Sorsogon is the southernmost province on the island of Luzon and from the port of Matnog one can see Samar in the Visayas. The province forms two arms that wrap around the almost landlocked inlet of the Sorsogon Bay. Albay province lies to the north. The open Pacific Ocean lies east of the province while the narrow Ticao Pass in the west separates it from Ticao Island. The San Bernardino Strait lies southeast. The land is generally hilly with plains along the rivers and the coast. Rain falls throughout the year but is heaviest in September and October.
Neolithic artifacts like stone tools, burial jars, beads and shell implements excavated from sites within the province indicate that the area of Sorsogon was settled as early as 2200 years ago. In 1569, the Spanish explorer Luis Enrique de Guzman landed in the vicinity of a village called Gibalong or Ibalon in what is now the province of Sorsogon. A year later, two Augustinian priests established the first Christian settlement in Luzon and named the area Ibalon, which later referred to the entire Bicol Peninsula. The early missionaries established missions in Casiguran, Sorsogon and Bacon. A Spanish shipyard was established in Bagatao Island at the mouth of Sorsogon Bay, which built galleons and different types of ships used in the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. The island was an important way-station along the route. In 1636, when the “partidos” of Ibalon and Camarines were separated into different provinces, Sorsogon became the capital of Ibalon. However, due to the continued raids of the Moros in the mid-17th century, both Bagatao and Sorsogon were abandoned by the Spaniards and the capital of Ibalon was transferred to Albay. During much of the 17th and 18th centuries, the area of Sorsogon was sparsely settled. The continued Moro raids ravaged the coastal town. In 1754, the towns of Bacon and Bulan were destroyed and their townspeople brought into captivity. Raiding continued until the beginning of the 19th century and forced the Sorsogon residents to build watchtowers and palisades to protect themselves from Moro slave-raiders. In the 19th century, the region of Sorsogon greatly benefited from the increased demand for abaca. A locally developed technology, the hemp stripping machine credited to a 17th century Franciscan missionary named Fr. Pedro Espellargas of Bacon, became an important implement in the industry. The area of Sorsogon became an important hemp producer and the cultivation of abaca became the leading industry. In 1894, Sorsogon was separated from the province of Albay. The Americans annexed Masbate to Sorsogon when civil government was reestablished. In 1920, Masbate was separated to constitute a distinct province.
People, Culture and the Arts
The people of Sorsogon are Bicolanos and generally speak the Bicol language. However, close proximity to the Visayan island of Samar has given the dialects spoken in the province a peculiarly Visayan tone and vocabulary, which probably indicates a mixture of the Waray and Bicol languages. Most Sorsogon Bicols can speak English and Filipino fluently. Sorsogon’s people are mostly farmers and fishermen engaged in the cultivation of coconut, abaca and rice. The seas around the province sustain subsistence fishing. The province reputedly produces the best abaca hemp in the entire region, a matter of great importance in a province that supports a number of abaca based industries. Sinamay cloth weaving and abaca fiber slippers are chief household industries. The Sorsogueños, as do all Bicolano peoples, celebrate Ibalon, the old name of Bicol and the earliest settlement visited by the Spaniards, in epic form. The tale speaks of a time when great men called Lipod from a mythic place called Botavara settled in Ibalon. Led by Handiong, a warrior hero who slew the monsters that plagued the land of Ibalon. Handiong was instrumental in introducing laws, the culture of rice and the making of the boat. Under his reign, the boat rudder and sail, the plow, bolo, weaving, pottery and writing were introduced. Thus, under the mythical reign of Handiong, all of the necessities of Bicolano culture were introduced. Handiong was still alive when the last great monster, Rabot, was slain by a younger warrior hero named Bantong and thus ended the legendary period of Ibalon’s tale. The epic, though incredible, gives evidence of a long period of settlement of Sorsogon and the rest of Bicol.