The Ilocano literature is one of the most colorful regional Filipino literatures. It is one of the most active tributaries to the general Philippine literature next to Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Bikol, and Pangasinense.
Prior to the Spanish colonial period, the Ilocano literature is purely alive in form of written and oral literature. The ancient Ilocano poets expressed themselves in folk and war songs. Another popular form of literature was the dallot, which is an improvised, versified and impromptu long poem delivered in a sing-song manner.
When the Spaniards arrived in Ilocos Norte in 1572, it took a toll on Ilocano literature. During the Spanish era, Ilocano poetry was heavily influenced by Spanish poetry. The earliest known written Ilocano poems were the romances translated from Spanish by Francisco Lopez. Lopez was an Augustinian friar who published his Iloko translation of the Doctrina Cristiana (first book published in the Philippines by Cardinal Bellarmine) in 1621.
The Christian missionaries started using religious and secular literature to advance their mission of converting the Ilocanos to Christianity during the 18th century. In 1719, Fr. Jacinto Rivera published the Sumario de las Indulgencias. In 1845, Fr. Antonio Meija published The Pasion, which is an Iloco translation of St. Vincent Ferrer’s sermon.
Today, Ilocano writers are known to have published their works in foreign countries. Francisco Sionil-Jose (F. Sionil Jose) is the most internationally translated Filipino author. He is a pure blood Ilocano born in Rosales, Pangasinan. Contemporary Ilocano writers are also known to bag numerous major awards in the most prestigious Philippine literature award giving body, the Palanca Awards.
Biag ni Lam-ang
Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang) is a pre-Hispanic poem of the Ilocano people. It was finally written down around 1640 by Pedro Bucaneg. Bucaneg is the first known Ilocano poet and was dubbed as the “Father of Ilokano Poetry and Literature”.
The epic tells about the heroism of a brave, almost-mythical Ilocano warrior named Lam-ang.
Lam-ang is born from a noble Ilocano family. Nine months before Lam-ang’s birth, Don Juan (father) left for the mountains to defeat an evil tribe of Igorots. Unfortunately, Don Juan was beheaded. His head was displayed at the center of the village as a prize.
Ina Namongan (mother) was surprised to learn that her son could talk immediately after birth. Lam-ang chose his own name, chose his own sponsor, and asked for his father’s presence. He was barely 9 months old when Lam-ang fought against the headhunters who killed his father. He was also eaten by a river monster (Berkakan) and was reborn from his retrieved bones.