Once upon a time, 100 years ago
A century ago, the mystic Boracay was a well-kept secret of Panay. It was a quiet island located on the northern most tip of the Panay Island and was home to native Negritos or Atis. Nobody knew of its beauty except for the families and entrepreneurs living around the neighboring towns of Aklan and Antique. Families would visit the island occasionally to take a break and enjoy the tranquility of the then virgin island. On the other hand, entrepreneurs took frequent trips to the island because back then, Boracay was known as a local producer of copra.
In the 1900s, Boracay was known as “The Land of the Atis.” Atis or also known as Negritos (coined by Spanish colonizers) are dark skinned Filipino aborigines who typically settled in groups. Their settlements were practically constructed near oceans and rivers where they can easily gather food for consumption. Boracay, then, was a perfect place to call home. With its teeming marine resources, food was abundant for the settling Atis.
Borac, Bora, Sigay, Boracay?
There are several interesting legends as to how the name Boracay came about. One of them would tell us that the Ati’s were so fascinated with how fine and soft the sand of the island felt that they named it “Borac” which meant cotton in their language. The suffix “ay” is said to originate from the term “hai” which the natives would typically end their sentences with. The word doesn’t really have a definite meaning but it is still being used up to this day by the Karay-as (people living in Antique and Aklan) in their local language.
Another story explains that the elders of the Atis who lived on the island thought that the white sand resembled the white colored sea foam or sea bubbles. Hence they combined the words bora which meant “bubbles” and the word bocay which meant “white” to name the island.
Yet another intriguing folk lore tells us that the Spanish colonizers were responsible for naming the island. It is said that they came to hoard sigay shells which were abundant in the island at that time. Also, in their stay, the natives, displaying the typical, warm Filipino behavior, offered them boray, a kind of vegetable seed that the Atis considered as a delicacy. As they left, the Spanish decided to bless the island with a name that combined two memorable objects in their conquest: Boracay, a combination of boray and sigay.
The First Family of Boracay
Among the Atis who settled in the island, was a couple who are considered as “The First Family” of Boracay. They were responsible for planting vegetation in the island and for opening the island to trade which ultimately led to the island’s popularity among neighboring towns and most importantly, the island’s prosperity. They were Lamberto Hontiveros Tirol and his wife, Sofia Ner Gonzales.
In the 1900s, Lamberto became a judge in Buruanga, a municipality adjacent to Malay. Because of its proximity and because Sofia saw the potential of the peaceful island, they decided to settle in a small lot that they owned in Boracay. They constructed a small house and lived in harmony with the natives of the island. Lamberto was a good provider and he was kind to the natives. He was well respected and loved by all. His wife was also loved by the natives. They saw her as a good, diligent employer and she had a green thumb. Together with Ati workers, she would go around the island planting various trees and vegetables. She was able to plant thousands of coconut trees which made Boracay as one of the local copra producers at that time. She also grew first class tobacco which was traded all over Luzon. Sofia has been written about in various articles about the island. She is highly esteemed and even named the “mother of Boracay.”
The calm before the storm
The modernization of Boracay started in the early 1970s when it gained popularity among the locals. The islanders sold most of their lands to the Tirols and in time, they were able to acquire vast seafront properties. Perhaps business ran strong in their blood as they converted their beachfront properties to a recreational facility where visitors enjoyed the splendid White Beach of Boracay. Eventually, other small businesses started to sprout around the area and a few tourists from neighboring towns would come by.
At that time, Boracay was far from crowded. Dirt roads traversed the island and there was no electricity available on the island. Entrepreneurs constructed nipa structures for their businesses which is entirely different from the towering, cement structures that line up the beachfront in the present. There were no roaring Jet Skis or hovering parasails. There were a handful of families enjoying quality time on the beach and a curious foreign visitor every now and then.
The happily ever after
In 1978, a German writer named Jens Peter wrote a book about tourism in the Philippines. In it, he wrote a detailed description and history of an island that he considered as the most beautiful island in Asia. He wrote of the islands crystalline waters, the gracious slopes of its sea floor and the allure of the small island. Peter also took photographs of the magnificent landscape of the island and published them as postcards. From then on, the best kept secret of Panay was revealed to the world.
Tourists were instantly enamored by the beauty of the tiny island. It is only 10.32 kilometers by size but every bit of the island is blessed with an incomparable allure. Soon, people from all over the world started to arrive and from being the silent paradise that it was, Boracay became the island that never sleeps.