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Ilocano people
Tattao nga Iloko
Ilocano women from Santa Catalina, Ilocos Sur, c. 1900
Total population
8,746,169 (2020)[1]
Regions with significant populations
(Ilocos Region, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Metro Manila, some parts of Soccsksargen)
 United States
(Hawaii, California)
Ilocano, Tagalog, English
Predominantly Roman Catholicism,
Aglipayan minority, Iglesia ni Cristo, Protestantism, Members Church of God International, Jehovah's Witnesses, Islam, Buddhism[2][3]
Related ethnic groups
Ibanag, Ivatan, Pangasinan, Kapampangan, Austronesian peoples[4]

The Ilocanos (Ilocano: Tattao nga Iloko/Ilokano), Ilokanos, or Iloko people are the third largest Filipino ethnolinguistic group. They mostly reside within the Ilocos Region, in the northwestern seaboard of Luzon, Philippines. The native language of the Ilocano people is the Ilocano (or Ilokano) language.

Historically, Ilocanos have an elaborate network of beliefs and social practices.[5]

The Ilocano diaspora spans nearly all parts of the Philippines, as well as places in the Western world, particularly Hawaii and California.[6] Emigration was caused by dense population pressures in a region with limited agricultural potential.[7] The Ilocos Region is one of the most densely populated regions in the Philippines. Agricultural production is not sufficient to meet local needs, thus, much of the population historically went into the labor market and interregional trade. Tobacco is the leading cash crop of the Ilocano people. The textile industry in the area has a long tradition, while fishing is second only to agricultural production.[8][7]


Ilocano merchants in the mid-19th century

The word Ilocano or Ilokano originates from the word Iloko/Iloco (archaic Spanish form, Yloco), the conjugation of i- (meaning 'of') and look (meaning 'bay'), which means 'from the bay' in Ilocano. Alternatively, according to some records, the name is derived from l- ('originating from') and luku or lukung (a valley or depression in land, hence 'lowland') located between the gulod ('mountains') and the luek ('sea' or 'bay').[citation needed]

One of the Spanish language's effects on the demonym is grammatical gender. Ilocano or Ilokano is used to refer to males, while Ilocana or Ilokana is used to refer to females.[citation needed]



See also: Models of migration to the Philippines

The Ilocano people are one of the Austronesian peoples of Northern Luzon.[9] The prevailing theory nowadays about the spread of the Austronesian peoples is the "Out of Taiwan" hypothesis, which proposes that the Neolithic-era migrations from Taiwan gave rise to the ancestors of present-day Austronesian populations.[10] According to a 2021 genetic study, Austronesians, either from Southern China or Taiwan, were found to have come to the Philippines in at least two distinct waves. The first, occurring perhaps between 10,000 and 7,000 years ago, brought the ancestors of indigenous groups that today live around the Cordillera Central mountain range. Later migrations brought other Austronesian groups, along with agriculture; the languages of these later migrants effectively replaced those of the existing populations.[11]

Spanish Era to the Philippine Republic

An Ilocano woman and man wearing kattukong and annangá, circa 1820s

The Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo explored the northern regions of the Philippines in 1571, where he traveled to the Ilocos Region (among other places), colonizing the north, and establishing several Spanish municipalities, including Villa Fernandina (present-day Vigan) and Tagudin.[citation needed]

Fray Andres Carro later wrote in his 1792 manuscript, that when Juan de Salcedo conquered Ilocos in 1572,[12]

...esta provincia de Ilocos, entre dos idiomas y gentes que en ella habia tan diferentes como se vé aun hoy en esa cordillera de montes, era el idioma Samtoy ó más bien Saó mi toy, el mas general.
...this province of Ilocos, between two languages and peoples that were as different as could still be seen in this mountain range [the Cordillera Range], it was the Samtoy language [Ilocano language], [that was] the most general.

—Fray Andres Carro

According to Carro, because of this, the Spanish learned the Ilocano language, and through its application by the Spanish, and the traffic and trade of the natives (which Carro claims they did not have before the Spanish arrival), the Ilocano language became common and popular in the entire province of Ilocos from Bangui to Agoo.[12]

War with Zambales and Pangasinan (1660)

Andres Malong, who was a leader in San Carlos, Pangasinan (then known as Binalatongan), formed an alliance with the inhabitants of Zambales in 1660. Their objective was to overthrow the Spanish colonizers and suppress those who were sympathetic to Spain. Previously, Malong had been working for the Spanish to facilitate the colonization of non-Christian communities in Pangasinan. But as he conquered more territories, he came to the realization that he could also defeat the outnumbered Spanish forces.

With his Zambales allies, Malong crowned himself the king of Pangasinan and sent out letters to all the chiefs of the Ilocos Region, Pampanga, and Cagayan Valley and demanded that they too align and recognize Malong as their king and kill any Spaniards among them. If they did not, Malong warned that he would invade and punish them for not joining his cause.[13]

At the time, unlike Pangasinan and the Zambales, Ilocos was a region in which the Spanish invested soldiers and missionaries and routinely secured. Towns such as Vigan and Tagudin were quickly conquered by the Spanish encomiendas, and fortifications and Catholic churches quickly established to subjugate the Ilocano people into the Spanish Empire. The Spanish were swift in this process to stake their claim on the region's gold trade with the Igorots.[14] They sought to prevent Chinese and Japanese pirates and different European powers such as the Dutch or English from taking these trade routes. Considering this relatively recent history with the Spanish and primarily under the influence of Catholic missionaries, many of the Ilocano chiefs rejected Andres Malong's offer.

