LOCATION: Philippines (Western Visayas)

POPULATION: 5.4 million

LANGUAGE: Hiligaynon

RELIGION: Pre-Christian belief system, coexisting with Catholicism


Long before the 1600s, the fertility of the Western Visayas region in the Philippines permitted the Hiligaynon people to develop one of the archipelago's most advanced societies. They engaged in international trade (as evidenced by large finds of Chinese porcelain) and created fine work in gold and semiprecious stones.

Large-scale sugar production for the world market created a small group of elite citizens, most of whom were mestizo (mixed race). They enjoyed an opulent lifestyle on vast plantations. With the drop in the price of sugar in the 1980s and 1990s, the region entered a steep economic decline.


The Western Visayas region of the Philippines includes Panay island, Negros Occidental, and Romblon. The region's population numbered 5.4 million in 1990, all speakers of Hiligaynon Ilongo or closely related dialects. Hiligaynon speakers constitute approximately 10 percent of the national population. They inhabit one of the major rice-producing areas of the Philippines. The landscape consists of broad plains stretching between mountain ranges. Large rivers deposit the volcanic sediments that make the lowlands fertile.


The Hiligaynon language is the language of Iloilo province, which has come to be spoken throughout the Western Visayas region. Other regions of Panay have their own distinct speech forms (Capizeño, Aklanon, and Kiniray-a, the last spoken in interior villages), but these are mutually intelligible with Hiligaynon (speakers of one can understand the other). Hiligaynon intonation is noted for its gentle lilt under which, it is said, a curse may go unrecognized. The narrow straits link Panay and western Negros, and Hiligaynon is spoken on both shores. Mountains separate western from eastern Negros, where the people speak Cebuano, a language that the Hiligaynon people cannot readily understand.


The Maragtas epic, an imaginative nineteenth-century reworking of Panay folk memories, tells of the migration to the Philippines in AD 1250 of the Bornean datus (chiefs) Puti, Sumakwel, Bangkaya, Balakasusa, Paiburong, Dumangsil, Lubay, and Dumalogdog. They had led their followers there to escape the tyranny of the Srivijayan empire. The datus bought the coastal lands of Panay from the indigenous (native) people with gold, pearls, and other ornaments (the native people moved inland).


Among the Hiligaynon, a pre-Christian belief system coexists with the Catholic one brought by the Spaniards. The two exert mutual influence on each other, as when the Santo Niño, the image of the Child Jesus as World Sovereign, is bathed to summon rain or attract good luck. The native beliefs divide the universe into three parts: the upperworld, middleworld, and lowerworld. The upperworld houses at its peak the udtohanon , which is God and his favorite angels who will pass the final judgment but are otherwise remote from human affairs. Lower down in the upperworld reside the langitnon, angelic beings who live above the clouds. In the awan-awan (between the clouds and the earth but still in the upper-world) live the spirits of the wind, rain, thunder, lightning, typhoons, and whirlwinds; supreme among them is the tagurising who lives where the sun rises. The middleworld (the earth) is the home to the dutan-on, spirits expelled from the upper-world for rebelling against God; they are identified according to where they first landed, for example, in trees, the river, or the sea. The underworld includes hell, in front of whose gate is a hollow pit where the engkanto, the malevolent (evil) spirits, live with their reptilian pets; the underworld regions are connected to the middleworld through a tunnel called the bungalog.

Each community has specialists who are able to communicate with spirits and heal diseases thought to be caused by spirits. They also recover lost objects, predict the future, and discover the causes of misfortunes. The most important of these specialists is the baylan, a medium whom a spirit has befriended and granted powers. To increase the power of his rituals, the baylan often adds Latin prayers and Catholic sacred objects.


The Hiligaynon celebrate Santacruzan with parades and feasting each May. The holiday commemorates the time when St. Helena (c.248–c.328) discovered the cross on which Christ was believed to have been crucified.


Persons wanting to marry consult with their siblings and other relatives before approaching their parents for consent and support. The boy's family arranges a meeting with the girl's family to discover if the girl has already been promised to another; this serves as a public announcement to discourage other suitors. The boy's family employs a spokesperson to learn whether the girl's parents have accepted the proposal. If they have, the arrangements, including the prospective groom's term of bride service, are arranged at another meeting, the padul-ong, after which the engagement becomes binding and the girl is no longer to be seen in the company of other boys.

On the night before the wedding, both sides attend a party at the bride's parents' house. The church ceremony itself includes ritual acts that are meant to ensure the wife's subservience and fertility. Formerly, a sinulang (a machete dance) accompanied the couple out of the church. Arriving at the house, the couple proceeds straight to the family altar to ensure future prosperity; a feast follows. The marriage is not consummated until the second night at the groom's parents' house; on the third day, the couple returns to the bride's parents' house to live.

When a person is dying, relatives say prayers for the deliverance of his or her soul and to ward off evil spirits (men wave machetes in the yard). The body is washed with water mixed with ginger or bark juice and is laid out in the house next to an improvised altar and a tin can in which mourners put contributions. The deceased's family refrains from making excessive noise, fighting, combing their hair, and bathing until three days after the burial. Only unmarried men may take the body out of the house; water is thrown on the threshold so that another death will not follow. The entire funeral procession must return to the house of the deceased and wash their hands and feet.

Nine days of prayer follow the burial; as many as nine more days may be added, depending on the family's wealth (as all attending must be served food and drink). At a midnight ceremony on the ninth night, all family members must be awake to bid farewell to the spirit of the deceased. On the death anniversary, nine days of prayer again take place. On the ninth night, a patay-patay (a dummy of the dead) is set up, consisting of pillows laid on a wooden trunk upon which the deceased's clothes are laid.


