by Jester Paul R. Bacabac
UNDENIABLY, ONE OF the richest cultures in the Philippine archipelago is that of the Ilonggos. Perhaps, one reason for this is that Ilonggo is one of the major ethnic groups in the country. In fact, many Ilonggos are not just situated in the Visayas region but as time flew like fleeting arrows in Brussels, they started to disperse in other parts of the Philippine terra firma like in Mindanao and in Luzon.
If there’s one thing Iloilo is inherently rich is its arable land which allows considerable agricultural production, and beautiful scenery. Its fertile farmlands are planted with rice, sugarcane, corn, coconut, fruits and vegetables. Its panoramic coasts are not only pockmarked with fishponds and fish pens but also with beach resorts and popular eateries offering sumptuous sea foods. The whole province is crisscrossed by numerous river systems that fertilize the alluvial plains and provide inhabitants with water, food, and channels of transportation. It also has mountain ranges characterized by grandeur that serve as sanctuaries for endangered species of flora and fauna.
Ilonggos are known for having a sweet nature befitting an angel or cherub. It is for this reason that tourists are often surprised by the loving qualities of the residents that even though they are mad, their tone is still placid and gentle. It is for this reason that the capital city, Iloilo City, is hailed as the City of Love. On the other, early Chinese settlements in the region have influenced the Ilonggos adept skills and interest in making business. That is why, they are frequently described as thrifty and frugal.
Ilonggo culture is also manifested in the people’s penchant for colorful and regal celebrations. The Ilonggo always finds an occasion to show his material affluence and his famous brand of hospitality. This explains why other than the religious feasts like the patronal fiestas, Flores de Mayo and Santacruzan, the Ilonggos have also indulged themselves in many festivals, aside from the world famous Dinagyang in Iloilo City and Pintados de Pasi in Passi City. Dinagyang brings more life to the streets of Iloilo on the fourth week of January. This festival commemorates Christianity in the Region when the Aeta tribes danced to welcome and appease the image of Sto. Niño. The Festival gives honor to the Child Jesus and the thundering “Hala Bira” of the performers fill the air with adrenalin pumping excitement. The ignition of street dances and the explosion of traditional music is a pleasant treat that will surely leave the spectators with amazement.
Music and Letters
The essential components of Ilonggo culture are language, oral literature (epics, myths, legends, proverbs, etc.), songs and dances. The language they use is basically Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a, the latter with its numerous variations in the interior sections of the province. Ilonggo literature consists of hurubaton (sayings), paktakon (riddle), sugidanon (epics), lowa (chants made to entertain people at the wake), and others, many of which have survived up to the present time. Of course, the most known literature related to Ilonggos is the Maragtas, a folk history on the coming of the ten Bornean datus and their families to Panay.
Ilonggo songs are mainly composos or ballads about love and adventure, lullaby melodies (Ili-ili is the best example), and other folk songs, usually accompanied by either percussion, wind or string instruments. Traditional dances that have been recorded by the Spaniards are the harito, balitaw, liay, lalong kalong, imbong, inay-inay, and binanog. Some of these dances are still being performed today (Funtecha, 2006).
Mention must be made of Ilonggo zarzuela, the most popular form of vernacular entertainment in Western Visayas in the first half of the 20th century. The zarzuela is a musical stage play depicting the everyday life and aspirations of the Ilonggos that made famous a number of local writers (Funtecha, 2006).
Moreover, Ilonggo culture is manifested in the vast array of its culinary delights, as in the case of Batchoy, pancit molo, baye-baye, biscocho, barquillos, inday-inday, binakol, bandi, piyaya, and pinasugbo. Batchoy apparently has become a national passion, a case of Ilonggo cultural colonization. This delightful concoction, typically made known as the “Original La Paz Batchoy“, can now be found anywhere in the Philippines – in the far north as the Ilocos region and in the far south as Tawi-tawi. It is observed, however, that the batchoy taste in Iloilo could never be duplicated elsewhere – it can only be approximated. Batchoy prepared by non-Ilonggos in other places taste more like mami rather than the real thing.
The Capital City
Iloilo City, the Capital of Iloilo Province is considered as one of the Philippines’ oldest cities. It was established when Manila was founded on 1571. The city is nestled between Jaro river and Iloilo Straight making the city one of the country’s busiest seaports. The port of Iloilo once exported sugar products of Negros which contributed to the spur of the city’s economic development. Today, the City is bouncing back, reviving its lost glory as the Queen City of the South. The city slowly recaptures its identity of being the trade center of the Visayas.
The City of Iloilo has made itself worthy to be hailed as the educational center of the South, with the most universities outside Manila. The oldest university in the province, Universidad de Sancti Agustini, was instituted on 1904 by the Spanish friars. Central Philippine University, the educational tycoon of Western Visayas, is probably the largest Protestant Institution in the world. St. Paul University had been recognized for producing quality board passers. And West Visayas State University is the home of the regional Center for Teaching Excellence and one of the best medical and nursing schools in the country while University of the Philippines-Visayas remains as the center of quality education in the region.
This is just a glimpse of the grandeur of Ilonggo coolturerific, truly cool and undeniably terrific!
Funtecha, H.F. (2006) Bridging the Gap. The News Today Online Edition