Iloko comes from the word Ilocos (it can be spelled with c or k). The Ilocos is a region in Luzon, north of the Philippines, composed of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, and La Union. For this post and the succeeding ones, we will be referring to Iloko as the language and Ilokano as the people. Many people in other provinces like Pangasinan, Benguet, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya, among others, also speak or write in Iloko.
(And speaking of writers, I think I should mention this early that many good writers in the Philippines whom I also admire come from the Ilocos region, including Carlos Bulosan, Manuel Arguilla, F. Sionil Jose, and Gregorio Brillantes. Here’s a list of Ilokano writers.)
Scholars believe that the Ilokanos have a very rich oral and written literature--myths, folktales, folk poetry, folk songs, proverbs, and riddles--that can be traced to the ancient times way before the Spaniards came to the Ilocos in 1572. Much gratitude is given to Leopoldo Yabes and Marcelino Foronda Jr., two renowned Ilokano literary historians, for diligently documenting. Like many regional literatures, mode of sharing is oral passed on from one generation to the next.
The first Iloko story I’ve learned in school, and probably the most famous Ilokano precolonial hero, is Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang), which tells the story of a boy, Lam-ang, with supernatural abilities who grows up so fast I had to blink twice and remember with relief that it is in fact an epic. He avenges the death of his father, goes to marry a beautiful woman, dies, and is brought back to life by magic. It is a popular epic among the Ilokanos because of what Lam-ang represent of the Ilokanos as a people--courageous and adventurous.
A unique fact about Biag ni Lam-ang is that many Iloko writers credit Pedro Bucaneg, the first known Ilokano poet and the “Father of Iloko poetry and literature”, for writing this epic in the 17th century. And wonder of wonders, Bucaneg was blind!
Here is a chilling part of Biag ni Lam-ang (Yabes, 1935):
Ket idinto nga inna nagtengan | And when they reached the
di napanan aya ni Lam-ang | place of Lam-ang, and Kannoyan
ket idi natumpungandan | found his clothes, she wept
di pangan-anay aya ni Lam-ang, | in sorrowful anguish.
nagsangit ni Kannoyan,
ta napalalo ti leddaangnan.
Kinona di manok a kwaitan, | The rooster declared, “Madam,
“Apo dika pagdanagan, | don’t you worry about my master.
ta no inda laket makitan | He will be brought back to life
ti dagup ti tultulangnan.” | so long as all his bones are found.”
|A beatiful illustration of a strong and powerful Lam-ang by Michael Turda (Image Source)|
|A colorful illustration of Lam-ang with his magical pets by Ilocos Sur Vice Governor D. V. Savellano (Image Source)|
|Here is a personal favorite. Artwork by John Paul "Lakan" Olivares, showing the shark that killed Lam-ang (Image Source)|
Proverbs and riddles of the Ilokanos are also abundant. Early Ilokano folk songs include dallot, which are primitive songs sung by peasants to the accompaniment of the kutibeng, an old native five-stringed instrument smaller than the ordinary guitar. The dallot is like the balitaw in Cebuano wherein improvised verses are sung by a man and a woman alternately in a topical debate.
Here’s an example of a riddle (Yabes, 1936), and you can guess that the answer is coconut fruit.
Langit ngato, langit baba, | Sky above, sky below,
danum agtengtengnga | water in between.
The Ilokanos also have the famous “Pamulinawen”, which is a badeng or a love song (Filipinos sure are suckers for romance and knows a good love song when they hear one). Quite opposite it is the dung-aw, a death chant either praising the dead or asking for guidance and advice.
Here is the Pamulinawen (Rodolfo 1998, 81):
Pamulinawen, | Pamulinawen,
pusok indengan man | please listen to my heart
Toy umas-asog | Of this one who pleads,
agraryo ta sadiam | who delights in your beauty fresh
Panunotem man, | Do think about it
di ka pagintutulngan | and don’t play deaf
Toy agayat, | This, your lover
agruknoy ta emmam | reveres your modesty
Isem ti diak kalipatan | Smile that I can’t forget,
ta nasudi unay a nagan | name so exquisite
Uray sadin ti ayan, | Anywhere I may be,
disso sadino man | wherever the place
Aw-awagak a di agsarday, | I ceaselessly call out
ta nagan mo a kasam-itan | your name so sweet
No malagip ka, | When I remember you
pusok ti mabang-aran | My heart is refreshed.
As a reader, I can say Iloko literature is already advanced in the old times. And not to mention rich--rich in intensity, passion, and colors. With the inevitable coming of the Spaniards, Iloko literature dramatically evolved but that would be another post (the next one, actually) for Writings from the Philippine regions. For now, I hope you get to appreciate this glimpse of the Iloko literature in the ancient times, raw and pure and with nature as a compelling influence.
My next post would be a concise review of the Biag ni Lam-ang. I found a copy of the epic from a very old book in the school library. Very unfortunately (and frustratingly), someone stole two pages between the preparation for Lam-ang’s birth and the start of the hero’s journey to search for his father. I will have to look for other reliable sources. Did I mention that Lam-ang was featured in the graphic novel, The Mythology Class, by Arnold Arre? He was illustrated as a tall dark man with the striking features of an Aeta. I hope to get my hands on a graphic novel solely about him and about as loyal to the epic story as possible.
So what do you think about the Iloko literature so far?
- Nancy -
Valeros-Gruenberg, Estrellita. 2000. “The De La Salle University Reader: Writings from the Different Regions of the Philippines.” De La Salle University Press, Inc. pp. 39-47.
Bragado, Jose A. 1980. “Iloko Literature: A Historical Sketch.” Lingka: An Anthology of Iloko Literature. Makati: Gumil Filipinas.