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by: Jo Anne Fontanilla
      "Aklanon" refers to the people of Aklan province, their language and culture. Folk belief that Aklan derived its name from a river called Akean. When the Spaniards came, they asked the region's name from a man fishing in the river and the man thought they were asking him for the name of the river. The Aklanon belong to a larger group called Viasayan, and the Aklanon language is a subclassification of the Visayan language. It is said that Aklanon language substitutes the phonetic sound of "e" for "l," pronounced with rolling  "r" sound, because Datu Bangkaya, the first ruler of Aklan, had a short tongue and therefore could not pronounce the "l" sound.
Aklan lies on the northern part of Panay island, which has three other provinces: Capiz, Iloilo, and Antique. The Visayan Sea shapes it like a triangle pointing southward, bounded on the west of Antique, on the east by Capiz, and north. Its topography is swampy along the coasts, and rolling and mountainous inland. Its forest and grasslands are expanding. Population estimates as of 1988 were 387,000.


When the Spaniards came to Panay from Cebu in 1569, they found people with tattoos, and so they called the island "isla de los pintados." They divided it into encomiendas, and this is how Capiz became a separate encomienda. How the island itself came to be called Panay is uncertain.
Kalibo, whose name derives from the native name of pineapple, became parish in 1620, and the church of mixed materials was built on the site now called Languingbanwa. Aklan's northern coast made it vulnerable to Muslim invasions. In 1813 and 1835, for instance, Muslim vinta (ship) carrying about 1,000 pirates attacked the seashore town of Buswang, Kalibo, and took with them slaves and loot.
On particular pride among the Aklanon is their involvement in the Katipunan and the Philippine Revolution against Spain. Two Aklanon, Francisco del Castillo and Candido Iban, won in a lottery and donated P1, 000 to the revolutionary movement for the purchase of printing press. As Katipunan members, they were instructed by Andres Bonifacio to return to Aklan and organize. Membership spread to the province. Del Castillo, the provincial head, died in battle on 17 Mar 1897. The Spanish commanding general enticed the Katipunero to surrender with the promise of amnesty. In Kalibo, 50 Katipunero surrendered and were immediately thrown to jail. Twenty of them were chosen for execution. One of them, however, was released through his wife's intercession. At about midnight of 23 Mar, the 19 Katipunero were shot and their bodies paraded that morning around the plaza. They were now honored as the "19 Martyrs of Aklan."
Civil government was established in Capiz/Aklan on 14 April 1901. Twelve years later, Victorino Mapa of Kalibo became a member of the Philippine Commission. He also became the first Panayanon Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
WWII came to Panay on 12 April 1942, with Japanese troops landing simultaneously in Capiz/Aklan, Iloilo, and Antique. This led to the formation of the Panay resistance movement, comprising the civil war ended in 1945, and the country became politically independent the following year.
During the 1950's Rep Godofredo Ramos authored a bill separating Aklan from Capiz. Pres. Ramon Magsaysay approved the bill, and the first appointive governor was Rose Raz Nenez. In 1959 Ramos became the first elected governor of Aklan.

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Agriculture is the main occupation, with rice and corn produced in abundance. The topography favors the development of the fish ponds industry and coconut plantations. Fishing is a major industry, and there is a National College of Fisheries in New Washington. Copra is an export commodity. Fruits such as banana, melon, and pineapple are produced and the surplus shipped to Manila. Abaca, also abundant, is used to make slippers, mats, and bags. Other cottage industries are weaving, rattan furniture, woodcraft, and hat making. Kalibo is known for the production of pineapple fiber, which is woven into cloth, called pina, a fabric used for the barong tagalog or long sleeved shirt with collar. Aklan is also rich in mineral resources such as chromite, manganese, and gold, but the claims have not been developed.

