The early history of Palawan was determined by a team of researchers led by Robert Bradford Fox. They found evidence in the Tabon Caves that humans have lived in Palawan for more than 50,000 years. They also found human bone fragments, from an individual known as Tabon Man, in the municipality of Quezon, as well as tools and other artifacts.
Two articulated phalanx bones of a tiger, besides another phalanx piece, were found amidst an assemblage of other animal bones and stone tools in Ille Cave near the village of New Ibajay. The other animal fossils were ascribed to macaques, deer, bearded pigs, small mammals, lizards, snakes and turtles. From the stone tools, besides the evidence for cuts on the bones, and the use of fire, it would appear that early humans had accumulated the bones. Additionally, the condition of the tiger subfossils, dated to approximately 12,000 to 9,000 years ago, differed from other fossils in the assemblage, dated to the Upper Paleolithic. The tiger subfossils showed longitudinal fracture of the cortical bone due to weathering, which suggests that they had post-mortem been exposed to light and air. Tiger parts were commonly used as amulets in South and Southeast Asia, so it may be that the tiger parts were imported from elsewhere, as is the case with tiger canine teeth, which were found in Ambangan sites dating to the 10th to 12th centuries in Butuan, Mindanao. On the other hand, the proximity of Borneo and Palawan also makes it likely that the tiger had colonized Palawan from Borneo before the Early Holocene.
Using the work of Von den Driesch, all chosen anatomical features of appendicular elements’ anatomical features which were chosen, besides molars, were measured to distinguish between taxa that had close relationships, and see morphometric changes over ages, though not for pigs or deer. For the latter two, cranial and mandibular elements, besides teeth of deer from Ille Cave were compared with samples of the Philippine brown deer (Cervus mariannus), Calamian hog deer (Axis calamianensis), and Visayan spotted deer (Cervus alfredi), and thus two taxa of deer have been identified from the fossils: Axis and Cervus. Remains of pigs were compared with the Eurasian (Sus scrofa) and Palawanese wild boar (Sus ahoenobarbus). It is known that the Eurasian wild boar was imported as a domesticate to the islands from mainland Southeast Asia to the islands during the Terminal Holocene.
Palawan was a major site for the Maritime Jade Road, one of the most extensive sea-based trade networks of a single geological material in the prehistoric world, operating for 3,000 years from 2000 BCE to 1000 CE.
Palawan is home to several indigenous groups. The oldest inhabitants are the Palaw’an, Batak, Tagbanwa, and Tau’t Bato who are from the interiors and highlands of Palawan, as well as the Calamianes Islands. They traditionally practice animist anito religions. Palawan’s coastlines were also settled by later groups that are now collectively known as “Palaweños”. These groups are the Islamized Molbog people of southern Palawan (possibly originally from Sabah), and the Cuyonon and Agutaynon groups (from the nearby islands of Cuyo and Agutaya).
Palawan was mentioned as “Pulaoan” or “Polaoan” by Antonio Pigafetta in 1521 during Magellan’s expedition. They called it la terra de missione (“the land of promise”) due to the fact that they were almost starving by the time they reached the island. The local datu made peace with the expedition through a blood compact. The ships’ crews were welcomed to the island with rice cooked in bamboo tubes, rice wine, bananas, pigs, goats, chickens, coconuts, sugarcane, and other supplies. Pigafetta described the inhabitants as being farmers. Their primary weapons were blowguns with iron tips that could both shoot thick wooden or bamboo darts (some poisoned) and function as spears once their ammunition were exhausted. Pigafetta also described the islanders as keeping roosters for cockfighting.
Taytay, the capital of the Province of Calamianes in 1818 (Spanish Palawan)
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 the 18th century, Spain began to build churches enclosed by garrisons for protection against Moro raids in the towns of Cuyo, Taytay, Linapacan and Balabac. In 1749, the Sultanate of Brunei 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 divided into three districts, Calamianes, Paragua and Balabac, with Principe Alfonso town as its capital. During the Spanish colonial period, Cuyo became the second capital of Palawan from 1873 to 1903.
In 1902, after the Philippine–American War, the United States 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.
U. S. Army personnel worked to identify the charred remains of Americans captured at Bataan and burned alive on Palawan. 20 March 1945
After the Japanese invasion, according to Stephen L. Moore, “Pro-Allied sentiment was strong, and it was later estimated that during the war as many as 1,154 Filipino guerrillas worked against the Japanese on the island. Those in the underground network would proudly refer to themselves as ‘Palawan’s Fighting One Thousand’.” Early resistance leaders included Dr. Higinio Acosta Mendoza, his wife Triny, Thomas F. Loudon, and his son-in-law Nazario Mayor. Capt. Mayor organized Company D in October 1943, and was responsible for the area encompassing Puerto Princesa south to Balabac Island. Capt. Mendoza covered the area north of Puerto Princesa to Caramay. Lt. Felipe Batul operated out of Danlig, while Capt. Carlos Amores operated out of Sibaltan. Overall command of the Palawan Special Battalion was under Major Pablo P. Muyco as part of the 6th Military District. The Palawan guerrillas helped any escaping American POWs, supported two coastwatcher groups sending regular radio broadcasts to General MacArthur on Japanese movements, and helped rescue downed airmen as well as survivors from the submarine USS Flier. Most importantly, they helped guide the 8th Army’s troop landings.
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. Only 11 men escaped the slaughter.
During the first phase of the Battle of Leyte Gulf, just off the coast of Palawan, two United States Navy submarines, USS Dace and USS Darter 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 from February 28 to April 22, 1945, during the Invasion of Palawan.
Martial law era
Like the other parts of the Philippines, Palawan felt the impact when Ferdinand Marcos placed the whole country under martial law in September 1972, and then held on to power for 14 more years, until he was ousted by the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution.
One incident was when Marcos evicted an estimated 254 families of indigenous Tagbanwa people from the Calauit Island in order to create a game reserve full of animals imported from Africa.
In another incident, residents of Bugsuk Island were driven from their homes and communities so that Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco could establish a coconut plantation.
Among the leaders who helped organize the effort to prevent the eviction of the Bugsuk Island residents was United Methodist Reverend Magnifico Osorio. When the effort failed, Reverend Osorio relocated to Bataraza, a town on the southernmost tip of Palawan Island, where he continued to fight for the rights of the indigenous peoples of Palawan. In March 1985 he successfully facilitated a meeting between indigenous peoples and the provincial governor, who promised to respect indigenous rights as long as he was governor. A few weeks later, however, Reverend Osorio was found dead out in his ricefields, having been clubbed in the head and shot dead. For his work to protect the indigenous peoples of Palawan, and for the circumstances of his death, Reverend Osorio was honored by having his name inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance at the Philippines’ Bantayog ng mga Bayani, which honors the martyrs and heroes who fought the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship.
In 2005, Palawan was briefly made politically part of Western Visayas or Region VI through Executive Order 429 signed by then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on May 23 as a political move to control the province and a response to getting more loans from China. This decree was later deferred on August 18 within the same year reportedly due to the opposition of the province’s Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Council).
On July 21, 2007, its capital city Puerto Princesa became a highly urbanized city.