Philippines, an archipelagic country within Southeast Asia, as we know it, is very rich in historical and cultural heritage. Wherever you go, you can always find something interesting to learn and know about. This country, as we can observe, consists of different and various traditions and cultures that are due to the different influences of the different colonizers that happened to occur. That even our language has a mix or is derived from foreign words. All having unique stories of places, things, personas, and events that connect us to the past, even before the Spanish, Japanese, and American colonization, up to President Marcos’ martial law, significant happenings that somehow taught us and moulded us into becoming what we are now, citizens of an independent country or in other words, Filipinos.
Most of our stories, have given us interesting subjects to look up to today. Some may have already been discovered, some being left to the present and coming generations to reveal. And as the years pass by, it is making us farther from our beginnings thus creating more problems of traces and hints for it is slowly erased by time. Witnesses and spectators of the actual experiences are less likely to be found for we know they cannot stay here forever. But the good thing is, even with fewer records, it is pleasing to know that in one way or another, we can still trace their stories from their descendants that knew their past experiences through word of mouth.
Through these word of mouth stories, we have discovered and revealed some of the finest history of our forefathers and their activities as well as the significant events that happened in their time. Exposing some of their deepest secrets and correcting some of the wrong information gathered by the people before us.
And as we continue to study history, it is inevitable to find some stories of events that interest us the most thus creating an urge within us to further study, research and explore about the particular piece. Just like stories of how a particular part of history that is appreciated by many people came to be.
“…Ang puti nga krus maoy ilhanan
lubnganan nga nalunod sa kadagatan.
Ug ang simbahan salin sa bulkan,
ug ang kampanaryo maoy handumanan…
Camiguin, isla ka nga maanyag, (Map of Camiguin Island)
sa kaanindot mong mga langyaw imung gibihag…
Paraiso dili hitupngan, ag dija kita sa Camiguin Island…”
Every time I hear this song it lets me glimpse back to the past and makes me remember of this one interesting story in a small island province just located in the Northern Part of Mindanao here in the Philippines, barely encompasses two hundred forty square kilometers in land area and has a sixty-four kilometers circumferential road, Camiguin, known around the archipelago as the island born of fire, an island of your imagination and 11th of the 17 most beautiful travel destinations of 2014 according to Buzz Feed Life, is a fine attraction with unique touch of history. At present, it has 5 municipalities namely, Mambajao, Mahinog, Guinsiliban, Sagay, and Catarman each with distinct stories of how’s and when’s.
Choosing Camiguin Island as the place that I would conduct my study and research about for this is the place where I was born, as well as the place where I had my firsts. From the moment I opened my eyes for the first time, cried for the first time, until I went to school, found friends and grew up, this island was a witness of my story and for the many more stories that will come into my life. So it is just fair to explore, in return, for me to know its story too and hopefully when I get older, I would be able to share and tell this story to the children and generations to come.
A history of the island has been told from a page by Rey Eduard Quiblat Umel, stating the beginning of the municipality. And it goes like this:
The start of the quote, “The earliest document about Camiguin was written by a Portuguese, Joao de Barros in his book, Quarta Decada de Asia. He wrote that in 1538, a Portuguese captain, Francisco de Castro, sailed the length of Mindanao and converted the rulers of Sarangani, Surigao, and Camiguin to Christianity along with their respective wives, children, and subjects and that the king of Camiguin was baptized and given the name, Don Francisco.
In the book about the voyages of Fray Urdaneta (J.R. de Miguel 2009), the friar who was with the Legazpi expedition, it states that on the Sunday of March 11, 1565, the fleet of the Spanish conquistador, Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, cast anchor on the west coast of Camiguin at 6:00 P.M. They found all the houses empty as the inhabitants fled and hid in the forest. Legazpi ordered Martin de Goiti and Andres de Ibarra to explore the island and look for cinnamon, a spice that they greatly valued. Having found none, they left for Butuan.
Another 1565 document that was subsequently published in La Solidaridad in 1892, it mentioned that on Legazpi’s arrival in the island, they met the chief named Malitik and he allowed his son, Kamutuhan, to guide the Spaniards to Limasawa. The reason why the people fled in fear when they saw Legazpi’s ships approaching the island was that two years earlier, the Moluccans and Portuguese raided Bohol and killed a ruler there. They then proceeded to Camiguin and Limasawa islands where they sacked and burned the coastal villages and killed many.
