Ilonggo Is Bisaya, Too

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By Dr. Enrique G. Oracion Sun, Jul 05, 2015Sun, Jul 05, 2015

So near, yet so far.

This best describes the physical and social relationships between the Ilonggos of Negros Occidental and the Cebuanos of Negros Oriental. They are geographically-contiguous but they are socially-separated as a result of their combined natural and cultural insulation or isolation in the past.

Expectedly, it is a different story between populations located along the borders of the two Provinces who have greater chances of physical contacts.

Such degree of closeness or acceptance one group feels towards the other is measured by social distance—a tool developed by sociologist Emory Bogardus.

Thus, the initial negative sentiments of the plurality of Negros Oriental people against the merger with Negros Occidental because of cultural differences suggest the extent of social distance held by the former toward the latter.

Meanwhile, the meaning behind the negative stereotype being applied to all members of other groups is an attempt to maintain social distance even if the given label is loosely supported by facts.

For example, the label Bisdak, short for Bisayang dako, which is commonly-associated with the pure-bred or indigenously Cebuano-speaking provinces in Central Philippines and in some parts of Mindanao, is an assertion of ethnic identity and exclusivity. It is a declaration of difference.

But this is not supposedly the case because experts say that there are actually 30 languages composing the Bisayan or Visayan language—not only Cebuano.

All populations representing the 30 languages must be generically called Bisaya.

The association of Bisdak with the Cebuanos, however, is expected because they constitute the majority of the Bisayan speakers, especially in Central Visayas.

Ethnolinguistically, there are two other well-known and widespread Bisayan languages. These are Hiligaynon, also referred to as Ilonggo, and Waray-Waray, distributed in the western and eastern sections of the Visayas, respectively.

As I had discussed earlier, the geographic distribution of people isolated by mountain ranges but connected by bodies of water could explain language variation, even if these populations are situated on the same island.

Southern Leyte and Negros Oriental are Cebuano-speaking because they face Cebu Island, although separated by a body of water. Travel in the past by sea to go to neighboring islands was easier, compared to crossing mountain ranges that cut the island or separated two contiguous populations.

The adoption of the cultural traits of another group in the past, such as language, was facilitated or limited by physical movement of people.

This is different at present when the mass media have assumed a major mediating role. One does not have to be physically in contact with another group, to effect change. The overlapping of radio and television signals in all sections of the two Provinces will enhance greater intercultural exposure and appreciation.

Admittedly, the Cebuanos and Ilonggos, like other ethno-linguistic groups elsewhere in the Philippines, are different from each other because of compounding factors.

The situation of the two is explained by their relative isolation, and exposures to variable environmental, historical and socio-economic conditions in the past, and sustained at present.

The regionalism that is nurtured by the division reinforces cultural isolationism.

But there is always a national character which holds them together that is brought to action in times of emergencies, and when faced by common threats—they are all Filipinos.

Columnist Erik Espina, in his article One Negros? (Tempo, June 27, 2015) observes how a distinction is also unknowingly-made deliberate by the Ilonggos themselves when they visit Negros Oriental. Also, one can easily identify that they are from the other side of the island when they talk with inscrutable words and wavy intonation. The manner they talk made them appear arrogant from the perspective of moderate and less expressive Cebuanos in the eastern side of the island. When asked if they are Bisayan, the Cebuanos would reply they are Ilonggos. Some Ilonggos also self-ascribe this identification.

This “we-they” distinction, because of misinformed disposition or misunderstood intention, is not helpful for the new administrative region to grow.

It will take some time to nurture a Negrense identity, neither Ilonggo nor Cebuano, because the cultural distinctiveness of the two populations is deeply-rooted in their geography and political history.

What they need now are mutual appreciation of cultural differences and the recognition of their complementarity for pursuing the vision of the Negros Island Region.


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