Colorful Fiesta in 1635 - Tragedy that befell the Cagsawanos

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From 1605 to 1635 no event of particular relevance was recorded in the history of Cagsawa. July 25, 1635, though, the day of the worn fiesta, recorded a tragedy that befell the Cagsawanos. At the height of the colorful celebrations, Dutch pirates, entering through Albay bay, came upon the little town, and in one of their characteristics hit-and-run operations, sacked and burned Cagsawa to the ground. How many people were killed, we do not know. We also ignore how long it took the inhabitants to recover from this sudden and most inhuman attack of the Dutch pirates and get the town back to its feet, yet the following events seem to indicated that it was not very long.

In 1675, Fr. Acacio de la Concepcion had the wooden church, built after the invasion of the Dutch, replaced by one made of stone. This, however, was later demolished and a new one, of the same strong materials, was built barely fifty years later, in 1724, under the direction of Fr. Francisco Blanco. At this time, Cagsawa had a population of about four thousand and three "visitas": Burabod, Lacag and Gapo. The later was the most populous for this place "had been gathered the people of the old 'visita' of Putiao and the people scattered all along the coast."

Being intelligent people, the Cagsawanos, in spite of all the wealth and progress enjoyed by their town at the food of the volcano, became gradually more and more aware that their future could not be very bright and secure as long as they remained within the reach of the temperamental and fearful Mayon Volcano. Consequently, in 1772 they decided to ask the government for permission to have the town transferred to Daraga, which at the time was believed to be a small barrio of Cagsawa. All the authorities concerned, including Governor Simon de Anda y Salazar, gave the go signal to the initiative of the people, but for reasons still not clear, nothing was done to implement the wise plan. In the meantime, the people of Budiao, unwilling to move out with the people of Cagsawa and, on the other hand, afraid to be too far from the new site of their town, decided to secede from Cagsawa, and got their autonomy in 1786.

The failure of the people of Cagsawa and Budiao to transfer to Daraga proved to be a tragic mistake on February 1, 1814. The warning came by way of successive tremors caused by the volcano the previous days. The people, however, being too familiarized with them, chose not to be alarmed in any way. At two o'clock in the early morning of that fateful Tuesday, a stronger tremor was felt, followed by still another one of the same intensity at four o'clock. If anyone was alarmed by that time, he must have regained his self-confidence when the sun shone and brought along a calm, clear and beautiful morning; but alas! a very short one, for at eight o'clock, a thunderous explosion send boulders, ashes and fire up against the sky, announcing like a trumpet blare would, to the people of Cagsawa, Budiao and the other towns around the volcano, the most sudden, most dreadful and most damaging eruption ever recorded in the history of Mayon Volcano. What happened that unforgettable day? What was the reaction of the people? What were the real effects of the so-much-talked about eruption?

Here is a report of an eyewitness:

Full of anguish and consternation, we ran away looking for high places. Our panic increased as the horizon darkened. The explosions became stronger and darkness thickened as we continued our plight in order to get away from such a dreadful happening and to save our lives. But other haste could not protect us from the downpour of boulders that in only seconds could kill many of those fleeing. We took shelter under houses, but these caught fire and soon became mounds of ashes... To go out to the open was no less dangerous for the boulders were enormous and the downpour was as thick as rain. We much protect ourselves if we want to save our lives... Some covered themselves with cow and carabao skin, other with tables and chairs, still others with pieces of boards and trays. Many took shelter in trunks of trees, other in bamboo grooves and among bushes, some hid in a mountain caves. Only  those of us who were fortunate enough to protect ourselves have survived: those caught in the open fields perished of were hurt...

At ten o'clock, the downpour of boulders stopped, but none of us ventured to go out we expected the downpour of sand to stop, or the catastrophe would kill us all. We remained in our respective places until one o'clock in the afternoon when the explosions subsided and the horizon cleared up a little, bringing back to life our hope which was, by then, almost dead. At about two o'clock in the afternoon, the horizon cleared completely. It was only then that we are able to see the frightening situation of the town and the devastation wrought by the volcano which darkness had, until that time, hidden from our eyes. The earth was literally covered with dead bodies. Some had been struck by stones and boulders, there had been consumed by fire. Of these, two hundred perished inside the church of Budiao. and thirty in a private house of the same town. At the very moment, many felt both the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow. It is true that they could numbered among the few fortunate survivors, but alas! their joy was soon turned into sorrow when they realized that their parents, their friends, and their acquaintances we no more. A father came upon his dead children; a husband upon his dead wife; and many wives found themselves without husbands. ...Similar scenes happened more in Budiao, where only very few did not lose their loved ones. A countless number bruised in a thousand different ways. Some had their legs broken, others had their heads cracked, while others were full of bruises died immediately, others on the following days, and the rest had to be abandoned in their most unfortunate situation since there were no doctors, no medicine, not even food.

Fr. Francisco Aragoneses, parish priest of Cagsawa and Budiao, an eyewitness of the eruption, from whose report the foregoing quotation has been taken, summarized the effects of the eruption by giving the following cold statistics: Five towns completely wiped out; another one, Albay, the "Cabecera" of the province of Camarines, was almost completely destroyed too; two thousand two hundred people killed, total loss of all properties by those who survived the tragedy; the destitution of many who became orphans, widows, abandoned, etc.

The failure of the people of Cagsawa and Budiao to transfer to Daraga proved to be a tragic mistake on February 1, 1814. (continue reading)

Sanchez, Cayetano, OFM. "A Town Called Daraga". 
DPI Bulletin Vol. I No. 7.
7 September 1976. Print 

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