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Pre-hispanic Legazpi

Although no pre-Hispanic archaeological materials have been recovered in the area of present-day
Legazpi City, its vicinity is the site of a unique Neolithic culture notable for the absence of metal tools
during the Philippines’ Early Metal Age. Called Circum-Albay Gulf Culture by Robert Fox and Alfredo
Evangelista of the National Museum, it is characterized by a developed stone tool-jar burial assemblage
shared by two sites within the Albay Gulf: the Cagraray Caves and Bato Caves. This assemblage yielded
the exquisitely crafted Mataas Shell Scoop, a National Cultural Treasure, and a burial jar presently
displayed in this museum, reportedly collected by Jose Estevez Jr. from Cagraray Island in 1971. A
carbon dating of 91 BCE to 179 CE obtained from Bato Caves makes these cultural artifacts the oldest
found in Bicol Region. It suggests an early settlement in the area around Legazpi, which continues to the
present as evidenced by pre-porcelain, protohistoric, and modern artefacts that were also found in
Cagraray Caves.

Historical gaps in precolonial Legazpi City are readily filled by oral history and folklore that were later
recorded by Spanish missionaries. One prominent site is Ligñon Hill, mentioned by the 19th century
Franciscan Félix de Huerta as the homeland of pioneering settlers in Buhi, Camarines Sur. Ligñon Hill is
also cited as an abode of ferocious creatures by another 19th century Franciscan, Bernardino de
Melendreras who was also the reputed author of the Ibalong epic. Another figure associated with old
Legazpi is Datu Dumaraug who, according to the 17th century Jesuit Francisco Ignacio Alcina, launched a
hundred ships in pursuit of the woman he loved.

Historian Mariano Goyena del Prado maintains that old Legazpi was called Sawangan, a small group of
nipa huts occupying the swampy area in present-day Barangay Binanuahan. Sawangan was said to be
ruled by a powerful precolonial chieftain named Gat Ibal. Ibal could be derived from Ibat, a local
chieftain who ruled the area at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards, as mentioned by the late 19th
century author Juan Álvarez Guerra.

The earliest Spanish sources show that Legazpi was originally called Albay, which particularly referred to
the coastal settlement between the two mouths of Tibu River. Aside from Albay, encomienda grants also
record Bonot, Gogon, Tamaoyan, Sagpon, Ligñon, Poro, and Taytay (the site of Albay District) as among
the earliest inhabited sites. Albay was first mentioned in the letters of Governor General Guido de
Lavezares in July 1574, which recounted Captain Juan de Salcedo’s conquest of the area in July of the
previous year. The prominence of Albay among these settlements is evident from the term “provincia de
Albay” used to refer to the flatland east of “provincia de Camarines” (referring to Camalig). Such
prominence is undoubtedly due to its strategic coastal location near the mouth of rivers, which favored
control of navigation and trade with inland settlements accessible only through waterways.

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