Negros Island was originally called "Buglas" - an old native word which is thought to mean "cut off". It is believed that Negros was once part of a greater mass of land but was cut off either by what geologists call a continental drift or by the rising waters during the so-called glacial age. Among its earliest inhabitants were dark-skinned natives belonging to the Negrito ethnic group with their unique culture. Thus the Spaniards called the land "Negros" after the black natives whom they saw when they first came to the island in April 1565. Two of the earliest native settlements were Binalbagan and Ilog which later became towns in 1573 and 1584, respectively. Other settlements were Hinigaran, Bago, Marayo (now Pontevedra), Mamalan (now Himamaylan) and Candaguit.
After appointing encomenderos in the island, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi place Negros under the jurisdiction of the Governor of Oton in Panay. In 1734, however, the island became a military district and Ilog was made as its first capital. The seat of government was later transferred to Himamaylan and thereafter Bacolod became the capital in 1849.
The island remained a military district up to about the middle of 18th century. Then in 1865, Negros Occidental was raised to the category of a politico-military province. During this time, several more towns were established like San Carlos and Calatrava.
Religious orders evangelized the province by turns: the Agustinians, the Recoletos, the Jesuits, the Dominicans, the Seculars and, again, the Recoletos returning in the 1800's.
The later half of the 18th century was a period of rapid economic expansion for Negros Occidental as evidenced by the growth of population resulting from the influx of immigrants coming from the neighboring provinces like Iloilo, Antique, Capiz and Cebu. They settled in districts sparsely inhabited in the past and this resulted to the establishments of new towns: Saravia, Valladolid and Escalante in 1860.
The major boom to the province at this time was the widespread cultivation of sugarcane and the opening of ports, like Iloilo and Cebu, to foreign commerce. In 1856, Negros Occidental produced only 4,000 piculs of sugar. This increased to 100,000 piculs in 1864 and 2,000,000 in 1893. The cultivation of sugarcane then spread to a larger scale and soon after Negros Occidental led other provinces in the production of sugar. Modern machines were also introduced at this time and by 1864, seven machines operated by steam were used in the towns of Bacolod, Minuluan and Bago.
During the last decade of the 18th century, several important events occurred in the history of Negros Occidental. One was the making of Negros Occidental as a separate province from Negros Oriental in 1890 and the other was when the Negrense revolutionary leaders joined the nationwide Katipunan Movement and overcame the Spanish garrison in the province in November 1898, when the Filipinos rose in arms against the Spanish rule. Following this was the arrival of the Americans in the province in May 1899. A civil government was established in Negros Occidental on April 20, 1901.
The succeeding decades between 1901 to the 1930's were under the American occupation as with the rest of the country. Nonetheless, the economic growth continued especially with Philippine sugar having a part of the US market despite some accompanying socio-economic problems during these periods. When the Japanese landed in the province on May 21, 1942, civilian and military leaders in Negros Occidental refused to surrender and instead organized a free government and guerilla movement in the province. They helped bring about the surrender of the Japanese forces in Negros in 1945.
The history of the province for the post World War II period has yet to be formally written. Suffice it to briefly note here that this was mainly a period of rehabilitation from the destruction of the war. With the sugar industry, the major pillar of the province's economy, as well as other areas being revived, consequent socio-economic growth in the province followed.
The socio-economic life of Negros Occidental from the 1950's up to the 1980's depended, as before, mainly on the sugar industry. Producing annually about 60% of the country's sugar output, an expansion in the industry with the establishment of several new mills in the late 1960's spurred increased production. A downturn caused by the low world sugar prices in the mid-1970's was followed by possibly the worst industry and province-wide crisis starting in 1984 with the world sugar prices hitting rock bottom in 1985. The province was also hit by two destructive typhoons in 1984 after a serious drought in 1983.
A plebiscite based on a Batasang Pambansa Act was held on January 3, 1986 in the northern portion of Negros Occidental and split the province into two. Negros Occidental (mother province was left with three (3) cities and 18 municipalities while Negros del Norte (new province) had three (3) cities and eight (8) municipalities, starting from the City of Silay up to the northern tip, San Carlos City, including the new town of Don Salvador Benedicto. The creation of this new province was however opposed by the Negros Anti-Partition Movement and the Supreme Court declared the creation unconstitutional on July 11, 1986. On August 18, 1986, Negros del Norte was formally returned to Negros Occidental, thus making the province whole again.
The year 1985 also marked the period wherein Negros became known throughout the country and abroad as suffering from a historic socio-economic crisis. Various forms of international aid were sent to Negros and many Negrenses, national and foreign non-government and government organizations, responded in cooperation with the Philippine government to help the province cope with the crisis.
Towards the end of 1987, the rays of hope started to shine when the over-all economic situation showed a positive upturn. The campaign for agricultural diversification had been gaining momentum, paving the way for more landowners to invest in prawn farming and high-value crops such as fruits, vegetables, livestock and other cash crops.
The upswing of investments became apparent by 1988. The participation of the industrial sector accelerated the consumer-led economic growth and development manifested by the increase in sales of consumer goods and by-products. Although the widespread benefits brought about by the positive changes in the socio-economic condition of the province have to be reliably quantified, there were clear signs of the economic recovery of Negros Occidental.
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