Sugarcane has been the lifeblood of civilization for Negrenses since the 19th century, when technology allowed communities to develop the sugar industry. The economic factor is a major force for social change in Negros Occidental, while sustainability compels its success through the years.

Negros Island was originally called Buglas – an old native word meaning “cut off.” It is believed that Negros was once part of a greater land mass but was cut off either by what geologists refer to as a continental drift or by rising waters during the Glacial Age. Early inhabitants were dark-skinned natives called Negritos. The ethnic Negritos were animistic, highly superstitious, and followers of an extended family system where government was based on kinship rule, oral traditions, and customs rather than on formal laws.  They had a social structure with the datu as the chief figure and administrative head of a settlement.

In April 1565, Don Miguel Lopez de Legazpi dispatched a Spanish ship from Bohol under the command of Juan de Aguirre on an expeditionary trip to the port of Cebu. The expedition was also tasked to observe the other nearby islands – including the one that was said by Bornean traders to be inhabited by the native Negritos. A crew member, Esteban de Rodriguez, sighted a large island looming on the horizon. It was the island of Buglas, and from the expedition’s accounts, it may be presumed that the habitation of the island by Negritos gave rise to the present name of Negros Island.

Toward the latter half of the 19th century, the major catalysts in the province were the opening of ports in Iloilo and Cebu to foreign commerce, as well as the widespread cultivation of sugarcane that spread on a larger scale, with Negros leading all other provinces in the production of sugar.

On January 1, 1890, the island-province of Negros was officially divided into two provinces through a royal decree executed by Governor General Valeriano Weyler. Negros Occidental retained Bacolod as its capital, while Dumaguete became the capital of Negros Oriental. Today, Negros Occidental celebrates Negros Day every Cinco de Noviembre to commemorate the bloodless revolution against the Spaniards in 1898, when the Republic of Negros was established.