A Brief History of Bohol

What's New


Contact Us





by Alan S. Cajes of the Center for Governance, Development Academy of the Philippines and Chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Association of Young Boholanos in Metro Manila, Inc.

Bohol's Geology and Name

The geological formation of Bohol can be explained under the karst theory. This theory states that sea level changes and uplift combined with terrestrial erosion and air exposure of biognic reef regions have given rise to hummocky landscapes that are often impregnated with sinkholes and caves. Indeed, the chocolate hills are among the examples of striking karts topography.

That the word "bohol" came from the word "bo'ol," which refers to the name of a place (the site of the Sikatuna-Legazpi blood compact) located a few kilometers away from Tagbilaran City, is quite well-known. Some anecdotal evidences, however, claim that it actually came from the Visayan term "boho" (hole) owing to the abundant caves, and holes in the island.

In "History of Bohol," Lumin B. Tirol's doctoral dissertation in history, the author established that the name of the province actually came from "bo'ol," the local name for a kind of tree that used to grow in the province. This claim partly relied on the expert opinion of the Botany Department of the National Museum. A picture of the tree is also exhibited as proof in Tirol's dissertation.

The bo'ol tree is short and shrubby. Its leaves are heart-shaped with a dimension of about two inches in width and three inches in length. It bears white flowers in summertime. Its fruit, which is smaller than that of a grape, is edible and appears bluish in color when very ripe.

The 16th Century Boholanos

It is safe to assume that today's Boholanos (and Filipinos, in general) are descendants of what is known to anthropologists as Southern Mongoloid and to laymen as the brown race. This wave of migrants entered the archipelago around five or six thousand years ago.

The early Boholanos, however, differed from the rest of the Visayans. Pedro Chirino, writing in 1604, said that Boholanos were lighter in color, more handsome, braver and more spirited than other Visayans.

The Boholanos then, as it is now, were also good drinkers. Historian William Henry Scott quoted what he describes as Chirino's well-known tribute to the Boholanos' ability to carry their liqueur:

"It is proverbial among us that none of them who leaves a party completely drunk in the middle of the night fails to find his way home; and if they happen to be buying or selling something, not only do they not become confused in the business but when they have to weigh out gold or silver for the price... they do it with such delicate touch that neither does their hand tremble nor do they err in accuracy."

Boholanos in Dapitan

While Rizal was exiled in Dapitan, he wrote a letter to Blumentritt, his friend, on April 5, 1895. In this letter, Rizal gave a "careful answer" to his friend's question about the meaning of "Dapitan". Rizal even told his friend that he was the "right man" for the job.

To prove his point, Rizal cited a historical document that he bought from the descendants of Lagubayan, the founder of Dapitan. The document, as Rizal claimed, is dated 7 July 1818 and signed by Fernando Man. De Bustillo Bustamante y Rueda, the former governor-general who was assassinated. It contained information about Dapitan and its founders.

Based on Rizal's letter, it was Lagubayan who founded Dapitan. Lagubayan was a Boholano who has resided in places like Baclayon, Mansasa, and Duis in Bohol. He later went to Mindanao, particularly in Iligan. Later, he settled in Dapitan. Lagubayan was known as the "lord of the Subanons" and the "terror of the whole Moroland". It was he who gave the Spaniards pilots and guides, who took them to Catunas (Raja Sikatuna) in Bohol, and then to Cebu.

Dapitan means "a place for rendezvous or meeting place". Dapit means "invite". Probably, Lagubayan invited other Boholanos to the place, hence, the name.

Dapitan was not the only place with Boholanos as the first settlers. Villaba in Tacloban was discovered by Boholano traders in the later part of the 18th century. The Boholanos were also the first settlers of Zamboanga, where many people up to now speak Cebuano with a Boholano accent. There is even a claim that Pagbuaya's son, Pedro Manook, aided Legazpi in his conquest of Manila and Camarines. Manook was also said to have subdued the village of Bayug (now Iligan City), which he established as a Christian settlement in 1626.

The Plunder of Bohol in 1563

So why did some Boholanos leave Bohol?

Around 1563, two years before the Sikatuna-Legazpi blood compact, the Portuguese in eight boats came to Bohol and anchored in Panglao. (When the island of Bohol was still covered with virgin forest, Panglao was the trading center). The Boholanos welcomed them, but when the natives were least expecting it, the visitors treacherously attacked the natives.

