Trade in Vigan through the Years
Visitors to Vigan would find it interesting to note that although it is now most known for its Hispanic trading town architecture that has lasted through the years and are told that Juan de Salcedo “founded” it, there was actually a settlement that thrived prosperously in what is now Vigan City long before the Spaniards came. The first settlers were the Dumagats and Tinguians who were later driven further inland once immigrants started pouring in due to the vigorous trading that developed. Chinese and other traders came from other kingdoms across the sea to exhange their products with the goods brought into Vigan from other places in the North, such as beeswax and gold.
The settlement was very strategic for trading as it was surrounded by big rivers Abra and Mestizo, and is near the China Sea. It was a major link in the pan-Asian trade that was made possible by the use of trading sailboats. In fact, its port could already be found in ancient maps used for navigating international maritime routes for centuries. When the Spaniards came, they sought to capitalize on the trade advantage that already existed. Vigan’s prosperity continued as it facilitated Philippine trade with Europe that passed through Mexico’s Acapulco.
The influence of pre-hispanic trading remained strong with the existence of the Chinese workers who settled in Vigan. They enriched trading and manufacturing in Vigan by introducing new crafting of fine jewelry and decorations from the gold of the Itnegs, and introducing their kind of woodcrafting and stoneware manufacturing (burnay and dimili). They make this distinct filigreed jewelry called tambourine jewelry. So, visitors might want to keep their eyes open for these products. At present, Vigan still serves as Ilocos Sur’s center of commerce where traders all over the North buy and sell products. Visitors will observe its vibrant commercial environment in the 1, 227 businesses that Vigan now has, consisting of stores, manufacturers, service establishments and distributors.
The traditional industries of beaded slipper production, dye-making and tannery no longer exist. However, the traditional making of salt, wooden furniture, knives, scissors, Maguey rope, buri craft and stone cutting are still practiced in the outlying areas of the city. In addition to this, Vigan has cottage industries that produce abel woven products, ice and ice cream, shoes and slippers, redried tobacco, stuff toys, taho and other food products. Vigan’s products are sold all over the country, mostly in the regions of Luzon and the national capital region. Its products still find current demand in other countries in Asia, Europe and North America, specifically its abel and burnay. A purchase of some of these could prove to be popular gifts for visitors to bring back home.