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Late 16th-century accounts such as Miguel de Loarca's and an anonymous manuscript now referring to as the Boxer Codex say that the traditional Panayanon government was headed by the datu, who, as head of the sakup, was the judge in matters of dispute, the protector, and the defender, and the feudal lord.  Any of the datu's sons could claim succession; hence, warfare could erupt among brothers competing for the throne. Or the newly disgruntled brother of a newly installed datu could start his own sakup.
A class of warriors is called timawa owed fealty to the datu. Their main function was to protect the datu, including tasting his wine for poison. They themselves were descendants of datu, the first-generation timawa having been the illegitimate sons of the datu and slave women.
Legislative decisions by the datu were done publicly and with the guidance of the ponu-an, a council of elders in matters of customs law. All crimes, including murder and disobedience to the datu, were punishable by fines, which could be paid for with servitude.
Folk history considers the Maragtas Code, also known as the Sumakwelan Code, as the earliest legal system. It covered aspects of human behavior and relationships, such as property rights, inheritance, contracts, and family relations. The punishment for the violation of laws was varied: humiliation, forced labor, whipping, drowning, and burning. Aklna province was created under Republic Act 4979. It is classified as a fourth-class province according to income. A governor, vice-governor, and a provincial board administer the province. Aklan has one seat in the Congress.

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The traditional social hierarchy consisted of five classes: datu, timawa, oripun, Negrito, and outsiders from across the seas. An original myth claims these were the classes that made up all humankind. The term "datu" referred to both the social class and the headman belong to the class.
Vertical mobility was possible within this social structure. Slaves, for instance, could become free after paying off debts, which might have been the cause of their slavery; or a grateful master could free them. Slaves could also go up to the ladder of the 12 subclasses of within their class. However, the datu kept the noble line unbroken by marrying only princes of other sakup, whether by proper arrangement or by abduction. The princess was binokot "caged" or "wrapped up," meaning reserved for the appropriate marriage.
The traditional Aklanon kinship system followed the general Philippine pattern, relationship being traced along both paternal and maternal lines, with terms of address for each member of the family. Marriage agreements were traditional: paternal approval and arrangements were requisite to a ceremony called pamaeaye or pabaeayon.

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The early Panayanon believed in many gods. Bulalakaw who lived in a mountain called Madya-as. A chief goddess was called Laon, after whom Mt. Kanlaon is named. There were mediators to the gods, also said to be the first priests: Bangutbanwa, who prayed for good harvest; Mangindalon, who prayed for sick person; and Soliran, who performed the marriage ceremonies. Manunubo was the good spirit of the sea.
Although the majority of the Aklanon population is now Christian, belief in the power of babaylan has not completely disappeared. In pre-Christian times, the babaylan played an important political, social, religious, and cultural role. They advised the datu, and were the spiritual and physical healers of the community. Reverence of patron saints has not completely replaced the beliefs of engkanto (super natural beings), pilhi are evil spirits, and the aswang (witches).
In pre-Spanish times, a significant religious ceremony was held every seven years to pray for the "strengthening of the universe." The people of Irong-irong, Hamtik, and Aklan convened near a spring whose waters flowed back to the mountains, and made sacrifices and offerings for seven days.
The folk belief is that sickness is caused either by spirits of ancestors feeling neglected, or by environmental spirits dwelling in the pilhi. The environmental spirits are offended when one trespasses on their property without asking for permission.
Desinario, the praying of rosary for this particular occasion, then commences. Another healing ritual is the panghatud; an offering brought to the pilhi tree. It consists of lechon (roasted pig), a red rooster that has been cooked without salt, miniature replicas of bow and arrow and spear, 1m of kundiman (red cloth), and coins.
Today most Aklanon have been Christianized, but the animistic practices continue, sometimes integrating Catholic rituals, like the January celebration for the Santo Nino.

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The traditional houses of the Aklanon are basically identical to the Visayan house, although it has distinctive features. In Aklan, a house with several rooms may have corresponding number of small roofs that cluster tightly together to form a single mountainous mass. The main posts are made of agoho timber; the walls are woven bamboo slats; the floor, about 1.5m above the ground, is of bamboo slats. There must be at least one window facing the east, for good luck. Also for good luck, the owner determines the number of steps by reciting the words or, plata, mata (gold, silver, and death); the builder must make sure that the steps do not end on the word "death."
In rural areas, the bamboo houses stands squarely in the middle of the field, overlooking the various stages of the agricultural cycle. City planning, on the other hand, reveals traces of Spanish influence. The town center is a huge, open square called plaza, from which street and houses radiate. The cathedral, government buildings, and stone houses of the traditionally affluent surround the plaza.

