The Hiligaynon Language of the Ilonggo

by Francesca Cimacio, University of the Phlippines

10 May 2010

Baguio City - Most people find the ethnolinguistic group Hiligaynon to be malambing (affectionate). Popularly known as Ilonggo, Hiligaynon is said to have originated from the term Yligueynes or people of the coast, considering that Western Visayas is surrounded by large bodies of water. Some sources state that the term Hiligaynon refers to the language, while Ilonggo refers to the people who speak the language; at times, Hiligaynon refers to the people and the language. The language has a distinct characteristic that may be viewed as either positive or negative. Ilonggos speak in a sing-song manner, which is what projects them as affectionate. However, this characteristic can make it difficult for an Ilonggo to express himself or herself strongly. Hiligaynon ranks 5th nationwide in the number of speakers.
 
Because the seat of the Hiligaynons is geographically close to that of the Cebuanos, the area was inevitably Christianized as well. However, although the majority of the population is Catholic, the old traditions are still practiced from time to time. The best example is the practice of bathing an image of the Santo Nino (Child Jesus) in water for good luck or to induce rain.
 
When talking about Ilonggos, one of the first things that come to mind are their gastronomic delights, which are known for being tasty and sweet. Whoever happens to be in Western Visayas — whether local or international tourists — makes it a point to try the region’s food. An example is batchoy, an immensely popular Ilonggo dish. While various versions of it can be found all over the Philippines, nothing compares to the authentic La Paz original.
 
The lands occupied by the Hiligaynons are wide and vast, and farming is their principal economic activity. In Negros Occidental, the “old rich” families have huge sugar plantations called azucareras, which are their primary source of income. Rice is another main crop.
 
Bacolod City in Negros Occidental is well known for its annual Masskara Festival, which features “smiling” masks. Celebrated during October, the festival has earned Bacolod City the moniker “City of Smiles,” although the concept was inspired by a tragic incident.
 
Meanwhile, in Iloilo, a grand celebration happens every January: the Dinagyang Festival, in honor the Child Jesus. Today, aside from its religious roots, Dinagyang also showcases the culture and lifestyle of the Ilonggos — a magnet for local and foreign tourists. Dinagyang, like many other festivals in the country, underscores the influence of the Christian faith on the way of life of the people. It also shows important tradition and culture is not only for the Hiligaynons, but also for Filipinos as a whole.
 
Ilonggos, who are reputedly affectionate, are more than just that: They have a rich heritage and culture that is uniquely theirs.