What's in a Name I: Mt. Iriga, Asog or Sumagang?
In an article published in a souvenir program for his hometown's fiesta in 2001, my esteemed friend, Stephen Sergio, asked and answered his own question about the old name of Mt. Iriga. Its present name, according to a story he gathered, is a result of a clueless reaction of a cartographer of the old Bureau of Coast and Geodetic Survey on what the name of the mountain was. Having "no idea or guidance of what it was, so he just named it after the town on which it is partly located, Iriga, " explained Sergio who apparently believed the story himself to be true as he also tried to trace the identity of the cartographer, who "old timers at NAMRIA say he was an American while others say he was in fact, an Irigueno." The NAMRIA replaced the Bureau of Coast and Geodetic Survey which was organized on September 6, 1901. If Sergio's source is to be believed, the American cartographer could have been the director of the Bureau; and the Irigueno, one of its staff; for as Governor General Francis Burton Harrison reported in 1919: "With the exception of the director, who, in conformity to law, has always been an American, being an officer of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, the personnel of the bureau has been entirely Filipino since 1917, numbering 26 in all" (18).
This part of Sergio's essay, however, is as conjectural as his following thesis. Arguing that "Iriga was founded and so named only in 1682, 41 years after the volcano's final eruption," he asks, "what was the mountain originally called by the natives?" His own answer: "Sumagang and Asog." Apparently relying on Spanish account of the founding of Iriga, particularly Huerta's, Sergio, missed by a year the founding date of the town, as Huertas recorded it. He also blindly accepted the supposed last recorded eruption of the mountain on January 4, 1641, a date that had already been questioned by scientists and lately, been debunked by geologists and volcanologists. As early as 1875, Feodor Jagor, a German writer and traveller who scaled the mountain in 1859, had expressed doubt as to the veracity of the date which he noted conflict with the report of the famous French seismologist, Alexis Perrey of Dijon, which told of another earthquake in 1628 in Camarines Sur.
"The data of the Estado Geografico are apt to create distrust as the official report on the great earthquake of 1641 describes in detail the eruptions of three volcanoes, which happened at the same time (of these two were in the South of the Archipelago and one in Northern Luzon) while Camarines is not mentioned at all," he wrote in his book, Reisen en den Philippinen or Travels in the Philippines. The late Fr. M. Saderra Maso, S.J. who served as assistant director of the Philippine Weather Bureau agreed with Jagor. "The Estado Geografico also alleges that Iriga, in the province of Ambos Camrarines, was in eruption in 1641; but Jagor gives seemingly good reason for believing that this statement, not to be found in earlier works, is a mistake," he noted.
Dr. Chris Newhall, a volcanologist who closely studied the mountain and who I once invited to orient Iriga City officials about its eruptive history, said that the mountain could not have erupted during the 17th century. It happened, he said, during the Holocene, that is 10,000 years ago during the last ice age; and that the eruption mentioned by the Estado Geografico was that of Mt. Parker in South Cotabato. Besides, a cataclysm in the magnitude and scale of an eruption of a mountain could not have escaped the zealous chronicling zest of the Franciscans who evangelized the Bicol region and who even recorded a scary legend of a local civet cat trader in Buhi during the late Sixteenth-century.
With that settled, what then is Sergio's support for his claim that the pre-Spanish name of the mountain is Sumagang and Asog? As to Sumagang, he relied on oral tradition, that is, it is supposed to have come from the Bicol phrase "agang sumirang", or "early to rise," which was how the early settlers of the pre-Spanish settlement of Boa (now the town of Nabua) had referred to the mountain. As to Asog, Sergio has an interesting and pretty original conjecture. He linked it to the Buhinon word for a dog "in heat," that is,"inaasog." "With its mudflows and hot lava when it was still active, it is easy to deduce why it was so named, and why Asog may have been settled at least two centuries before Sumagang," he wrote. He also cited the Bicol epic fragment "Ibalon" where Asog is mentioned and who he said "is universally known and accepted." By whom and as what, he did not, however, elaborate.
