The Ilocano (Ilokano) people who live in the northwestern region of Luzon have grown into several various communities, making them the third-largest ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines. As the ethnic population grew, they migrated to different parts of Luzon. Presently, there are Ilocano communities in Abra, Benguet, Cagayan, La Union, Nueva Vizcaya, Pangasinan, and Tarlac.
Aside from nearby regions, Ilocanos have migrated south to various parts of the Philippines, even up to Mindanao. However, their people’s growth and migration did not stop there. The Ilocanos also became the first ethnic group from the Philippines that emigrated in large numbers to North America. Notably, they have communities in Alaska, California, the Pacific Northwest, and Hawaii.
With the people’s growing population in various locations, it is no wonder that Ilocano culture and language have found new homes as they are shared continuously by the members of the communities.
The Ilocano language is spoken by about seven million people as their first language and another two million as their second language. It is no surprise that Ilocano comes right after Tagalog and English as the third largest language in the Philippines. It is a language from the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language. The name Ilocano, however, is said to be a combination of the terms i (“from”), looc (“bay”), and ano (“native of”) in Spanish. Thus, the name Ilocano literally means “people of the bay.”
Culture and Traditions
Despite having a foreign-sounding name, the Ilocano ethnic community has flourished throughout the centuries with its own distinct set of cultures and traditions. Similar to different ethnic groups, the Ilocano culture represents essential aspects of their daily lives and their community’s core values.
One of the more prominent and vital traditions passed on through generations is the Ilocano form of courtship. This may begin with casual conversations and progress to regular visits to the woman’s home. As the suitor meets the woman’s family, they know more about each other. Ilocanos seem to be fond of long courtships, filled with various activities on the suitor’s end, such as exchanging love letters and serenading (harana) the woman at night. Such practices show how the individuals get to know each other better before they fully engage in a formal relationship.
Aside from their courtship, the Ilocanos’ beliefs are reflected in their traditional practices. For instance, the Ilocanos offer various food called atang to ward off evil spirits. The most popular among such offerings is the rice cake (sinukat or sinuman). In some cases, however, the atang can be the actual rice harvest, which may also be offered to remember the family members and relatives who passed away. This practice demonstrates how Ilocanos keep their family members’ memories close to their hearts.
Another tradition is the ag gulgul, in which members of the family of a deceased Ilocano have to wash their heads in the sea or river after the burial. Such actions are said to wash away any bad luck or any sickness related to the death in the family.
Ilocanos don’t only bond with each other through courtship and death rituals. They connect with other members of their community through celebrations: the fiestas.
Fiestas and Food
Among the hundreds of fiestas and festivals in the Philippines, the Ilocano festivals Kannadiwan Festival and Pamulinawen Festival are some of the most well-known. The former commemorates the separation of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur in 1818, while the latter celebrates the feast day of the patron of Laoag City, Saint William. This festival also marks the conversion of the Ilocano people to Christianity.
In those celebrations, food is shared among locals and with guests. It is an opportunity to enjoy the delicious local delicacies in the area. Among these are the most famous food of pinakbet, dinardaraan, kilawin, and Ilocos empanada. Most of these dishes are made with fresh vegetables, some meat, fish sauce, and longganisa.
Even with just a glimpse into the culture and tradition of the Ilocanos, it is clear that the people have grown and shared a rich set of beliefs and customs that are still alive today. As the communities flourish in various locations, the Ilocano ethnic heritage will transcend generations. As long as the members communicate in their native language and share their ways and values with the younger members, the Ilocano ethnic group will thrive.
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