Panay is an island in the Philippines located in the western part of the Visayas. Politically, it is divided into five provinces: Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Iloilo, all in the Western Visayas Region. It is located southeast of the island of Mindoro and northwest of Negros, separated by the Guimaras Strait. Between Negros and Panay Island lie the island-province of Guimaras. To the north is the Sibuyan Sea and the islands of Romblon; to the southwest is the Sulu Sea and the Panay Gulf. The island has many rivers including Akean, Banica, Iloilo, and Panay. Panay is surrounded by various bodies of water and is characterized by relatively wide stretch of coastal lowlands with rugged hills and mountains on the interiors, making Panay a heart of diverse marine life, inland fishery and various agricultural products.
The island is also competitively advantageous in the production of seaweed and is being considered as the second largest rice producing region in the Philippines. Its large agricultural land area produces coconut, mangoes, pineapples, root crops, vegetables and the well-known muscovado, the origin of sugar in Panay and the Philippines. Rattan craft is also a large local industry.
Even though Panay is a microcosm of everything the Visayas has to offer, the long white-sand beach at Boracay is all that many visitors to the region, or for that matter the country, ever see. The rest of the region keeps a low tourism profile, which helps explain the appeal of tropical Guimaras – just a short commute from the pleasant and lively regional capital of Iloilo City. Panay’s little-explored interior is ringed by a rugged coastline to the south and west and a more domesticated one, dotted with impressive Spanish churches, to the north and east. Adventure sports (particularly mountain biking, trekking, kayaking and rock climbing) can be arranged out of Iloilo City.
Panay is the setting of the famous legend of Maragtas, which chronicled the arrival of the Malay race to the Philippine islands. The island lent its name to several United States Navy vessels named USS Panay, mostly famously the one sunk in 1937 by the Japanese in the Panay incident. Panay received its present name from Spanish officials who named the island after one of its earliest settlements, the town of Pan-ay in the province of Capiz. It was, however, once referred as Aninipay by the indigenous aetas and later Madia-as by the Malay settlers who first arrived in the island in the 12th century.
The wide island of Panay was originally inhabited by Negritos or locally called Ati tribe. Their disappearance was due to an innocent agreement they made with the sultan of Borneo back in 1250 to give up their land in exchange of a hat and gold necklace. Ati-atihan of Kalibo commemorates the Negritos traditional dances and rituals held during the handover of their land.
Early in the 13th century, Marikudo, a native chieftain, sold the coastal shores and lowlands to 10 Bornean Datus who escaped from the repression of Sri Vishayan Empire. One of them named Paiburong received the area Irong-Irong, which is now called Iloilo City, meaning nose-like, as its wide river mouth in the narrow Guimaras Strait appears like a snout.
The island lived peacefully until the arrival of Juan Miguel de Legazpi in 1566 that discovered and developed more towns. Inside Iloilo, he established a government in the town of Ogtong (Oton) and later moved to Arevalo. Finally in 1667, the capital was moved in Iloilo for safety reasons. The river mouth area provided better shield against raids by Muslims, Dutch and English pirates than the open shores further south.
Nowadays Iloilo stands out from other cities of Panay for having a rich cultural heritage displayed through their festivals, well designed handicrafts, ancestral mansions and old churches.
Today, Panay and its provinces are known for having a rich cultural heritage displayed through their festivals such as the Ati-atihan, Paraw Festival well designed handicrafts, native delicacies, and ancestral mansions.
The Panay Church, home of the largest church bell in Asia, is also found on the island. The architecturally world-renowned religious structure, the Miagao Church, is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Pristine white beaches, such as Boracay in the northern tip of the island, also border the island, making Panay one of the most sought out island paradises in the world.