Ilocano people

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Ilocano people
Tattao nga Iloko
Filipina 1900.jpg
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

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


The word Ilokano originates from Iloko (archaic form, Yloco), the conjugation of i- (meaning "of") and look (meaning "bay"), which means "from the bay" in Ilocano.


Classical period[edit]

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

  • A theory posted by the anthropologist Henry Otley Beyer, known as the Wave of Migration Theory, posits that from 300 to 200 BC[4] a migration of Austronesian speaking people from the island of Borneo arrived on the shores of northwest Luzon. They were supposedly the most recent of the three waves of migration to the Philippines known as the Malays. Before the arrival of these people, the inhabitants of northwest Luzon were a different Austronesian speaking people called the proto-Malay group, consisting of the modern Tinguian, Isneg, Kalinga, Kankanaey, Bontoc and other tribes collectively known today as the Igorot. Prior to the arrival of the Igorot were the people known today as the Aeta or Negritos. Different studies show that the Ilocanos came to the Northwestern Luzon along with the Kalingas, Apayaos, and Tingguians.[5] Over time, the Malay people intermarried with the proto-Malay and/or Aeta people, and it is their descendants who lived along the coasts of Northwestern Luzon that the Spanish first came in contact with and called Ilocanos.
  • Nowadays, the most commonly accepted theory is the "Out of Taiwan" model. In this model, it is suggested that the ancestors of today's Austronesian peoples originated from migrations from the island of Taiwan during the Neolithic period.

Social structure[edit]

While Spain 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.[6]

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 or wisdom.[7] 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.[8]

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/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/her fields, and preparing for celebrations. In exchange, the kailianes were given gifts directly from the ári.[9]

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.[10]


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

Both Ilocano men and women grew their hair long, but tied it up in different ways. Some women twisted their hair to create a bun, while some men twisted their hair and hid it under a turban like wrapping called a bangal or potong. The patterns and colors of the bangal had many meanings. For example, red potong indicated that the wearer had killed, while a striped pattern indicated that the wearer killed at least seven people.[11] In addition to the bangal, farmers and fishermen also wore a gourd hat called a kattukong on sunny or rainy days. The kattukong was made from a hollowed and dried calabash gourd or tabúngaw in Ilocano with a woven interior made of anahaw, nipa, bamboo, and/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.

Spanish Era to the Philippine Republic[edit]

Juan de Salcedo[edit]

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 known as Vigan City in the present time and Tagudin.

War with Zambales and Pangasinan[edit]

In 1660, Andres Malong, a chief of San Carlos, Pangasinan or Binalatongan as it was called then, allied with the people of Zambales in an effort to remove the Spanish colonizers and subdue those who supported Spain. Malong was formerly employed by the Spanish to help colonize non-Christian towns and villages in Pangasinan, however, as Malong subjugated others, he realized he could also overcome the outnumbered Spanish.

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.[12]

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.[13] 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.

Ilocano merchants in the mid-19th century.

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 and/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.[14] 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.[15] The Ilocos Region would not see another revolt against the Spanish until 1762.


Ilocano people emigrating to the Cagayan Valley, c. 1920.

Ilocanos number 8,074,536 in the Philippines in 2010.[16] A few Ilocanos living in the Cordilleras have some Cordillerano blood.

Ethnic homeland[edit]

Ilocandia 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.


The mounting population pressure due to the substantial population 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 Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija. 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 of Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.

The Ilocano diaspora continued in 1906 when Ilocanos started to migrate to Hawaii and California. Ilocanos composed the largest number of expatriates in the United States, 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.[17]


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


Most Ilocanos are Roman Catholics, and Aglipayans, which originated in Ilocos Norte.[2][3][18]

Pre-Hispanic beliefs and traditions[edit]

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, Ilocanos were animists who believed in spirits called anito who were either bad or good, male or female. The anito ruled over all aspects of the universe. For example, Litao were 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.[19] 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 All Soul's Day.

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.[20][21]

Mythological figures[edit]

In Ilocano mythology, Angalo was a mythical creation giant who was also the first man.[22] Through his actions, he shaped the Cordillera Central, Luzon mountain range, formed the oceans and its saltiness, and put up the sky, moon, sun and stars. The Banaoang Gap, in Santa, Ilocos Sur was said to be created by Angalo when he kicked the mountain range while sleeping.[23]


