Culture | A History About The Ilocanos


The Ilocanos are the third largest ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines. The term “Ilocano” was derived from the words “i-“ (from) and “looc” (cove or bay), which when combined means “People of the bay”. They were also referred to as Samtoy, which is a contraction of the phrase sao mi ditoy (this is our language).

Basically, the Ilocanos are Austronesian-people / Austronesian-speaking people. The Ilocano dialect is related to the languages Indonesian, Malay, Fijian, Maori, Hawaiian, Malagasy, Samoan, Tahitian, Chamorro, Tetum and Paiwan. Today, the Ilocano dialect is the third most spoken language in the Philippines.


Prior to the Spanish colonial regime, a humble civilization already resides in the Ilocos Region (Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra). The region stretched from Cape Bojeador at the northwestern tip of Luzon down to the Gulf of Lingayen.

The Ilocos region was primarily famous for their gold mines. The first Ilocos inhabitants were living in large villages at sheltered coves or rivermouths. Traders from China and Japan often come here to trade gold with beads, ceramics and silk.

Spanish conquistadors headed by Juan de Salcedo arrived in Vigan in 1572. After landing in Vigan, the conquistadors headed to Laoag, Currimao and to Badoc. They’ve named the region “Ylocos” and its people “Ylocanos”.

The Spaniards weren’t particularly lucky with their conquest of Ilocos. The Ilocanos were the first ethnic group to revolt against Spanish officials. It was in January 1661 when the Ilocanos proclaimed their illustrious leader, Don Pedro Almazan, as their King. He was executed by the Spaniards after the kingdom was dissolved.

One of the Philippines’ most notable uprisings was lead by the Ilocano Diego Silang, which was continued by his wife Gabriela Silang. The Silangs’ revolt was fueled by the grievances stemming from Spanish taxation and abuses.

The Ilocanos were prominent in the nationalist movement. Many Ilocanos have risen to high office in the central government. The most famed and controversial of all is the late former president Ferdinand Marcos.


Among all the Filipino ethnic groups, the Ilocanos are the most migrant. In the 19th century, the mounting population pressure due to substantial population density has moved the Ilocanos to leave their homeland. More than 290,000 Ilocanos migrated to different provinces and regions in the Philippines in 1903.

Ilocanos move to places in search for better opportunities. Basically, the Ilocos region is a barren strip of land in the northwestern tip of Luzon. It is squeeze in between the inhospitable Cordillera mountain range to the east and the South China Sea to the west. It was a tough geographical location for the Ilocanos to live in. This is why Ilocanos are stereotyped with “survival-like” regional traits such as clannish, tenacious industry and frugality.

The Ilocanos can be found living in the Central Plain of Luzon (consisting of the provinces Pangasinan, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija) and in the Cagayan Valley. By the 20th century, many Ilocanos searched for greener pastures in Manila and other major cities in the country. Traces of Ilocanos settlement could also be found in the frontier lands of Mindanao particularly in the provinces Sultan Kudarat, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.

They became the first Filipino ethnic group to immigrate to North America (Manong Generation). In 1906, the Ilocanos started migrating to Hawaii, Washington, Alaska and California.

Today, they are considered the largest number of expatriates in the United States. They dominate about 85% of the Filipino population in Hawaii. A growing number of Ilocanos can also be found in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Canada, Australia and Europe.


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