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.

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29/11/2013 4:20am

I think I would let my laundry soak overnight, I'm not a fan of aggressively scrubbing. Your pictures make daily life seem peaceful, even though they have a long, hard working day.

05/12/2013 4:40am

I agree, aggressive scrubbing sounds like no fun. I vote for overnight soaking as well, too!!!

29/11/2013 10:45am

This brings back many memories from my childhood and warms my heart. I was born in Negros Occidental and lived there until I was 10 before we immigrated to the US. I haven't been back since but enjoyed this post a lot. I'm glad you enjoyed your experience and you were welcomed during your visit. I'm due for a return visit but will virtually travel with you for now. Thanks from one islander to another :)

05/12/2013 4:41am

I'm glad this post could take you back to your childhood for just a little bit. I write a lot about my childhood growing up in Hawaii, and I believe it's something important that all of us need to do from time. Remember our roots and our origins. Thanks for stopping by!

Molokai Mom
05/12/2013 6:57am

Yes, you're right JR! It's good to look back from time to time. Look back at where you came from and how far you've gone and grown. And, maybe even one day want to go back to where you started.

No matter where you go in the world or how far you are from home, your roots remain where you first started, with people who loved you first.....

Molokai Mom
05/12/2013 6:58am

Yes, you're right JR! It's good to look back from time to time. Look back at where you came from and how far you've gone and grown. And, maybe even one day want to go back to where you started.

No matter where you go in the world or how far you are from home, your roots remain where you first started, with people who loved you first.....

07/12/2013 5:47am

I think Molokai Mom is hinting at you. ;-P

Molokai Mom
29/11/2013 5:02pm

Loved reading your blog! I visited the Philippines in the mid 80's, and you are right. The people there are very industrious and hard working!

I remember riding the bus in Leyte and watching people walking up barren looking hills/mountains carrying water buckets on yokes across their backs. They were going to water their plants (they looked like eggplants) that were scattered along their path. I thought to myself, "I have nothing to complain about." I literally have everything I need at my fingertips.

Their spoken language reminds me of the way my grandmother use to speak Hawaiian. As you said, musically and hushed. :)

My heart was "touched" by what I read. I hope that all of your friends were okay when Hurricane Yolanda hit that side of the island.

PS...Be careful of snakes when gathering water! They love being close to something cool and refreshing.....

05/12/2013 4:44am

Sounds like you had an awesome experience yourself in the Philippines. If you were in Samar Leyte area, then those were the Waray people you visited, and they spoke the Waray-Waray language. They are know for being brave and fearless, and their language is one that sounds strong and warrior-like to many in the Philippines, or so I'm told. And my friends in Guiuan and Tacloban are all safe! Thanks.

30/11/2013 2:20pm

that's a cool visit...my Hawaii site is called a Sari Sari Hawaiian life after the mixed things sold in these small shops :)


Great post - I'm really looking forward to exploring the Philippines one of these days. I've never seen anyone ride a water buffalo like a horse. And the roadside shops remind me of roadside shops and "cook shops" found in Jamaica.

05/12/2013 4:47am

Yes, Dana, it was VERY interesting to see. I had heard stories before of water buffalo, or carabao, and was looking forward to seeing them. It was very cool to see how they are used. The "cook shops" in Jamaica sound like the "carinderias" on the side of the road in the Philippines!

05/12/2013 4:45am

I just checked out your site, Noel. Great stuff! I didn't relaize you had that site as well. I'll be visiting it more often. Thanks for sharing.

04/12/2013 2:14am

This is my province..yes simple living and a very relaxed atmosphere...we have good food too! beautiful beaches and nice waterfalls

05/12/2013 4:49am

You have a BEAUTIFUL province. Great scenery, amazing food, and the best part, friendly, beautiful, hospitable people! There's lots for you to be proud of. Thanks for your comment.

05/12/2013 10:12pm

This is in many ways similar to how many people still live in Africa. The similarities include fetching water from the pump or well, doing the laundry by hand and buying food produce daily to name but these few. Great blog, thanks for sharing.

06/12/2013 1:31am

Thanks for sharing that, Nina. I love learning about the different ways people do things around the world. I was so confused about the tiny portions being sold when I first got there. Being from Hawaii, USA, I'm used to large portions! But after spending time with the locals, it began to make total sense. Glad you stopped by to comment. Aloha!

06/12/2013 11:29am

Very interesting article. I often find it humbling see how this people live a relatively basic lifestyle compared to those in the Western world. Basics such as daily trips to get water, hand washing and buying food fresh every morning. Makes me think of the life my parents were accustomed to.

12/12/2013 11:49pm

Interesting, I didn't realize your parents were raised in a similar way. I find it fascinating reconnecting to the things of the past, it wasn't so long ago when my own father and grandparents were living like this, too!

08/12/2013 8:53pm

Nice article. Looks like you really had fun.

12/12/2013 11:51pm

Yes, I did, and I can't wait to go back and see more. I would love to go and visit your island, too. Is it Guimaras? Based on the pictures, it looks like there are some REALLY beautiful beaches and friendly people there. Let me know if you ever go home to visit there again and I'll catch the ferry right over!

26/12/2013 4:22am

Sureness...when are you coming to Pines?

26/12/2013 5:05am

January 21st I land in Manila! Where will you be around that time?

Molokai Mom
26/12/2013 6:56am

The 21st......Is that an actually "move" or are you just "visiting"?


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    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 deeply affects my view of travel. Read more...