The image of the tall, graceful Mayon volcano flashes at an instance when one mentions Albay. The province is a showcase of Bicol, drawing the attention of tourists and visitors. Albay is bounded on the north by Camarines Sur, and on the south by Sorsogon. The Lagonoy and Albay Gulfs form the coastal regions of the northeast, while the Burias Pass separates the province from the island of Burias. The province is less mountainous than other provinces in Bicol. Fertile plains and flat lands, for the most part an extension of the Bicol River basin, form between two mountain ranges. In the west lie low and rolling mountains while in the east rise the high, volcanic Mounts Mayon, Malinao and Masaraga. Albay has two climatic regions. In the east, there is no dry season but there is pronounced maximum rainfall from November to January. On the western side rain is evenly distributed throughout the year.
Ancient burial jars unearthed in Albay indicate early settlement and flourishing trade relations between the people of the province and China. It is believed that Albay was settled more than 2,000 years ago. Indeed, the Spaniards came across flourishing communities in the region when they first landed in the area in the mid-16th century. In 1569, Luis Enrique de Guzman, a member of an expedition led by “Maestro de Campo” Mateo de Saz and Captain Martin de Goiti, led a group who crossed from Burias and Ticao islands and landed on a coastal settlement called Ibalon in what is presently the province of Sorsogon. From this point another expedition was sent to explore the interior and founded the town of Camalig. In 1573, Juan de Salcedo penetrated the Bicol Peninsula from the north as far south as Libon and established the settlement of Santiago de Libon. The entire Bicol peninsula was organized as one province with two divisions, Camarines in the northwest, and Ibalon in the southeast. In 1636, the two “partidos” were separated, and Ibalon became a separate province with Sorsogon as capital. In the 17th the Moro slave raiders ravaged the coastal areas of the province of Albay. As a result of the continued raids, the capital was moved to the town of Albay on the northeastern coast. In 1663, the province was renamed Albay. Slave raiders continued to threaten the settlements of Albay until the early 19th century. Mayon Volcano, in one of its most violent eruptions, destroyed five towns surrounding its base in 1814. This eruption forced the town of Cagsaua to relocate to its present site and was renamed Legaspi. In the 19th century, the increase in demand for abaca proved an impetus for the development of a cash crop industry in Albay. By 1872, Legaspi was opened to foreign trade and became the premiere port from where abaca fiber, known internationally as Manila hemp, was exported. The province of Albay lost the Caramoan Peninsula and the towns of Lagonoy, Caramoan and Sagnay to Camarines Sur and gained the towns of the Iraya district (Camalig, Guinobatan, Maoraro, Ligas, Oas, Polangui, Libon, Donsol and Quipia) in 1846. In the same year, the islands of Masbate, Ticao and Burias were separated from Albay and established as a separate “comandancia”. In 1894, Sorsogon was taken out of Albay and established as a separate province. Finally, in 1945, Catanduanes was established as a separate province from Albay, reducing the province to its present size.
People, Culture and the Arts
Almost all the people of Albay are Bicolanos and speak Bicol, the local language. However, the language varies greatly among the different municipalities and sometimes even among barangays of the province. The vocabulary and the terminology is sometimes puzzling to the visitor but the Bicol dialect spoken in Legaspi is generally understood by a majority of the people in Albay. Filipino and English are also widely spoken and understood. Agriculture accounts for the largest share in the total production and source of employment. Products such as coconuts, rice, abaca and corn are Albay’s major crops. Abaca was once the largest export of the province and existing plantations supply the needs of a handicraft industry that manufactures an assortment of wares from hemp. Legaspi is noted for the manufacture of hemp slippers that are prized for their softness. Sinamay and pinolpog, fabrics woven from abaca hemp, are also important home industries of the Albaynons. Mats made from pandan are also made in the province. In the town of Tiwi, earthen water jars are still manufactured using old pottery techniques like a simple wheel and open firing. In the town of Tabaco, blacksmithing has been an established art since olden times. Bolos and knives manufactured in the town are highly esteemed for their good tempering and balance. Making products from pili nuts is also a popular industry through out the province. Bicolano cuisine is markedly distinct from other Philippine regional cuisines because of the general use of coconut milk, or gata and spiced with siling labuyo, a variety of chili found in the Philippines that is known to be very hot. The Bicolano dish known as ‘bicol express’ is perhaps the most challenging specialty, being made almost exclusively from green chili peppers and coconut milk. Other known Bicolano dishes include “pinangat”, or fish or shrimp wrapped in gabi (yam) leaves and cooked in coconut milk, laing, or finely chopped gabi leaves and stalks boiled into a stew with ginger, chili and coconut milk and ginataang langka or young jackfruit stewed with bagoong (shrimp paste) in coconut milk. The province of Albay is also rich in history and a number of museums and living relics exist to proclaim the proud past. The old Camalig Church, which was hewn from volcanic rock, holds the relics of ancient burial jars, beadwork and Chinese porcelains excavated from the Hoyop-hoyopan Caves. Daraga Church, built in 1773 is a richly decorated baroque edifice that is highly esteemed by art experts. Cut also from lava blocks, the massive church stands on a hill overlooking the town. Near Daraga are the ruins of Cagsaua Church, which was destroyed in the eruption of 1814.
(The Albay Province Hymn)
There’s a place in Bicol that we hold dear,
Land of beauty and laughter and song.
Where you see the flowers bloom forever,
Haven to all the weary throng.
Where stand our Mount Mayon the peerlees,
Awe inspiring majestic grand,
It’s a place where skies are bluer
This is Albay our own dear land.
Thy name we’ll cherish always,
No matter where we be.
Thy sons shall stand by thee united,
Forever and loyal to thee.
(Repeat first stanza and last 2 lines thereof for the finale)