Origin of the Name

Once called kinamaligan, a name derived from an old Bicol word which means “a place where small sheds called camalig abounded”. Kamalig or camalig, the equivalent of the Spanish camarin is an indigenous structure which has been an integral part of their riverine culture. This indigenous structure was not only a waiting shed, but also a dockyard and a granary, where boats and palay where kept.

Lisboa (Capital and largest city and economic and cultural center of Portugal) provided various forms of its expression, cuinacamalig, quinacamaligan. Obviously, the town Camalig, in Albay, also derived its name from this word. Hence, the camalig was the iconic representation of the productive life of the residents of Camaligan, farming and fishing.

Remains and Artifacts

Preserved oral accounts traced the birth of this settlement to the early settlers known to Spaniards as the cortadores, or “woodcutters”. It was said that the settlers in this place cut timbers from nearby mountains located upriver or around San Miguel bay area for their hewed out canoes or “bancas” which they stored inder small shed s or huts from which setting the name was coined.

Earlier on, oral account traced the town’s rise only to the 16th century, but the recent archaeological works which yielded rich artifacts pointed to a much older era. From 2016 – 2017, hundreds of artifacts including shells, jar fragments, tools, other deposits, pig bones, deer bones, stingray cartilage, shark cartilage, and at least 15 pre – colonial human remains were found in the area, dating back to approximately 500 AD to 600 AD. The site contained no trace of Chinese, Southeast Asian, or South Asia trade links, leading the archaeologists to infer that Camaligan is a pure pre-colonial Bicoloano site unaffected by outside trade.


Conquest and Christianization

The collapse of native resistance paved the way for the effective colonization of the riverine district by their integration into what came to be known in Philippine history as the encomienda, as the word implies, was a system of entrustment whereby the Spanish monarch conferred jurisdiction over a certain territory to the colonizers as reward for their services. As a favor from the king, the encomendero, as the holder of the encomienda, was called, received and enjoyed for himself the tributes of Indians assigned to him. In return, he was bound by law to protect and defend his wards from outside aggression and to provide them instruction in the Catholic faith. The Leyes de Indias prescribed that “upon the completion of the pacification of the natives, the Adelantado, the governer or conquistador should distribute the Indios among these settlers in order that each one may be in charge of them in their repartimientos and should instruct them about the Christian doctrine and administer the sacrament, maintaining their support through our patronage”.

It is not known when was the year when Camaligan was placed under the encomienda system. But a document dated May 26, 1627 which assigned too Captain Pedro Xaraquemada several encomienda villages mentioned among them was Camaligan. It was within the womb of the encomienda that the work of evangilization began.

After the preliminary missionary works by the Augustinians, the Franciscan friars assumed the task of continuing the conversion of the lowland area of the Bicol peninsula beginning in 1578, maintaining these respective curacies until the end of the Spanish regime. It is apparet that the birth and growth of Camaligan as a Spanish pueblo was intimately bound with their work, making Camaligan an exclusive mission territory of the Franciscans until the end of the Spanish regime.

After the preliminary missionary works by the Augustinians, the Franciscan friars assumed the task of continuing the conversion of the lowland area of the Bicol peninsula beginning in 1578, maintaining these respective curacies until the end of the Spanish regime. It is apparent that the birth and growth of Camaligan as a Spanish pueblo was intimately bound with their work, making Camaligan an exclusive mission territory of the Franciscans until the end of the Spanish regime.

The conversion of Camaligan began as soon as the Franciscans established their mission output in San Francisco de Naga in the later part of the 16th century. It was from this mission house that the Franciscans launched their work of conversion to the riverine district which included the villages of Camaligan.

Revertly, addressed both by official reports and by the natives as “Muy Reverendo Padre Fray“, native wards as the father of his parish. Aside from his spiritual role, the Padre was considered by the natives as the alcaldes-mayores and the tribute collectors. It was with the advice and approval of the Padre that major decisions for the government of the town were made. His paternal authority intruded even in the most private concerns of the parishioners and the Padre was not only called to settle disputes among his pepople, but also interfered in the domestic affairs of the family, prescribin, appropriate conditions for marriage, often arranging the match between the prospective partners. Owing to tje comrpehensive nature of the conversion work of these missionaries, Camailagan owed its rise as a town and parish to these friars.