In 1596, the Jesuits were given permission by Governor General Francisco Tello to do a mission work along the Butuan River and in Camiguin. Three years later, they founded Guinsiliban, the oldest town and the first parish of the island. Due to the several hardships they encountered on the island, the Jesuits left. They were followed by the Augustinians of the Observant Order but did not stay long just like the Jesuits because of the “extreme ferocity” of the people. Finally, in 1622, the Augustinian Recollects came to the island with the Venerable Fray Miguel de Santa Maria as the first friar. They were to stay there for more than 200 years and founded the towns of Catarman, Sagay, Mambajao and Mahinog.
Old Spanish documents indicate that the renowned explorers Ferdinand Magellan and Miguel López de Legazpi landed in Camiguin in 1521 and 1565, respectively. The first Spanish settlement was established in 1598 in what is now Guinsiliban. Guinsiliban which comes from the old Kinamiguin word “Ginsil-ipan” which means “to look out for pirates from a watchtower” has an old Spanish watchtower where the Camiguinons kept watch for Moro pirates. The first major Spanish settlement established in 1679 was called Katagman or Katadman (known as Catarman). The settlement grew and prospered but was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vulcan in 1871. The former location is what is now Barangay Bonbon of Catarman.
Sagay, located south of Catarman, was formally established as a town in 1848. The word Sagay is derived from the name of poisonous fruit tree that grows in the area. Mambajao became a town in 1885. The name was coined from the Visayan terms “mamahaw”, meaning to usher breakfast, and “bajao”, which is leftover boiled rice. In the early 1900s, Mambajao prospered to become the busiest port in Northern Mindanao. Mahinog was established as a municipality in 1860. The name Mahinog comes from a Visaya word meaning “to ripen” or “to become ripe”. Although Guinsiliban was the oldest settlement on the island, it was only in 1950 when it became a municipality. Mahinog was formerly governed by Mambajao while Guinsiliban was formally governed from Sagay.” End of quote.
It was in the late 1800’s when Camiguin, being part of the pacific ring of fire, has its own active volcanoes that made the island abundant to agriculture produce. Within this island is this little town, named Guiob, Katadman, now Bonbon, Catarman who, as mentioned, once became the major settlement on the island. Barter trade was already present for the place is abundant with abaca, coconut, and lanzones – which was later, became known as the sweetest lanzones in the Philippines and is celebrated with a lanzones festival with as thanksgiving for the bountiful harvest. Annually, Camiguingnons take part on street dancing, chanting its hymn,
“Maghudyaka ta, sa kadalanan. Dad-on ta ang mga buahan.
Kini ang dakong kalingawan sa tibook nga lalawigan.
Ang lanzones festival.”
The hymn basically means to rejoice in streets bringing our island’s pride which is the Lanzones fruit. Lanzones festival is one of the major events in the island being celebrated during the third or fourth week of October.
Going back to the late 1800’s, Catarman, in its early years, was the most populated area in the island, and it was a lively place indeed. Even at those times, we can really see that civilizations are starting to develop in these areas for they already had their own churches and cemeteries. These infrastructures manifest that even at those times, Camiguin has been already influenced by Christianity given that Spanish chroniclers were already here. The manifestation that the Spanish was really here on the island is the century-old Guiob church and the capitol’s cemetery that happened to be our focus for this narrative.
There were also some tales of the elders that say that in those times, the town was very progressive that the individuals in there were ill-mannered. Husbands have mistresses and wives have other lovers. Parties were everyday and everywhere. According to stories, people have lost their morality and only think of satisfying their lust and bad motives. In the middle of all this, a phenomenon happened that changed not only the people in the community but had also contributed great impact into the island’s environment and public infrastructure that had put permanent impacts on some part of Camiguin.
Given that the island was part of the Pacific Ring of Fire or that invisible ring that comprises the areas that are surrounded by active volcanoes, its own volcanoes brought them rich soils that enabled them to plant and grow an abundant harvest of vegetation. But like all good things that had provided them with benefits and advantages, there will come a time that these good things, especially if unprotected and abused, will come to an end. There will be a time that Mother Nature will show its wrath.
(Mount Vulcan Daan’s Zoomed Peak)
And by this, it has given Camiguin trouble for the past years. One of which is Mount Hibok-hibok who until now is still active and the other one is the Mount Vulcan Daan who, history says, have four historical eruptions. There were no written records that proved exactly that these really happened but through the word of mouth that has been around for decades, it was accepted as part of its past. The first eruption was on 1827 but there were no records whether it had put much damage and casualty to the people, and then it was followed after 35 years in the year 1862 that has killed hundreds of people.
