The Western part of Central Visayas, Philippines comprises the provinces of Antique, Iloilo, Capiz and Aklan, all located within the roughly triangular shaped island of Panay.
Antique, on the western side of Panay, is an elongated stretch of land that occupies the entire west coast fronting the China and Sulu Seas (MDPP, Antique, 1986-1992).
Iloilo is located on the southern and eastern portion of the island facing Guimaras Island and Negros Occidental. It is bordered by the provinces of Capiz on the north, Antique on the west, Panay Gulf and Iloilo Strait on the south and southeast, and the Visayan Sea and Guimaras Island on the east (MDPP, Iloilo, 1986-1992).
AkIan is shaped like the half body of a duck with its base sitting on the northwestern portion of Antique. Its head points to the Tablas Strait with its nape and back angled to the Sibuyan Sea (MD PP, AkIan, 1988-1992). It occupies the northwestern portion of Panay Island and the whole of nearby Boracay Island. To its north is the Tablas Strait and the Sibuyan Sea (MDPP, AkIan, 1988-1992).
Capiz, shaped like an open palm, is bound by the Sibuyan Sea on the northeast, the province of AkIan on the West and the province of Iloilo on the south. It is located at the heart of the Philippine archipelago at N12º O9' to 12º 141' latitude and 122º to 123º 00' latitude (MDPP, Capiz, 1986-1992).
The island of Guimaras, formerly a sub-province of Iloilo, is situated southeast of Panay Island and northwest of the island of Negros. The Iloilo Strait separates Guimaras and Panay Islands (MDPP, Guimaras, 1986-1992).
To the east of Guimaras Island is the Province of Negros Occidental occupying the western part of Negros island. Between the islands of Guimaras and Negros is Guimaras Strait. Negros Occidental is bound on the north by the Visayan Sea, on the south by Sulu Sea and on the east by the Tanon Strait and Negros Oriental, its sister province.
Western Visayas has a total population of 5,511,232 (NCSO, 1990) distributed as follows: Antique, 406,361; Iloilo, 1,765,478; AkIan, 380,497; Capiz, 584,000; Guimaras, 117,990; and Negros Occidental, 2,256,908.
Iloilo City is the center of educational, commercial, and governmental activities in Region VI. The cities and capital towns within the region have denser populations. They are also the center of commercial, political and educational activities within their respective provinces.
After the Negritoes, the first settlers of Panay were believed to be migrants who came from the island of Borneo. A semi-legendary or folk historical piece of oral literature narrates that during the 13th century, a group of ten brave Bornean datus headed by Datu Puti, came to Panay Island with their families and slaves to escape the oppressive rule of Sultan Makatunaw. They landed at the mouth of the Siwaragan River in San Joaquin, Iloilo. Finding the place peopled by dark-skinned Negritoes, they negotiated for the purchase of the island from chieftain Marikudo and his wife Maniwantiwan for one gold saduk (wide-brimmed hat), salakot and a manangyad (a long gold necklace). The Negritoes agreed to settle in the interior mountains while the new settlers ocupied the coastal part. The story further says that the group of ten datus continued to sail and landed in Malandog, Hamtic, Antique where their first settlement was made.
Of the ten datus, three remained in Panay but the rest of the datus sailed northward and settled in the northern parts of the archipelago. Their leader, Datu Puti, sailed back to Borneo. For administrative purposes, datus Sumakwel, Bangkaya and Paiburong divided the island into three sakups (districts): Hamtik, where the province of Antique derived its name, was under Sumakwel; Aklan, which then included the province of Capiz was under Bangkaya; and Irong-irong, where the province of Iloilo got its name was under Datu Paiburong.
The veracity of the written story cannot be ascertained. But the story, passed from one generation to another, seemed only to indicate that there were indeed migration of people from other parts of South East Asia to the already populated Philippine Islands even before the Spanish colonizers came.
However, it is certain that when the Spaniards, headed by Legazpi, came to Panay from Cebu Island in the 1560s, they already found Panay with thriving communities.
The Filipinos in central Philippines are generally and collectively called Visayans or Bisayans. Hence, the people in Panay, Guimaras and Negros Occidental are referred to as "Visayans" or "Bisayans". The tradition that they follow can be referred to as "Kinabisaya" (literally, "of the Bisaya"). When one wants to be specific, however, in giving a designation, the prefix "Taga" (literally "from"), should be added, hence Taga-Panay for "from Panay or Taga-Iloilo for "from Iloilo." Or one can also add the suffix "non, "on," or "o" to the name of the island or province Hence, "Panaynon" collectively refers to the people of the four provinces in Panay, while Aklanon, Capiznon, Negrosanon or Antiqueño refer to the people in the respective provinces. For people from Iloilo, however, the name "llonggo" has been the traditional label -- probably, a derivation from the old name "Irong-irong" (Ilong-ilong).
Aside from the general names given to the people of the Visayan region, there are mountain people who live in the interior mountains of Panay and Negros. In Panay, they are generally referred to as Bukidnon (literally, "from the mountains") or Sulod (literally, "inside" or "interior"). Although listed as an indigenous people by the Office of the Southem Cultural Communities, Region VI (now - National Commission for Indigenous Peoples), their forebears were referred to as Mundos, a derogatory term given by the Spanish and the American colonial governments. Today, however, many of the younger Bukidnons have become acculturated to the lowland ways. But they have still retained some aspects of their culture like their oral literature (.e.g sugidanon or epic, talda, dilot, ulawhay), and their mountain language, Ligbok. The latter has now become archaic but many of the words could still be found in the epics which show the richness of the language.