  • Unnamed Supreme God: the supreme god who tasked the primordial giants to initiate the creation of many things[24]
  • Buni: possibly the name of the supreme god[25]
  • Parsua: the creator deity[25]
  • Primordial Giants
    • Anglao: also called Angalo; dug the earth and made the mountains, urinated into the holes in the earth and made the rivers and lakes, and put up the sky, the sun, the moon, and arranged the stars at the behest of the supreme god[24]
    • Aran: one of the two primordial giants tasked with the creation of many things[24]
  • Apo Langit: the deity of heaven[25]
  • Apo Angin: the deity of wind[25]
  • Apo Init: the deity of the sun[25]
  • Apo Tudo: the deity of the rain[25]
  • Abra: an old god who controls the weather; married to Makiling, the elder[26]
  • Makiling (the elder): the goddess gave birth to Cabuyaran[26]
  • Cabuyaran: the goddess of healing; daughter of Abra and Makiling, the elder; she eloped with Anianihan[26]
  • Anianihan: the god of harvest who eloped with Cabuyaran[26]
  • Saguday: the god of the wind who is one of the two gods preferred by Abra to be his daughter's spouse[26]
  • Revenador: the god of thunder and lightning who is one of the two gods preferred by Abra to his daughter's spouse[26]
  • Bulan: the god of peace who comforted the grieving Abra[26]
  • Amman: the god of the sun, where the sun is his eye[26]
  • Makiling (the younger): granddaughter of Makiling, the elder; she is guarded by the dog god Lobo in the underworld[26]
  • Lobo: a god who was punished to become a large dog guarding the entrance to the underworld[26]
  • Unnamed God: the underworld god who punished Lobo[26]
  • Dal'lang: the goddess of beauty[27]


  • Lam-ang: an epic hero who journeyed to avenge his father and court Ines Kannoyan; aided by the dog and the rooster, and in some versions, the cat as well[28]
  • Namongan: mother of Lam-ang[28]
  • Don Juan: father of Lam-ang[28]
  • Ines Kannoyan: beautiful maiden who became the lover of Lam-ang; aided the resurrection of Lam-ang[28]



Pinakbet, one of the staples of the Ilocano diet.

Ilocanos boast of a somewhat healthy diet heavy in boiled or steamed vegetables and freshwater fish, but are particularly fond of dishes flavored with bugguong, fermented fish that is often used instead of salt. Ilocanos often season boiled vegetables with bugguong monamon (fermented anchovy paste) to produce pinakbet. Local specialties include the abuos, soft white larvae of ants, and "jumping salad" or tiny, live shrimp with kalamansi juice. Another food that is popular for many Ilocanos is marunggay. It is a good 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. Most households grow this tree in their backyards and usually offered free for all the neighbors who may want them. Many Ilocanos from Hawai'i 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.[29]


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. The Ilocano writer Elizabeth Medina is probably the most remarkable living Ilocano writer in the Spanish language.


Even before the coming of the Spaniards, the Ilocano people of Northern Luzon were already crafting tools and objects that describe their culture and civilization. Prior to the Spanish colonization that westernized the Ilocano people, the Ilocanos already invented the Dadapilan (a tool use for crushing sugarcane). Other cultural items includes tilar (native loom), dulang (low table), abel (textile), burnay (native jar), almiris, (mortar), maguey products, panday blacksmith, sag-ut (cotton yarn). The Ilocanos of Northern Luzon are one of the Ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines that was colonized by Spaniards but preserved some of its indigenous arts.

Notable Ilocanos[edit]

Foreign nationals of Ilocano ancestry[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and sources[edit]