In response to their rejection, Malong sent a Zambales chief named Don Pedro Gumapos, who had recently conquered the Pampanga region with 6,000 men, to invade the Ilocos and Cagayan regions. Gumapos and his men were met with only 1,500 Spanish loyalist Ilocanos, under the command of the alcalde mayor of the region, and even missionaries. As such, the Zambales and Pangasinese army quickly defeated them and marched as far north as Vigan where they sacked and burned the Spanish stronghold and nearby villages. With many of the Spanish missionaries and colonial authorities in Ilocos evacuated or in retreat, Malong then asked Gumapos to assist him in Pangasinan, where the Spanish were beginning to advance on him. As Gumapos and his troops traveled back down through Narvacan, they continued to raid Ilocano towns and villages for supplies. Ultimately, the people of Narvacan responded with guerrilla tactics aided by their Tinguian allies.[15] This retaliation by the Ilocano people was devastating and caused more fatalities on Gumapos' army than with the Spanish-lead Ilocano forces.

As the invading army headed south, they sacked and burned the coastal towns of Santa Maria, San Esteban, Santiago, and Candon. When they finally approached Santa Cruz, Gumapos encountered a Spanish led army who had just finished reconquering Pangasinan and captured Andres Malong. Despite learning of Malong's defeat, Gumapos led his army to battle. Gumapos and his army were defeated after two large battles. After being captured, Gumapos was sent back to Vigan where he was executed by hanging.[16] The Ilocos Region would not see another revolt against the Spanish until 1762.

Basi Revolt (1807)

According to historical accounts, in 1786, people's frustration grew over a monopoly on local basi wine imposed by the Spanish colonial government. The monopoly prohibited the private manufacture of basi, forcing Ilocanos to buy from government stores. Even before the arrival of the Spaniards, basi was an important part of the Ilocanos' society and culture; from childbirth to marriage to death, it was a part of their ritual, tradition, and daily life. The production of basi was also a major industry in Ilocos at the time; therefore, the Spanish-imposed monopoly represented both a significant cultural and economic loss for the Ilocanos.

Fueled by these abuses, the Basi Revolt (also known as the Ambaristo Revolt) erupted on September 16, 1807, in the present-day town of Piddig, Ilocos Norte, and later spread through Ilocos province. The revolt was led by Pedro Mateo, a cabeza de barangay of Piddig, and Saralogo Ambaristo, an Ilocano and Tinguian, and consisted of townspeople from Piddig, Badoc, Sarrat, Laoag, Sinait, Cabugao, Magsingal, and other towns of Ilocos. Together, they marched southward, under their own flag of yellow and red horizontal bands, towards the provincial capital of Vigan to protest against the abuses of the Spanish colonial government.

On September 28, the Ilocano forces on their way to Vigan were assassinated by Spanish forces while crossing the Bantaoay River in San Ildefonso, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Ilocanos. Those who survived the battle were hanged and their heads pierced with wooden poles and flagged by the Spaniards as a warning to anyone who wanted to strike and fight against the Spaniards.[citation needed]

The Basi Revolt lasted for 13 days. The period of unrest also led the colonial government to divide the Ilocos province into Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Despite failing to attain their ultimate goal of liberation, the Basi Revolt succeeded in inspiring future movements for justice and freedom in northern Luzon.[17]

American colonial era and World War II

In 1901, the region came under American colonial rule, and in 1941, under Japanese occupation.

During the Second World War, in 1945, the combined American and Philippine Commonwealth troops, including the Ilocano and Pangasinan guerrillas, liberated the Ilocos Region from Japanese forces.[citation needed]

Modern history

Post-independence period

Three modern presidents of the Republic of the Philippines hailed from the Ilocos Region: Elpidio Quirino, Ferdinand Marcos, and Fidel Ramos. Marcos expanded the original Ilocos Region by transferring the province of Pangasinan from Region III into Region I in 1973, and imposed a migration policy for Ilocanos into Pangasinan.[18] He also expanded Ilocano influence among the ethnic peoples of the Cordilleras by including Abra, Mountain Province, and Benguet in the Ilocos region in 1973,[19] although these were later integrated into the Cordillera Administrative Region in 1987. A third "Ilocano" President, Fidel V. Ramos, hailed from Pangasinan.[citation needed]

Martial Law era

Further information: Human rights abuses of the Marcos dictatorship

Ilocanos were also among the victims of human rights violations during the martial law era which began in September 1972, despite public perception that the region was supportive of Marcos' administration.[20] According to the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP-Exploitation), various farmers from the Ilocos Norte towns of Vintar, Dumalneg, Solsona, Marcos, and Piddig were documented to have been tortured,[20] and eight farmers in Bangui and three indigenous community members in Vintar were forcibly disappeared (euphemistically, "salvaged") in 1984.[20]

Ilocanos who were critical of Marcos' authoritarian rule included Roman Catholic Archbishop and Agoo native Antonio L. Mabutas, who spoke actively against the torture and killings of church workers.[21][22] Another prominent opponent of the martial law regime was human rights advocate and Bombo Radyo Laoag program host David Bueno, who worked with the Free Legal Assistance Group in Ilocos Norte during the later part of the Marcos administration and the early part of the succeeding Corazon Aquino administration. Bueno was assassinated by motorcycle-riding men in fatigue uniforms on October 22, 1987 – part of a wave of assassinations which coincided with the 1986–87 coup d'etat which tried to unseat the democratic government set up after the 1986 People Power Revolution.[23][24]