Local Inhabitants

As a general rule, a village was elevated to the status of a pueblo once it reached a tributary population of 500 or an equivalent number of residents of 2,000. At the time of its creation, Camaligan apparently did not meet this fundamental fiscal and demographic requirements since even after more than half a century, its population hardly reached this prescribed amount.

The earliest available demographic data based mainly on diocesan reports, indicated that it had 1,480 inhabitants in 1775, which increased to 1,588 in 1781, and again jumped to 2,596 in 1794. By the turn of the next century, Camaligan’s population slightly decreased to 2,585 in 1800.

The restriction on travel imposed by the friars to ensure a more sustained presence in the regular catechismal instructions condfined the residents in the town virtually throughout their lifetime. It was in the pueblo of their birth where they completed their life cycle: it was here where they lived, marry and eventually die. Hence, hardly can one find a resident of Camaligan marrying a native of even their most proximate neighboring towns of Canaman, Milaor or Nueva Caceres. This is clearly shown ny the available parish records

It appears that even in the later part of the 18th century, residents of Camaligan depended upon the priests in Naga for religious services, including their marriage. One observable feature of the 18th century inhabitants of Camaligan, based on these parish records, was their system of social identification. First, everyone adopted a Hispanic Name which was obviously derived from names of Catholic saints or reverted spiritual personalities and objects or events such as Andres, Manuel, Jacoba, Josefa, Mariana, Sacramento, Salvador, Maria, Candelaria, etc. The residents also did not adopt a singular pattern of reckoning descent since children assumed the surname of their father or mother. This was evident in the case of Manuel Andres Sacramento, born in 1768 in Tarusonan, Camaligan, to the spouses Manuel Salvador and Mariana Sacramento but adopted the maternal surname of Sacramento. But in July 20, 1772; a boy named Lucas Maria Abias was born to Antonio Abias and Maria de los Angeles in Camaligan and apparently carried the father’s surnmae. In 1788, Pedro de San Jose was born, a son of Francisco de San Jose and Francisca de la Presentacion, also adopted the patrilineal identity.


An Annex Pueblo of Nueva Caceres

At the time Nueva Caceres’ foundation as a city, Camaligan was among the villages at its periphery which had been integrated as part of the city territory. As one of the earliest cities, Nueva Caceres was assigned Propios, native settlements placed under the jurisdiction of the city official s. They were to provide the basic needs of the Spanish community such as food fuel, or the needs for labor. Among these settlements assigned was Camaligan. This means that the inhabitants of the villages were placed under the administrative control of the city, its cabecera

Almost nothing is known about its early existance as a Propio but the 1772 report described “Nueva Caceres as divided into four pueblos which are Tabuco, Santa Cruz, Naga and Camaligan…”. These villages, originally existed as mere residential units under the jurisdiction of the city but were eventually elevated to the status of pueblos or municipalities. The exact date when Camaligan was created as a Pueblo is unknown.

In the early years of the present millennium, the municipal officials of the town of Camaligan chose for their foundation the year 1795, the information adopted from the book of Fray Felix de Huearta, OFM, “Estado Geografico”, published in 1865. In his entry on the town of Camaligan, the friar wrote: “This town was founded in 1795 by separating from Naga, as it was a former visita. Its first parish priest was Fray Rafael de Benavente.”. Although most parishes researching on the foundation of their parish and towns generally relied on the book of Fray de Huerta, his informations were not always impeccable.

