The Ilonggo's prehistory is based primarily on the Maragtas, a document that tells of the arrival in Panay of Malay datus and their families from Borneo in 1250. As the narrative goes, the Bornean Malays came into contact with the Atis or Negritos, the inhabitants of the island at that time. They then negotiated with the latter for the "pagtaba" or purchase of the coastal areas where they intended to settle down. After the agreement, the newcomers established settlements along riverbanks and seacoasts while the Atis retreated into the island's interiors. Some scholars however, consider the Maragtas as mere folk history because it has about six versions and is interlaced with events and stories quite fantastic to be true (Ponteras 1978). More revealing is that archaeological evidences found in some places in Iloilo Province showing the material possessions of Iloilo's ancient inhabitants indicate that they were as old as the hills and valleys in the area. Considerable cultural materials of proto-historic vintage, particularly Chinese porcelain wares, recovered from different archaeological sites,also reveal the Ilonggos' extensive trade with the Chinese and other Asians before the supposed coming of the ten Borneo datus. The Ilonggos trade relations with the Chinese and other Asians started from the 10th century and flourished up to the 16th century upon the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the country. Excavated trade ware further indicates that some of the early Ilonggos ate from porcelain plates, not coconut shells as claimed by some scholars; that they lived in permanent settlements and were engaged in the production of crops and crafts; that they had a system of writing, and that they were no longer afraid of foreigners. So, it is not really possible that they were the primitive Atis that the Bornean Malays came in contact with, in the mid-13th century. Some early Spanish writers like Francisco Colin, Miguel de Loarca and Antonio de Morga attested to the fact that the Ilonggos already enjoyed certain degree of civilization at the time of the Spanish contact. According to the Spaniards, the Ilonggos built boats of "very different shapes and names" which they used for fishing and transporting their wares. They also manufactured fishing gears and traps made of bamboo; wove textiles from abaca, cotton and Chinese silk; carved artistic objects and images of their dead ancestors and made very attractive bodily ornaments. They were expert silversmiths and coppersmiths, hammering soft materials into jewelry and ornaments for their tools and weapons. They had furthermore, their own alphabet, music and musical instruments, songs and dances, and legends and stories. As to who the people were, what is known is that they were initially called by the Spaniards as Pintados because of their body tattoos, both men and women, which at a distance looked like body painting. Nevertheless, not long after, the Spaniards recognized at least two distinctive groups—the Ati and what most scholars (Beyer et al) designated as Malay, who may have come from Borneo (Coutts and Fullagar nd). At the time of their arrival in the mid-16th century, the Spaniards had already noted a number of well-populated communities in several places in Iloilo that had flourishing intra- and inter-island trade. Culture
The essential components of Ilonggo culture are language, oral literature (epics, myths, legends, proverbs, etc.), songs and dances, handicrafts, old churches and houses, and famous delicacies. The Ilonggo language is basically Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a, the latter with its numerous variations in the interior sections of the province. Ilonggo literature consists of hurubaton, paktakon, sugidanon (epics), lowa, and others, many of which have survived up to the present time. Of course, the most known literature related to Ilonggos is the Maragtas, a folk history on the coming of the ten Bornean datus and their families to Panay....
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