Negros Occidental is a province in the Philippines that has a long story. From a prehistory where the local inhabitants lived and prospered, through a period of Spanish occupation where sugar barons ruled the land from their plantation haciendas, down to modern day Negros where farming is still deeply rooted in the traditional way of life.
For two weeks I lived with the Negrense locals of Negros Occidental. While there, I moved between the barangays south of Bacolod City, Valladolid and Pulupandan respectively, up north to the barangay of Talisay where I stayed near the highlands part of it, called Concepcion.
During my time there, I drew close with the people of that area. They were some of the most expressive, sincere, sweet, humorous and hospitable people I have ever come across during my travels. Seriously.
Although their lifestyles are simple and humble, they have a way of carrying themselves that is very dignified and gentle. Even their language is known throughout the Philippines as one that is spoken musically and hushed. They speak a language called Hiligaynon, sometimes referred to as Ilonggo.
I still think back on nights where we would all be laying down under our mosquito nets getting ready for bed and my friends would be speaking to one another about their day, telling stories and cracking jokes. I couldn't understand a word that they said, but their language was like music in my ears.
While I plan on writing more in depth posts on this beautiful culture, I will start off first by sharing with you some photos that show what daily life looks like for some Negrense in rural Negros Occidental. This traditional lifestyle is also very common still in other rural areas found throughout the Philippines.
Waking Up Early to Draw Water For the Day
In almost all of the places I visited, there is no running water piped into the houses. Instead, many people have to wake up early in the morning, sometimes at 4:30 am, to go out and draw their water for the day from wells or pumps.
This water is used to take a shower, do their laundry, wash the dishes and other normal activities.
Doing Laundry by Hand
Laundry is done in the morning before the day really starts. It's not done by a machine, but rather by hand. I noticed that different people had different techniques.
Some would let their laundry soak overnight, and by the next day it would be pliable and easy to clean. Others let the clothes soak for just 30 minutes or so, and get to work scrubbing aggressively with brushes or even fishing net.
Shopping at the Market for Fresh Ingredients
Unlike Taiwan, where the majority of people eat out, I noticed that many of the Negrense Filipinos in Negros Occidental cook pots of fresh food daily, and for each meal.
They go to the market in the morning and buy the ingredients for the day. Even the items are fresh. When I asked the lady selling seafood if the produce was fresh, she replied with no hesitation whatsoever, "Yes! It was picked last night!"
Enjoying a Meal With Friends and Family
Like most areas in the Philippines, Negrense meals are very social events. Not just family, but even friends and neighbors will stop by to enjoy a meal with you.
For those who do not cook at home, they go to little restaurants called carinderias where side dishes are bought. Then they bring that home and eat that with a huge pot of steamed white rice that they cooked themselves.
Caring For Their Livestock
For some Negrense, raising livestock is a way to feed their families and add extra income. I saw pigs, ducks and chickens being raised and cared for. Many times it was the children who would feed them and clean their pens.
I'm told that most livestock are eventually eaten by those raising them, while some, like the piglets above, are raised to be sold for supplementary income.
The Carabao - A Negrense Farmer's Work Horse
On the road from the airport out into the countryside, one of the first things I noticed was the way the farmers here used their carabao, or water buffalo. All along the roadside were farmers riding their animals like horses, and using them to pull heavy burdens or plow newly turned fields.
As I mentioned in the beginning, modern day traditional Negrense lifestyle is built around farming, and many of the men, and sometimes even the women and children, work the sugarcane and rice fields all day to make a living, all on the backs of the water buffalo.
Running a Shop on the Side of the Road
Another popular way to feed the family and make a living in Negros Occidental is to have your own little shop on the side of the road where you sell every day goods, from eggs and biscuits, to bottles of gasoline and tiny packets of cooking oil.
Many of those who manage these shops wake up early to portion out their goods into smaller sizes. Why? Most of the people there only have enough to buy their goods for the day, so instead of buying items in bulk, they buy them in tiny portions that last for a day or two.
A Time to Relax and Enjoy Company
The Hiligaynon speaking Negrense people are a very industrious and hard working people. They wake up early in the morning to get their long day started. The men leave for the fields right after sunrise, and work in the sun, while the women care for the laborious duties at home.
Although their lives are filled with hard labor and physical chores, they still somehow find time throughout their day to relax, smile and enjoy the company of friends and family.
One thing that really stood out to me is how happy the Negrense are! They have an amazing capacity to express joy and humor, and they openly share their love and concern for one another.
Rarely have I found myself so touched by the people of a place that I visited, but my time spent with the Negrense in Negros Occidental really changed my worldview.
How to Get to Negros Occidental
The province of Negros Occidental is headed up by the capital city of Bacolod. There are daily flights from Manila to Bacolod that take about an hour and can sometimes cost as low as $25USD one way. There are also ferries that connect Bacolod City with Iloilo, the capital city of Iloilo Province and main center of neighboring Panay Island.
The barangays to the south of Bacolod City were heavy on an agricultural lifestyle. They are easily accessible by bus or jeepney which run the highway directly to towns like Bago City, Pulupandan and Valladolid.
The areas of Talisay City and Concepcion to the north of Bacolod are closer to the mountains, and the higher up you go, the more laid back life there seems to get. A combination of buses, jeepneys and tricycles are necessary to get into the barangays of the mountainous highlands.
I'm JR. I come from a long line of adventurers, some were nomadic explorers of the sea and others wandering cultivators of the earth. Ultimately, this legacy of drifters has deeply affected my view of travel. Read more...