It is important to note that language distribution among the six provinces in Western Visayas overrides political division.
Antique on the western coast of Panay is monolingual and speaks Kinaray-a. The adjacent towns of Aklan, near the border of Antique towards the north are Buruanga, Malay, Nabas and lbajay which share a language almost similar to Kinarav-a. On the southeastern part of the island of Panay, in the province of Iloilo, about 2/3 of Iloilo's 46 towns speak Kinaray-a. But on the northeastern coastal towns, after Iloilo City, with the exception of Leganes where pockets of households speak either Kinaray-a or Hiligaynon, the latter is spoken. These coastal towns are Zarraga, Dumangas, Anilao, Banate, Barotac Viejo, Ajuy, Concepcion, San Dionisio, Estancia, Balasan and Carles. A few Kinaray-a words, however, found their way in the Ilonggo-speaking Dumangasanon and Anilaonon. Capiz on the eastern part of Panay also speaks Hiligaynon except for some slight difference in inflection compared to Ilonggo speakers in Iloilo. The towns of Ivisan and Sapian of Capiz which are already near Aklan speak Ilonggo with some mixed Aklananon words. But the people of the interiormost town of Tapaz, Capiz, home of the mountain people, (Bukidnon) speak Kinaray-a with the few older folks retaining some Ligbok words.
Guimarasnons speak Kinaray-a and Ilonggo. Even migrant folk from southern Iloilo like Guimbal and Tigbauan speak Kinaray-a. But those coming from Barangay Navalas, Buenavista speak Ilonggo since the migrants come from Dumengas, Iloilo. A part of Dumangas near the mouth of the Iloilo port juts out towards Navalas making travel to Guimaras easy (10-15 minutes boat ride).
Material, Non-Material Culture and Livelihood
The traditional Visayan house is made of bamboo and cogon if not of nipa palms or pawod (coconut palms). These types of houses are elevated and are found mostly in the rural areas. Today, most rural folk whose children have found overseas employment prefer to build houses out of wood, galvanized iron and cement for their durability.
Farming and fishing are the main sources of livelihood in the region until the 1960s. Farmers within the interior mountains of Central Panay employ the kaingin system (slash-and-burn). A bolo and a wooden dibble are all they use for cutting trees and for boring holes to drop rice or corn seeds and legumes into. Most houses have bangkaw (spear) as hunting tool. Hunting greatly decreased in the 1970s with the gradual disappearance of forests, but kaingin still remains to be the primary form of farming since the interior mountain are rugged and they have not found the appropriate technology to harness water. But fishing, with the use of traditional nets and traps and poisonous leaves and barks of trees, is also known to be practiced by these mountain folk.
Weaving hats and mats along with bamboo furniture making are also known to be good sources of livelihood in barangays in Antique together with patadyong weaving which is still being done in some towns like Bugasong and Sibalom. Bamboo furnitures are made in Leganes, Maasin and Sara in Iloilo. Bolo centers are found in Cabanatuan and Leon while pottery centers are found in Jibao-an in Mandurriao, Zarraga and Pani-an in Balasan, Iloilo. Rattan crafts are found in Miag-ao, Leganes, and Villa.
Western Visayas is known for its yearly grand festivals. Foremost is the Ati-atihan in Kalibo, Aklan, an indigenous festival believed to have originated when the Negritoes and the Bornean Malays celebrated a joint festival after a peaceful talk over the barter of Panay. It later turned into a folk Christian practice honoring the Santo Niño and continues to attract foreign visitors because of its spontaneous audience participation which evokes merriment. It is celebrated in January every year. From the ati-atihan festival, guests proceed to the province of Iloilo which is about three to four hours' land ride from Aklan. There, the guests await the celebration of the Dinagyang which is also a two-day revelry alongside a street dancing on the third day to honor the Sto. Niño.
The province of Antique also has its Binirayan festival celebrating the landing of the Bornean settlers in Malandog, Hamtic, Antique. The Capizeños have their Halaran, a thanksgiving which commemorates the one offered by the Borneans to their god Bululakaw. This, after a peace pact with the Negritos from whom they purchased some lands. There is also the present-day celebration called Masskara of Bacolod City, Negros Occidental to popularize Bacolod as a "City of Smile," hence, the smiling masks used by the participants.
Other important festivals in Western Visayas worth mentioning are: the Pasungay (carabao fight) of San Joaquin, Iloilo; the Carabao-Carroza Race in Pavia, Iloilo which is a contest of carabaos harnessed to a sled; the sailboat race in Iloilo Paraw Regatta; the fiesta of Jaro in Iloilo City in honor of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria; the Patalta,, a Lenten season practiced in Guimaras to commemorate the taking down of Christ's body from the cross; the singing of the Pasyon in Cabanatuan, Iloilo during Lent; the Flores de Mayo (Flowers of May) identified with the Santacruzan featuring a grand procession of young ladies to commemorate the finding of Christ's cross by St. Helena; and the Biray (boat), a thanksgiving celebration in many coastal towns all over Western Visayas. Biray is observed as early as May or June in the coastal towns of Patnongon, Belison, San Pedro and San Jose in Antique. It was originally a thanksgiving to the Virgin Mary but for the younger people, Biray has become an occasion for a merrymaking on the beach and aboard the boats.