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Iluko Literature


Naimbag a bigatyo. Good morning.

Awan lalaki nga natured wenno nabaneg no ti babai ti sanguanan agsainnek. No man is brave in the presence of a crying woman.

When the Spanish first encountered them in 1572, the inhabitants of Ilocos (then called "Samtoy") were living in large villages at sheltered coves or rivermouths and were trading with the Chinese and Japanese.

Although massive churches in a distinctive style give evidence of Spanish-Ilocano collaboration, the colonial period was marked by frequent revolts; the most famous of these was that led by Diego and Gabriela Silang during the British occupation of Manila in 176263.

Ilocanos were prominent in the nationalist movement, and many rose to high office in the central government. The greatest of these Ilocano "success stories" (as far as it went) was President Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled from 1965 to 1986.

Location and Language

Ilocano homeland has four provinces: Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and landlocked Abra. The original home of the Iloko-speaking people is a narrow strip of land running along the west coast of northern Luzon, from San Fernando, La Union, to Bangui, Ilokos Norte. The soil is generally poor. In places, the land is a desolate stretch of sand. Rugged hills, jagged mountains of bare rock, dunes devoid of vegetation, swift and impassable rivers, frequent and destructive typhoons - these characterize the region. Ilocano people speak a Western Austronesian language of the northern Philippine group whose closest relatives are the languages of neighboring mountain peoples.

Ilocanos are said to be spendthrift, religious and energetic workers. The Visayan is essentially a troubadour, the Tagalog a poet, and the Ilocano a utility man. The Visayan interprets life in terms of emotion, the Tagalog in terms of aesthetic beauty and the Ilocano in terms of usefulness. The Ilocano is a man of action, the Visayan a creature of emotion, the Tagalog a person of intellect. While the Ilocano does not care where he goes, the Visayan does; while the Ilocano can feel at home anywhere, the Visayan is harder to transplant.

Ilocanos Folk Beliefs:

On pregnancy and childbirth

The mother and child are made to rest in a specially inclined bed called balitang (bamboo bed). During the mother's fifteen to twenty-day rest also called the dalagan, the husband manages the household. The woman resumes her housework only after she has rested and taken a full bath.
Ilocano mothers go through a process of inhaling smoke from medicinal incense while a bowl of hot coals warms her wounds. Called sidor, this is said to relieve the mothers pains and reposition the displaced uterus.

On courtship
Courtship begins with a series of casual conversations and visits to the girl's home where the boy gets to know the girl and her family. Long courtships are expected to give both parties a chance to be sure about their own feelings for each other. The boy sends love letters to the girl regularly as constant reminders and declarations of a willingness to continue the amorous pursuit. The harana (serenade) is also one way of expressing love. The boy asks a group of friends to join him, on a moonlit night, in waking up his beloved maiden with love songs. The relationship, once formalized, is carried out with utmost discretion. The girl is expected to remain modest and chaste. Tradition strongly requires that the woman maintain her virginity until marriage. Otherwise, she will have to face such grave consequences as being ostracized by the community or disowned by her family. Sex education comes in the form of stories read and told by older folk.

On marriage
Panagasawa or marriage to the Ilocano is but a reaffirmation of the man and woman's gasat (fate). It is considered a sacred partnership which lasts until the death of either partner. Once the couple decide to marry, the boy informs the girl's parents about their plans. This announcement is known as the panagpudno. Approval is sought from the boy's parents since they usually spend for the wedding and provide for the dowry. When both families agree, the date of the wedding is set either by consulting the planetano(an almanac which lists all good or bad days for all activities), or by communicating through the billeta, a letter sent from the boy to the girl by a messenger. The response is also sent through the same messenger.

The last ritual for the wedding day is the mangik-ikamen in which an old man and an old woman present the dallot (wedding song). The theme of the dal-lot is the ups and downs as well as the do's and donts of married life. After the wedding ceremony, when the bride and bridegroom arrive at the latter's house, an old maid waiting at the foot of the stairs hands them lighted candles. Care should be taken to have these candles lighted when being carried to the altar inside the house otherwise, one of the couple will die young. The parents of the newlyweds secretly advice their respective son or daughter to go up the stairs ahead of the other. Reaching the top flight first symbolized authority in the family. Groom is beaten in this race, he becomes ander di saya (henpecked). A day after the wedding, three rites are held. These are the atang, an offering given to the spirits of the departed kinsmen and posing and mangatogangan whereby the groom turns over his personal belongings to the bride.

On death and burial

To the Ilocanos, gasat (fate) determines their life on earth. Death to them means the fulfillment of destiny, the inevitable. It is because of this Ilocano view of death that they are better able to bear the passing away of their loved ones with courage and fortitude. The Ilocanos have traditionally believed that most of man's illnesses are caused by spirits. Even accidents have often been attributed to the supernatural, to spirits that could either be the aswang (witch) or the mannamay (sorcerer).

Before the funeral, the dead man's kin perform the mano (kissing of the hand). Each family member pays his last respects by kissing the dead man's hand or by lifting the hand briefly to his forehead. After the mano, the women cover their faces and heads with black veils. Before the coffin is taken out of the house, a rooster or a hen, depending upon the sex of the deceased, is beheaded and thrown out into the yard opposite the stairs. The sacrificial animal precedes the dead in the beyond, ensuring his safe passage and announcing his arrival. After this, the coffin is brought out of the house. The pallbearers are cautioned against having the coffin touch any part of the house lest another death occur in the family. Rice is strewn all over the coffin for good luck. The coffin bearers also guard against tarrying on the stairs, for a relative might be possessed by the dead man's soul. The doors and windows of the house are shut after the coffin is brought out to prevent the soul from disturbing those whom he left behind. These are reopened only after the funeral party returns from the cemetery.