Others critics included student activists Romulo and Armando Palabay of San Fernando, La Union, who were tortured and killed in a Philippine military camp in Pampanga;[25] and Purificacion Pedro, a Catholic lay social worker who tried to help the indigenous peoples in the resistance against the Chico River Dam Project, but was caught in the crossfire of a military operation, and was later murdered in the hospital by a soldier who claimed she was a rebel sympathizer.[26]

Bueno, Pedro, and the Palabay brothers would later be honored as martyrs of the fight against the dictatorship at the Philippines' Bantayog ng mga Bayani memorial.[24][25][26]


Ilocano people emigrating to the Cagayan Valley, c. 1920
Ilocanos are shown in green in this map.

Ilocanos numbered 8,746,169 in the Philippines in 2020.[1] A few Ilocanos living in the Cordilleras have some Cordillerano blood.


Mounting population pressures due to high density during the mid-19th century caused the migration of the Ilocanos out of their traditional homeland. By 1903, more than 290,000 Ilocanos migrated to Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, and Metro Manila. More than 180,000 moved to the provinces of Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija; there was and still is a sizable Ilocano population in Aurora and Quezon provinces dating from when the two provinces were one and part of Southern Tagalog, now mostly within the Central Luzon region for Aurora.[27][28][29] Almost 50,000 moved to Cagayan Valley; half of them resided in Isabela. Around 47,000 lived in Zambales and more than 11,000 in Sultan Kudarat.

Later migrations brought Ilocanos to the Cordilleras, Mindoro, Palawan, and Mindanao provinces[30] of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Bukidnon, Misamis Oriental, Caraga and Davao Region. Ilocanos even form a minority in a Central Visayan city of Cebu, where they formed an organized association for Ilocano residents and their descendants there as well as nearby cities and towns within Cebu Province.[31]

The Ilocano diaspora continued in 1906 when Ilocanos started to migrate to Hawaii and California. The first wave of migrants to the United States were called the manongs[32] or sakadas. In Ilocano, the term manong is loosely used to refer to an elderly gentleman, originally referring to an older brother, derived from hermano, the Spanish term for "brother" or "sibling". Sakadas roughly translates to 'imported ones', 'lower-paid workers recruited out of the area', or 'migrant workers' in and from the Philippines, and denotes manual agricultural laborers. Within the Philippines, sakadas work in provinces other than their own.

In the 20th century, Filipino men were imported by the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association to work as skilled laborers in the sugarcane and pineapple fields of Hawaii. Most of these men came from the Ilocos region to seek a better life for themselves and their families, sharing the goal of gasat (lit.'fate' in Ilocano). The Association approved a plan to recruit labor from the Philippines in April 1906 and asked Albert F. Judd to represent them. The first Filipino farm laborers in Hawaii arrived in December 1906 from Candon, Ilocos Sur, aboard the SS Doric (1883).[33]

Ilocanos comprise the largest number of Filipino expatriates in the United States,[citation needed] though most are bilingual with Tagalog. There is a significant Ilocano community in Hawaii, where they constitute more than 85% of the Filipino population.[34]


Main article: Ilocano language

Most Ilocanos speak the Ilocano language, which is its own branch within the Northern Philippine subgroup of the Austronesian family of languages. It is closely related to some of the other Austronesian languages of Northern Luzon, and has slight mutual intelligibility with the Balangao language and the eastern dialects of the Bontoc language. Many Ilocanos also speak Tagalog and English as second languages, as well as other local languages spoken in North Luzon and Central Luzon (the latter include Kapampangan, Pangasinan, and Sambalic languages, in addition to Tagalog).[citation needed][29]

Ilocano forms the lingua franca of the northern region (Northern Luzon and northern areas of Central Luzon [precisely Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, and Aurora, as well as south central Zambales[35][36] and southeast Bataan])[37][38][better source needed] of the Philippines. Ilocano is spoken as a first language by seven million people, and as a secondary language by more than two million people who are native speakers of Ibanag, Ivatan, Ibaloi, Itneg, Itawes, Pangasinan, Kankanaey, Kalinga, and other languages in Northern Luzon, and by many native speakers of Kapampangan, Tagalog, and Sambalic languages in Central Luzon; native Kapampangan, Tagalog, and Sambalic speakers grew up in Ilocano-speaking majority areas speak Ilocano.[citation needed][29]

The pre-colonial writing system and script of the Ilocano people is known as kur-itan. There have been proposals to revive the kur-itan script by teaching it in Ilocano-majority public and private schools in Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.[39]

In addition to their own ethnic language, Ilocanos and their descendants living in Mindanao, particularly in Soccsksargen, speak Hiligaynon, Cebuano (both Visayan languages dominate in the area, the latter being in the major parts of Mindanao), Tagalog, or indigenous languages. This is a result of intermingling and coexistence between these ethnic groups, as the area is a melting pot of cultures. Over the years, like other migrants from Luzon and indigenous natives in Mindanao—especially those living outside Soccsksargen, but also in the rest of Mindanao—many Ilocanos and their descendants assimilated into the majority Cebuano-speaking society upon learning fluent Cebuano, identifying themselves as Visayans despite knowing and retaining some of their Ilocano roots and speaking their own ancestral language as their second or third language. Their descendants, especially newer generations (as Mindanao-born natives), now speak Cebuano or Hiligaynon fluently as their main language with little or no knowledge of their ancestors' native tongue.[40][41] Those Ilocanos & their descendants living in Zamboanga City & Basilan speak Chavacano.