The first time Camaligan surfaced in the official records was in a 1708 diocesan report which mentioned the Pueblo as part of the city under the leadership of Juan de los Angeles, described by the document as “Governador de el Pueblo de Camaligan”. Although no other available document could shed light to the exact date of foundation, this nevertheless implies that Camaligan was already a town in 1708. At any rate, it could be assumed that it had been in existence for at least around the last years of the 17th or the first years of the 18th centuries. Hence, the year 1795 referred not so much to its foundation as a pueblo but to its separation from San Francisco de Naga which made it an independent parish. While almost nothing is known on Camaligan during its early decades as a pueblo, the last decades of the 18th century provides a much clearer picture of the town.

As a pueblo, Camaligan was the local domain of civil governance regulated by the system of colonial laws formin the microcosm of the empire. A 1776 episcopal report already referred to Camaligan as a pueblo with sert of municipality officials: “Half an hour of walk on a road from this church towards the west, one reaches the annex Pueblo called Camaligan with gobernadorcillio and all the other officials which are mentioned in the double tributes”.

The Spanish Pueblos bore a distinct urban design which was adoppted almost throughout the empire. Unlike in pre – Hispanic settlements, where houses generally lined up the banks of the rivers or located at the fringes of the forest, the colonial design reflected a detailed and meticulous centralized planning. The colonial urban design gave birth to a more complex residential space composed of networks of smaller settlements clustered around the main settlement referred to by the American historian, John Phelan, as the situated adjacent to the coastss and the rivers, were the nerve center of friar power. It was from here where the current of Hispanizing elements was to radiate to the outlying villages.

The cabecera was the capital of the parish and the lcoation of a compact village settlement. As prescribed by the Spanish laws, the physical layout of the cabecera villages followed a gridiron pattern with a central okazam abd rectangykar street blocks with the principal ones at the right angles from the plaza. In principle, the landscape of the cabecera was to be dotted by the more prominent structures representative of the colonial rule, such as the casa tribunal, the church and the plaza complex, all found in the urban design of Camaligan. The 1825 report of Antonio Siguenza, provincial governor of Camarines, gave a brief but vivid picture of the urban life prevailing in this town: “Located in a pain and at the bank of the Bicol River. It has wide streets and well-aligned (a cordel). It has a good residential settlement with houses made of wood but its population is not compact and follows a gridiron pattern composed of 756 tributes. It has good road which runs to the capital and farther from this town by half an hour.”

It was in these cabeceras where the casatribunal, or the town hall stood, the seat of the pueblo were the grand and massive church and its equally hulking convento, buit of stone, tile and wood. The other sides of the plaza were designated for the houses of the leading residents.

Like most towns in the second half of the 18th century, Camaligan was going through an incessant increase of visitas. By 1782, the smallest town had at least two visitas and with several sitios with the biggest having about five or six.

As the mumber of visitas increased, the friars began to see its adverse effects, the dispersion of small clusters of settlements. In violation of the urban plan of the colonizers, towns evolved without specific geogrphic orientation and virtually devoid of urban features. Although a number of visitas continued to cluster around the cabecera, others however were extremely far and were located in the most inaccessible area. As to Camaligan, the same document says : “although in regard to Camaligan nothing is known if it has more visitas in its jurisdiction as in the others which has many men living dispersed outside its visitas it is neither living in a reduced community to which they belong.”

Fearing a serious consequence of the unwarranted expansion and the dispersal of houses, the Spaniards issued a new guideline as embodied in the 1768 Ordinances. This law, designed to re – consolidate the town, ruled that the dispersed state of the native houses was a spiritual and temporal injury to the people. Because of the distance of the houses from the center of the pueblo, the report complained, many people were no longerattending masses, their children could no longer attend school and many died without the benefit of the last sacrament. The friars feared that, owing to their distance, the natives would elude the prying eyes of the friars and allowed them to freely indulge in activities prohibited by the colonial authorities. To address this problem, Governor Raon prohibitted the constrouction of any house beyond one – half league (approximately one and one third of a mile) from a church.

Although Spanish authorities and the firars in particular, made several complaints against this disorderly and sporadic proliferation of residences in disregard of the prescriptions of the Spanish laws, little was done to effectively solve this problem. The friars were not necessarily concerned with the issue of urban esthetics but the underlying sinister motives of the natives which underlaid this movement. The Spanish firars had become suspicious of this expansion of the residential space because of its gradual drift from the church towards the fields, towards the woods and sometimesd until the frontiers in the upland settlements. This gave rise to numerous problems, one of which was the issue of jurisdiction, administration and control.

