Ilocano homeland

11 Sep

1 • INTRODUCTION

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.

2 • LOCATION

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.

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