LOCATION: Philippines (northern Luzon)

POPULATION: 1.8 million


RELIGION: Roman Catholicism; Philippine Independent Church; Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ); Protestantism; Islam; animism


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 1762–63.

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.


The four provinces of the Ilocano homeland (Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, and landlocked Abra) stretch from Cape Bojeador at the northwestern tip of Luzon down to the Gulf of Lingayen. Most of the population is concentrated along a narrow coastal plain that has only a few good harbors. This environment is harsh, forcing Ilocanos to be hard-working and thrifty. Many Ilocanos have left their homeland to seek employment elsewhere.

The population of the four provinces is about 1.8 million. Ilocano speakers, however, numbered 11 percent of the national population of 66 million, or 7.26 million people. Among all Filipino groups, the Ilocanos are the most famed as migrants, settling since the nineteenth century in sparsely populated expanses of the northern Central Plain of Luzon (provinces of Pangasinan, Tarlac, and Nueva Ecija) and of the Cagayan Valley in the northeast. In addition, many Ilocanos have established themselves in Manila and other major cities of the country, as well as in frontier lands on Mindanao. Ilocano men left to find work as migrant laborers on sugar plantations in Hawaii and on farms in California in the first decades of the twentieth century. They were the first Filipinos to immigrate to the United States. In the Philippines, every Ilocano town has a number of men known as "Hawaiianos," returned migrants from the United States. These migrants courted their future wives in their home country by letter.


The Ilocanos speak a Western Austronesian language of the Northern Philippine group, whose closest relatives are the languages of neighboring mountain peoples. Ilocano has become the lingua franca of northern Luzon, as Ilocano traders provide highland peoples with their primary link to the commerce of the outside world.


According to one Ilocano origin myth, a giant named Aran 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.

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). The 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. The 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).


Filipinos were converted to Roman Catholicism by Spanish colonial settlers. Catholicism in the Philippines combines belief in patron saints with belief in supernatural forces. Many people consult faith healers for herbal treatments of physical ailments.


Ilocanos celebrate national and religious holidays.


Although free to choose their own marriage partners, young people seek the approval of both sets of parents. When a couple decides they'd like to marry, the first step is for the young man to ask for the consent of his own parents. His parents will pay the dowry and finance the wedding. Next, the future groom makes a formal announcement (panagpudno) to the young woman's parents of his intention to marry their daughter. The groom's parents then visit the future bride's parents, to set the date for the wedding. For this, the parents consult a planetario, an almanac identifying auspicious (good-luck) days. At a further meeting (palalian or ringpas), the young man and his relatives come to the young woman's house to finalize the wedding arrangements; each party employs a spokesperson who negotiates for his or her side in formal language. The families set the choice of wedding sponsors (an equal number, ranging from ten to fifty people for each side), the dowry (land for the couple, or the money to buy such land), the sagut (the wedding dress, jewelry, and accessories that the groom is to provide for the bride), and the parawad (cash that the groom gives the bride's mother as a reward for raising his bride).

The wedding feast follows the church ceremony. At the feast, the bride and groom go through an entertaining ritual. First, the groom offers the bride a plate of mung beans (symbolizing fertility). The bride refuses the dish several times before finally accepting it. Then the bride offers the beans to the groom who in turn refuses the dish until an old man calls an end to the ritual. (The pleadings and feigned refusals greatly amuse the onlookers.) Another highlight is the bitor: guests contribute cash to the newlyweds either by dropping money onto plates held by two men seated on a mat (representing the bride and groom, respectively) or by pinning bills to the couple's clothing while the two dance. After the wedding, offerings of rice cakes are made to the spirits of departed family members.

To announce a death formally, a piece of wood (atong) is lit in front of the deceased's house and is kept burning until after burial, at which time it is extinguished with rice wine. The corpse is kept in the house. It is dressed in its best clothes and a kerchief is tied around the jaw; a basin of water mixed with vinegar is placed under the bed to remove the odor of death. Money is placed in the coffin to pay the "ferry man" who takes the soul to the other world. In the days before burial, relatives keep vigil over the body, wailing and recounting the deceased's good deeds (sometimes, professional mourners perform the lamentation (dung-aw) .

Before the funeral itself, each of the relatives pays their last respects by kissing the deceased's hand or raising it to his or her forehead. Extreme care is taken in transporting the body from the house to the church; any mishap could cause premature death for the attendants. After the church ceremony, the relatives pose as a group for souvenir photos with the coffin. Everyone in the procession to the cemetery must return to the deceased's home by a different route from the one taken there. Upon arrival, they must wash their faces and hands in order to remove the power of death.


