Iloilo: Precolonial History, Its Peoples, And The Binukot

Iloilo is a province in the island of Panay. Precolonial Panay was inhabited by the Atis, native aboriginal people described as small, dark-skinned people. It is believed that they came to the island by the now-lost land bridges connecting the Philippines with mainland Asia. One of the settlements of the Ati people were the provinces of Iloilo and San Joaquin. In the 13th Century, Datu Puti and nine other datus from Borneo landed in these areas following an escape from the growing tyranny of Sultan Makatunao. They are collectively known in historic documents as “the ten datus of Borneo“. The Atis, under the rulership of King Marikudo and Queen Maniwangtiwang, obliged to the trade of their flatlands with a golden hat, a long golden necklace, and other assorted items. The Atis then went further inland and the Borneo people populated the flatlands and established their own system of living. In 1566, the Spaniards, having come from Cebu arrived at the place called Irong-Irong and Ilong-Ilong, so called because of the nose-like shape of the land. The name was then contracted by the Spaniards into Ilo-ilo. As to what happened next with the Spanish Colonization is another story.

As of current, there is only one indigenous group left in the Panay highlands: the Sulod, aka Panay Bukidnon, coined by Dr. Alicia P. Magos and which literally translates to People of Panay. They are descendants of the datus.

The one astounding practice of the tribe is the raising of a “Binukot,” a princess, who is supposed to be very beautiful and fair skinned, the best among the best. From childhood, parents choose their most beautiful and intelligent daughter to be the binukot, often either the eldest or youngest. Only affluent families practice this. As a highly treated princess, she is kept away from the public eye and only the immediate family is allowed to see her. She is also not exposed to the sun , allowed to work, nor bathe herself. She receives only the best of things. She is raised to a hammock so her feet won’t touch the ground. If she is needed in a social function, she wears a veil and is carried in a hammock so she will not get wounded. Yanyan Dizon (San Agustin College) made a term paper on the marriage practices of binukots and said that when the princess comes of marrying age, the man with the biggest dowry becomes her husband but even then, the man cannot see her until after the marriage. It doesn’t matter where the man came from as long as he is able to bid the highest price. As would be expected, the binukot is frail, healthwise and is not knowledgeable about doing chores or the practical ways of living. Nonetheless, her family stands by to wage revenge should the husband abuse her. According to Ms. Nancy Deocades, who made an anthropological study on the Sulodnon/Bukidnon tribe, one Binukot said that her feet bled when she first tried to walk on the ground. Physically frail as they may be, the binukots serve an important function. They are the repositories of ages-long epics and legends of their society. They are raised to chant these epics and legends, and to learn traditional dances.

In 2004, there were only seven known remaining Binukots in Panay. During WWII, the residents had to flee; and the binukots, who were too frail to run and were not allowed to be seen were left behind. Here enters the gruesome tales of the Japanese abuses, which I’ll leave at that. Suffice to say that the war greatly decreased their number. Now, the practice of Binukots no longer appeal to the current generation of Bukidnons who have experienced a taste of modern life and the ever-progressing system of education. It is not known whether there are still existing binukots elsewhere. With the threat of vanishing oral heritage, Frederico Caballero, son of a binukot established the balay turun-an, small schools that teach these oral traditions and dances to children.

Known Binukots
(Please add to the list, if you know others that can be substantiated, either by first hand or secondary data. Link(s) lead to their personal stories):
1. Preciosa “Lola Susa” Caballero (aka Anggoran) of Granagan, Calinog, Iloilo (DD: December 1994 at 74 y.o.) . Was recorded by anthropologist Dr. Alicia Magos chanting the 24-33hr long epic “Humadapnon”. She knew nine other epics by heart
2. Elena Gardoce (DD — at 98 y.o.)
3. Lola Isiang: Interviewed by Kara David for a GMA documentary film
4. Conchita Gilbaliga of Nayawan, Tapaz, Capiz (83 yo as of 2009.

Some pictures here


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