It has been suggested that this section be split out into another article titled Ilocano religion. (Discuss) (July 2023)

Most Ilocanos are Roman Catholics, though some are members of the Aglipayan Church, which originated in Ilocos Norte.[2][3][42]

Indigenous beliefs


Part of Ilocano cosmology were the concepts of the upstream surong and downstream puyupoyan, along with three other cosmological regions. Surong represented creation, birth, and life, and puyupoyan represented the death and the afterlife. They would give atang, or food offerings, that were put on a raft and drifted downstream as an offering to the spirits.

Throughout several ethnic groups, the Milky Way was seen as something connected with water. For the Ilocano people, the Milky Way was called Rimmuok dagiti Bitbituen. They saw it as a river in the night sky.[43]

According to one Ilocano mythological tale, the sky was created by a giant named Aran, who hung the sun, moon, and stars in it. Aran's companion, the giant Angalo, could see the land under their light, which he then molded into mountains and valleys. The giants discovered their world to be windswept and desolate. Angalo spat on the ground, and the first man and woman emerged from his spit. He put them in a bamboo tube and tossed it into the sea. The bamboo washed up on the shores of the Ilocos region, and the Ilocano people descended from this couple.[citation needed]


Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Ilocanos were animists who believed in spirits called anito, who were either bad or good. The anito ruled over all aspects of the universe. For example, litao were the anitos of water; kaibáan (or kanibáan) were anitos of the forest undergrowth; and mangmangkik were anitos of trees. The mangmangkik were often feared for causing sickness when a fellow tree was cut down. To appease the mangmangkik before cutting down a tree, the following chant was made:

Bari Bari.
Dikat agunget pari.
Ta pumukan kami.
Iti pabakirda kadakami.

This chant calls on the mangmangkik and beseeches them not to curse the people cutting the tree down.[44] Similar chants and phrases were uttered to appease the kaibáan when hot cooking water is thrown out into the yard for disposal. The kaibáan can be befriended, giving luck and blessing to the person. Likewise, if a kaibáan is angered, illness and in some cases death would plague the person's health and family.

Other ways anitos were respected and appeased were through offerings and sacrifices to idols on platforms (called a simbaan) or designated caves where the anito frequents. These offerings, called atang, consisted of various foodstuffs and sweets, as well as cigars and paan.

Like other Filipinos, Ilocanos recognize an array of supernatural beings, such as the katawtaw-an (the spirits of infants, who died unbaptized and in turn victimize newborns).[citation needed]

Soul beliefs and typology

The Ilocano traditional mythos has a four-soul system.

  1. Kararua is the name for the first soul. This term is used as the equivalent of the Christian soul, which can only leave after death.[45]
  2. Karkarma is the name of the second soul. It can leave the physical body when one is frightened, or may be stolen. If this soul fails to return, the owner becomes insane; sacrificial ceremonies may be held to lure back a lost karkarma. Karkarma stands for natural vigor, mind, and reason.[45]
  3. Aniwaas is the name of the third soul. It can leave the body during sleep and visits places familiar to the body. If one wakes up while the aniwaas is visiting these places, they may lose the aniwaas and become insane.[45]
  4. Araria is the name of the fourth soul. This is the liberated soul of the dead; the soul that visits relatives and friends in the earthworld, asking them to pray for it or perform a duty it failed to do in life. Its presence can be heralded by the howling of dogs, the cracking of glass, the rattling of beds, and the banging of doors, or in the form (at night) of a grunting pig or a crowing chicken. These signs remind the living to pray to God for the forgiveness of the deceased's sins (otherwise, the al-alia may visit misfortunes upon them). This soul can make sounds and manipulate physical objects usually relating to what it did in life.[45]

Ilocanos generally believe that the soul has not yet left the world of the living during the wake and still needs sustenance, hence the offering of food as they transcend onto the afterlife. It is also believed that the soul returns to the land of the living after the nine-day wake and must be welcomed back. In instances when the deceased appears in a dream or when a family member suddenly experiences unexplainable sickness, atang is performed as an appeasement ritual for the deceased who may have been offended or disturbed. It is also interpreted as asking the deceased to intercede for their loved ones, and thanking them for warning against bad omen through dreams. The significance of the atang for the Ilocanos goes beyond the remembrance and honoring of the dead loved ones—it connotes their view of life after death and the relation of the living to the departed.[46]

Water beliefs

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One mantra of Ilocano religion is, "Water is life. It is death." In many ethnic groups in the Philippines, water represents a cosmological cycle of both life and death. Water plays a vital role in Ilocano folklore: from the Ilocano god of the rivers and sea, Apo Litao, to cosmological beliefs involving the water and sea.

Apo Litao is the Ilocano god of the sea and rivers. It is said that Apo Litao is a small man who lives in the branches of the bamboo trees along the riverbanks. In one tale, there was once a girl who lived with her mother near the banks of the river. One day, her sewing needle fell into the river and her mother warned her not to get it. However, she went anyway and once she got the needle, the waves swept her away. She was taken in by Apo Litao who gave her the gift of enchantment and she became his wife. She became a mermaid, or sirena, and the queen of the waters. She is described to have long, thick hair, and sharp nails. She would kill those who speak ill of her, but entertains and gives gifts those who gain her favor.