Ilocanos share the same basic values as other Filipinos, such as bain, which corresponds to hiya or amor propio ("face" or sense of shame). The fear of gossip and the desire to avoid the envy of others serve as strong pressures for conformity. Before pushing through with his or her own plans, a person feels alumiim, the need to figure out how others will react first in order to avoid embarrassment. It is essential to show panagdayaw, proper respect for the sensitivities of others. This requires that individuals speak about themselves only in the humblest of terms. Although Ilocanos are group-oriented, they also value a certain individualism (agwayas) : one should not reveal his or her inner intentions to others, since it is unwise to be too trusting.

A person is expected to overcome life's challenges through his or her own hard work, limiting his or her dependence on others to obtaining aid from close kin. However, Ilocanos do form savings associations (including as many as fifty women in a neighborhood), mutual-aid associations (financing members' major celebrations), and labor-exchange arrangements.

Life-passage parties and fiestas provide teenagers their main opportunity to chat and joke. For a young man to initiate a courtship is a serious matter, since the only proper end is marriage. On his first visit to the house of a young woman, the young man takes one or two companions with him so that he can get their opinion. During the second visit, the companions excuse themselves to allow the young man to confess his feelings to the young woman. Love notes are an important means of courtship.


Raised two to three feet (0.6 meters to 1 meter) off the ground, houses have beams of wood, walls of bamboo, and roofs of rice straw or cogon grass. Sometimes, newly married children may live in roofed extensions. On the bangsal, a landing on the staircase, guests wait before being admitted, and wash or wipe their feet before entering the receiving room. Curtains or bamboo partitions separate the living room from the bedroom areas (most have beds but prefer sleeping mats). A separate storage room also serves for a place to change clothes. Outhouses provide toilet facilities.


The structure of the Ilocano family (average size, six to seven persons) conforms to the general Filipino pattern. The father is the formal head of family, backing up the mother who disciplines the children and manages the house finances. The eldest child divides the chores equally among siblings. Grandparents tend to be more indulgent of grandchildren than the parents themselves.


Dress inappropriate for one's age or perceived wealth or status attracts gossip such as mabiag ti ruar ngem matay ti uneg (outwardly alive, but inwardly dying); uray napintas no inutang (even if it is nice, it is acquired through credit). Still one should dress well for special celebrations. Everyday wear, especially at home, consists of short pants for boys, and dusters, loose skirts, shirts, and short pants for girls. Those working in the fields wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and wide-brimmed hats as protection against the sun and mud.

During the rainy season, people wear a headress of labig leaves extending well down the back. Older women wear their hair long and knotted in a bun, while men keep it short and apply pomade on special occasions.

12 • FOOD

Ilocano food essentially resembles that elsewhere in the country, but Ilocanos are especially fond of bagoong (a salty shrimp or fish paste). One regional specialty that has entered national cuisine is pinakbet— eggplant, bitter melon, okra, and green beans cooked with bagoong, tomatoes, and a little water (dried or broiled fish, meat, or shrimps can be added to improve the taste).

Other favorites are dinardaraan— cooked pig's blood ( dinuguan in Tagalog-Pilipino); and kilawen— the lean meat and intestines of water buffalo, cow, sheep, or goat, eaten raw or partially cooked with a sauce of vinegar, salt, hot pepper, and pig's bile.

Eating with their hands, family members squat around the food laid out on the floor or take food and eat in different parts of the main room. As food is regarded as a symbol of God's grace, there should be no noise, laughing, singing, or harsh words (including parents scolding children) while eating is going on. One should not drop food on the table or floor, or the food "will be angered and leave the household." Similarly, no one should leave the house while someone is still eating, for God's grace will go with him or her, out of the home.


Iloconas are almost all literate (can read or write).


The Ilocanos have an epic, the Biag ni Lamang (Life of Lam-ang), which, however, exists only in the form of a highly Hispanicized metrical romance composed in the nineteenth century. Ilocos is also the only place in the country where the Spanish zarzuela (operetta) is still performed.


Almost all farmers (the major occupation) own the land they till, except for those who are tenants of farms owned by urban professionals. The staple crop is rice, though poorer people must mix cheaper maize (corn) with their rice. Root crops are also grown both as a supplement to the diet and for sale. Watered by wet-season rains or irrigation, wet-rice fields range from small plots that can only be worked with a hoe or dibble stick to those large enough for a water-buffalo–drawn plow. Dry-rice agriculture is also practiced in the hilly areas between the flatlands. Crops grown for market include tobacco and garlic (both Ilocos specialties), as well as onions, and vegetables. Petty traders may travel as far as Manila to sell such products.

