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Ilocano people
Tattao nga Iloko
Ilocano women from Santa Catalina, Ilocos Sur, c. 1900.
Total population
8,074,536 (8.8%) (2010)[1]
Regions with significant populations
(Ilocos Region, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Metro Manila)
 United States
(Hawaii, California)
Ilocano, Filipino, 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
Filipinos (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]


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


This section needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (February 2020)

See also: Models of migration to the Philippines

Two theories are prominent among historians regarding the spread of what historians call the Austronesian peoples.

Early history

This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (September 2022)

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.[11]

These residents of the íli were organized in a class society. At the top of the class system was a chief or agtúray or ári and his family. The ári earned his position due to strength, wealth and wisdom.[12] 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.[13]

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 with primarily the Chinese, Japanese, Igorots, and the 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.[14]

The katalonan were below the babaknáng and the kailianes and they were 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 and below them, the tagábu, also called adípen. The ubíng were servants while the tagábu were slaves. 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.[15]

Clothing and appearances

At the time of the Spanish conquest, the Ilocanos had long hair like the Igorots, but it was not as long as the Cagayanons(Ibanag and Itawes) whose hair covered their backs. Women wore their hair in a charming 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, and lye made from rice husk, which is still used in Ilocos today.

They polished and sharpened their teeth with betel nut husk 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.

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.

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. Thus, according to Isabelo de los Reyes, old Ilocano women did not wear earrings, whereas today's women consider them a sign of coquetery. Although the old Ilocano men do not recall their ancestors wearing 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 Muslim-style turban. Those who were proud of their bravery draped the bangal over their shoulder, the embroidered ends touching the back of their knees. The bangal's colors represented the wearer's accomplishments and status: 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, thirty years after the Spanish conquest, men were already wearing hats.[citation needed]

In addition to the bangal, farmers and fishermen also wore a gourd hat called a kattukong[16] on sunny or rainy days. The kattukong was made from a hollowed and dried calabash gourd (tabúngaw in Ilocano) with a woven interior made of anahaw, nipa, bamboo, or rattan. 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.

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 principalia had them in fine red chininas crepe from India or silk.

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.

In the 21st century, Ilocano women have followed suit when wearing traditional dress, gathering up the skirt in front, passing it between their legs and hitching it at the back of their waist, "thereby covering until their mid-thigh and leaving the rest down to their legs and feet uncovered."

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. 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. They wore a sash, which was a rich shawl 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 were paced at one side after it was gathered at the waist. In Ilocos, where it is still used today, the pleats are called “salupingping”.

Ladies of the principalia wore crimson silk or other cloth woven with gold and decorated with thick fringes whenever they went out. Morga and Father Colin speak for Filipinos in general. During ceremonies, the principalia and others wore a black, floor-length cloak with long sleeves over their clothes; the old ladies also wore them. This style of clothing would eventually replace the Ilocano women's gleaming black shawl.

Women wore gold and precious stone jewelry on their ears, wrists, fingers, and neck. The Ilocanos would prick themselves, then rub the area with permanent black pitch powder or smoke; they did not do it as commonly as the Visayans, who painted themselves as a matter of course.

“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 comm man of the people was naked,” wrote Morga y Jimenez.

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.

However, when the Spaniards arrived, the rich wore clothing that, according to all the chronicles, was luxurious and in good taste.[17]

Spanish Era to the Philippine Republic

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

Juan de Salcedo

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.

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.[18]

Unlike Pangasinan and the Zambales, The Ilocos at the time was a region that the Spanish invested its soldiers and missionaries in and routinely secured. Towns such as Vigan, Ilocos Sur and Tagudin, Ilocos Sur were quickly conquered by the Spanish encomiendas, 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.[19] 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 as well as 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, Ilocos Sur 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, Ilocos Sur, they continued to raid Ilocano towns and villages for supplies. Ultimately, the people of Narvacan responded with guerrilla tactics aided by their Tinguian allies.[20] 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/or burned the coastal towns of Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, San Esteban, Ilocos Sur, Santiago, Ilocos Sur and Candon, Ilocos Sur. When they finally approached Santa Cruz, Ilocos Sur, 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, Ilocos Sur where he was executed by hanging.[21] The Ilocos Region would not see another revolt against the Spanish until 1762.