Nevertheless, with the authenticity of the Bicol epic having found scholarly support and strength in the study of Dr. Zeus Salazar on the applique on an earthen urn found in Libmanan which he argued are visual representation and retelling of the epic, I tend to agree with Sergio that Asog is indeed the pre-Spanish name of the mountain. I believe, however, that this was because the foot of the mountain was the center of the cult to asuang which Castano noted in his Breve Noticia; and that asog was the pre-colonial "priest" who preside at such rituals as defined by Lisboa in his Bicol dictionary. The presence of the asog, I would submit, in another essay, is a reason why the etymology of Iriga is not "I-raga" as Huertas recorded it, but Irago, the shape-shifting serpent daughter of asuang. As a serpent, Irago links the ancient beginning of the people of Iriga to the naga-worshipping riverine tribes in the sunken Sundaland, and thus gives a more ancient origin of the town.
The obliteration of Asog as the name of the mountain, however, is an evidence of the triumph of the Spanish colonial project and is never the handiwork of one ignorant Irigueno cartographer as I will show in the following excerpts from various documents in various years which had consistently referred to the mountain as Mt. Iriga:
1. From Memorias Historicas y Estadisticas de Filipinas (Imprenta del Diario de Manila published in 1830), Rafael Diaz Arenas wrote of the "Escoria del volcan del monte Iriga. (Dregs of the volcano of Mt.Iriga)
2. From the Sur Les Tremblements de Terre de la Peninsule Scandinave (Impremeurs de la Marine et des Colonies. Paris. 1845), Alexis Perrey had these notes:
"Les montagnes coniques d'Yriga, lat. 13 21 N long. 123 30 E. de Gr., comprenant une douzaine de petits cones, entre les villages de Yriga et de Buhi, au sud et au sud-est du Lago de Buhi. (29)
(The conical mountain Yriga, lat. 13 21 N long. 123 30 E. of Gr.,including a dozen small cones, between the villages of Yriga and Buhi, south and south-east of Lake Buhi.)
3. From Jagor's Travels in the Philippines (Chapman and Hall. London. 1875.):
"I found the highest points of the Yriga to be 1,212 metres, 1,120 metres above the surface of the Buhi Lake" (220).
4. Fr. Manuel M. Crespo's Memoria Sobre La Reduccion de Monteses del Isarog en Camarines Sur (Establecimiento Tipografico de Ramirez y Girauder. Manila. 1881.) is the only document I found which mentioned the mountain's two names:
"El Iriga o Asog, de menor base y altura, esta tambien cubierto por el N. y O. de poderosa vegetacion. Desde este monte se destaca hasta Sangay en Lagonoy, y hasta el mar enlazandose con la de Tiui, una cordillera muy accidentada, con montes de colosal altura, de vegetacion gigantesca, cordillera poco esplorada, hasta que las operaciones militares la han reconocido en todas direcciones"(15).
5. In two papers read in 1882 and published in the Transactions of the Seismological Society of Japan. Vol. V.(Government Printing Office. Tokyo. 1883.) the name of the mountain is also spelled Yriga.
"The earthquakes seem to have been entirely extinguished in the line of volcanoes which begins with one called Ysaro and ends with Bulusan, and includes those called Yriga, Masaraga, Bulic and Mayon, the last of which has a height of 8000 ft., and has concentrated in itself all the volcanic activity of the whole region. (85)
- from Earthquakes in the Island of Luzon in 1880 by Don Jose Centeno y Garcia.
The other is from Enrique Abella Y Casariego's paper, El Mayon:
"Las colinas del N.E. que dominan al pueblo de Malilipod presentan dos o tres cumbres en serie lineal, de formas cupuloides que lo mismo pueden atribuierse a conos parasitos, modificados por las erosiones considerable del Mayon, que a una o varias potentes corrientes de lava que se hubieran insinuado en aquel sentido; semejantemente a lo que Drasche supone en las(33) colinas que se encuentran al O. de los volcanoes apagados Yriga y Malinao"(34).
