There are no physical records nor evidence to indicate when the first people came to Bantayan, nor their places of origin. Some believe they can be traced back to Panay, others believe that the bulk of them were of Cebuano origin, and still others say they came from Leyte and Bohol.
There is little documentary evidence of life and culture before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. What we know of them is gathered from handed down accounts.
The early people were said to be timid. They didn’t travel and knew little of places away from their homes. They wore little clothing because the climate didn’t need it. The abundance of fish, wild games, wild fruits and tuber like BA-AY, HAGMANG (wild yam), BAILACOG, and KIOT, made the people do little more than make clearings on which to plant corn, camote (sweet potato) and other vegetables. Large and small trees grew and spread, shading the ground all year round with their heavy foliage. Vines and creepers climbed the trees hanging from bough to bough; cultivation of open land was difficult.
The people were very ignorant of even simple arts.
The Spanish period
Derivation of name
During the time of Governor Sebastian Hurtado de Corcuera (1635 – 1644), the Visayans were continually harassed by the Moros. Consequently, tall stone walls and watchtowers were built in different parts of the archipelago, for refuge and protection from Moro aggression. These watchtowers were known locally as "BANTAYAN SA HARI", meaning "WATCHTOWERS OF THE KING", and they served as look-outs for incoming vintas (Moro pirate vessels). In the course of their vigil, it became common to say, "BANTAYAN! BANTAYAN!", meaning, "KEEP WATCH! KEEP WATCH!", and that was how this island-group got its name. Relics of those watchtowers can be seen to this day.
In 1778, Don José Basco y Vargas became the Governor General of the Philippines. He pioneered many projects for the encouragement of agriculture and industries. Industries in the island-group were completely abandoned because the people were forced to work on building roads, public buildings and churches.
The abundance of fish, favourable climate and virgin soil then greatly determined the occupation of the people. These geographical factors became strong stimuli for the people to be fishermen, farmers and sailors. Much later, the small clearings were expanded to fields.
The old Spanish road connecting Santa Fe, Bantayan, and Madridejos were constructed chiefly through the services of labour and partly supported by the tribute funds. Those enforcing this were called "POLITAS".
When the Spaniards came to Bantayan, the people already had some form of religious convictions and worship, such as animism, shamanism, evocation and magic. They easily conceived the idea of evil spirits, good spirits, witches and ghosts. In order to please these imaginary creatures people often resorted to charms, vows, sacrifices and self harm. It was a common belief among the illiterate people of the past that cholera and other fatal diseases were caused by poison which an evil spirit had put into the wells and that the people could be saved from the dreaded disease only by chanting prayer and holding processions.
The cooperation between the church and the state did not last very long. Quarrels between the church and the state ensued. There was struggle for political power, from the Governor-General down to the alcalde mayors on one hand and from the archbishop to the friars on the other. Because of this, projects for improvements were all paralysed.
The American Period
On January 4 1899, following the defeat of Spain in the Spanish-American War, a new government was born to the Philippines. With instructions from President McKinley, General Otis who commanded the US Army in the Philippines declared that the American sovereignty must be recognized without condition. This was the beginning of the American period.
This island-group had not taken any active participation in the revolution against Spain or America. However, after the Filipino–American War, a reactionary group was organized and was headed by PATORETE of Santa Fe, a barrio then of Bantayan. Their announced purpose was to resist against the invaders. The armed goons carried a campaign of terror burning the northern part of Santa Fe, plundering and forcing Capitan Miroy (CASIMIRO BATIANCILA) and Aguido Batobalonos to join them. This resulted in great fear and tension among the inhabitants.
The condition of the barrios, after the overthrow and immediately preceding the arrival of the Americans, in general, was very far from satisfactory. Sanitation was entirely a stranger; barrio life was dreadful. There was a rare sign of improvement among the people from its primitive ancestors.
The subdivision of the province of Cebu was developed utilizing the method introduced by Spain. A new provincial law was earlier enacted and necessary appointments were then made. At that time, Bantayan was already organized as "PUEBLO". Santa Fe was organized as such in 1911 and Madridejos in 1917. These "PUEBLOS" were given a new corporate form under the Municipal Council chosen by a limited native electorate. For the local head of the administration, the title "PRESIDENTE" took the place of the former "GOVERNADORCILLO" or "CAPITAN".
Committed to the task of administering the newly organized municipal governments were the first "PRESIDENTES" of these three towns comprising the island-group namely: Gregorio Escario for Bantayan, Vicente Bacolod for Madridejos and Casimiro Batiancila for Santa Fe. Political parties were formally organized since the early days of the American regime. Partido Liberal came about the end of 1900, between 1902 and 1905. Pascual Poblete organized the Nacionalista Party which few Bantayanons welcomed.
