Palawan History and Culture

No one knows how Palawan got its name. It’s speculated that it may have come from the Chinese work “Pa Lao Yu” meaning Land of Beautiful Harbors. That would certainly be accurate. There’s also speculation that it comes from the Spanish word “Paragua” since Palawan looks like a closed umbrella.

palwan map

The various theories behind where Palawan derived its name is reflective of the island’s rich cultural history.

Palawan is often referred to as the “Cradle of Philippine Civilization” because the bones of the first Filipinos were found there 22,000 years ago. The first known settlers were the Tagbanua, Palaw’an, Tau’t bato and the Bataks. They were here before Palawan ever became known to the rest of the world.

The beauty that we now know as Palawan first landed on the map when Chinese traders and other migrants found their way over using the land bridges that once existed between Borneo and Palawan. Palawan soon became a center of trade between the Malays and the Chinese and it was during the 12th century when the Malays from Borneo started settling in Palawan.

The settlers lived off the land. They planted their own food: palay, ginger, coconut, camote, sugar, and bananas. They kept livestock for food. They also fished and hunted. They developed their own alphabet, a non-formal form of government and a system for trading with sea-borne merchants.

Due to its proximity to Borneo as well as the influence of the Malay settlers, southern Palawan soon fell under the rule of Borneo. This lasted for over two centuries until the Spanish arrived in the Philippines.

Spanish Rule

When the Spanish first arrived in Palawan, the northernmost part of Palawan was the first area to be colonized.  In the early 17th century, the Spanish friars attempted to reach out to Cuyo, Agutaya, Taytay, and Cagayancillo but the strong Moro forces made their attempts unsuccessful.

palawan history

In the 18th century, the Spanish friars stared building churches with garrisons in the towns of Cuyo, Taytay, Linapacan and Balabac to protect them against the Moro raids. These forts still stand today and make a delightful day trip. In 1749, the Sultanate of Borneo gave the Spaniards the power to rule the southern parts of Paragua (the Spanish name for Palawan), making Spanish rule of Palawan complete.

American Rule

After the 1898 Revolution, Spanish colonization ended. The American government took over what the Spanish government had left off. They consolidated the islands and called it Palawan. A new civil government was enacted on the 23rd of June in the year 1902. New provincial boundaries were made and old ones were revised during 1903. The name of the province was changed from Paragua to Palawan. Its capital became Puerto Princesa.

They created reforms and different programs that promoted the development of the province. They promoted education, medical assistance, agriculture and tribal minorities’ rights. Schools were constructed all over Palawan.

Today, Palawan still has a considerable amount of well-preserved beauty thanks to the locals’ and various groups’ perseverance. They even have their own hospital for sick and disabled crocodiles. Two UNESCO World Heritage sites are found there which are the Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, South Sulu Sea and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

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