This incident resulted in the killing of datu Sarripada Dailisan, in plundering, and in the taking of captives. One of the kidnapped victims was the lady of Dailisan, who was sold for 90 gold taels in Maguindanao. All in all there were 300 killed, including nine chiefs, 500 men, women and children captured, and 300 taels of gold and 200 gongs seized, along with clothing and merchandise.

It was a custom among Visayans to abandon places associated with death and misfortune. So Pagbuaya (Lagubayan according to Rizal), brother of Dailisan, left the island with 500 slaves. He settled in Dapitan after subjugating the Suban-on population with the help of Sama marines or Lutaya/Lutaw.

Because of their bad experience with the Portuguese, the Visayans, especially the Boholanos, became hostile to "white men with beards." Legazpi himself noticed this hostile attitude of the natives towards them.

After learning about the incident involving the Portuguese from marine merchants near the islands of Bohol and Cebu, Legazpi made peace with the natives and explained to them that they were not Portuguese. This gesture of friendship was sealed by the Sikatuna-Legazpi blood compact.

Sikatuna-Legazpi Blood Compact: A Different View

Legazpi made friends with the Boholanos by performing a blood compact with a chief in Bohol named Si Katuna or Katunao. They performed the rite aboard a Spanish vessel. The two collected a few drops of blood from their arms, mixed them with wine, and drank the mixture. Juan Luna depicted that event in his famous painting entitled El Pacto de Sangre in 1883. 

The blood compact or sandugo means that "since the same blood now flowed in their veins, they had become members of the same family, bound to observe loyalty to one another." In other words, Sikatuna and Legazpi became blood brothers by virtue of the rite.

But on 15 April 1565, Legazpi took possession of the island of Bohol in the name of the King of Spain. He then proceeded to Cebu, which he bombarded and conquered.

The Boholano Revolution Against Spain

Francisco Dagohoy led the longest revolt against the Spaniards in Philippine history. The revolt took the Spaniards 85 years (1744-1829) to quell. Forced labor was one of the causes of the revolt. But what triggered the decision to rise up in arms against the Spanish authorities in Bohol was the refusal of a Jesuit priest to give a Christian burial to Dagohoy's brother.

Dagohoy was a cabeza de barangay of Inabanga. Upon the order of Father Gaspar Morales, a Jesuit cura of Inabanga, Sagarino, Dagohoy's brother, went to the mountains to arrest a Boholano renegade. The fugitive, however, resisted arrest and killed Sagarino in a fight before he himself died.

When Dagohoy learned about his brother's death, he searched for his brother's body. He found it and brought the remains to Inabanga for a Christian burial. Father Morales, however, did not agree saying the Sagarino died in a duel. Besides, Sagarino did not receive the sacrament of extreme unction. Hence, giving him a Christian burial was contrary to religious practices at that time. What complicated the situation was the order of the priest to expose the rotting corpse for about three days in front of Inabanga Church. It is also possible, however, that since the priest refused to grant the request, Dagohoy decided to place the corpse there to force the priest to change his mind. Dagohoy eventually buried his brother without the benefit of a Catholic burial.

These strings of events led Dagohoy to make a vow to correct the wrong done to his brother. In the process, he stopped paying tribute to the Spaniards and refused to render the required "forced" labor. He also called upon his relatives, friends and the other residents to do the same and fight for their freedom.

The ground was fertile for Dagohoy's call. Around 3,000 Boholanos rallied to his call and joined him in a revolt against Spanish injustice and tyranny. Together with other leading members of the Tagbilaran, Baclayon and Dauis principalia, Dagohoy proclaimed the "Independence of Bohol" in the mountains of Talibon and Inabanga. The concept of independence, however, might not be applicable at that time. What is most likely is that the revolutionaries stopped submitting themselves to the dictates of the Spanish authorities and decided to move to the mountains where they can live on their own in peace.

Up there in the mountains, the revolutionaries established their headquarters, which they fortified with trenches of big rocks. Just like the way some upland farmers pile up big rocks on top of another in their farms. They also build dwellings for their families and cleared up some of the forest areas so that they can plant crops for their subsistence. Since Dagohoy has experience in leading a community being a cabeza de barangay, it is safe to assume that he set some rules and norms to maintain peace and order in the new community. When the other Boholanos heard about the revolt, they expressed their sympathy by joining the revolutionaries or by supplying them with arms and money.