Farmers fish during the lull between planting and harvesting, usually in nearby offshore waters, rivers, or fish ponds. An important part of the catch are ipon, small fish for bagoong (fish paste).

Cottage industries include salt-making; basi wine-making (from molasses); pottery-making (twenty different types are produced in San Nicolas); weaving (at one time using locally grown cotton; a goddess is said to have bequeathed the art to the people of Paoay town); basket-and mat-weaving; woodworking; and silversmithing (recycling old Spanish or Mexican coins).


One uniquely Ilocano game is kukudisi . A stick (the an-anak ) is placed on a baseline scratched into the ground. One player makes the stick jump in the air; the other player tries to catch it before it hits the ground. If the latter cannot do so, a second, longer stick (the in-ina ) is laid across the baseline; the player then tries 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 tossed in the air and stuck into the baseline, respectively) with the in-ina the farthest.


Children enjoy such games as balay-balay (playing house), hide-and-seek, team-tag, jumping "hurdles" (sticks or outstretched arms or legs), jacks, and chess.


Ilocanos engage in the same hobbies as all Filipinos. These include weaving, wood-carving, and playing chess.


Ilocanos, like all Filipinos, feel their government is corrupt. Wealthy citizens frequently bribe officials to get the verdict they want.


Jocano, F. Landa. The Ilocanos: An Ethnography of Family and Community in the Ilocos Region. Quezon City: Asian Center, University of Philippines, 1982.

LeBar, Frank M., ed. Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Vol. 2, The Philippines and Formosa. New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files Press, 1972


Embassy of the Philippines, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available , 1998.

World Travel Guide. The Philippines. [Online] Available , 1998.

User Contributions:

hi.......i can say that im proud to be a filipina........thank you......
we used to rich in culture it is reason why most foriegner came to our country. it is quiet nice to be in this country.
Jonathan Smith
Although Ilocanos are group-oriented, they also value a certain individualism (agwayas): one should not reveal his or her inner intentions to others, since it is unwise to be too trusting.

This is why, in my business, the Ilocanos are completely useless as team players. THey have no ability to co-ordinate and communicate effectively with, either other Filipinos or cultures from other lands.
They are generally not trusted by anyone in a multi-cultural North American business setting - for good reason.
Anna Cortez
I will repeat what others have said throughout their life. No matter what one will say about my race or heritage, I am UNBELIEVABLY PROUD to be who I am, and that is Filipina. (Not -no, -na)And by the way, thanks for writing this. I can say I'm using this for MY bibliography for a school report!
Im A PROUD HALF-FILIPINO!!! I don't care im proud to BE ME. My grandma is ilocano, and im a quarter ilocano. Thanks for making this i really needed to know my culture. YOU KNOW NOYONE SHOULD HAVE TO BE A RACIST AGAINST ANY CULTURE IN ANY PART OF THE WORLD. FILIPINOS JUST KEEP MOVING FORWARD, WHATEVER RACE YOU ARE BE PROUD OF IT!
I am married to an Ilocano Woman! Best wife in the World. God bless Ilocanos and the Philippines.
I am always happy and proud of being born Ilocano. I am 100 percent Ilocano and I can say that Ilocanos are vital beings of the world for many reasons. Thank you very much for this article. One very weird experience I had while reading this article is, I uncontrollably laughed over those truths. LOL. Ilocano talaga.

agyamanak unay kadakayo amin.. Dios ti Agngina.
GUYS!what are the religious beliefs of ilocanos?thanks
Queenlie Anne R.Flores
what are the beliefs of ilocanoc in extracting oil during good friday? tnx and Godbless
Antonio R. B. jr.
I cannot say enough to fully describe my great appreciation of what i had read,that's why am am proud of being half ilocano...can you pls. add some beliefs...
I am Ilocana...My Papa alway reminds me that whenever someone asked if I'm Filipino/a..He told me that I should answer them, "I'm an Ilocano and I'm proud of it."
Alien Chronicles
Thank you for writing this article; I enjoyed reading the information. I read the comments and I am struck by Mr Jonathan Smith's post: "Although Ilocanos are group-oriented, they also value a certain individualism (agwayas): one should not reveal his or her inner intentions to others, since it is unwise to be too trusting."

This is why, in my business, the Ilocanos are completely useless as team players. THey have no ability to co-ordinate and communicate effectively with, either other Filipinos or cultures from other lands. They are generally not trusted by anyone in a multi-cultural North American business setting - for good reason.

