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       Hiligaynon is the lingua franca of the West Visayas in Central Philippines. Politically labeled Region 6, West Visayas is composed of the provinces of Iloilo, Capiz, Antique and Aklan on the island of Panay; Negros Occidental, the western half of the island of Negros; and the new island-province of Guimaras which used to be a sub-province of Iloilo.

       The mother language of West Visayas is Kinaray-a or Hiraya, the language spoken by the central and southern towns of Iloilo, all of the province of Antique and most of Capiz. Hiligaynon is spoken in Iloilo City in all the coastal towns north of Iloilo City, in all of Guimaras, in most of Roxas City in Capiz, and in Bacolod City and most of the towns of Negros Occidental. The language is also spoken in South Cotabato, in Mindanao, where many West Visayans have migrated. The northern towns of Negros Occidental speak Cebuano or Sugbuanon, the lingua franca of Central Visayas. The province of Aklan speaks Aklanon which, like Hiligaynon, developed from Kinaray-a.

       Though distinctly different from Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a and Aklanon are conveniently considered by many linguists and literary researchers as subsumed in the lingua franca. Current writers in Kinaray-a and Aklanonhave shown that it is not so.

       Purely oral, West Visayan literature before the coming of the Spaniards was in Kinaray-a which must have been the language in folk literature of the ten Bornean datus who, according to the folk account of the Maragtas,got the island of Panay from the aboriginal Ati in exchange for a headgear of gold and a necklace that touched the ground.

       Folk literature ranges from brief riddles, proverbs, ditties, ritual chants to elaborate love songs, tales and extensive epics. A poem is called binalaybay and the tale is the asoy or the sugilanon.

       The paktakon is a riddle while the hurubaton is a proverb. Both are usually in two lines and rhymed.

       Folksongs may be as simple as the ili-ili or lullaby or as intricate as the ambahan, a long song alternately sung by a soloist and a chorus; the siday which can be a long poetic joust between two paid poets respectively representing the two families in a marriage suit (siday sa pamalaye); or a balitaw, a jocose love song sung in a debating manner by a man and a woman.

       The asoy may be a legend or a tale about a folk hero or a local happening. Foremost among the Panay epics are the Labaw Donggon and the Hinilawod.

       Ritual chants are delivered by the babaylan or healer to please the diwata or supernatural beings or spirits in exchange for good health and luck in the home and the fields during planting and harvest seasons.

       The coming of the Spaniards and the conversion of the people to Christianity produced new forms of folk literature. Written literature also started, first with translations of Spanish texts of prayers and lives of the saints.

       Tracing their origins to the Spanish times are the luwa, the witty quatrain recited by the loser of the bordon,the most popular game during the belasyon or vigil for the dead; and the composo, the ballad that sings the life of a folk hero or a significant incident in the community.

       Religious literature flourished during the Spanish times. The Flores de Mayo is a devotional song-prayer held throughout the month of May characterized by singing hymns to the Virgin Mary and offering flowers.

       The Pasyon, which recounts the suffering of Christ, is chanted during the Holy Week.

       The gozos of the novena, the nine-day devotional prayer to a saint, stresses Christian virtue or recounts incidents in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

       Always part of the feast in honor of the patron saint is the coronation of the fiesta queen. The local poet then delivers the pagdayaw, an extensive ode praising the queen’s beauty and virtue.

       Purely secular is the corrido, actually a medieval romance brought by the Spaniards. Most popular corridoin West Visayas is Rodrigo de Villas.

       Two theater forms developed during the Spanish times. The moro-moro is full of action but is no more than a morality play celebrating the victory of the Christians against the Moros. The zarzuela is a musical but later made a vehicle for subversive activities.

       The establishment of Imprenta La Panayana in Iloilo City late in the nineteenth century by a Bicolano, Mariano Perfecto, engineered written Hiligaynon literature. With his Pasyon, novenas and corridos, Perfecto published Almanake Panayanhon (Panayan Almanac), the all-time Hiligaynon best-seller. Almanake, which published literary works by most of the early Hiligaynon writers, is still being published today by the Perfecto heirs.

       The coming of the Americans saw the so-called Golden Age of Hiligaynon literature even if the orientation was still heavily Spanish– didactic and Roman Catholic though strongly nationalistic.

