Cagayan de Misamis, as Cagayan de Oro was known in the turn of the century, did not only have men but women freedom fighters as well.
When the first Recollect missionaries arrived in Cagayan, then known as Himologan, Datu Salangsang received them hospitably.
In the ensuing struggle with the rising Maguindanao sultanate under Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat, the Kagay-anons sided with the Spaniards. In the following centuries of Spanish rule, the Kagay-anons remained loyal to Catholicism and the Spanish.
There was only one recorded instance when they attempted to rebel. This was in 1659 when a shaman named Salud (Salor in some accounts) led a brief and unsuccessful revolt against Spanish authority.
Salud was a baylan of the old religion and sought to revive her ancestors’ customs and traditions. According to Spanish accounts, she attracted many followers through her Panambal (traditional healing) and Panagna( fortune-telling). She conducted animist ceremonies in the tribes’ sacred grounds near the town.
Fr. Nicolas dela Madre de Dios, put her under close surveillance, and launched a campaign to discredit her among her followers.
Some time after, Salud and her son Apolinar were captured and brought to Cagayan where they were sentenced to death and executed.
Salud and her feats as baylan were just fitting being the shaman for the tribe. Her task as baylan was to bridge the relationship between the visible and the invisible, to maintain harmony and to cure disharmony (like illness, calamity, or conflict that affect a person or a community) through ritual rites which each has a proper protocol to use and to invoke like the names of nature spirits relevant to the case of the one/or those afflicted, said Maria Easterluna Canoy, executive director of the Kitanglad Integrated NGOs (KIN) advocating the environmental conservation of the Mt. Kitanglad Range Natural Park in Bukidnon Province and the cultural preservation of its predominantly indigenous population–as she reckons from indigenous practices and wisdom from that of Bae Inatlawan of the Bukidnon-Daraghuyan Tribe and the Council of Elders safeguarding ancestral domains inside the protected area by means of living culture and traditions
“Our Bae Inatlawan is like the living legend in our tales of baylans and their role to the community in the past and present. We celebrate having them as our protectors and we, with the present generations of Mindanawons, have all the reason to accord them the respect and reverence for the extraordinary courage they have shown to defend our kind from the colonizers,” she added.
Much later when the seeds of rebellion were already sprouting in Luzon, Cagayan also boasted of a woman warrior in the mold of the famous Gabriela Silang.
Arcadia Valenzuela y Babangha of Lapasan was an amazon warrior who fought against the Spaniards and the Americans during the country’s long fight for independence.
Valenzuela organized a troop of women revolutionaries who came mostly from Lapasan.
According to accounts collated by the late Fr. Francisco Demetrio, curator of the Xavier University Museo de Oro, these amazon warriors gathered at the public plaza, present day Gaston Park, for drill and military instruction together with the men.
The sentiment of the women warriors echoed their counterparts in Cavite who fought the Americans as reported by US General Elwell Otis in 1899:
“Even the Filipino women of Cavite province in a document numerously signed by them, gave me to understand that after they were prepared to shed their blood for the liberty and independence of their country.”
Accounts of her exploits and bravery in battle gathered by her descendants indicate that although she was captured several times by both the Spaniards and the Americans, she always managed to escape.
Rumors abounded that she was invulnerable to bullets that men feared she was a balbal (witch) and thus she remained single until her death by smallpox in 1923 at the age of 49.
Unfortunately, except for a plaque from the Ayala Business Club and some lines in Fr. Demetrio’s source book of local history, the heroism of Arcadia Valenzuela seems to have been forgotten by the people for whom she fought so bravely for.
Romano Ellovido of the Xavier University library, great grandnephew of Arcadia Valenzuela, led the Valenzuela clan’s move to have their ancestor properly recognized, and have petitioned the Lapasan barangay council to set up a memorial for Arcadia and the forgotten women warriors of Lapasan.
The campaign resulted in the renaming of the then Agora Road in Lapasan to Arcadia Valenzuela Avenue through the Cagayan de Oro Historical and Cultural Commission, which was subsequently enshrined with a city ordinance passed by the Cagayan de Oro City Council.
Beside the road, the only other existing memorials to Arcadia Valenzuela is a painting by former Museo de Oro resident artist Nonoy Estarte, first unveiled during the Museo’s 1998 Centennial exhibit entitled “Misamis During the Time of the Philippine-American War: 1900-1901” and Cris Rollo’s mosaic “Arcadia Valenzuela: Heroine of Lapasan” which hangs in his parent’s residence at Puntod.