Hiligaynon share the general Filipino behavioral values such as hiya ( huya in the Hiligaynon language). Violating norms (such as insulting spiritual mediums) will earn gaba, supernatural punishment. Those who humiliate others will suffer the same amount of humiliation in turn, called ulin .


Houses are raised 9 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) off the ground; walls are of plaited (braided) bamboo, and roofs are of nipa or coconut palm leaves or cogon grass. Sulay, bamboo, or timber props, are placed against all sides of a house to keep it from being blown away by typhoons. The room for receiving guests is separated from the rest of the house by a wall; a sofa and two side chairs occupy the space immediately inside the front door. Small children of both sexes sleep together, but once they are older, boys sleep near the door and girls sleep in a bedroom at the back. Animals are kept under the house, and rice is stored there (if not in a separate granary structure). The house lot is enclosed with a bamboo fence or a hedge of ornamental plants; fruit tree groves and gardens are nearby.


Hiligaynon family structure conforms to the general Filipino pattern. In wealthier families, the Spanish terms papa and mama, or even the English mommy and daddy, are preferred over the native tatay and nanay. Educated people may address their spouses with such English expressions as honey or darling (often shortened to "ling") rather than the native nonoy (for the husband) or neneng (for the wife). Uncles and aunts are addressed as "tay + [name]" (Papa + [name]) and "nay + [name]" (Mama + [name]), respectively.

A peasant couple share work responsibilities. For example, a husband plows while the wife plants; he fishes but she sells the catch. Husbands are the dominant partner outside the house (in public or in the fields), whereas wives reign supreme within the house. Spouses refrain from showing affection publicly, exchanging only casual greetings. While village people disapprove of a man taking a mistress, saying it will bring bad luck, elite men take mistresses for the sake of prestige.

Family members lavish much attention on a child but also discipline him or her from an early age. Children will gang up on a sibling to whom the parents show favoritism. As they get older, sons become more formal with their mothers, and daughters with their fathers. (With puberty, daughters become closer to their mothers.) At the age of seven, a boy will start to help his father with farming or fishing.

Parents discipline children by telling them frightening tales (mentioning the aswang or names of old people) or by spanking or whipping them with a stick. All children are punished, even if only one child initiated the misbehavior.


For fieldwork, men wear worn-out short pants and often go shirtless. On formal occasions, however, they wear long pants, shirts, and shoes (otherwise they go barefoot).

Married women wear either a bestida (dress) or a patadyong (tube skirt) with a blouse. Traditional weaving is nearly extinct, but was a thriving industry before the nineteenth-century import of British manufactured cloth. For pangalap (magical protection), many older men wear tattoos (a crucifix, initials, or female figures). At the time of the Spanish arrival, all the people living in the Visayan region wore elaborate tattoos, earning them the name Pintados, "the painted ones," from their conquerors.

12 • FOOD

The eating pattern is either three meals a day or two meals (at 10:00–11:00 AM and 4:00–5:00 PM ). Between-meal snacks consist of rice cakes, boiled roots, or bananas. Family members eat at their own convenience but are encouraged to eat together. Ordinarily, people eat with their hands while sitting on the floor; silverware and tables are reserved for the use of guests. Men do not eat breakfast unless, as a gesture of hospitality, they are joining visitors who are being served breakfast.

Around 6:00 PM , men gather for tuba (palm wine) drinking sessions in the tree groves between houses (some women may also join them).


Almost all Hiligaynon are literate (can read and write). Most children attend elementary school, which is free, for six years. High school provide four more years of education. Only about 70 percent go on to high school, because not all families can afford to pay the required fees. Attending high school may involve travel to a school some distance away.


The Hiligaynon have an epic, the Hinilawod.


The Western Visayas region is dominated by two very different types of agriculture: rice cultivation by small holders, and sugar cultivation in large plantations. Swidden (shifting-cultivation) farming is still practiced in the highlands.

Tobacco has become increasingly important. Other crops grown include maize (corn), bananas, coconuts, sweet potato, cassava, singkamas (similar to turnips), squash, tomatoes, beans, and red peppers. Fishing is an alternative means of livelihood. Some Hiligaynon engage in various forms of petty trade: libod, making the rounds of one's village, selling a product; pahumay, selling from one's house; tinda, selling at fiestas and other local events; and tiyanggi, operating a small variety store ( sari-sari in Tagalog-Pilipino).


Tumbang patis, popular with both boys and girls, involves two or more children throwing rocks at a tin can while someone who is "it" watches the can, putting it back in place when hit; if a player is caught retrieving the stone he or she has thrown, he or she becomes "it." Other popular games include: "gunfighting" with bamboo popguns; beetle-and spider-fighting; and huyup-huyup, blowing rubber bands out of a circle for bets. Young children catch dragonflies, dig holes in the ground, pile sticks, measure sand with bottle caps, and pull empty coconut shells or sardine cans on strings.


The Hiligaynon, like all Filipinos, enjoy watching television and going to the movies. Children play board games and team sports like chess and soccer.


Hiligaynon practice weaving baskets, place mats, and textiles.


Hiligaynon people view the government and the justice system as corrupt, because wealthy people are able to bribe officials to receive the verdicts they desire.


LeBar, Frank M., ed. Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Vol. 2, The Philippines and Formosa. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1972.


Embassy of the Philipines, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.sequel.net/RpinUS/WDC/ , 1998.

World Travel Guide. Philippines. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/ph/gen.html , 1998.

User Contributions:

I found your webside by accident and I`m pleased. I`ll come over to Iloilo October this year for BALIKBAYAN. But we are planning to reside on PANAY the coming years. May God bless you!
Manfred from Germany
I have exactly what info I want. Check, plsaee. Wait, it's free? Awesome!
May I use this document as reference in my paper on Hiligaynon Varieties? Thank you in advance.

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