The island of Negros is the second largest in the Visayas, after Panay. Negritos, Malays and Chinese long inhabited the island called Buglas before the expedition of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. The natives of old called it Buglas, after the reeds which were once the predominant vegetation.
In 1565 Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, while anchored in Bohol espied this impressive land mass and dispatched an expedition to reconnoiter it.
A strong current carried the frigate for several days around Buglas. The Spaniards reported seeing many dark-skinned inhabitants, and so they renamed the island Negros.
In 1571 Legaspi assigned encomiendas on Negros Island to 13 of his men. The encomienderos, however, preferred to reside in Panay or Cebu.
Three of the encomiendas were the rios de Tanae (Tanjay), “Davi” (Dauin) and “Monalongon” (Manalongon) in the southern part of Oriental Negros. Tributes collected were, however, sent to Cebu or Iloilo governments where funds of Negros were administered.
The following year, Augustinian friars began Christianization of the island. For almost 400 years the island of Negros was administered as one province by the Spaniards, although various settlements were usually at great distance from one another.
Travel was by horseback or on foot. It was difficult and took days, with rivers and mountains and jungles to be traversed to reach the major poblaciones
On June 11, 1580, Tanjay was constituted as the first parish on the southeastern coast. Spiritual and military administrative seats remained in Panay for western Negros, and Cebu for the eastern settlements.
In 1734 Negros was made a corregimento with capital in Ilog, on the western side.In 1795 the island became an alcaldia with Himamaylan as capital also on the western section.
In 1851, sugarcane began to transform Negros into the most productive island in the archipelago. In 1856 Negros became a politico-military province with Don Emilio Saravia y Nuñez as first Gobernador Politico-Militar, and Bacolod, still on the western side, as the capital.
As settlements in Oriental Negros continually grew and swelled out to other points along the coast, the sugar cane plantation expanded just as fast. Meantime, the government officials who resided in Bacolod could hardly cope up with government functions and rarely visited the Oriental part due to the inadequacy of roads and difficulty in communication facilities.
Consequently, the socio-economic life of the Oriental Negrenses suffered a great setback. There was a pressing need for more officials to supervise closely government functions such as strengthening defenses against devastating Moro raids, apprehending and trying criminals, and opening of more curacies. Thus a petition to separate Oriental Negros from Negros Occidental was presented to the Governor General, recommending the town of Dumaguete as capital.
On January 1, 1890 Governor General Valeriano Weyler, in compliance with a royal decree dated October 25, 1889, established Negros Oriental as a separate province. Siquijor Island was attached to Negros Oriental, and Dumaguete was designated as the capital.
With an estimated population (the Negritos living in the hinterland had no accurate counts) of 94,782 consisting of 17 towns of Guihulngan, Jimalalud, Tayasan, Ayungon, Manjuyod, Bais, Tanjay, Amlan, Ayuquitan, Sibulan, Dauin, Nueva Valencia, Bacong, Dumaguete, Zamboanguita, Siaton and Tolong. The appointed Politico-Militar was Joaquin Tavera.
The new province left no time concerning itself with local administration and development. Public works and other needs of the towns were attended to with public funds. A court of peace was put up in every town, and, at the provincial capital town, a Court of First Instance.
In the last quarter of 1898, Don Diego de la Viña of Vallehermoso stirred Oriental Negros into action. With a band of insufficiently armed farmhands, he marched towards Dumaguete to liberate the capital, also liberating the northern towns along the way.
The De la Viña forces arrived in Dumaguete just as the Spanish forces abandoned it. The rebel forces under the leadership of Don Diego de la Viña, succeeded in driving the Spanish forces and government officials from all towns.
November 25, 1898, the Provincial Revolutionary Government of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was established in Dumaguete, the capital town, with Don Demetrio Larena as Presidente.
On April 9, 1901, the Second Philippine Commission under the Chairmanship of William H. Taft, arrived in Dumaguete. On May 1, 1901, the civil government under American rule was established with Don Demetrio Larena as Governor.
On the same year, August 28, 1901, Dr. David S Hibbard founded Silliman Institute in Dumaguete. It would become the first Protestant university in the Philippines. In October 29, 1904 seven Belgian nuns arrived to open St. Paul’s Academy, which would be the first St. Paul de Chartres institution in the country.
Tabacalera established in 1918 its first sugar central in the country in Bais, the Central Azucarera de Bais, thus stimulating the growth of the province’s sugar industry. Oriental Negros also cultivated grains and abaca, and was a good producer of copra.
The Provincial Capital was inaugurated on February 25, 1925. In 1924, Hon. Herminigildo Villanueva was elected Governor and a Capitol Building was erected. The province experienced real war in a grand scale when World War II broke out in December 1941.
On May 26, 1942, the Japanese landed in Dumaguete City. A combined effort of American and Filipino forces defeated the occupying powers on August 6, 1945. The war, aside from the physical devastation wrecked throughout the province, also left painful scars which up to this date remain unhealed. But the people came out stronger and more determined.
The capital, Dumaguete, became a city on June 15, 1948, by virtue of Republic Act no 327. On April 5, 1955, Pope Pius XII created the Diocese of Dumaguete comprising Negros Oriental Province, Siquijor sub-province, and the Negros Occidental towns of San Carlos, Calatrava, Toboso and Escalante.
In the 70’s, when the Philippine Islands were clustered into political regions, Negros Occidental became part of Region VI, or Western Visayas, with Iloilo in Panay as its regional center; while Oriental Negros was assigned to Region VII, or Central Visayas, with Cebu City as its regional center. On September 17, 1971, Siquijor was separated as an independent Province.
Silliman and St. Paul, along with Foundation University and Negros Oriental State University, endow the provincial capital with four major institutions of higher learning.
Ethnic Origin of the People of Negros Oriental
When the Spanish explorers landed in Negros Oriental in 1565, they found natives who called the place “Buglas”, named after a kind of tall grass resembling the present-day sugar cane plant. Buglas grass was then abundantly growing in the island. The Spaniards encountered many black people with black kinky hair among the inhabitants, they called the island Negros.
Kabilin, a book on provincial history edited by Merlie Wenceslao and Bobby Villasis, mentions what seemed to be the first known documentary reference to the island of Negros appears in an atlas drawn in 1545 by the renowned Spanish cartographer Alonso de Santa Cruz (c.1490-1567). Santa Cruz’s map bears the legend y de negros, probably derived from reports of the presence of small black people (negritos) on the island. Thus, a score of years before the Legaspi expedition, the Spaniards already knew the island of Negros by this name. At that time, there were two (2) types of forest dwellers, the black natives called Ata or Agta (Negrito) and the Proto-Malay also known as Bukidnon with dark brown skin.
Along the coastline dwelt the natives of Malayan heritage who were engaged in little agricultural activities and barter trading with the Chinese and other Asian merchants who came as early as the thirteenth century. Although no written documents have been found, artifacts and relics belonging to the Sung Dynasty period in the 12th century were excavated in the towns of Bacong, Bayawan (now Bayawan City) and La Libertad in Negros Oriental and Escalante in Negros Occidental. This indicates a flourishing trade and commerce with other neighboring countries such as China, India and the Malayan peninsula.