The Basi Revolt 1807

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

According to historical accounts, in 1786, people's frustration grew over the basi (the local beverage of the Ilocos) wine monopoly imposed by the Spanish colonial government that 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. Drinking basi played such a great importance in Ilocano culture; from marriage to childbirth and to death, it was a part of their ritual, tradition, and daily life. Basi was a major industry in the Ilocos region at the time, therefore in addition to the grief of Ilocanos had also lost their livelihood, in other words, they had been robbed of their happiness as well as an essential part of their culture and heritage.

Fueled by these abuses, people were prompted to start the uprising in Piddig town and later spread it around Ilocos province. On September 28, 1807, Ilocano forces on their way to the capital Vigan were assassinated by Spanish forces while crossing the Bantaoay River in San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Ilocano forces. 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 province into the now 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.[22]

American colonial era and World War II

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

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

Modern history

Post-independence period

Three modern presidents of the Republic of the Philippines hailed from the Region: Elpidio Quirino, Ferdinand Marcos, and Fidel Ramos. Marcos expanded the scope of the original Ilocos Region by transferring the province of Pangasinan from Region III into Region I in 1973, and imposed a migration policy for Ilokanos into Pangasinan.[23] 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,[24] 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.[25] In Ilocos Norte, various farmers from the towns of Vintar, Dumalneg, Solsona, Marcos and Piddig were documented to have been tortured,[25] and eight farmers in Bangui and three indigenous community members in Vintar were forcibly disappeared (euphemistically, "salvaged") in 1984.[25]

Ilocanos who were critical of Marcos' authoritarian rule included Roman Catholic Archbishop and Agoo, La Union native Antonio L. Mabutas, who spoke actively against the torture and killings of church workers.[26][27] 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.[28][29]

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;[30] 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.[31]

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.[29][30][31]

Recent cultural work

A number of major initiatives to promote Ilocano culture have been initiated since the late 1990s.

The historic town of Vigan was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1999, and the local community effort to preserve it has since been recognized as "a model of best practices in World Heritage site management."[32]

In international ethnic studies, University of California, Davis professor Robyn Rodriguez founded the Bulosan Center for Filipino Studies, named after the Binalonan-born author Carlos Bulosan.[33]

Ilocano entrepreneurs such as Niña Corpuz have revived the popularity of Inabel fabrics by incorporating it into high fashion, creating a new demand for the material.[34]


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

Ilocanos numbered 8,074,536 in the Philippines in 2010.[35] A few Ilocanos living in the Cordilleras have some Cordillerano blood.

Ethnic homeland

Ilocandia or Kailokuan / Kailukuan is the term given to the traditional homeland of the Ilocano people, which constitutes present-day Ilocos Norte and the northern portions of Ilocos Sur. In early history, Ilocano inhabitants of the region called their place as Samtoy, from “sao mi toy,” which literally means "our language here".[citation needed]


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 in Quezon Province dating from when the two provinces were one and part of Southern Tagalog, now mostly within the Central Luzon region for Aurora. 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[36] of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.

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[37] or sakadas. In Ilocano, the term manong is loosely used to refer to an elderly gentleman. 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, or "fate" in Ilocano.

The Hawaiian Sugar Planters' 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 (built in 1883).[38]

Ilocanos comprise the largest number of expatriates in the United States,[citation needed] though most are bilingual with Tagalog. There is a significant Ilocano community in Hawai'i, in which they make up more than 85% of the Filipino population there.[39]


Most Ilocanos speak the Ilocano language, which is part of the Northern Philippine subgroup of the Austronesian family of languages. They also speak Tagalog, and English as second languages.

Ilocano, like all Philippine languages, is an Austronesian language, it is related to Malay (Indonesian and Malaysian), Tetum, Chamorro, Fijian, Māori, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Paiwan, and Malagasy. 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.

Austronesian is a very expansive language family believed to originate in Taiwan. Ilocano comprises its own branch within the Philippine Cordilleran language subfamily. It is spoken as first language by seven million people.

A lingua franca of the northern region (Northern Luzon and northern areas of Central Luzon) of the Philippines, it is spoken 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. A lot of Ilocanos speak the languages spoken in North Luzon.


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][40]

Indigenous beliefs


In Ilocano cosmology, there is the concept of the upstream “surong” and downstream “puyupoyan”, among 3 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, they called the Milky Way as “Rimmuok dagiti Bitbituen”. They saw it as a river in the night sky.[41]


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, also called kanibáan, were anitos of the undergrowth in a forest; 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.[42] Similar chants and phrases are 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.

