The Island of Siquijor is known to many as the mystical island of the Philippines. The name of the island has changed a few times though history though. The island’s native name used to be ´Katagusan´, from tugas, the molave trees that cover the hills. Because of the molave trees and the fireflies in them, the island was earlier poetically known to the spaniards as Isla del Fuego – The Island of Fire. Siquijor – The island’s present name, is claimed to be after King Kihod, a legendary ruler in power when the Spanish explorers arrived. When the Spaniards discovered the island they were alledgedly greeted by this King Kihod, who presented himself with these words ‘si Kihod’ (I am Kihod) The spaniards mistakingly thinking that he was talking about the island adopted the name Sikihod which later changed to Siquijor, as it was easier to pronounce. A more down to earth explanation of the name, is that it comes from the native term quidjod which means the tide is going out.
Perhaps it is very fitting for an island with a mystery to its name, that the island itself is rumored to be quite the center of mystique. Since old days people have seen Siquijor as an island of voodoo and witchcraft and still to this day many superstitious Philippinos prefer not to visit the island. Interestingly one of the first sights to greet new arrivals is a billboard with the picture of the governor, who in no uncertain terms states that witchcraft on Siquijor does not exist. One cannot help but wonder if he’s heard of reverse psychology.
An old legend tells how Siquijor arose from the depth of the ocean during a great earthquake that shook the whole Visayas. Whilst lightning pierced the sky and the storm raged over the seas Siquijor emerged out of the waves. While it may in actual fact have taken millenia of tectonic action to shape the island, one must admit the story holds a certain truth, even if it’s somewhat embellished. Farmers in the highlands of Siquijor still unravel giant seashells in their soil.
Myth and legends aside, Siquijor was discovered by the Spaniards Estaban Rodriguez and Juan Aguirre during the Legazpi expedition in 1565. Siquijor and the rest of the Philippines was under spanish sovereignty until 1898 when they ceded the Philippines to the United States.
During World War II Siquijor wasn’t spared, though it wasn’t in the center of severe military action. The island was occupied by Japanese detachments between 1942 and 1943. The Japanese established a garrison, but met resistance from Philippine guerrillas, who engaged in sabotage and sought to cause havoc to the Japanese properties. Initially the imperial Japanese forces appointed a civilian -Shunzo Suzuki -to govern Siquijor during this period but he was quickly assassinated by guerrilla forces. Another Japanese – Mamor Fukuda took control until the allied liberation forces came in 1944 and forced the Japanese to abandon Siquijor.