Last updated on September 30, 2019
The site around Surigao was settled early on, even before the Spanish conquest. Fishing villages dotted along the coast facing the Hinatuan Passage while Mamanwa tribes inhabited the interior highlands. The confluence of three major bodies of water- Pacific Ocean, Surigao Strait and Mindanao Sea, kept the area inhabited continuously for many centuries, although its historical importance waxed and waned as other parts of the archipelago were explored and developed. Nearby archeological digs attest early influences by Chinese, Hindu and Moro traders. At which time, it had been a territory ruled under the Rajahnate of Butuan.
Ferdinand Magellan sailed into the Philippine Archipelago, reaching the island of Homonhon in an epic voyage of discovery and eventual circumnavigation of the world in 1521. Magellan’s fleet proceeded to Limasawa through Surigao Strait, a notch north-west of the city’s pelagic boundaries, before dropping anchor on the waters off the island of Cebu, ushering the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.
Present day Surigao originated from a site in the city proper formerly known as Bilang-Bilang where it served as a port of call for inter-island vessels. It was renamed Banahao which became an integral part of the old district of Caraga, a town founded on June 29, 1655. After Caolo, present day Siargao, burned in 1750, Surigao became the capital of the expansive geopolitical, eclessiastical and military district of Surigao which reached the fringes of Davao and would include today’s provinces of Surigao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, parts of Compostela Valley, Misamis Oriental, Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental. It officially became the permanent residence of the Augustinian Recollects on February 1, 1752, when all the canonical books were moved from Caolo to Surigao. The first canonical books bore the signature of Fr. Lucas de la Cruz. Previously, the place was just a “vista” of the parish in Caolo. Its strategic location and new status as the seat of government was costly. Surigao witnessed violent territorial struggles as it suffered ultimately from relentless Moro raids. In 1752, the town was devastated. Most of its 2,000 inhabitants were either killed or taken as slaves by the Moros.