Water, especially the rivers, is seen by the majority of ethnic groups in the Philippines as pathways to the afterlife. There is a belief that the soul travels on a boat that is ferried by a deity or spirit. The most famous depiction of this concept is on the Manunggul Jar, which was found in a cave in Palawan. This concept is also found in traditional Ilocano beliefs. The deceased were buried with offerings and money in their coffins so they could pay the toll to the agrakrakit, the spirit who ferries the dead souls, and safely cross the waters to the afterlife.

Crocodiles (nono) were once abundant in the Philippines. Historical records state that they were deeply respected and seen as divine creatures, even representing the ancestors. People would give offerings (panagyatang) to crocodiles as signs of respect; for instance, fishermen would throw them their first catch.


Another practice that survived well into the 19th century was sibróng. Associated with human sacrifice and headhunting, sibróng was a prevalent practice in the Ilocos region. The person who carried out the executions was called the mannibróng; this term now means 'thief' in modern Ilocano.

Before the death of a community leader or a member of the principalía, the dying person would lift a hand raised with a certain number of fingers. The number of fingers raised would be the indicator of how many people would have to be killed in order to accompany the dying to the afterlife. In other cases, the people chosen by the mannibróng would have their fingers cut off instead of being executed. Síbrong[spelling?] can also refer to the practice of placing a human head in the foundations of the building to protect the structure from damage.[47][48]


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Ilocano culture revolves around life rituals, festivities, and oral history. The vibrant culture of Ilocandia has been further influenced by its colonial era. The colonial city of Vigan, sometimes known as the "Intramuros of the North", still has its original Castillan colonial architecture. Old Spanish-style dwellings (often known as bahay na bato or Vigan houses) line the small and cobblestoned streets. Enormous, high-pitched roofs, large and rectangular living rooms with life-sized mirrors, ancient wooden furniture, and Vienna sets characterize these mansions.[49]

The churches of the Ilocos region embody its people's transformation from practitioners of local religions to believers in theistic Christianity. Notable examples include the Vigan Cathedral in Ilocos Sur, with its gigantic hand-carved pictures of the route crucis; the Magsingal Cathedral (also in Ilocos Sur), with its centuries-old wooden altar; the St. Augustine Church in Paoay (Ilocos Norte), with its massive buttresses; and Santa Maria Church (Ilocos Sur), a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on a hill with an 80-step stone stairway.[49]

Examples of Ilocano folk dances include dinaklisan (a dance common to fisher folks), the agabel (a weaver's dance), and the agdamdamili (a pot dance), which are meant to illustrate in simple steps the ways of the stereotypical industrious Ilocano. Other popular dances among the Ilocanos are the tadek, Habanera, kumintang, saimita, kinotan, and kinnalogong.[49]


Pinakbet, one of the staples of the Ilocano diet.

Ilocano cuisine is heavy in boiled or steamed vegetables and freshwater fish, as well as salt and pork, and are often flavored with bagoong (fermented fish paste). Most people are unaware that Ilocano cuisine arose out of necessity.[citation needed] The rough conditions of the region required Ilocanos to make do with a wide variety of plants, including the bitter melon.[citation needed]

Prominent ingredients include sukang Iloko (sugarcane vinegar), bagoong, bawang (garlic), and karne (meats) with a crispy finish.

Ilocanos often season boiled vegetables with bugguong monamon (fermented anchovy paste) to produce dishes such as pinakbet, dinengdeng, and kinilnat. Local specialties include 'jumping salad' kilawin, tiny live shrimp (hipon) with calamansi juice.

Other examples of Ilocano dishes include:

Another vegetable ingredient important in Ilocano cuisine is malunggay (Moringa tree). Its leaves are used as a condiment for the meat soup la'uya, and its fruit pods can be mixed with dinengdeng, a vegetable soup with prawn paste (aramang or armang or “alamang”).[56] Most households grow this tree in their backyards and usually offer free access to their neighbors; it is particularly popular with Ilocanos in Hawaii.[citation needed]

The Ilocano people are also known to be the first ethnic group in the Philippines to eat the larvae and eggs of abuos (weaver ants). The practice has since been adopted by other ethnic groups in northern Luzon.[57]


Main article: Ilocano literature

Ilocano animistic traditions offer a rich background in folklore, mythology, and superstition for literature and storytelling (see Religion in the Philippines).

Pre-colonial Iloko literature was composed of songs (kankanta), dances (salsala), poems (dandaniw), riddles (burburtia), proverbs (pagsasao), lamentations (dung-aw), literary verbal jousts (bucanegan, named after the writer Pedro Bucaneg and equivalent to the Balagtasan of the Tagalogs), and epic stories in written or oral form. Ancient Ilokano poets expressed themselves through folk and war songs, as well as the dallot, an improvised, versified, and at times impromptu long poem delivered in a sing-song manner.

During the Spanish regime, Iloko poetry was generally patterned after Spanish models. In fact, the earliest known written Iloko poems were the romances translated from Spanish by Francisco Lopez, an Augustinian friar who, in 1621, published his own Iloko translation of the Doctrina Cristiana by Cardinal Bellarmine, the first book to be printed in Iloko.[citation needed] A study of Iloko poetry can be found in the Gramatica Ilokana (1895) based on Lopez's earlier Arte de la Lengua Iloca, which was published in 1627 but probably written before 1606.

