The history of Palawan may be traced back 22,000 years ago, as confirmed by the discovery of bone fragments of the Tabon Man in the municipality of Quezon. Although the origin of the cave dwellers is not yet established, anthropologists believe they came from Borneo. Known as the Cradle of Philippine Civilization, the Tabon Caves consist of a series of chambers where scholars and anthropologists discovered the remains of the Tabon Man along with his tools and a number of artifacts
Waves of migrants arrived in the Philippines by way of land bridges between Borneo and Palawan. From 220 up to 263 AD, during the period of the Three Kingdoms, "Little, dark people" living in Anwei province in South China were driven South by Han People. Some settled in Thailand, others went farther south to Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo. They were known as Aetas and Negritos from whom Palawan's Batak tribe descended. Other tribes known to inhabit the islands such as the Palawano and Tagbanwa, are also descendants of the early settlers, who came via ice-age land bridges. They had a form of indigenous political structure developed in the island, wherein the natives had their non-formal form of government, an alphabet, and a system of trading with sea-borne merchants.
In AD 982, ancient Chinese traders regularly visit the islands. A Chinese author referred to these islands as Kla-ma-yan (Calamian), Palau-ye (Palawan), and Paki-nung (Busuanga). Pottery, china and other artifacts recovered from caves and waters of Palawan attest to trade relations that existed between Chinese and Malay merchants.
In the 12th century, Malay settlers, who came on boats, began to populate the island. Most of the settlements were ruled by Malay chieftains. These people grew rice, ginger, coconuts, sweet potatoes, sugarcane and bananas. They also raised pigs, goats and chickens. Most of their economic activities were fishing, farming, and hunting by the use of bamboo traps and blowguns. The local people had a dialect consisting of 18 syllables. They were followed by the Indonesians of the Majapahit Empire in the 13th century, and they brought with them Buddhism and Hinduism.
Because of Palawan's proximity to Borneo, southern portions of the island was under the control of the Sultanate of Brunei for more than two centuries, and Islam was introduced. During the same period, trade relations flourished, and intermarriages among the natives and the Chinese, Japanese, Arab, Hindu. The inter-mixing of blood resulted to a distinct breed of Palaweños, both in physical stature and features.
After Ferdinand Magellan's death, remnants of his fleet landed in Palawan where the bounty of the land saved them from starvation. Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan's chronicler named the place "Land of Promise."
The northern Calamianes Islands were the first to come under Spanish authority, and were later declared a province separate from the Palawan mainland. In the early 17th century, Spanish friars sent out missions in Cuyo, Agutaya, Taytay and Cagayancillo but they met resistance from Moro communities. Before 18th century, Spain began to build churches enclosed by garrisons for protection against Moro raids in the town of Cuyo, Taytay, Linapacan and Balabac. In 1749, the Sultanate of Borneo ceded southern Palawan to Spain.
In 1818, the entire island of Palawan, or Paragua as it was called, was organized as a single province named Calamianes, with its capital in Taytay. By 1858, the province was divided into two provinces, namely, Castilla, covering the northern section with Taytay as capital and Asturias in the southern mainland with Puerto Princesa as capital. It was later then divided into three districts, Calamianes, Paragua and Balabac, with Principe Alfonso town as its capital.
In 1902, after the Philippine-American War, the Americans established civil rule in northern Palawan, calling it the province of Paragua. In 1903, pursuant to Philippine Commission Act No. 1363, the province was reorganized to include the southern portions and renamed Palawan, and Puerto Princesa declared as its capital.
Many reforms and projects were later introduced in the province. Construction of school buildings, promotion of agriculture, and bringing people closer to the government were among the priority plans during this era.
The Palawan Massacre
During World War II, in order to prevent the rescue of prisoners of war by the advancing allies, on 14 December 1944, units of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army (under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita) herded the remaining 150 prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa into three covered trenches which were then set on fire using barrels of gasoline. Prisoners who tried to escape the flames were shot down. Others attempted to escape by climbing over a cliff that ran along one side of the trenches, but were later hunted down and killed. Only 11 men escaped the slaughter and between 133 and 141 were killed.
The massacre is the basis for the recently published book Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II by Bob Wilbanks, and the opening scenes of the 2005 Miramax film, The Great Raid. A memorial has been erected on the site and McDole, in his eighties, was able to attend the dedication.
During the initial phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, just off the coast of Palawan, two United States Navy submarines, USS Dace (SS-247) and USS Darter (SS-227) attacked a Japanese cruiser task force led by Admiral Takeo Kurita, sinking his flagship (in which he survived) Atago, and her sister ship Maya. Darter later ran aground that afternoon and was scuttled by USS Nautilus (SS-168).
The island was liberated from the Japanese Imperial Forces by a task force consisting of Filipino and American military personnel between February 28 and April 22, 1945