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The traditional weaving method of pina is called pili or sinuksuk. This is the floating weft technique accomplished after the cloth weaving; an intricate process of embellishing pina fabric before it is cut and sewn into gown.
The Aklanon visual artist who became prominent was Telesforo Sucgang, painter and sculptor. He was a portraitist of such prominent people as the Young King Alfonso XIII, Victor Balaguer and many more. His works in sculpture were generally religious. During the Propaganda Movement, Sucgang wrote for a paper called the Revolucion, published in Jaro, Iloilo. With the American civil government established, he founded the Instituto de Visayas, 1900, in Jaro, the Instituto Aklan, and another school in Capiz. He also continued with his portraits and easel paintings, and was a favorite of the affluent, who commissioned him to paint the walls and ceiling of their houses. Some favorite subjects of his genre works were fruits, wild game, and rustic scenes.

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The Aklanon have maxims called bilisad-on and proverbs called hueobaton, which use images from everyday life, such as the following:

Rong eangka idi magbunga it rima.

The jackfruit will never bear breadfruit.

Wa't makapuling nga bato, kundi ro baeas.

Not stone but sand can blind.

Riddles contain metaphors and images that are part of the Aklanon's natural environment and material culture:

Nagabuka owa't baba
Matsa may sikreto. (Bueak)

It opens though it has no mouth
It smiles quietly
There seems to be a secret. (Flower)

Folk poetry includes ritualistic verses, songs of the sea, war, and love; fields or work songs; and children's songs. Ritual prayers chanted by the babaylan abound with metaphor and symbol. Narrative types are origin myths, legends, fables, and folktales. Aklanon folk literature has a ballad form called kumposo. Aklanon balitao is an extemporaneous poetical joust between a suitor and his lady.

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The tatlong palong, a clay flute, was the earliest musical instrument in Panay. The tan-ag, made of two pieces of lightwood, was the earliest percussion instrument. The bunkaka or takup was a section of a bamboo with a split end. The bulibaw was a drum made of hollowed-out wood topped by animal skin. The lipak-pak was a clapper made of narrow section of bamboo, two nodes long, split in two down to one node, the lower half being the handle. The native guitar was variously called the pasing. There was a guitar with six strings made of hemp, banana fiber or lukmo. It is now called the sista, from the Spanish word sexta or six. The kudyapi was a violin made of thin, lightwood and strung with hemp or banana fibers.
Aklan dancers can tell a story, imitate a children's game, or-because of Spanish influence. Pokoe is adopted from one of the oldest native games of the children, which means to strike or bump to each other. Pahid is a lively ballroom dance, which originated from Madalang and Libaco. The famous ati-atihan festival in Kalibo is celebrated on the third Sunday of very January. However, having become a hodge-podge of Catholic ritual, social activity, indigenous drama, and a tourist attraction, the celebration now stretches over several days. The highlight of the festival occurs on the last day, when groups representing different tribes compete. The origins of Ati-atihan are buried in myth and legend; hence, there are several versions.
In 18th-century, a priest moved the date of the festival to coincide with the feast day of the Santo Nino. Pilgrims then traveled to the town to fulfil a religious vow, and the street dancing imitated the playful pranks of the Snto Nino. Up to the 1940s, it was just a local affair. But today it is the Mardi Gras of the country, and local and foreign tourists flood the streets of Kalibo to join in the revelry. Many areas in the country have begun to imitate it. In 1983, the United Nations Committee on Tourism chose it as Asia's best tourist attraction.
Jose Trinida Roxas of Kalibo has been described as Aklan's foremost dramatist and only professional...short storywriter. He wrote about 36 plays, and was also a poet of note. Using the pen name "Saxor", Roxas wrote stories about the folly of young people in love, invariably ending with the character realizing his error. Manuel Laserna wrote poetry and drama, his favorite themes being the value of education and love of country. Rogelio Torres of Banga, wrote plays about marital strife and love triangles.

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CCP Encyclopedia of Arts