By Apolinario Villalobos
Aklan, which was known before as “Akean” could be considered as both the youngest and the oldest province of the Philippines. Together with what is now Capiz, it was established as the “Minuro it Akean” by settlers from Borneo in 1213. The location of the capital of Aklan was changed several times. Towards the end of the fourteenth century, the capital was moved to the present site of Batan which was captured by a group of Chinese adventurers led by Datu Kalantiaw in 1399 from Datu Dinagandan. Kalantiaw’s son, Kalantiaw III, set down in 1433, a written moral code which has come to be known as Code of Kalantiaw. The short-lived Kalantiaw Dynasty ended when Kalantiaw III was slain in a duel with Datu Manduyog, a legitimate successor to Datu Dinagandan. The new leader moved the capital to Bakan (Banga) in 1437. Several datus succeeded Manduyog, and when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi landed in Batan in 1565, Datu Kabanyag was ruling Aklan from what is now Barrio Guadalupe in Libacao.
During the time of Legazpi, Aklan was divided into five “enconmiendas” which were distributed among his followers. Settlements along the Aklan river were administered by Antonio Flores; those in the area of Mambusao, by Gaspar Ruiz de Morales; those in the present- day Ibajay, by Pedro Sarmiento; those in the area of Batan by Francisco de Rivera; and those in the area of Panay, by Pedro Gullen de Lievena.
Along with political changes, the Spaniards introduced Christianity that resulted to the conversion of thousands of Aklanons, and who, were baptized by Father Andres de Aguirre. Towns were laid out following the Spanish system -each organized around a plaza surrounded by the church, municipal building and the school. Roads were also carved from forests to connect the principal towns to each other. In 1716, the area of the old Aklan was administered together with Capiz, as one province, but with the central government based at the latter.
In 1896, an Aklanon member of Bonifacio’s Katipunan arrived in Batan to organize the local struggle for freedom. The battles fought are commemorated today by numerous municipal holidays, with New Washington’s “Pacto de Sangre” as one. Having developed an identity of their own, including a distinct dialect, the people of Aklan did not feel it right that they should be governed from Capiz whose inhabitants spoke a different dialect.
When the Spaniards ceded the Philippines to the Americans, the Aklanons petitioned for their separation from Capiz. In 1901, upon the arrival of the Taft Commission in Capiz for the inauguration of the new civil government under the Americans, the Aklan delegation, headed by Natalio B. Acevedo, presented a formal request for the separation. The request was not denied outright, nor was it acted upon immediately. As a compromise, however, the Americans promised to set up a separate Court of First Instance for Aklan at Batan, and appointed Simeon Mobo Reyes as the first Provincial Secretary.
The struggle for separation became more intense, with the sentiment expressed in the “Akeanon”, a publication which initially saw print in 1914. Aklanons in Congress filed numerous bills, such as the Urquiola-Alba Bill in 1920, the Laserna-Suner Bills in 1925 and 1930, and the Tumbokon Bill in 1934.
Aklan, finally became an independent province when the late President Ramon Magsaysay signed into law on April 25, 1956, the RA 1414, separating it from Capiz. This law was authored by then Congressman Godofredo P. Ramos who, together with Augusto B. Legaspi, were chosen as delegates to the 1971 Constitutional Convention later on. The province was officially inaugurated on November 8, 1956, with Jose Raz Menez appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay, as the first Governor, and who, served until December 30, 1959. In 1960, Godofredo P. Ramos became the first elected governor, but upon his resignation due to his intention to run for Congress, he was succeeded by the vice-governor, Virgilio S. Patricio.
The Aklanons speak a distinct “karay-a” dialect much different from those spoken in other parts of Panay Island, and the accent is likewise unique. Most noticeable is the pronunciation of letter “l” as “y”. Just like the rest of Visayans, they however, are noted for their hospitality, kindness and charm. As for culture, theirs is also of a diverse blend of the Hispanic, American, and Malay.
Being a coastal province, Aklan is never without delightful beaches to boast, with those located at Numancia and Mabilo as the most proximate to the capital town of Kalibo. For spelunkers, there’s Tigayon Cave to explore.
Around seven kilometers from Kalibo is Banga with its Manduyog hill which was once used as a lookout against the marauding pirates. It is now the site of the Aklan Agricultural College. The hill also features life-size images depicting the twelve stations of the Cross, distributed along the winding trail cut from the side of the hill. From the crest, one can have a commanding view of the plains below, as well as, the Sibuyan Sea.
The province’s past is preserved at a shrine in Batan that serves as repository or museum of historical mementos attesting to its rich past. Batan was the seat of government of Datu Kalantiaw III, author of the famous moral code named after him. At Songkolan, four kilometers from the poblacion, is Ob-ob Hill where one can have a view of the Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea).
At Tangalan, an hour’s drive from Kalibo is Jawili Falls, a beautiful seven-tiered falls, set in a picturesque lush surrounding of trees and palms. Going farther northwest, one can reach the elevated town of Ibajay. And, several kilometers from it is Campo Verde, the pine-covered reforestation project of the province.
The twenty-kilometer Tulingan Cave is found at Nabas which stretches from Barrio Libertad of the town to Barrio Patris of Pandan town in the neighboring province of Antique. It features clear pools and guano deposits.
Passing through Buruanga, an historically significant town, being the temporary settlement of the early settlers during the Glacial Period, once can reach Caticlan, a barrio of Malay, and where pumpboats can be taken for Boracay, a world-renown island, for its powder- white sandy beaches. Due to the significant influx of tourists to the island, Caticlan has now an airport that can accommodate flights from Manila and other major cities.
Aside from Boracay, Aklan is also noted for its Ati-Atihan Festival celebrated at Kalibo every January, although it is alleged by some locals that the original festival was held at Ibajay. During the three-day celebration, the air reverberates with the shouts of “Hala Bira!” and “Viva, Sr. Santo Niῆo”. The feeling, as one is carried by the current of swaying and dancing devotees, is just ecstatic. No word is enough to describe the contaminating emotion amidst the deafening shouts, shrill sounds of whistles and ever increasing crescendo of beaten drums. One day is reserved for street dancing competition among “tribes”, during which the different local groups and some from other provinces show their dancing prowess and colorful costumes.
Kalibo, the capital town is served by different domestic airlines, shipping lines and ferries. Buses and aircon vans for Caticlan are available for those who would like to make a side trip to Boracay. The capital town was actually, the traditional jump-off point in going to Caticlan, until the latter’s airport was finally constructed to accommodate direct flights from Manila and other major cities.