During the administration of Governor-General Luke E. Wright (1904–1906), the public road policy was inaugurated. Little by little the stage trails were changed to roads of more durable construction. Late in the 1913, the construction of Santa Fe – Bantayan road began and in 1918 the Bantayan – Madridejos road followed; both completed in 1924.
Then and now, fishing and farming were important industries of the people, but from the year 1903 to 1925, weaving of pińa cloth and the gathering of maguey (agave) fibre were very lucrative pursuits of the people. Over the years demand for these products weakened and died out. At about the same, hand embroidery termed as "spare time industry" came in. A good number of women adopted it and were actively engaged in it for some years. The local output was quite significant. In 1923, because of weak and unsettled market condition, particularly in Manila, the business gradually disappeared.
Years ago, poultry raising was mainly a backyard affair. Today, it has grown into a large scale and highly specialized industry. Near the national and feeder roads, big poultry farms are located. In excess of 600,000 of chickens are kept in specially constructed houses and yards with more than half a million eggs gathered everyday. These eggs are exported to Cebu, Manila, and Mindanao and other town and cities in the Visayas. This industry like copra making, tuber gathering and fishing, has helped Bantayan solve its unemployment problem.
Many still adhere and cling to the customs of their ancestors.
A girl is a valuable asset to the family. She can be engage in marriage until a satisfactory dowry has been given for her. She is given a little chance or choice in the selection of her husband. When a boy has decided on a girl he wishes to have for his wife, he consults his relatives as to the girl's personal qualities and the amount of they can contribute for his dowry.
Another old custom which still persist today concerns marriages. The family of the groom is expected to bring food and any hard drink to the home of the bride, where an arrangement is entered into between the two families as to what the groom and his family should do for the household of the bride: such arrangement may include the payment of debts or repair of the house. The expenses of the wedding are met by the groom and his family. The relatives of the groom do the serving and entertaining of the bride's guests.
A custom of the past now almost completely abandoned by the young people of today, is to live in ways approved by their parents. That is to say, chaste.
Another old custom discarded today is for girls not to marry before thirty years of age and the male to be two or three years older than the female.
Houses were basic structures, usually little more than a single room where all the occupants dwelt. Construction was often little more than a bamboo frame clad in nipa, and with a bare earthen floor.
|1600||The biggest Moro attack was staged when a fleet of vintas attacked, killing or holding captive more than 800 natives mostly from the village of Hilingigay, now, Barangay Suba.|
|1603||The Augustinians relinquished the administration of the church to the secular clergy.|
|1778||The old Spanish roads linking Santa Fe, Bantayan and Madridejos were constructed through forced labour.|
|1790–1796||Severe famine after crop failure. Not even a grain of corn could be had but the people subsisted upon "AMORSEKO" (crab grass) which continuously grew on the nipa wall of their houses.|
|1860||The first casa real was constructed (now Municipal Hall).|
|1864||The first Spanish school was established under the direct supervision of the curate where religious instruction was instilled.|
|1880–1890||Smallpox epidemic devasted the island|
|1894||the entire barrio of Ticad was razed to the ground by fire. Only the stumps of the posts could be seen above the ground.|
|1905||First local election in Bantayan. Gregorio Escario, who had been appointed as first "Presidente", now won the election by a small margin over his rival.|
|1906||The first bicycle came to Bantayan, owned by Leon Villacrusis. It was imported from Manila. The first bicycle imported from Japan was owned by Dr. Mabugat.|
|1908||Smallpox epidemic, eventually controlled by complete vaccination.|
|1910||The first motorized boat, MV Carmela was owned by Yap Tico. It served the Bantayan–Cebu route. It also brought merchandise to and from Bantayan until it was destroyed by the typhoon of 1912.|
|1912||Typhoon, which took hundreds of lives in addition to work animals and agricultural crops that were destroyed.|
|1913||Construction of the present Bantayan–Santa Fe road began.|
|1915||The main building of the Bantayan Central School was built.|
|1918||Construction of the Bantayan–Madridejos road began.|
|1923||The first car came to Bantayan island — a second-hand Dodge owned by Capitan Casimiro Batiancila of Santa Fe.|
|1924||The whole road construction project linking Santa Fe, Bantayan and Madridejos ended.|
|1927||Bantayan Postal Office was opened within the Municipal Building.|
|1935||Beer was first distributed in Bantayan.|
|1963||Oil explorers came to Bantayan to dig the first oil well somewhere between Patao and Kabac.|
|1968||A fire that started in San Pedro Bakery gutted 17 houses and claimed the life of one person.|
|1968||A storm washed away the historic watchtower in Baluarte, Suba.|
|1973||Fire broke out which destroyed almost the whole section of Suba, razed the entire public market and rendered more than 700 families homeless.|
|1978||Death of Isidro R. Escario, who had been mayor of Bantayan since 1937 apart from the war. His funeral procession and wake drew thousands: people were seen queueing one kilometre away from the wake.|