To Mr Jonathan Smith: Sir you generalize. Your use of negative words and terms such as, "Ilocanos are completely useless as team players," "no ability to coordinate," "no ability to communicate," "generally not trusted by anyone," amount to name-calling, ad hominem attacks.

Mr Smith, I don't know your business, or your background, or your social standing, or your reasons for stating such negative comments. I just hope you were sober when you wrote your post. Your brand of commentary is not helpful nor informative; it is defamatory. Sir if you have any self-respect you would come back to this forum and post an apology.

I am an Ilocano. I hail from Ilocos Sur and I can assure you, I am not inutile, or useless as you say Ilocanos are.
Charles Valoroso
Born & Raised on Kauai, Hawaii. I never visited The Philippines. SInce my parents immigrated, they both never went back.

My parents from Ilocos Sur, immigrated to Hawaii to work in the emerging sugar industry (father in1926 / Mother in 1946 They were married in 1948 and we -- 4 children -- were born between 1948 & 1952) we are the first generation of baby-boomer of Ilocano heritage to be born and raised in Hawaii before it became the 50th state of America in 1959.. -

My parents insisted that we grow up American and pursue "The American Dream". I followed my childhood peers to be Americanized although deep inside me, I may as well have been born in Ilocos Sur because of my parents' work ethic and traditional values as well as listening to ilocano spoken as my first language before Hawaiian / Pidgin English. I moved to the American continent for the first time in 1968 to start college. No one that I met in Oakland, CA at that time could figure out what ethnic background I was. This has been and ongoing issue for me because in Hawaii, it didn't really matter. My parents called is Americanos or Hawaiianos (hyphenated Ilocanos)

As I approach the age of 70, I look back in retrospect at what the American Dream means to every immigrant who comes to the United States. It does not matter. We are are who we are. No institution or government can impose any nationality as to who we are as human beings. I realize that it is an idealization but I chose to create my own culture as an working artist / educator / communit activist and parent. I am currently researching The Kingdom of MAHARLIKA with deep curiosity on wikipedia and various online educational resources. Perhaps Filipinos have been brainwashed by Spanish colonization and American occupancy during post World War II and ever since Magellan landed in the Visayan islands and claimed the archipelago for King Philip of Spain. For over 400+ years of being colonized, the people of MAHARLIKA must reclaim their roots and change the course for future generation to de-colonize the own minds as post-colonial Filipinos in a mindful way.
Crisanta buccat
I am a proud ilocano..and I want to ask what tribe we ilocano's belong..
Proud to be a Hawaiiano (Hawaiian born Ilocano from Kalihi)! Thank you for this informative article. In my humble opinion, throughout my life, (I'm nearly 60 years old) Ilocanos have been painted on the negative side (albeit prejudiced and stereotyped), just as Jonathan Smith professes. Even among other ethnic Filipinos, Illocanos are usually portrayed as selfish people or tightwads, that they are the butt of jokes in comedy and other media outlets, especially in the entertainment industry. What I wish this article would add (or other sites would as well) is to showcase noted Ilocanos in all walks of life, who have not only contributed to their adopted community (i.e., Hawaii or other areas around the globe), but have been highly influential. I believe this would help our younger (future) generation of Ilocanos to become not only fully aware of their heritage, but be highly motivated to move forward and help globalize our human society towards and better understanding of other cultures.
The information written on this site about the Ilocano people in the Northern part of the Philippines is intriguing and educational. It is interesting that prior to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, an indigenous Ilocano script called Kur-Itan already existed in their ancient society. Ilocano heritage is rich. I am for the revival of the Kur-itan script. The Philippine government should assist the Dept. Of Education to mandatory implement regional languages and indigenous scripts in the public school system. Having the Ilocano language and ancient script in the Ilocos region to be taught one period per week will likely guarantee the continuation of a language and written scripts’ survival. I am Ilocano, and I came to the USA early in my teenager years. I am proud of my heritage.
This is directed to Mr. Jonathan Smith: Mr. Smith, your characterizations of Ilocanos are offensive, derogatory and demeaning. I am not sure what happened to you and the Ilocano people you described. Remember, good leadership is a skill in itself. To achieve a common goal, or achieve profitable productivity, the avenues of that goal should be well defined and understood by all. Mis-alignment of assignments, breakdown in communication, not well thought of goals, no input or feedback from the stakeholders ( the people), and no trust or no respect. What do you think the end results? From your perception of Ilocanos, you are way off. I am so sorry for you. ‘Just to let you know, Ilocanos are loyal, hardworking, giving, caring, hospitable and friendly happy people. Ilocanos are very good people in general. They are also adventurous and not afraid to take on responsibilities. Good words to describe Ilocanos are endless.

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