Last updated on September 30, 2019
Butuan, during the pre-colonial times, was known as the Rajahnate of Butuan, an Indianized kingdom known for its metallurgic industry and sophisticated naval technology. The rajahnate flourished at the 10th and 11th centuries CE, and had an extensive trade network with the Champa civilisation and the Srivijaya Empire.
By 1001, the rajahnate had established contact with the Song dynasty of China. The History of Song recorded the appearance of a Butuan mission at the Chinese imperial court, and the rajahnate was described as a small Hindu country with a Buddhistmonarchy, which had a regular trade connection with Champa. The mission, under a Rajah named “Kiling”, asked for equal status in court protocol with the Champa envoy, but ultimately was denied by the imperial court. However, under the reign of Sri Bata Shaja, the diplomatic equality was eventually granted to the kingdom, and as a result the diplomatic relations of the two nations reached its peak in the Yuan dynasty.
Evidence of these trading links are in the discovery of 11 balangay boats around Ambangan in Barangay Libertad, which was described as the only concentration of archaeological, ancient, ocean-going boats in Southeast Asia. Other evidences of the post are the discovery of a village in Libertad that specializes in gold, deformed skulls similar to reports in Sulawesi, and the discovery of many artifacts by locals and treasure hunters.
On March 31, 1521, an Easter Sunday, Ferdinand Magellan ordered a mass to be celebrated. This was officiated by Friar Pedro Valderrama, the Andalusian chaplain of the fleet, the only priest then. Another priest, the French Bernard Calmette (Bernardo Calmeta) had been marooned at Patagonia with Juan de Cartagena for being implicated in the mutiny at Puerto San Julián. Conducted near the shores of the island, the Holy First Mass marked the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines. Rajah Colambu and Siaiu were said to be among the first natives of the soon-to-be Spanish colony to attend the mass among other Mazaua inhabitants, together with visitors from Butuan who came with the entourage of Colambu, king of Butuan.
Controversy has been generated regarding the holding of the first mass—whether it was held in Limasawa, Leyte in Masao, Butuan City, in the hidden isle made up of barangays Pinamanculan and Bancasi inside Butuan, in the latest discovered site in between Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur, the small barangay of Barobo, or elsewhere. It is sure, however, that Ferdinand Magellan did not drop anchor by the mouth of Agusan River in 1521 and hold mass to commemorate the event which was held at Mazaua, an island separate from 1521 Butuan which, in the geographical conception of Europeans who wrote about it, was a larger entity than what it is now. Antonio Pigafetta who wrote an eyewitness account of Magellan’s voyage described in text and in map a Butuan that stretched from today’s Surigao up to the top edge of Zamboanga del Norte.
The first municipal election in Butuan took place in March 1902 in accordance with Public Law No. 82 which coincided with the American occupation of the place.
During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, more than half of Butuan, if not all of it, was burned when local guerrilla forces attacked the enemy garrison on 12 March 1943 in the Battle of Butuan. On January 17, 1945, guerrillas attacked Japanese troops on the road between Cabadbaran and Butuan to prevent the Japanese garrison at Butuan from being reinforced. When the guerrillas depleted their ammunition supply, they were forced to retreat. Later in 1945, the Philippine Commonwealth troops in Butuan together with the recognized guerrillas attacked the Japanese forces during the Battle of Agusan. On October 20, 1948, still recovering from the war, the entire municipality was ruined by a fire.
By the late 1940s to the 1970s, Butuan’s industry specialized in timber, earning it the nickname “Timber City of the South”. The plentiful trees of the area invited many investors to the city, and inspired then-Congressman Marcos M. Calo to file a bill elevating Butuan for cityhood. On August 2, 1950, this was passed, converting Butuan into a city.
However, by the early 1980s, the logging industry of the city began to decline, although the city was still an economic haven to many investors. The city’s main income by that time frame and until this day depended on small and medium business, and large-scale projects by investors. On February 7, 1995, the city was reclassified from a chartered city to a Highly Urbanized city. sixteen days later, on February 23, the region of Caraga was created by virtue of Republic Act 7901, with Butuan as its regional center, and the provincial capital of Agusan del Norte. In 2000, Republic Act 8811 formally transferred the capital of Agusan del Norte from Butuan to Cabadbaran, however most provincial offices are still located in the city.