The third one, which is the most significant of its eruptions for it made great impacts to people living on the island. This was that phenomenon, the eruption that was stated above that greatly altered the island’s ways. History records show that Mount Vulcan Daan started as a volcanic fissure on April 30, 1871, after weeks of earthquakes on the island. After continuously spewing out lava into the sea, it gained a height of nearly 2,000 feet and submerged areas of Catarman, including the former capitol’s cemetery. Gas emissions and massive earthquakes were felt all over the place. There were warnings and cautions before this event happened but the majority did not listen. They were so blinded by their abundance of wealth and harvest that they did not even dare to leave it. Until the day that changed not only their lives but the lives of the future generations, I can imagine screams, shouts, and cries for help everywhere. It must have been a tragic day for all of the inhabitants. Many tried to evacuate the area using boats or some even swam just for the sake of leaving that chaotic area but it was too late. Lava started to cover the entire place.
Being an island surrounded by bodies of water, to further explain the time where because of too much movement of the earth surface, also of the volcanic eruption, and massive volume of its lava, it caused great destruction including the submersion of some parts of the island. Catarman, the capital during Spanish regime together with the whole cemetery and some parts of the Guiob church sank 20-25 feet underwater. The rise of Vulcan Daan also sank thousands of lives especially for those who were too stubborn to evacuate even when the tell-tale signs of an eruption persisted. By those times, Catarman became a ghost-town like place. Houses were destroyed, lives were lost. The once busiest and most progressive part of the island suddenly vanished just like a blink of an eye.
I never could have imagined if I were at that time, experiencing those particular events in history. Seeing everyone running for their lives, witnessing families being separated and loved ones being victimized by death right before their very own eyes, it must have been very heart-breaking. I may not have felt their actual pain or agonized by the same sorrow. But one thing is for sure, will always remember this event as something that we would not forget for many years. This would be something that broke us but taught us in the end.
Because of this happening that struck and affected Catarman the most, Mambajao (the capital town of Camiguin Province), grew quickly to be the busiest part of Northern Mindanao in the early 1900s.
© Online travel Express
(A picture of the gravestone underwater or the sunken cemetery)
After many years of Vulcan Daan’s inactivity, the area where the cemetery was submerged became a good place for fishing because the gravestones were being grown with corals that attracted fishes and other marine species including some aquatic organisms that are now endangered to being extinct. But Mount Vulcan Daan had its fourth eruption between the years 1948 – 1953 and this were irregular ones that made the cemetery more submerged underwater, and that is a twenty more feet deeper. Leaving relatives of those buried souls no clues on finding their ancestors that were now hidden somewhere, few feet under the sea. Unlike in the days before the fourth eruption, the cemetery was still visible during low tide but after it, there was no other way but to accept what happened. Thinking that the bodies may forever be unfound but the memories would be forever cherished and passed to the generations to come.
According to an article, it was stated that “In 1912, Pablo Rodrigo was elected President of Municipality of Catarman through a plebiscite, up to 1915. In 1912, Catarman was re-created or re-established as a municipality separate from Mambajao. During the Second World War, the municipality was not spared of the threat of war. Although there were no war encounters within the municipality, a guerrilla outfit was present. There was no bombing made during the invasion of the municipality. The people were prepared for the event and most went to the nearby hills and mountains to hide. The eruption of Mt. Hibok-hibok on September 8, 1948, and December 3-4, 1951 precipitated a dramatic exodus of Catarmanons for safety to other places. Most of them went to mainland Mindanao and settled. To them, Mindanao was the island of promise. True to their beliefs, most of them had improved and settled permanently.”
Periods have changed and communities have transformed. Memories of the tragic past have slowly subsided and hidden on the corners of history. Society started to evolve again and had its leaders. Camiguin, being a part of Misamis Oriental when Philippines gained independence from the US on July 4, 1946, it became a sub-province in 1958, and was made into a separate province on June 18, 1966, and was formally inaugurated in 1968.
Anticipated that the time will come that all the tombstones or graves that sank would be completely covered with sand and growing corals, it was decided that a marker, somehow, should be made so that if ever that time will come, it will not be a problem finding the cemetery with the graves of our ancestors and forefathers. That is why the big, iconic cross was built and erected on solidified lava that was just 20-30 away from the coastline and is just in the area within the submerged cemetery in 1982 by the Local Government Unit of Catarman, Camiguin.
The first marker that was originally built in 1982 had somehow collapsed maybe due to strong winds and other reasons. So a replacement was made in the year 1997 and the mayor in that time was Honourable Antonio Gabucan. The money used for the budget of the renovation/reconstruction of the marker was from the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) and a donor who provided two million pesos and five hundred thousand pesos respectively, a total of two million, five hundred thousand pesos. Through those donations, we were able to see that marker, which is the big, white cross that we see now, a reconstructed one, which is said to be bigger than the original to become more resilient to natural occurrences that may happen again in the area.