       The relatively short period from the 1920’s to the coming of the Japanese is considered the Golden Age. This produced Angel Magahum (first novelist for Benjamin), poet Delfin Gumban, poet Serapion Torre, poet-translator (from Spanish) Flavio Zaragoza Cano, essayist-journalist Rosendo Mejica, zarzuela masters Jose Ma. Ingalla and Jose Ma. Nava, playwright Miguela Montelibano, novelist-poet Magdalena Jalandoni, essayist Augurio Abeto and Abe Gonzales, and the young novelist Ramon L. Musones and poet Santiago Alv. Mulato. The triumvirate of Gumban, Torre and Zaragoza Cano ruled it out for years in poetry, their rivalry magnified by the public balagtasan or poetic joust. The establishment of Hiligaynon magazine by Liwayway Publications in Manila and of the Makinaugalingon Press by Rosendo Mejica in Iloilo City further strengthened Hiligaynon literature.

       Jalandoni, Muzones, Gonzales and Mulato wrote their way through the Japanese Occupation and on to the fifties and the sixties which saw two new novelists, Jose E. Yap and Conrado Norada. The establishment ofYuhum magazine in Iloilo City by La Defensa Press and of the short-lived Kasanag by Diolosa Publications, kept literature not only alive but strong. Big names were Ramon L. Muzones, Santiago Alv. Mulato, Conrado Norada, Abe Gonzales and the forever versatile Magdalena Jalandoni. Jose E. Yap had started his series of science-fiction novels. New names came like Hernando Siscar , Antonio Joquiño and Isabelo Sobrevega.

       The influence of English literature, especially in the short story, became pronounced in the 1960’s whenHiligaynon writers became more aware of formalist guidelines like characterization, local color and irony. The short story became popular while the novel with Muzones, Yap and Norada at the helm kept its position. Emerging from the sixties are important names of the present: Nilo P. Pamonag, Lucila V. Hosillos, Mario L. Villaret, Romeo Garganera, Ner E. Jedeliz, Jr., Quin Baterna and Jose Ali Bedaño who wrote under the name of Julius Flores. Two prominent women novelists are Ismaelita Floro-Luza of Roxas City and Ma. Luisa Defante-Gibraltar of Bacolod.

       Yuhum stopped publication in the sixties and resumed during Martial law. Hiligaynon closed during Martial law and resurrected in 1989.

       The Cory Revolution of 1986 is an important milestones in the history of Hiligaynon literature. Because of the new management of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the creation of the Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts which later became the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, new writing and new writers have been born. The CCP and the NCCA have become truly the people’s patrons of the arts by paving the way for the creation of regional and local art councils, providing writing grants to writers of marginalized languages, supporting workshops and publications and conferring awards. Competitions likewise have had their share in the ferment of new writing. Most significant is the inclusion of the Hiligaynon short story, alongside that of Cebuano and Iluko, in the Palanca Awards since 1997.

       The Cory Revolution has also ushered in these historical landmarks in the literature of West Visayas:

  1. The emergence of Kinaray-a writing;
  2. The emergence of Aklanon writing;
  3. The emergence of writing in Filipino which is Visayan-based;
  4. The ferment of campus writing in these languages;
  5. The emergence of multilingual writing in the region.

       Important young writers in West Visayas today include: Hiligaynon– Alicia Tan-Gonzales, Peter Solis Nery, Edgar Siscar, Resurreccion Hidalgo, Alfredo Siva, Alain Russ Dimzon; Kinaray-a — Ma. Milagros C. Geremia Lanchica, Alex C. de los Santos, John Iremil E. Teodoro, Jose Edison C. Tondares, Maragtas S. V. Amante, Ma. Felicia Flores; Aklanon –– Melchor F. Cichon, Alexander C. de Juan, John E. Barrios.

       All these writers are either bilingual or multilingual. It should also be understood that West Visayas has produced a big number of writers in English and a few very good writers in Spanish, but they are not included here.

Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994Hosillos, Lucila V. Hiligaynon Literature: Texts and Contexts, The Ilonggo Language and Literature Foundation, Inc., Iloilo City, 1992Mulato, Santiago Alv. Ilonggo Men of Letter, Iloilo City (unpublished)
About the Author:
Leoncio P. Deriada is a fictionist, playwright and poet who has won awards from Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards, Cultural Center of the Philippines, Asiaweek, among others. He is the author of four books: “The Road to Mawab and Other Stories” (1984), “The Dog Eaters and Other Plays” (1986), “Night Mares” (1988) and “The Week of the Whales”(1993). He heads the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino of the University of the Philippines, Visayas.