BRIDGING THE GAP
What Ilonggo culture is
Every time Iloilo is talked about, what comes to mind is its considerable agricultural production, beautiful scenery and rich culture. Its fertile farmlands are planted with rice, sugarcane, corn, coconut, fruits and vegetables. Its scenic coasts are not only pockmarked with fishponds and fish pens but also with beach resorts and popular eateries offering delicious 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 a magnificent mountain ranges that serve as sanctuaries for endangered species of flora and fauna. Iloilo is also host to a very rich and colorful culture brought about by a very eventful past.
The essential components of Ilonggo culture are language, oral literature (epics, myths, legends, proverbs, etc.), songs and dances, handicrafts, old churches and houses, and famous delicacies. The Ilonggo language is basically Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a, the latter with its numerous variations in the interior sections of the province. Ilonggo literature consists of hurubaton, paktakon, sugidanon (epics), lowa, 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.
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. It also catapulted into prominence the Iloilo-Bacolod Troupe (ILOBAC) that performed before capacity audiences in the cities and municipalities of Iloilo and Negros Occidental.
With regard to handicrafts, the one that is considered the "queen", both in the past and in the present, is weaving. For a while, during the late 18th century and early 19th centuries, Iloilo was referred to as the "Textile Capital of the Philippines". Its woven products made of piña fibers, cotton, silk and abaca were exported abroad, as well as to Manila and other parts of Luzon and the Visayas. Iloilo is also known formulated its pottery-making, bolo-making and bamboo crafts. During the Spanish period, it was well-known as the center of boat-building in the Visayas, especially the town of Oton and the island of Guimaras. In fact, according to Spanish record, there were galleons used by the Spaniards built in these places.
Ilonggo culture is also manifested in the people's penchant for colorful and luxurious 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 Maskara in Bacolod City.
Furthermore, Ilonggo culture is reflected in the wide range of its culinary delights, as in the case of Batchoy, pancit molo, baye-baye, biscocho, inday-inday, binakol, bandi, piyaya, and pinasugbo. Batchoy apparently has become a national passion, a case of Ilonggo cultural colonization. This delightful concoction, usually advertised as "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.