6. From Ramon Jordana y Morera in Bosquejo Geografico e Historico-Natural del Archipelago Filipino (Imprenta de Moreno y Rojas. Madrid. 1885):
"Desde el Mayon y el monte Mazaraga, la zona volcanica se prolonga hacia el NNO, por el monte Malinao,el Iriga y el Isarog"(150).
7. From the Military Notes on the Philippines (Washington. Government Printing Office. 1898):
"Mount Iriga, between Mount Isaro(g) and Albay Volcano is 3,976 feet high" (94).
8. From The Inhabitants of the Philippines by Frederic H. Sawyer (Sampson Low, Marston and Company. London. 1900.):
"The ground is level for leagues around, yet from this plain two extinct volcanoes rear their vast bulk, the Ysarog, 6500 feet high, and the Yriga, nearly 4000 feet high"(199); and,
"From Nueva Caceres, I travelled by a good road to Iriga, a town near the volcano of that name, passing close to the Isarog on my way" (285).
9. From the Jesuit mission's El Archipielago Filipino: Collecion de Datos (De La Mision de la Compana de Jesus en estas Islas.Washington. Imprenta del Gobierno. 1900):
"Dos clases de negritos habitan en esta provincia: unos al Norte, en los montes de Capalonga, no lejos de los confines de Tayabas, y otros en las cercanias del monte Iriga. En las faldas del monte Isarog viven los salvajes llamados cimarrones del Isarog, los cuales tambien se hallan en algunas de las etribaciones de este monte, que se extienden por la llamada peninsula de Camarines. Hay tambien igorrotes en el monte Iriga al SSE, del Isarog"(74).
10. From the Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, Vol. II(Washington. Government Printing Office. 1910):
"The Igorrotes are the Malay Negritos of Mount Iriga,Ambos Camarines. They also occur in the provinces of Abra, Pangasinan, Nueva Viscaya, Zambales, and Pampanga" (358).
11. From Rev. Curtin G. Roop's Religion of the Philippine Islands (The Missionary Review of the World. Vol. XV. Jan.-Dec. 1902. Funk and Wagnalls Company. New York.1902):
"As one goes far back into the interior, Christianity shades off into paganism, and some sections will be found where the two are blended. Thus there is not only variety but confusion of religions in the islands. For instance, there is a small sect of pagan natives living on the slopes of the volcano Yriga, some of whom are criminal exiles from the villages, but more of whom have voluntarily withdrawn thither on account of aversion to the labor and conventionality of the village life. These people, tho pagans, yet decorate their walls with crucifixes as talismans. They say that if these crucifixes were not of some value the Spaniards would not use so many of them" (685).
12. From the Census of the Philippine Islands of 1903. Vol. 1 (United States Bureau of Census. Washington. 1905):
"There are numerous other volcanic peaks of less note in this neighborhood, among them Masaraga, 5,244 feet; Malinao, 3,066 feet; and Iriga, 4,092 feet.(63)"; and
"Mt. Iriga has not been examined, as far as we know. The Estado Geografico alleges that Iriga, in the province of Ambos Camarines, was in eruption in 1641; but Jagor gives seemingly good reason for believing that this statement, not to be found in earlier works, is a mistake. Many of the extinct cones retain traces of solfataric action or at least give vent to hot springs" (226).
13. From the Seventh Annual Report of the Philippine Commission. 1906 (Bureau of Insular Affairs. War Department Government Printing Office. Washington. 1907):
"The Mount Iriga district was the only one studied in any detail, but as the exports of abaca mount to from 3,125,000 to 3,437,500 kilos per year, it can be seen that it is an important one" (364).
14. From The Philippine Experience of An American Teacher by William B. Freer (Charles Scribner Sons. N.Y. 1918.):
"To the left of the Pili road rise the gently concave slopes of Mt. Isarog, while to the right, in the distance, is seen Mt. Iriga - both of these extinct volcanoes" (168).