Atang is also offered to the deceased during prayers for the dead or on Pista ti Natay, Undas or All Soul's Day. Plates of food prepared for an atang consist of delicacies such as suman, dudul, linapet, baduya, patopat or balisongsong (snacks made from sticky rice or rice flour); busi (caramelized popped rice); linga (black sesame seeds); sticky rice with coconut milk; and bagas (uncooked rice) shaped in a crucifix and topped with fresh eggs. The food may also be accompanied by bua ken gawed (betel nut and piper leaf), apog (lime powder), basi (fermented sugarcane wine), and tabako (tobacco). These offerings are placed in front of a photo of the departed and/or image of Jesus, Mary, or the Holy Family during wakes and anniversaries in homes or in front of the graves, after which the family and/or mourners of the deceased may also offer prayers.[43]

Soul beliefs and typology

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.[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]

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

The Ilocano traditional mythos has a four-soul system.

  1. The first soul of the Ilocanos is called the “kararua” or the soul proper. This is the term used for the equivalent of the Christian soul that can only leave after death.[44]
  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.[44]
  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.[44]
  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.[44]

Water beliefs

A mantra in Ilocano religion is Water is life. It is death. In many ethnic groups in the Philippines, water represents a cosmological cycle of both. 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 river banks. 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. To those who speak ill of her, she would kill them. But to those who gained her favor, she used her gifts to entertain and give them gifts.

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 through the manunggul jar, that was found in a cave in Palawan. For the Ilocanos, this concept is also found. When the deceased was buried, they would give offerings and money in the coffin so that they would be able to pay the toll to the agrakrakit, the spirit who ferries the dead souls, so that they would be able to cross the waters to the afterlife safely.

Crocodiles were once abundant in the Philippines. They were deeply respected and historical records state that they were seen as divine creatures, even representing the ancestors and were called nono. They would give offerings (panagyatang) to them as signs of respect. Fishermen would throw the first catch to the crocodile.


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 his 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 can also refer to the practice of placing a human head in the foundations of the building to protect the structure from damage.[45][46]


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Ilocandia boasts a vibrant culture that bears some resemblance to the 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.[47]

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) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is located on a hill with an 80-step stone stairway.[47]

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.[47]


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 bugguong (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), bugguong, bawang (garlic), and karne (meats) with a crispy finish.

Ilocanos often season boiled vegetables with bugguong monamon (fermented anchovy paste) to produce pinakbet, dinengdeng, inabraw, buridibod and many other local dishes. Local specialties include abuos, the soft white larvae of ants, and jumping salad, tiny live shrimp (ipon with calamansi juice.

Other examples of Ilocano dishes include:

Another food that is popular for many Ilocanos is marunggay. It is a condiment for meat soup called La'uya (e.g. tinola) or it can be mixed with the famous dinengdeng, a soup made of mainly vegetables with prawn aramang or armang. Most households grow this tree in their backyards and usually offered free for all the neighbors who may want them. Many Ilocanos from Hawaii are fond of eating them. 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 infused as well with other ethnic groups in northern Luzon.[54]


Ilocano animistic past offers a rich background in folklore, mythology and superstition (see Religion in the Philippines). There are many stories of good and malevolent spirits and beings. Its creation mythology centers on the giants Aran and her husband Angalo, and Namarsua ("the creator").

Pre-colonial Iloko literature were composed of folk songs, riddles, proverbs, lamentations called dung-aw, and epic stories in written or oral form. Ancient Ilokano poets expressed themselves in 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 could be found in the Gramatica Ilokana, published in 1895, based on Lopez's Arte de la Lengua Iloca, earlier published in 1627, but probably written before 1606.

Some Iloko writers[who?] credit Pedro Bucaneg, who collaborated with Lopez in the translation of the Doctrina into Iloko, for having been the first known Ilokano poet, and as the "Father of Ilokano Poetry and Literature." Bucaneg, blind since childhood, authored the popular epic known as Biag ni Lam-ang ("Life of Lam-ang") written in the 17th century. One of the most well-known Ilocano literary works written in Iloco is the Biag ni Lam-Ang ("The Life of Lam-Ang"), an epic poem about the fantastic life and escapades of an Ilocano hero named Lam-ang. Biag ni Lam-ang is a testament in the Ilocano literature, It 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 in El Ilocano from December 1889 to February 1890, with Spanish translation in prose, and also reprinted it in his El Folklore Filipino, under the title Vida de Lam-ang.