Some Iloko writers[who?] credit 17th-century author Pedro Bucaneg—who collaborated with Lopez in the translation of the Doctrina into Ilokano—for having been the first known Ilokano poet, and as the "Father of Ilokano Poetry and Literature". Bucaneg, blind since childhood, authored Biag ni Lam-ang ("Life of Lam-ang"), a popular and well-known epic poem about the fantastic life and escapades of an Ilocano hero named Lam-ang. Biag ni Lam-ang is a classic in Ilocano literature and reflects values important to traditional Ilocano society; it is a hero's journey steeped in courage, loyalty, pragmatism, honor, and ancestral and familial bonds. The earliest written form of the epic poem was given by Fr. Gerardo Blanco to Isabelo de los Reyes, who published it with a prose Spanish translation in El Ilocano from December 1889 to February 1890, and also reprinted it in his El Folklore Filipino under the title Vida de Lam-ang.

During the 18th century, missionaries used religious and secular literatures to advance their mission of converting the Ilocanos to Christianity. The century also saw the publication of religious works like Sumario de las Indulgencias de la Santa Correa (1719) by Fr. Jacinto Rivera and Pasion (1845), a translation of St. Vincent Ferrer's sermons into Iloko by Fr. Antonio Mejia.

The 19th century saw the appearance of Leona Florentino, who has since been considered by some[who?] as the "National Poetess of the Philippines". Her poems which have survived, however, have been criticized by modern critics as being too saccharine for comfort, too sentimental to the point of mawkishness, and utterly devoid of form.[citation needed]

The Ilocano writer Elizabeth Medina is probably the most remarkable[opinion] living Ilocano writer in the Spanish language.[citation needed]

Numerous Ilocano writers have won national and international acclaim – among the most notable being early 20th century author and World War II guerilla hero Manuel Arguilla, whose prose was known for capturing the unique accent of Ilocano culture and the textures of the Ilocos region; Binalonan-born early 20th-century writer and poet Carlos Bulosan, whose novel America is in the Heart has become regarded as "[t]he premier text of the Filipino-American experience";[58] late 20th- and early 21st-century novelist F. Sionil Jose, best known for his saga of novels set in his hometown of Rosales, Pangasinan; and mid-19th century writer and activist Isabelo de los Reyes of Vigan, who helped publish the earliest currently-extant text of Biag ni Lam-Ang.

Music and performing arts

Kankanta/Kansion (folk songs)

Ilocano folk songs tend to depict the natural world, home and family, friendship, love, work, marriage, death, kinship, religion, and politics. Themes often include humility, religiosity, industriousness, and thrift.

A list of selected folk songs include:[59]

Salsala (folk dances)

Ilocano folk dances reflect the history and folk stereotypes of the humility, religiosity, liveliness, hard-working nature, and thrift of the Ilocano people. These folk dances fuse cultural elements that constitute the vast and dynamic social, political, economic, artistic, and religious landscapes of Ilocandia.[60]

The kumintang step is one example. There are kumintang steps in other parts of the Philippines, however, Ilocano kumintang is done inwards and with a half-closed hand. The kumintang is meant to demonstrate and internalize the stereotype of Ilocanos saving for the future.[citation needed]

The korriti step is meant to demonstrate the folk belief that Ilocanos are lively, hardworking, and fast on their feet. It evokes working on vast farmlands, and searching for places that offer a living.[citation needed]

The sagamantika step is a dance with soft gestures. It has a forward-and-backward movement, expressing an Ilocano saying that roughly translates to "even if you leave, you will always return to your origin since this is where you were born, this is where you experienced love, and this is where you lived for a long time".

Other types of Ilocano folk dances include courtship dances, occupational dances, ritual dances, celebration dances, and other dances with heavy influences from Cordilleran (Igorot), Spanish, and American dance movements.[citation needed]

Examples of Ilocano folk dances include:

Clothing and appearances

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Ilocanos had long hair like the Igorots, but not as long as the Cagayanons' (Ibanag and Itawes), whose hair covered their backs. Women wore their hair in a bun on the crown of their heads. Both men and women took care of their hair, using shampoo decoctions made from the barks of specific trees, coconut oil mixed with musk and other perfumes, gogo[definition needed], and lye made from rice husk, which is still used in Ilocos today.

They polished and sharpened their teeth with betel nut husks and stones since childhood, making them all even or sometimes serrated like saw teeth. They would color them red or black, just like the Igorots, to preserve them. The wealthy, particularly women, decorated or encrusted them with gold to make them more powerful or flashy.[citation needed]

Men entertained themselves by pulling the hairs out of their beards using clam shells fashioned into tweezers; that is why they did not have beards and mustaches like they do today.[citation needed]

Women, and men in some places, adorned their ears with large gold rings, and children had their earlobes pierced. The more ripped and larger the holes, the higher the social status. There were two types of ear piercings: one for a small earflap and one for a larger earflap. The preceding was written by a chronicler about Filipinos in general. According to Isabelo de los Reyes, old Ilocano women did not wear earrings, whereas today's women consider them a sign of coquetery. Although old Ilocano men do not recall their ancestors wore earrings, it is highly likely that they did so in imitation of their Igorot neighbors.[citation needed]

The men wore a long narrow cloth called bangal (Tagalogs called them putong) that they wrapped around their heads like Tinguians or fashioned into a turban. Those who were proud of their bravery draped the bangal over their shoulder, with the embroidered ends touching the back of their knees. The bangal's colors represented the wearer's accomplishments and status. For example, red indicated that the wearer had killed someone; only those who had killed seven or more could wear a striped bangal. However, by the time of Morga[definition needed], thirty years after the Spanish conquest, men were already wearing hats.[citation needed]

Men wore a collarless waist-length fitted jacket made of cloth that was sewn in front, similar to the Tinguians' koton. It had short, wide, blue or black sleeves. The principalía had them in silk or fine red chininas crepe from India.