© Jordan Gases
The Sunken Cemetery is visible even if you are just going to pass by Catarman’s highway for it is in the center of the sea and it is just located 16 km from Catarman proper but it is best if you can go near it and personally see what it is made of. It is approximately 5 minutes from the walkway to the old Vulcan and from the big cross, you can have a very good view of the Mount Vulcan Daan and within the centre of the cross is the ladder built where one can climb their way up to the top and see the view in a different and more profound angle. But maybe due to its old age, the ladders are now rusty and in poor condition, so it is not that safe to climb in it anymore.
There was once a time when a tourist tried to climb in there but after some
time, he decided to not continue it because he felt something weird
inside. It does not prove anything but it really gives us the creeps upon hearing the stories thinking too that the area has been there for a long time.
In connection to the creepy, mysterious feeling being felt in the area, there was a movie that had been shot their last 2007 entitled “Ouija”. It is a Filipino horror thriller film directed by director Topel Lee. The film stars in the movie were Judy Ann Santos, Iza Calzado, Rhian Ramos, and Jolina Magdangal that were haunted by a spirit they accidentally unleashed while playing an Ouija Board one night at the shore near the Sunken Cemetery.
To commemorate the tragedy of the sunken cemetery and the souls of our dead ancestors and forefathers buried there, fluvial procession is annually being done in the first week of November where people in the nearby barrios and some who thinks that they have their long lost relatives in there, to offer some prayers to the dead souls and throw flowers unto the sea while riding a ‘bangka’ or native canoe being paddled by local rafters in the area. This annual event is organized by the people of Barangay Bonbon, Catarman.
At present, Sunken Cemetery is being maintained and regulated by the officials of Barrio Bonbon headed by their Barangay Captain, Captain Christopher Rodriguez and his officials Apugan, Lozada, Naluan, Calustre, Quezon, Acero, and Manticajon and off course the Department of Tourism for it is now considered as a tourist attraction.
Every holy week, Catarman would be the busiest and most visited place on the island for not too far away from the Sunken Cemetery is the Via Cruzes or Walkway where people from the different parts of the island or from other provinces in the region hike their way to the top of Mount Vulcan Daan where stations of the cross were built. It is also very satisfying if you can reach the end of the Via Cruzes for in there, you can see the full site of the Sunken Cemetery. Not so distant away from the two places mentioned was the remaining ruins of the Guiob church left by the Spanish era where people stay for the night after their climb to Vulcan Daan’s walkway.
I, myself had also tried hiking my way to the Via Cruzes or the walkway during Holy Week. Me and my friends started to walk from the capital town of Mambajao which is more or less 10 kilometers from Sunken Cemetery and Walkway in Catarman. This serves as our share in the suffering of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. This is mostly done around the months of March or April.
Yet, in my eighteen years of living on the island, I was more fascinated by the tale of this particular piece, that was later to be called “The Sunken Cemetery” for it has a very captivating beginning and also, the topic itself is very unique and is rare in any place we go for it is covered with different stories and mysteries that are yet to be revealed. When I was still a child, I thought that piece was intentionally built there and was curious on how they did it and at the same time having the fear of the idea that a cemetery could be put under water. But as I grew up, I get to meet other people, I learned new, thought-provoking facts that made me more excited to personally see this historical structure and know about its story for its whereabouts is a few kilometers away from my hometown, Mambajao.
There are numerous reviews of tourist that had the chance to visit Camiguin including the Sunken Cemetery, and enjoyed it. For Camiguin is a destination, unlike any other local tourist destinations for it offers them a completely natural environment and high diversity of the ecosystem.
As we can remember, we started from an island that has nothing but inhabitants, then the time came when it was colonized by Spaniards, grew and progressed, had its own buildings, infrastructures, and trading yet even that was taken again away from the people, their possessions destroyed and their loved ones lost because of the massive eruption that occurred. But now, it progressed and developed again into a more beautiful place for living, away from the great pollution of cities and countless threats to lives and belongings.
Before, when those immense natural phenomena are occurring on the island, people may not understand, people may have cursed God for their state and may have lost their hope for survival. Some may have been, until their deaths have never forgotten their terrible experience maybe because they have lost their mothers, their fathers, their sons and their daughters, or worst, everything they have got, that even those who had already passed were not spared from it for they, also, were submerged causing them to be unrecovered forever.