  1. ^ "2010 Census of Population and Housing, Report No. 2A: Demographic and Housing Characteristics (Non-Sample Variables) – Philippines" (PDF). Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Ilokanos." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. The Gale Group, Inc. 1999. Retrieved December 10, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Project, Joshua. "Ilocano in Philippines".
  4. ^ Nydegger, William F; Nydegger, Corinne (1966). Tarong an Ilocos Barrio in the Philippines. p. 2. ISBN 052-000-157-5.
  5. ^ Cole, Fay-Cooper (1922). The Tinguian Social, Religious, and Economic Life of a Philippine Tribe.
  6. ^ de los Reyes 1890, p. 52
  7. ^ Mateo 2004
  8. ^ de los Reyes 1890, p. 55
  9. ^ de los Reyes 1890, p. 56
  10. ^ de los Reyes 1890, pp. 56–57
  11. ^ de los Reyes 1890, pp. 114–115
  12. ^ Helen Blair, Emma; Alexander Robertson, James (1906). The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898. Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Company. pp. 169–181. ISBN 9332857164.
  13. ^ A. Newson, Linda (2009). Conquest and Pestilence in the Early Spanish Philippines. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 188–189. ISBN 978-9715506366.
  14. ^ Helen Blair, Emma; Alexander Robertson, James (1906). The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898. Cleveland, Ohio: The Arthur H. Clark Comopany. pp. 199–200. ISBN 9332857164.
  15. ^ M. Cortes, Rosario (1974). Pangasinan 1572–1800. Quezon City, Philippines: University of Philippines Press. pp. 164–165. ISBN 9789711004583.
  16. ^ "2010 Census of Population and Housing, Report No. 2A: Demographic and Housing Characteristics (Non-Sample Variables) – Philippines" (PDF). Philippine Statistics Authority. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  17. ^ "Uhm Center For Philippine Studies". Archived from the original on August 9, 2007.
  18. ^ "UCLA Language Materials Project". Archived from the original on 2010-12-30. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  19. ^ de los Reyes 1890, pp. 85–88
  20. ^ Mayor Apostol, Virgil (2010). Way of the Ancient Healer: Sacred Teachings from the Philippine Ancestral Traditions. pp. 100–101. ISBN 978-155-643-941-4.
  21. ^ de los Reyes 1890, p. 131
  22. ^ Mateo 2004, p. 40
  23. ^ Y. Yabes, Leopoldo (1981). Short Papers on Philippine Folk Lore and Life. Quezon City, Philippines: University of Philippines Press. pp. 223–224.
  24. ^ a b c Yabes, L. Y. (1932, January). The Tale of a Philippine Gomorrah. Philippine Magazine, p. 405.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Llamzon, Teodoro A. 1978. Handbook of Philippine language groups. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Alacacin, C. (1952). The Gods and Goddesses. Historical and Cultural Data of Provinces.
  27. ^ Zaide, S. M. (1999). The Philippines: A Unique Nation. All-Nations Publishing.
  28. ^ a b c d Jamias, N. F. (1947).A study on Biag ni Lam-ang, the Ilocano epic. University of the Philippines.
  29. ^ "Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho: Walastik na sarap ng hantik!" – via
  30. ^ CineVision, Asian. "MARILOU DIAZ-ABAYA, OBSESSIONS AND TRANSITIONS: A Biographical Survey (1/6) – Asian CineVision".
  31. ^ Mac C. Alejandre [@macalejandre] (7 July 2011). "@KarmaWins80 my father is ilocano, my mother is tagalog/ilocano. Very native. Alejandre though is portuguese italian. I wonder hw we got it" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  32. ^ "Global Balita | Archive for November 2006".
  33. ^ "Lilia Cuntapay interview in Ilocano" – via
  34. ^ Anne Curtis-Smith [@annecurtissmith] (15 September 2012). "@leizion she's ilocana. No I don't. I wish I could though!!!" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  35. ^ Ces Oreña-Drilon [@cesdrilon] (3 July 2013). "@CarisaManuel it was my dad who was Ilocano and the staple we had once a week was saluyot & labong w/ inihaw na isda" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  36. ^ Coleen Garcia [@coleengarcia] (20 June 2011). "haan ko ammo ngem ni nanang ko ilokana ☺ RT @aprilonbloom: @coleengarcia AMMUM AGILOKANO TEH?" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  37. ^ Jhong hilario [@jhongsample] (13 April 2011). ""@simply_resi: @jhongsample ano po province nyo?"-pangasinan po.ilocano :)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  38. ^ bianca king [@bianca_king] (26 March 2011). "I'm ilocana. I'm cheating. I have a translator. My friend here in cebu teaches me. Heehee" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  39. ^ Doug Kramer [@DougKramer44] (6 November 2011). "@anklethan wen iloKANO ak! Ilocanong American" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  40. ^ Carlo Lacana [@Itscarlolacana] (13 February 2013). "@MaureenValerio Oo Ilocos norte ako" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  41. ^ Japoy Lizardo [@japoy_lizardo] (29 March 2013). ""@myzMycel: @japoy_lizardo ilocano ka gayam kuya Japs? O_o"- wen!! ^^" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  42. ^ "Find out what's happening in New York on BlackPlanet".
  43. ^ Salterio, Leah C. "The big PBB 737 winners".
  44. ^ Jane Oineza [@itsJaneOineza] (6 June 2013). ""@Missashleyjoyy: @itsJaneOineza Nalpas kamin. ilokana ka gayam. :)" – wen ah. Ni mamang ken papang ko. :)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  45. ^ Bela Padilla [@padillabela] (2 November 2010). "@dealwithAYISHA no haha my lola naman is from nueva ecija so half of me is pure ilocano :) I can say nagpudot and magan tayon. Hahaha" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  46. ^ Jim [@Jimparedes] (1 July 2010). "My father s from Abra. I grew up in MLA RT @chrisduran81: @jimparedes oh you're ilocano sir, are you from San Juan, La Union?" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  47. ^ @markusrpaterson (May 26, 2017). "Ilocano kami eh #AskMarkus …" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  48. ^ "Marc Pingris vows to play stingy 'depensang Ilokano' against TnT import Ivan Johnson". March 31, 2015.
  49. ^ Richard Faulkerson© [@R_FAULKERSoN] (12 October 2015). "@ofcaldub_ILS my mom is from Sinait. :)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  50. ^ Jericho Rosales [@jericho_rosales] (12 August 2013). "@jairusdevirus apologies.. Although i'm an Ilocano" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  51. ^ a b "Speaking Ilocano only challenge" – via
  52. ^
  53. ^,_Happy_Homebody/num/3/635
  54. ^ jose marie viceral [@vicegandako] (16 October 2011). ""@mariceldeleon: @vicegandako ilocano ka?"-opo. Taga batangas kasi tatay ko e. ☺" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  55. ^ YouTube sensation Mikey Bustos and how to be 'Pilipino' – Pinoy Abroad – GMA News Online
  56. ^ Pastor, Rene (25 June 2018). "Will Gina Ortiz-Jones become the first Filipina American in Congress? |". Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  57. ^ Lauren Smiley. "The Eyes of the Hurricane". SF Weekly. March 10, 2010.
  58. ^ "Ana Julaton: Her Side of the Ring". November 28, 2009.


External links[edit]