For trousers, Ilocanos wore a richly colored cloth, usually gold striped, rolled up at the waist, and passing between the legs such that they were decently covered until mid-thigh; from the thigh down, their legs and feet remained uncovered. Ilocanos called them babaques, according to the author of Lavor Evangelica (Evangelical Labor); Morga corroborates the observation.

Ilocanos' main accessories were precious stones, gold jewelry, and expensive trinkets. According to Morga, the Ilocano men wore many gold chains around their necks, "fashioned like spun gold and linked in the same style as ours". Gold and ivory kalombiga bracelets were wrapped around their arms from hand to elbow, and some wore strings of carnelian, agate, and other blue and white stones. Ilocanos also wore anklets or strings made of the same stones, as well as many black-dyed strings. Women wore gold and precious stone jewelry on their ears, wrists, fingers, and neck.

According to Morga, they used to walk around barefoot, but after the Spaniards arrived, they began wearing shoes. Many of the women were dressed in gold-embroidered velvet slippers. They wore stone and gold rings on their fingers, and a sash draped over the shoulder and tied beneath the arm.

The women wore a multicolored overskirt over a floor-length white underskirt that was usually as wide on top as it was on the bottom. The pleats (salupingping) were paced at one side after it was gathered at the waist. This is still worn today in Ilocos. Speaking for Filipinos in general, Morga and Father Colin[who?] say that ladies of the principalía wore crimson silk or other cloth woven with gold and decorated with thick fringes. During ceremonies, the principalía and others wore a black, floor-length cloak with long sleeves over their clothes. This style of clothing would eventually replace the Ilocano women's gleaming black shawl.

The Ilocanos would apply tattoos called batek, by pricking their skin, then rubbing the area with permanent black pitch powder or smoke; however, they did not do it as extensively as the Visayans.[61]

“In time the practice became more popular and dividing society into different classes brought with it some requirements; the Indio principalia showed off their bedaubed clothing while the common man of the people was naked”, wrote Morga y Jimenez.[citation needed] Indeed, the Ilocanos must have been naked in the beginning with only a small loincloth of smoothened balete like the Igorots of Abra, and they most probably only started wearing clothes when the Asians brought over cloth from their own countries which they have used since then to exploit the wealth of this country.[citation needed] However, when the Spaniards arrived, the rich wore clothing that, according to all the chronicles, was luxurious and in good taste.[62]

Pandilíng and kimona

The traditional Ilocano dress made from inabel reflects the supposed admirable qualities of Ilocana women: an aura of quiet beauty, appealing shyness, and dignity in her manners. The wearer selects colors expressing modesty and simplicity. A typical dress comes in a two-piece ensemble, consisting of a blouse and skirt. The blouse (kimona) is either plain white or pastel, usually with a cowl neckline. The full-length skirt (pandilíng) is cone-shaped with a drawstring around the waist. This is usually made from hand loom-woven textiles which the wearer herself has meticulously woven and sewn by hand.

The designs of the weave are inspired by such things as diamonds, the Milky Way, shells, and stripes or check. The dress is worn over a full slip called kamison. The Sunday dress is more elaborately designed. A colorful wrap-around called tapis is dyed with colors which complement the pandilíng. Tsinelas are everyday footwear made of leather, while formal footwear called kutso are made of beaded felt and leather and are worn on Sundays and fiestas.[63]

Kattukong/tabúngaw hat

The traditional Ilocano headgear or hat kattukong (or tabúngaw) is made from a hollowed and dried calabash gourd (tabúngaw in Ilocano, or upo in Tagalog). The hat has a woven interior made of anahaw, nipa, bamboo, or rattan. Kattukong is weatherproof and worn as protection against the sun and rain by mannalon (farmers) and mangngalap (fishermen). Also often worn during rainy days was a cape called a annangá, also called lábig or kalapiáw, which was often made of nipa palm leaves.

One notable craftsman of the gourd hat is Teofilo Garcia of San Quintin, Abra, who was awarded with the prestigious title National Living Treasure. He is the last professional gourd hat maker, involved from the planting of the seeds to the varnishing of the hat. He intends to pass on the knowledge and skills to preserve the practice.[64]

Pre-colonial social structure

While the Spanish applied the term barangay to the settlements in the Ilocos region upon contact, the Ilocano people called their towns íli and a smaller group of houses purók.[65] These residents of the íli were organized in a class society.

At the top of the class system was an agtúray or ári (chief) and his family. The ári earned his position due to strength, wealth, and wisdom.[66] This position could also be inherited and usually reserved for a male; however, in the event that no male heir was available, a strong female heir was accepted.[67] If the heir was found to be weak by the íli, then another ári family would be put in place and the former ári family could fall down in class. Together with a community of elders, called amáen or panglakáyen íli, the ári administered justice and governed the daily lives of the íli and led his or her people to war if necessary.

