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The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island

View of Camiguin Island by Fermin Alvarez

After having lived on Camiguin Island for seven years, Spanish anthropologist Andrés Narros Lluch wanted to contribute to the dissemination of the island’s ethno-history a publication recounting episode that, as he points out, have been silenced up to now.

On the beautiful island of Camiguin, in the southern part of the Philippine archipelago, next to the enigmatic island of Mindanao, every gesture, wink, smile, or silence on the part of its inhabitants reveals a rich legacy. A past. A story. Without our realizing it, strolling along village streets, chatting with the locals, venturing into the forest is like visiting a museum where the past is subtly engraved. But beyond these subtle clues, there are barely any ethno-historical records which explain how the island’s current blend came about. And once we search deeply, we can easily understand the reasons. First, the volcanic nature of the island is a factor in eliminating the evidence of the past. Second, many manuscripts detailing its history went up in smoke, given the rise of natives’ rebellions. Third, few surviving manuscripts were encoded in a language current Camiguinons and scholars neither read nor understand. As a result, there is a break in the Camiguinons’ relationship with their past. A painful break, one that bleeds in silence.

Rice fields of Camiguin Island by Fermin Alvarez

This book aims to heal that wound. At least in part. And it does so by building a story based on an extensive process of ethno-historical research that includes fictional micro-tales among its protagonists. Short accounts unfold local history spiced with small doses of fiction. I believe that these, far from obscuring the former, will help display Camiguin in all its splendour. I feel it is important to point out that this is the first and only research based on the archives of the Augustinian Recollects in Camiguin.

Sunset on the forest of Camiguin Island by Fermin Alvarez

As a matter of fact, each chapter of the book reflects an important historical event which is unknown on the island. The first chapter, “Kimigin,” is about the first inhabitants of the island, the Manobo, the followers of Datu Migin, their way of life and culture. Today this tribe’s legacy is unknown to some and silenced by others. The second chapter “Punta Pasil,” tells the story of the first Christian religious centre on the island, its beginning and end: a centre built by the Augustinian Recollects which for centuries has slept forgotten in the sea. The third chapter “Datu Mehong,” deals with the legend of a local leader, a healer as well as a warrior, whose message, because he lived on the edge of the island and spoke a minority language, was hidden. The last chapter “The Old Volcano,” deals with the story of what happened before and after the 1871 volcanic eruption, a story which shows the complex relationship between the indigenous people’s local knowledge and the Christian knowledge of the friars.

​The book holds within it a dream: that the inhabitants of the wonderful island of Camiguin will read it. Particularly those curious and critical students who question the official account, those who are not content with what is said, but search amid what has been silenced. History teachers as well, to help them contextualize their program with local voices, so that these might stimulate the students’ curiosity as well as a sense of pride in their own cultural identity. This story is not mine but yours! And also—why not?—for any curious person interested in the complex and fascinating history of the Philippine archipelago. These are small stories about one island, which could just as easily have been about others.

Andrés Narros Lluch at Binagnawan falls in Camiguin Island by Fermin Alvarez


Andrés Narros Lluch, PhD (Social & Cultural Anthropology from Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia). He did social research in Asia, America, East Africa, and Europe for 20 years. He belonged to Southeast Asia Dept, School of Oriental and African Studies (2011–2012), guest researcher Dept of Anthropology at London School of Economics & Political Science, and associate researcher Dept of Anthropology, Univ of the Philippines Manila (2012–2014). In 2015 he founded Kilaha, a small foundation that documented, supported local culture & preserved the biodiversity of Camiguin Island. He published the book “La comedia de la cooperación internacional: historias etnográficas del desarrollo en la isla de Camiguín” (Catarata, 2016) and soon The Untold Stories of Camiguin Island. He lives between Spain and Brussels as Senior Consultant at ODS.

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