Iloilo’s Finest - Events, Food, Places

September 5, 2007

A History of Iloilo

Filed under: Features — augel @ 11:00 am

Calle Real district iloilo City

A View of the Calle Real District

Iloilo Overview

Iloilo is a province of the Philippines located in the Western Visayas region. Its capital is Iloilo City and is located at the southeast portion of Panay Island, bordering Antique to the west and Capiz to the north. Just off Iloilo’s southeast coast is the island-province of Guimaras and across Panay Gulf and Guimaras Strait is Negros Occidental.

The Province of Iloilo is the third-largest province in Western Visayas after Palawan and Negros Occidental. The province is divided into two distinct geographic regions; the highlands of the Madia-as on the western border and the lowland plains which account for a larger portion of the province. Small islands east of its northernmost tip also dot the Visayan Sea - of these, Pan de Azucar and Sicogon are well-known.

History of Iloilo

Iloilo: The Next Big Thing

At the time of the Spanish conquest, writing was a new import and the use of organic medium such as leaf and bamboo, ultimately lead to the absence of extant pre-Hispanic accounts of Iloilo today. However, oral history – via oral epics has survived to a small degree, as only a few recordings were made from the last known surviving binukots.

The earliest written historical accounts concerning the province relates to Spain’s conquest of the island of Panay by Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi moving his headquarters from the island of Cebu and creating the first Spanish settlement in the island in Ogtong in 1566. In 1581 the encomienda in Ogtong was moved to La Villa Rica de Arevalo, however, because of frequent coastal raids by Moro and Dutch privateers, this was again moved near the mouth of the Irong-irong river founding what is now Iloilo City and constructing Fort San Pedro to defend it in 1616.

Irong-Irong appears in the Maragtas legend of the coming of ten Bornean datus (Chieftains) to Panay who bartered gold for the plains and valleys of the island from a local Ati chieftain. One datu, Paiburong by name, was given the territory of Irong-Irong (now Iloilo). For 300 years before the coming of the Spaniards, the islanders live in comparative prosperity and peace under an organized government and such laws as the Codes of Kalantiaw.

View of downtown Iloilo from the Capitol building

Downtown Iloilo as Seen from the Capitol Building

In 1566, the Spaniards under Miguel Lopez de Legaspi came to Panay and established a settlement in Ogtong (now Oton, Iloilo). He appointed Gonzalo Ronquillo as deputy encomiendero who in 1581 moved the seat of Spanish power to La Villa de Arevalo, a sitio named in honor of his hometown in Avila, in Spain. By 1700 due to recurrent raids by Moro pirates, Dutch and English privateers, the Spaniards moved to the village of Irong-Irong where by Moro pirates, Dutch and English privateers,the Spaniards moved to the village of Irong-Irong where close to the mouth of the river they built Fort San Pedro. Irong-Irong or Ilong-Ilong whose name the Spaniards shortened to “Iloilo” later became the capital of the province.The Maragtas, a set of ancient documents, is a popularly accepted chronicle of ancient Panay, According to the documents, Datu Puti and his fellow datus, together with their families, warriors and slaves, fled from the tyranny of Sultan Makatunao of Borneo, and landed at now known as the town of San Joaquin.At that time, Panay was inhabited by native aboriginal people, the small, dark-skinned “Atis” who were ruled by King Marikudo and Queen affluent land bustling with trade and commerce. Maniwangtiwang. King Marikudo sold the lowlands of Panay for the price of a golden hat (saduk), a long golden necklace (manangyad) and other assorted items. After the sale, the Atis retreated to the highlands and newcomers settled in their new home. In 1566, when the Spaniards set foot on the land they later renamed Iloilo, discovered an affluent land bustling with trade and commerce. Its flourished economic activities and excellent port made Iloilo the premier province of the country.

In December 1898, the Americans entered the Iloilo port and took over the reins of the City. Under American tutelage, many Ilonggos became luminaries in the fields of politics and government. The outbreak of the Second World War took a heavy toll on the province. Like the rest of the country, Iloilo was left with severely shattered economy and deeply demoralized populace. Possessing the resilence and determination of their forebears, the Ilonggos slowly regained their foothold. Today, Iloilo has rejoined the ranks of the progressive provinces outside of Metro Manila. Iloilo’s colorful history has distilled a spirit that posses the complex nuances of contrasting cultures. It is a culture essentially Oriental, progressively Occidental, yet uniquely Ilonggo.

The Old Dock City

The rapid economic growth of the place led to the opening of the port of Iloilo to world trade in 1855. Iloilo soon emerged to be the biggest center of commerce and trade in the Visayas and Mindanao, second only to Manila. In 1890 under Becera Law of 1899 the Ayuntamiento of Iloilo (City Government) was established. The City of Iloilo by virtue of a Royal Decree of 1896 was given the honor of having a Coat of Arms with the Inscription: “La Muy Leal Y Noble Ciudad de Iloilo.”

The period under the American saw Iloilo taking greater roles in politics, industry and agriculture. With good roads, an airport and irrigation systems, Iloilo rose to be a major food basket of the country. Its fishing industry flourished that it was known as the “Alaska of the Philippines.” The sugar industry also pushed further the economy upward.

Iloilo’s march on the road to progress was hindered by the coming of the Second World War, but not its march to greatness. For even in difficult times, the Ilonggos, as the people of Iloilo are known, proved equal to challenges. They refused to be subdued by the enemy. Its civil government did not surrender to the Japanese. The guerilla warfare waged in Panay won the admiration of America and the world.

Though the postwar years were not so kind to Iloilo, the Ilonggos survived and managed to trudge on the road to prosperity. With Iloilo’s highly diversified agricultural economy, industrious people and a great tradition for sincerity and genuine warmth, the Ilonggos seem to have little to complain about.

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Next: Iloilo’s La Paz Batchoy


  1. [...] Next: A History of Iloilo [...]

    Pingback by Welcome to I Ilove Iloilo | I Love Iloilo - Events, Food, Places — September 7, 2007 @ 12:19 pm

  2. Hello, knowing someone from Iloilo, i have always been so interested in learning the Hiligaynon language, i know some, but, it is so hard to find anything , anywhere for guidence , either in books or possibly instruction. Any help would be appreciated, thanks so much

    Comment by David — April 27, 2008 @ 2:15 am

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