the province was changed from Paragua to Palawan, and the capital was transferred from Cuyo to Puerto Princesa.

During American governance, education, agriculture, medical assistance, and the rights of tribal minorities were emphasized. The democratic ways and enlightened policies of the Americans succeeded in unifying the people.

However, on May 18, 1942, the Japanese Imperial Forces occupied Palawan during World War II. Garrisons were established in Coron, Puerto Princesa, and Iwahig, leading to the formation of guerilla forces in three sectors. Capt. Carlos Amores led the Calamianes sector, Dr. Higinio Mendoza, Sr. (Governor elect 1931-1937) led the Main Island, and Emilio Tumbaga led Brooke’s Point. Palawan was liberated by the Americans in 1945.

The name Palawan is believed to come from the Chinese word “PA-LAO-YU,” which means “The Land of Beautiful Safe Harbor,” and the Spanish word “PARAGUA,” which likens the shape of the island to a closed umbrella.

Palawan Massacre: A Tragic WWII Event

The Palawan Massacre was a brutal event that occurred on December 14, 1944, during World War II. The Japanese Fourteenth Area Army under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita herded 150 prisoners of war in Puerto Princesa into three covered trenches and set them on fire using gasoline to prevent their rescue by advancing American allies. Prisoners who tried to escape the flames were shot down, while others who attempted to climb over a cliff were hunted down and killed. Only 11 soldiers survived, and between 133 to 141 people were killed.

The event is the basis for the book “Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II” by Bob Wilbanks and the opening scenes of the 2005 Miramax film “The Great Raid.” A memorial now stands on the site, known as Plaza Cuartel, next to the Cathedral in Puerto Princesa. McDole, one of the survivors, was able to attend the dedication in his eighties.

Liberation and Significance

During the first phase of the Battle of the Gulf of Leyte, just off the coast of Palawan, two United States Naval Submarines, USS Dace (SS-247) and USS Darter (SS-227), sank a Japanese cruiser task force led by Admiral Takeo Kurita. The island was later liberated from the Japanese Imperial Forces by a task force consisting of Filipino and American military personnel between February 28 and April 22, 1945.

Today, Palawan is a destination known for its natural resources, white sandy beaches, long sandbars, and blue crystalline waters. However, its dark history and hair-raising stories of war and colonization are a reminder of its cultural and historical significance. Palawan’s history serves as a testament to the island’s rich heritage and culture, offering everyone an opportunity to learn and appreciate its past.

Come and explore Palawan, an environmentally rich destination that holds an important place in history.