After the funeral, members of the family and relatives go through the diram-os; that is, they wash their faces and upper limbs with a basin of basi in which some coins were immersed to ward off the spell of the evil spirit. The following day, immediate relatives have the golgol (hair shampoo) in the river to wash away any power of the spirit of the dead. This is followed by the offering of niniogan (a kind of rice cake), basi, buyo, and tobacco. In spite of the influence of modernization, traditional beliefs still persist among the Ilocanos. These play an important role in keeping family relationship as well as community relationship intact.

Ilocanos also believe in supernatural beings such as:

Katawtaw-an -the spirits of infants, who died

unbaptized who in turn victimize newborns

Karkarma- the souls of living persons, leave the body at death but linger in the house until after the post-funerary offerings of food are made to the deceased; in the form of the scent of perfume, the odor of a burning candle, or a strange draft of wind, they are believed to visit relatives who have failed to come to the sickbed of the deceased

Al-alia- the spirit doubles of humans, appear at their human doubles' death as the groaning of the dying, the cracking of glass, the rattling of beds, and the banging of doors, or in the form (at night) of a grunting pig, howling dog, 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)

Pre-Hispanic Period

According to scholars, Ilocano literature is one of the richest and most highly developed literature in the Philippines. Since the Ilokos, by geographical position, has not been as easily accessible as the Tagalog territory to foreign influences, its inhabitants have been able to preserve much of the oral literature, social customs, and beliefs of preSpanish times.

Ex: There was a giant named Aran who built the sky and hung the sun, moon, and stars in it. Under their light, Aran's companion, the giant Angalo, could see the land, which he then molded into mountains and valleys. The giants found the world they had created windswept and desolate. Angalo spat on the earth, and from his spit emerged the first man and woman. He placed them in a bamboo tube that he tossed into the sea. The bamboo washed up on the shore of the Ilocos region, and from this couple came the Ilocano people.

Proverbs(Pagsasao)- illustrate their beliefs about life.

"No awan ti anos awan ti lamot.
(Where there's no patience there's no food.) Naim-imbag ti matay ta malipatanen ngem ti agbiag a maibabain. (It's better to be dead and forgotten than to live in shame.) Ti ubing nga matungpal amin a kayatna, awan ti nasayaat a banagna. (A child that is given everything will rarely succeed in life.)

Riddles (Burburtia)- both informative and entertaining:

informative because they inform and edify, and entertaining because they are usually couched in striking language or because their meanings denote or connote something humorous or witty. Ex: "No baro narn'kop, no daan nalagda. (When new it is weak, when old it is strong.) -Carabao Manure Agtugtugaw maditsdusa. (It is being punished while sitting.) -Pot on burning stove-

"Amenok a kagzrguranak, ngem no mapataynak angotennak. (I know you hate me, but when you have killed me you still smell me.) -Bed Bug-

Songs (Kankanta)
dallot- an extemporized song with an ancient air and with a dramatic element sung during baptismal party, wedding, or a feast badeng- love song sung in a serenade
Ex: Pamulinawen

dung-aw or death chant an extemporized song chanting the praises of the dead

Dances (Sala)
kinnotan or ants dance
kinnallogong or hat dance

Biag ni Lam-ang

- an epic poem about the adventures of the epic hero Lam-ang - Also one of the most wellknown literary works from Iluko literature - written by Pedro Bucaneg - Bucaneg is the first known Ilocano poet and was called as the Father of Ilokano Poetry and Literature.

The epic tells about the heroism of a brave, almost-mythical Ilocano warrior named Lam-ang. He was born from a noble Ilocano family. Nine months before Lam-angs birth, his father Don Juan left for the mountains to defeat an evil tribe of Igorots. Unfortunately, Don Juan was beheaded. His head was displayed at the center of the village as a prize. Namongan was surprised to learn that her son could talk immediately after birth. Lam-ang chose his own name and asked for his fathers presence. He was barely 9 months old when Lam-ang fought against the headhunters who killed his father. He then embarked in a journey to win Ines Cannoyans affection with his dog and rooster. He was also eaten by a river monster (Berkakan) and was reborn from his retrieved bones through the help of his magical pets.

Spanish Period

When the Spaniards arrived in Ilocos Norte in 1572, it took a toll on Ilocano literature. During the Spanish era, Ilocano poetry was heavily influenced by Spanish poetry. The earliest known written Ilocano poems were the romances translated from Spanish by Francisco Lopez. Lopez was an Augustinian friar who published his Iloko translation of the Doctrina Cristiana (first book published in the Philippines by Cardinal Bellarmine) in 1621.

The Christian missionaries started using religious and secular literature to advance their mission of converting the Ilocanos to Christianity during the 18th century. In 1719, Fr. Jacinto Rivera published the Sumario de las Indulgencias. In 1845, Fr. Antonio Meija published The Pasion, which is an Iloco translation of St. Vincent Ferrers sermon.

Today, Ilocano writers are known to have published their works in foreign countries. Francisco Sionil-Jose (F. Sionil Jose) is the most internationally translated Filipino author. He is a pure blood Ilocano born in Rosales, Pangasinan. Contemporary Ilocano writers are also known to bag numerous major awards in the most prestigious Philippine literature award giving body, the Palanca Awards.


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