Bicol Region, Philippines

Camarines Sur

The Heart of Bicol

Camarines Sur is Bicol’s heart. More than a third of all Bicolanos live in this province steeped in tradition and culture. It is bounded on the northwest by the provinces of Quezon and Camarines Norte and on the southeast by the province of Albay. The entire province tilts at an angle from the northwest to the southeast, and forms two coastal regions. The northern coast skirts the San Miguel Bay, Pacific Ocean and Lagonoy Gulf. The southern coast is bathed by the Ragay Gulf. The land is generally flat especially along the central plains cut by the Bikol and Libmanan Rivers. A low range of mountains rises in the south, called the Tankong Baka as well as in the Caramoan Peninsula. Mounts Isarog and Iriga (Asog) dominate the horizons near the cities of Naga and Iriga respectively. The climate is characterized by an absence of pronounced seasons. The northern and eastern sections of the province experience maximum rainfall from November to January. Typhoons pass through Camarines Sur from August to November.


Captain Luis Enriquez de Guzman and Fray Alfonzo Gimenez first explored the province in 1569. As they went deeper they encountered many rice granaries, which in Spanish were called “Camarines”. In 1571, the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo came to the Bicol Region from the north and two years later, penetrated the peninsula as far south as Santiago de Libon. A little later, the city of Nueva Caceres was erected and became the ecclesiastical and administrative center of the province of Bicol or Ibalon. Nueva Caceres became the seat of a diocese in 1595, which covered the entire Bicol Region as well as the province of Tayabas (Quezon). The northern areas around the Bicol river plains became a “partido” or division known as Camarines, which in 1636, through a royal decree, was separated from the southern portion of Bicol and made into a separate province of Camarines. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the coastal regions of Camarines were raided by the Moro slavers from Mindanao and Sulu. The most disruptive raids occurred between 1750 and 1800 during which time the southern coast was almost completely depopulated. The province became an important center of Revolutionary activity in 1896. Fifteen Bicolano Martyrs were executed by the Spanish authorities in Naga (Nueva Caceres) after being accused of complicity in the Katipunan uprising. In 1829, Camarines Norte was taken out of the province of Camarines and the remaining portions became Camarines Sur. Between 1829 and 1919, the two provinces were divided and fused several times until, in 1919, under the American colonial government, the final separation was effected.

People, Culture and the Arts

The province of Camarines Sur is considered the center of Bicolano culture. The language spoken in the province is Bicol, a language that has many variations and dialects. The variation spoken in the vicinity of Naga, called “Bikol sa Naga”  is widely considered by linguists as standard Bicol in comparison with the other dialects with similar shades of diction and word usages. The Camarines Sur Bicolanos are mostly farmers, who produce crops like rice, coconuts and abaca, and fishermen, who catch fish in the rich fishing grounds of San Miguel Bay and Lagonoy Gulf. Coupled with these, they also engage in an assortment of home industries like pili nut processing, bamboo craft, embroidery, sinamay weaving and fiber craft as well as wine distilling. Naga is the commercial center that draws these products together and from where it is sold or exported to other regions. Camarines Sur is the center of religious observances that are shared by all Bicolanos who are, by far, the most staunchly Roman Catholic people in the country. Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Naga is considered the patron of all Bicolanos. The image’s crown of diamonds and precious stones, which adorns its head was a donation of thousands of Bicolanos lovingly devoted to their beloved “Ina” or mother. Every September, the Bicolanos celebrate the feast of Penafrañcia with a festival that begins with a “traslacion”, a procession of the barefooted male devotees of Our Lady, followed by a Mass, and a fluvial parade where the image of the Virgin is carried on a barge on the Bikol River. The annual festival draws thousands of Bicolanos and tourists to Naga. Iriga City holds the annual harvest-offering Tinagba Festival on the occasion of the feast of our Lady of Lourdes held every 11th of February. It is based on an old indigenous Bicolano tradition where the first bountiful harvest is offered in thanksgiving. In doing so, God will make succeeding harvests more bountiful. During the festival, the different barrios join in the celebration by making a well-decorated cart drawn by a carabao and laden with all the products harvested from their farms. The town of Nabua celebrates its fiesta with the Boa-Boahan Festival every May 2. The highlight of the festival is the reenactment of the traditional “Boa Feast”, a 13th century rite where ancient Bicolanos offered chains of coconut embryos called “boa” to their deities, in the belief that this would make their life more prosperous throughout the year. The feast is enlivened with a display of colorful costumes. Other towns celebrate rituals in honor of their patron saints or in remembrance of an important Catholic feast such as Lent or Christmas. The Camarines Sur Bicolanos have incorporated many of their indigenous songs and dances into these celebrations that make these festivals unique. In Minalabac, the devotees of San Felipe and Santiago perform the “tumatarok” a prayer offering and oratory accompanied by song and dance. Tambo in Buhi is well known for its interpretation of the “tanggal”, a three-day passion play performed during Holy Week. Another unique tradition is called the “Aurora”, a tradition of prayer and singing to implore the Almighty’s aid in times of calamity.



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