From time to time, the revolutionaries would raid the costal towns, assault the Spanish garrisons, loot churches and kill Spaniards. In one of these raids, they killed the cura of Jagna, an Italian Jesuit priest, and Father Morales. Dagohoy fulfilled the promise he made over the grave of his brother and continued to lead the revolt until his death. It is unknown when and how he died. It is probable that he died of old age or sickness a little before or after the 1800s. What is certain is that the revolution did not end with his death.

The Spaniards were not happy with the Dagohoy-led revolt. In fact, there were several attempts to suppress it. The historian Gregorio Zaide has this to say:

"News of the remarkable success of Dagohoy worried the Spanish authorities in Manila. In 1747 Bishop Juan de Arrechederra, acting Governor-General of the Philippines (1745-1750), dispatched a punitive expedition to Bohol under the command of Don Pedro Lechuga. Commander Lechuga won a few skirmishes but failed to crush the rebellion. In desperation, he sent a commando unit into the mountains to kill or capture Dagohoy, his sister Gracia, and other leaders. The commandos returned empty-handed because they could not penetrate Dagohoy's fortified stronghold."

The nationalist historian Renato Constantino also narrated Spanish efforts to quell the revolt. He said:

Perhaps the best indication of the importance and the success of this rebellion may be seen in the persistent efforts exerted by both the State and the Church to negotiate with Dagohoy. After the unsuccessful military attempts to suppress the revolt, it was the Church's turn to make the effort. Bishop Espeleta of Cebu tried to persuade the rebels to give up their resistance by promising to secure a general amnesty, to find remedies for the abuses of government officials, and to assign secular priests instead of Jesuits to the Bohol parishes. The rebels refused the offer."

The revolt continued. By 1770, five years before the waging of the American War for Independence against Great Britain, there were already about 30,000 revolutionaries in Bohol.

It was only in April 1828, three years after the arrival of Governor-General Mariano Ricafort, that the Spaniards sent its strongest expedition to Bohol. This is understandable because Spain experienced problems in its other colonies in the 1800s. For instance, the Spanish American colonies revolted in 1810 until 1826, thus severing the link between Acapulco and Manila. It was, therefore, a hard time for Spain. It was no longer a world superpower as it was in the 16th century. And it could not quell the Dagohoy revolution in Bohol.

Probably to help save its face after its defeats from the forces of Dagohoy and its loss of colonies, Spain decided to put an end to the revolt using Spanish and native (like Cebuanos) troops. According to Zaide:

"Fighting with desperate courage, the indomitable Boholanos resisted the enemy, whose heavy artillery pieces caused much havoc to their fortifications and took a terrible toll of human lives. Wearied by the ceaseless combat, weakened by hunger and thirst, and depleted in numerical strength, they made their last stand in the mountain of Boasa under the command of the valiant brothers, Handog and Auag. In June 1829, they fought their last battle and were crushed by Spain's superior arms. The survivors fled into the forest, where they grimly continued to carry on their hopeless cause."

The revolt ended formally on August 31, 1829. Manuel Sanz, commander of the Spanish forces, officially reported that 3,000 Boholanos escaped to other islands, 19,420 surrendered, 395 died in battle, 98 were exiled and around ten thousand revolutionaries were resettled in the areas of Balilihan, Batuan, Bilar, Cabulao and Catigbian. These figures all point to the fact that the revolt was widespread in the province, hence, it was not simply a Dagohoy revolt. Dagohoy started it and continued to be a source of inspiration to his comrades even after his death. But it was a Boholano revolution against Spain.

Bohol Today

Bohol is the tenth largest island of the country. It was created as a province on March 10, 1917. It gave the Philippines its fourth president in the person of Carlos P. Garcia. Garcia was president of the 1971 Constitutional Convention when he died.

Bohol has a population of about 1.3 million. The annual population growth rate is 2.9 percent. The Boholanos today live in the habitable areas of Bohol's 3,862 sq kms land area. They can also be found in various places throughout the country and the world.


Agoncillo, Teodoro A. History of the Filipino People. GAROTECH Publishing, 1990 (8th Edition).

Arcila, Jose S. Rizal and the Emergence of the Philippine Nation. 2001 revised edition.

Constantino, Renato. The Philippines: A Past Revisited. Tala Publishing Series, 1975.

Corpuz, Onofre D. The Roots of the Filipino Nation. 1989.

Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society. AdMU: 1994.

Zaide, Gregorio F. Great Filipinos in History: An Epic of Filipino Greatness in War and Peace. Verde Bookstore, 1970.

Zaide, Gregorio. Dagohoy: Champion of Philippine Freedom. Manila: Enriquez, Alduan and Co., 1941.