Below the ári were the wealthy babaknáng (or maharlika in Tagalog), some of whom could easily move into the position of ári. Their wealth was maintained by their control of trade, primarily with the Chinese, Japanese, Igorots, and Tagalogs. Goods often traded were rice, cotton, gold, wax, iron, glass beads, honey, and stoneware jars called burnáy.

Below the babaknáng were the kailianes, a class that helped the ári in sailing, working his or her fields, and preparing for celebrations. In exchange, the kailianes were given gifts directly from the ári.[68]

Below the babaknáng and the kailianes were the katalonan: tenant farmers who consisted of the majority of the population in an íli. They largely practiced wet-rice agriculture, which included rice and taro, as well as dry agriculture that included cotton.

At the bottom of the pre-colonial Ilocano society were the ubíng (servants) and below them, the tagábu (slaves, also called adípen). The tagábu acquired their status through unresolved debt, insulting a member of the babaknáng or ári, by being prisoners of war, or even inheriting the debt of their ancestor.[69]

Traditional games

Kukudisi is a uniquely Ilocano game. An an-anak (stick) is placed on a baseline scratched into the ground. One player launches the stick into the air, while the other tries to catch it before it hits the ground. If the latter is unable to do so, a second, longer stick (the in-ina) is placed across the baseline, and the player attempts to hit it with the an-anak. The next two phases of the game involve competing to see who can hit the an-anak (which has been thrown in the air and stuck into the baseline) the farthest with the in-ina.[citation needed]

Abel weaving (panagabel)

Main article: Inabel

Inabel, a handspun cotton fabric, is one of the many prides of the Ilocos Region. Abel is the Ilocano word for 'weave', and inabel refers to any type of woven fabric. However, in the world of weaving, inabel is specifically used to refer to fabrics that are distinctly Ilocano in origin. Cotton is used to make inabel fabric, which can be plain or patterned and is well known for its softness, beautiful designs, and strength.[70] The process of creating inabel, like other forms of handweaving in the country, is intricate and labor-intensive.

Ilocos weavers weave on hardwood pedal looms with a variety of design techniques. Each province has its own design style. The intricate binakul pattern is meant to ward off and distract evil spirits, protecting the wearer. The multi-heddle design technique, the pinilian or brocade weave, the suk-suk or discontinuous supplementary weft technique, and the ikat tie-dye technique are examples of other patterns. Cat's paws, fans, stars, and windows are other popular patterns.

The traditional process of weaving abel cloth begins with preparing the kapas (cotton): picking cotton bolls, removing the seeds, pounding or beating, twisting using a spindle, and winding the cotton yarn into the skeiner. The skeined yarn is then brushed to make it glossy and durable before it is wound to a bamboo spool.

The weaver winds the spool yarn into the warping reel. The warp yarn is then wound into the warp beam rod. Next comes heddling, in which the warp yarn is inserted through the eye of the heddle using a weaving hook. After that, the weaver inserts the warp yarn through the spaces of the reed and "dresses" the loom by tying the heddles behind the beater. Only then can agabel (weaving) commence.

Plain weaves are the most commonly produced inabel, and these are used for everything from hand towels and placemats to blankets and dress material. In Ilocos, it is not uncommon for inabel to be used as material for everyday household items such as curtains, tablecloths, bath towels, table runners, bed linen, bags, and even mosquito nets.[citation needed]

Although the skill is now rare due to a dearth in both practitioners and raw materials,[71] inabel textile products are in high demand in the fashion and interior design industries due to their softness, durability, suitability in tropical climates, and for its austere design patterns.[72][73] Historically, the textile was bartered for gold in the galleon trade, and is mentioned in the classic Ilocano epic Biag ni Lam-ang.

A notable inabel weaver is Magdalena Gamayo, who resides in Pinili, Ilocos Norte. Born in 1924, Gamayo has been a mag-aabel for over 80 years, having learned the craft at the age of 15 by watching her aunts work during the Second World War. Gamayo has since honored her craft on her own, teaching herself traditional inabel patterns such as binakol (whirlwinds, her specialty), inuritan (geometric patterns), sinan-sabong (flowers), and kusikos (spiral forms). Gamayo received the National Living Treasures Award in 2012.[74]

Burnáy pottery

A prominent traditional craft of the Ilocano people, particularly in the area of Vigan, is the creation of unglazed earthenware jars locally called burnáy.[75][76] The tradition dates back to before the arrival of the European colonizers, when the peoples of northwestern Luzon traded extensively with merchants from China.[77] Since then, the jars have become a staple in traditional Filipino kitchens, where they are used to store basic goods such tea, danum (water), bagas (rice grains), asin (salt), asukar (brown sugar), basi (local wine), a bugguong (fermented fish). Ilocano folk wisdom suggests basi and bugguong taste better when stored inside burnáys.[75]

Other crafts

Other traditional crafts of the Ilocanos include:[citation needed]

Notable Ilocanos

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Religious figures

Leaders and politicians


Artists, actors, athletes, and writers

Ilocano people from Pangasinan

Ilocano people from Central Luzon

Other notable Filipinos of Ilocano ancestry

Foreign nationals of Ilocano ancestry

See also

Notes and sources

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