But instead of letting that regret and hatred for the said event, let us just look at the brighter side of it. For because of it, our once selfish and prideful attitudes were changed and we started to know and practice unity and camaraderie with each other. We learned that there can be no way to let this community stand again without the help of one another and we should know that being a close-minded person cannot get us anywhere. That only if we work hand in hand as one society, we can achieve our goal of improving. Come to think of it, if after that incident that destructed parts of the island, people just helped themselves and not thinking of aiding other people in need, we think our community can stand again? No. This lesson is not only for the Camiguin Island nor is it only for the Filipinos but this lesson of unity and cooperation is for all the people who will be reached by this tale and will be able to know the historical Sunken Cemetery either through this narrative or through the word of mouth.
It is so pleasing to know that Camiguin was able to find its place again, had the capability to be resilient and was strong to find its way back to the top. Today, Catarman, Camiguin stands to be one of the most progressive municipalities in the province with its present mayor, Hon. Nestor Jacot with his Vice Mayor Zosimo Borres and their councilors Banaag, Amao, Dinorog, Buhisan, Torro, Babael, Lopez, and Rodriguez.
There are so many beautiful sites on the island, some that are naturally born and some that are also results of significant events in the past just like the the following:
- Church, Convent, and Belfry in Guiob, Bonbon, Catarman (the testimonials and bits and pieces of the eruption of Old Vulcan Daan in 1871 that wiped out the illustrious town of Catarman. It is a monument with thick century-old walls, belfry, and convent which stand reminiscent of the second Spanish settlement established in 1697).
- The Old Sto. Rosario Church in 1882 (now restored to its former glory in Sagay, Camiguin, the Via Cruzes (or the old volano slope).
- The Ancestral House in Los Libertadores St., Mambajao (built in 1800’s and now dwelled by the Francisco family).
- The Centennial house in Lakas, Mambajao (also built in 1800’s and owned by the Corrales family).
- The Katibawasan, Tuasan, and Binangawan Falls
- The Ardent Hot Spring
- The Macao and Sto. Niño Cold Springs
- The White Island
- The Mantigue Island and much more that lies with them are their distinct legends of how they were made.
Also, aside from the volcanoes that have been mentioned above for their great effects on the island, there were more of them lying in there. It was not called the island born of fire for no reason. Some of these volcanoes are Mount Timpoong which is the highest volcano on the island with about 1600 meters, followed by Mount Mambajao with 1400 meters, and Mount Hibok-Hibok with 1240 meters. We also have mount Guinsiliban, Mount Uhay, and Mount Tres Marias. All these volcanoes are responsible for most of the island’s tourist attraction and climate.
But sad to say, due to its increasing population and industrialization, the once fresh and very ideal place for relaxation and city getaway is slowly deteriorating for the people is slowly coming back to their selfish acts and is abusing all the natural resources by getting all that they can without thinking of the future days and generation. They maybe are forgetting the happenings that once struck the island for the same reason. They somehow are beginning to forget unity and cooperation. Some may not believe this and some may not believe the story I had told for the lack of facts and written records, but one thing is for sure, if this again continues, history may repeat itself. Yes, history will repeat itself.
I know none of us wants to experience it all over again; I know none of us wants to lose our belongings and most importantly the loss of loved ones. So before this threat comes into reality, let us regain our unity and cooperation and support our government towards the better change and sustainable development.
Again, this is not only for the Camiguingnons, or the Filipinons but to all the citizens around the world for who knows maybe one of my or our great, great, great grandfathers and mothers were one of those who is buried there in the Sunken Cemetery and we may not know it. So it is not bad to pay a little respect and a little love for Camiguin. Pay a little visit sometimes and witness for yourselves this magnificent historical piece. For according to Michael Crichton, “If you do not know history, then you do not know anything. You are a leaf that does not know it is part of a tree.”
For I know that these will not stay long in this world, in one way or another, there will be a time where these will disappear and may not be visible even how many eyes we use or how many telescopes we choose. It might be in a form of another eruption, or a tsunami maybe. Who knows? That is why it is important to somehow know about its beginning and its history for according to a famous quote stated by Theodore Roosevelt, “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity so that we can better face the future.” – Robert Penn Warren
And as I see myself standing against this gigantic cross in the sea, watching for that mesmerizing sunset that anytime might come to be, thinking that maybe one day, like this old famous historical piece, I may also find myself studied by the generations next to me, written in brick walls and thick old books, getting researched upon and being appreciated by what is yet to come.
While I see myself worrying about what the future holds, curious of what the future has for me, realizing that, today is what is important for it is the now that makes our history tomorrow.
“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
Que Sera, Sera” –Doris Day
(A view of the Sunken Cemetery during sunset)
And I found myself smiling as the sun starts to hide, knowing that even though today will never last, there will always be a new tomorrow for me to grasp.
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