BRIDGING THE GAP
Iliganon, Hiligaynon, Ilong-ilonganon or Ilonggo, which one?
People in Western Visayas are called Ilonggos, in so far as ethnic identity is concerned. Knowing and understanding this ethnic identity is basic to appreciating and promoting one's culture.
Who or what exactly is an Ilonggo? At what point of time did he start identifying himself as Ilonggo? What about the consequence of out-migrations and in-migrations and the growing number of neo-Ilonggos in the region?
The Ilonggos are among the principal ethnolinguistic groups of people in the Philippines. And just like the rest of the archipelago's inhabitants, their origin has yet to be fully ascertained. Historical records give very little information about their distribution, number, culture and ethnic origins at the time of the Spanish contact.
What is known is that when the Spaniards came, Panay was inhabited by at least two distinctive ethnic groups - the Ati and the Bisaya (what most scholars refer to as Malay) who may have come from Borneo. By the time of their arrival, the Spaniards already noted many well-populated communities in several places in Iloilo that had flourishing local trade and occasional foreign commercial intercourse.
The name Bisaya could have either been derived from the Shri-Vishaya Empire based in Indonesia or from the Bisaya River in Borneo. Some scholars claimed that the central part of the Philippines was once a part of the powerful empire but there is not enough material evidence to prove this. Another researcher believes that the Bornean Malays that settled down in Panay in early times came from places beside the Bisaya River.
According to the Povedano Manuscripts of 1572 and 1578, the people who inhabited the Visayas at the beginning of the Spanish conquest of the archipelago were initially called by the colonizers as Pintados. In other words, the Spaniards did not call the people of Western Visayas at first as Bisaya but as Pintado. The Pintados were so sonamed because they covered their bodies and faces with tattoos that at a distance looked like body painting.
The Bisaya or Pintado, according to the early Spanish writers, were divided into three linguistic groups: the Higesina, who lived along the seacoast; the Haraya, who lived in the lowlands along the river banks; and the Ignine, who lived in the uplands. It may be speculated that Hiligaynon, Iloilo City's lingua franca, came from Higesina or simply Sina. The Haraya speech could have evolved into the present Kiniray-a or Hiniray-a, the language of the island's inland municipalities. Ignine, on the other hand, may have been the parent tonque of the language spoken by the Panay Bukidnon.
Other Spanish writings in the 16th century talked about the people of lowland Panay as Yliguenes, perhaps from the word Iligan or Iliganon, meaning, where the water flows down. It must be noted that flourishing communities in the archipelago were usually located in the river mouths towards the sea. Incidentally, the noted Ilonggo anthropologist, Dr. Felipe Jocano, uses the term Hiligaynon to refer to the people and not to the language in his book "The Hiligaynons" (1983). Coincidentally, the people of Iligan City, capital of Lanao del Norte, whose location is also where the water flows, call themselves as "Iliganon", very similar to "Hiligaynon".
So, then, why Ilonggo? At what point of time did the people start identifying themselves as Ilonggos? It is commonly believed that Iloilo is the Hispanized version of the province's old name, "Ilong-ilong". If the old name of the province was "Ilong-ilong", the people could have called themselves "Iloilo-ilonganon". Or, even if it was shortened for convenience to "Ilonganon" because Ilong-ilonganon is long, how in the world did it become "Ilonggo"? Did the word "Ilonggo" really come from Iloilo? This is an issue that needs clarification. It could be more understandable if it is "Iloilonganon" or "Ilonganon" which some local writers use in the past.
The designation Aklanon, Antiquenhon, Capiznon, Guimarasnon and Negrense are not considered by anthropologists and other social scientists as ethnic representations. They are rather considered as geographic and politico-administrative levels.