Ilocano literature developed in many ways. During the 18th century, the missionaries used religious as well as secular literatures among other means to advance their mission of converting the Ilokanos to Christianity. The century also saw the publication of religious works like Fr. Jacinto Rivera's Sumario de las Indulgencias de la Santa Correa in 1719 and the Pasion, a translation of St. Vincent Ferrer's sermons into Iloko by Fr. Antonio Mejia in 1845.

The 19th century likewise saw the appearance of Leona Florentino, who has since been considered by some 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 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";[56] 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.

Ilocano culture revolves around life rituals, festivities, and oral history. These were celebrated in songs (kankanta), dances (salsala), poems (dandaniw), riddles (burburtia), proverbs (pagsasao), literary verbal jousts called bucanegan (named after the writer Pedro Bucaneg, and equivalent to the Balagtasan of the Tagalogs), and epic stories.

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:

Salsala (folk dances)

Ilocano folk dances reflect the history and folk stereotypes of humility, religiosity, liveliness, hard-working nature, and thrift of the Ilocano people. Ilocano folk dances fuse infinite cultural elements that constitute the vast and dynamic social, political, economic, artistic, and religious landscapes of Ilocandia.[58]

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 is 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".

Ilocano folk dances are also composed of courtship dances, occupational dances, ritual dances, celebration dances and others with heavily influences from Cordilleran (Igorot), Spanish, and American dance movements.[citation needed]

Examples of Ilocano folk dances include:

Pre-colonial writing system

The indigenous 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.[59]

Pre-colonial Ilocano people of all classes wrote in a syllabic system known as baybayin prior to European arrival. They used an abugida, or an alphasyllabary. It was similar to the Tagalog and Pangasinan scripts, where each character represented a consonant-vowel, or CV, sequence. The Ilocano version, however, was the first to designate coda consonants with a diacritic mark – a cross or virama – shown in the Doctrina Cristiana of 1621, one of the earliest surviving Ilocano publications. Before the addition of the virama, writers had no way to designate coda consonants. The reader, on the other hand, had to guess whether a consonant not succeeding a vowel is read or not, for it is not written. Vowel kudlits interchange between e or i, and o or u. Due to this, vowels e and i are interchangeable, as are letters o and u, for instance, tendera and tindira ("shop-assistant").[citation needed]

Traditional attire

Pandilíng & 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, called kimona, is either plain white or pastel, usually with a cowl neckline. The full-length skirt called “pandilíng” and 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 compliment the pandilíng. The tsinelas are everyday footwear made of leather, while the formal footwear called “kutso” are made of beaded felt and leather, and are worn on Sundays and fiestas.[60]

Kattukong/tabúngaw hat

The traditional Ilocano headgear or hat kattukong or tabúngaw is made from a hollowed and dried calabash, or tabúngaw in Ilocano, or Upo in Tagalog. It is also known as a bottle gourd or white pumpkin and is part of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants. 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).

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.[61]

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.

Abel weaving (panagabel)

Main article: Inabel

The inabel is one of the many prides of the Philippines' 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. The softness, beautiful designs, and strength of abel cloth are well known and much loved.[62]

Ilocos weavers weave on hardwood pedal looms with a variety of design techniques. 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. Each province has its own design style. The process of creating inabel, like other forms of handweaving in the country, is intricate and labor-intensive. Cat's paws, fans, stars, and windows are popular patterns.

The traditional process of weaving abel cloth begins with preparing the “kapas” or cotton, from picking cotton balls, removing 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. Once the yarn is ready, it’s time to prepare the loom.

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, or 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,[63] 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.[64][65]

A notable weaver residing in Pinili, Ilocos Norte, is Magdalena Gamayo. Magdalena Gamayo, born in 1924, is a master weaver of the inabel cloth, a historical cotton fabric bartered for gold in the Galleon Trade and mentioned in the classic Ilocano epic Biag ni Lam-ang. She 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.

Gamato has since honored her craft on her own, teaching herself traditional inabel patterns like “binakol” (whirlwinds, her specialty), “inuritan” (geometric patterns), “sinan-sabong” (flowers), and “kusikos” (spiral forms). She has also taught herself to recreate patterns even when she does not have a sample to refer to. Her inabel weaving was recognized in 2012 when she received the GAMABA, or National Living Treasures Award. She is one of only 16 awardees to date.[66]

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”.[67][68] The tradition dates back to before the arrival of the European colonizers, when the peoples of northwestern Luzon traded extensively with merchants from China,[69] and 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.[67]

Other crafts

Among the traditional crafts of the Ilocanos are the:

Notable Ilocanos

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Notable Ilocanos

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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