As an annex pueblo of Nueva Caceres and spiritually under the administration of the Franciscans based in San Francisco de Naga, residents of Camaligan had to bear with one perennial problem, the difficulty of inland travel to the capital. But this was definitively solved in 1764 when Bishop Manuel Matos initiated, in coordination with the principales and naturales of the same pueblo, the opening of a road in a street known in the late nineteenth century as Igualdad.

In a sworn statement by Don Augustin Encizo who identified himself as 80 years old and one of the former capitanes and elders of the town of Sta. Cruz. He declared that this street was described as swampy, full of brambles and biers (matorrales), but through the collective effort of the city residents, it was cleared and levelled, resulting in a pretty and sufficiently passable street. Further improvement was made on the street in 1783 which began to be used during processions celebrating the feast of the Holy Rosary and also during Holy Week. From then on a long road stretching from north to south parallel to the original central road (now Gen. Luna) was opened to public use. The opening of this rad made travel from Camaligan to Naga easier and convenient.

Local Administration

The Spanish regime had introduced an administrative unit far beyond the ambit of the baranganic system which encompassed a larger geographic territory, the pueblo, under the control of the gobernadorcillo. Camaligan certainly had its first set of local officials since its creation as a pueblo in the last decades of the 17th century. But the earliest recorded complete list of this town officials, including those of its sitios was contained in the report of the Camarines provincial governor January 29, 1782:

  • Governador – Valentin de los Santos
  • Teniente Mayor – Francisco de San Miguel
  • Juez de Sementeras – Sanntiago Hipolito
  • Juez de Palmas – Mariano de Jesus
  • Escribano – Antonio Sto. Tomas
  • Alguacil Mayor – Ygnacio Fernandez
  • Allguacil de Bagamundos – Santiago de la Cruz

This set of officials represented the nucleus of local authorities in the pueblo during the early stage of the colonial regime. At the helm of this government, the petty governor called gobernadorcillo, enjoyed an honorary position which was filled up by the hereditary succession until the eighteenth (18th) century wehen this position became elective.

The gobernadorcillo was assisted by a host of other local officials all coming from the principalia class. Among them were the escribano or clerk – secretary and a number of tenientes mayores as assistants. In addition to these were the Juez de Palmas who acted as te Superintendent of the Coconut Plantations; a Jues de Sementeras who was the Superintendedt of Fields and Harvests and a number of supernumeracies composed of Alguaciles for various police duties such as the Alguacil Mayor and the Alguacil de Bagamundos.

Aside from these municipal officials, the town’s barangays or visitas also possessed their own set of local officials. From the early days of the conquest until about the nineteenth century, these places were placed under the headship of the Teniente (lieutenant) who was also assisted by their respective jueces and Alguaciles, all of whom were included in the government list of municipal Officials:

  • Siteo de Dugcal
  • Alguacil Mayor – Thomas de los Reyes
  • Dos Bilanggos

All those serving in the local bureaucracy received a small remuneration but the most important was their membership in theost coveted social status, the principalia class.

In principle, the principales were exempted from the embarrassment of public flogging, a privilege randomly implemented. Other benefits granted to these ruling elite included the right to sit in the front pews of the church and exemptions from tributo (head tax) while in office and from polo y servicos personales (labor services) both then and thereafter. This last was of particular importance in a society where many government – related activities such as road building and repair, portageof commodities, guard duty, etc., were performed by compiulsory labor. More mportantly, the Spaniards gave them a new and more secure political status. Unlike the other power holders u the indigenous society, only these local bureaucrats received legitimate colonial recognition for whatever political powers they had. The principalia status was in essence a royal expression of gratitude to the colonial subjects expressed in their enviable honorific tiitle Don or Doña.

Philippine Standard Time:
February 2023