Ilocano Origins Part 2 - The Adventures Continue


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           Hello everyone! Kumusta ka! Welcome to today’s episode! Right now, I’ve got a couple more stories about Angalo and Aran’s adventures. But I’ve also got a few more beginning odds and ends about the Ilocano people to talk about. Yeah, there’s a lot more to say. There’s always a lot to say. And I’m probably not doing it efficiently at all. But, there’s plenty of time, I guess. I don’t intend to end this podcast any time soon. And maybe these stories are fun for you too. I mean, that’s the dream.

           But let’s mix it up a bit this week. A little bit of information and then a quick story. How about that? How does that sound? (Pause) You can’t answer that… That’s how podcasts work but moving on.

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            So, like I said in my previous episode, the pre-Hispanic Ilocano religion included spiritual entities called anitos—not the ancestor spirits that we’ve encountered before but just the general spirits that gave everything some sort of life. Would you like to know what some of their names are? You had Litao who were the anitos of the water. Kanibaan who were the anitos of the undergrowth area of a forest. Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s the brush—the smaller trees, bushes and other plants—the growth beneath really tall trees. And those trees has their own anitos, obviously. They were called Mangmangkik. And many people were genuinely afraid of them. If one of their fellow trees were cut down—something that had to be done from time to time for the sake of a community’s survival—the living Mangmangkik might make the doer sick. And sickness, while always unpleasant, could lead to death.

            So you had to placate them whenever you were going to do something they probably wouldn’t like. You had to placate all the anitos, in fact. There were chants and phrases uttered to appease them, usually seen as a sign of respect or outright begging for peace and protection. It’s hard to know exactly how this give and take was supposed to work from the outside looking in. But I think I can confidently say that there was a balance there. Somehow. That acknowledgement of the anitos’ importance and power were a key part of this, as an assurance that what you were doing wasn’t being done unnecessarily.

            There were other ways to appease the spirits. Offerings, called Atang, were made to idols kept on platforms called simbaan, or they could be left at the places where the anitos were thought to frequent. You normally left them sweet food but cigars would work too. I’d assume because of the value. I don’t think the anitos were chain smokers or anything like that…

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            One day, the family decided to undertake a special outing together. They had worked hard to get through the rainy season, and with the sun finally shining out from behind the thick clouds, it felt especially fitting. Not that any of that matter to them. The clouds were trivial things to beings of that size. But with the sun’s return, the smaller world beneath them finally awakened with a renewed energy, and the family found themselves infected by it as well.

            And so they decided to go off towards what we now call the South China Sea to swim or to otherwise enjoy the sunlight. Except, the South China Sea wasn’t how we know it today. Like so much of the world at the time, it was something we wouldn’t recognize. The sea was much deeper back then, as deep as the oceans today.

            Before they could leave, a few small things absorbed the attention of Aran and Angalo. Instead of waiting for their parents, the daughters took off ahead, eager to play and not needed for the final few tasks required to be settled into their new dwelling place. It was with their parents’ permission that they headed off, but it was given under the condition that they were to wait to enter the water until their parents arrived.

            But perhaps you can see where this story will go? Children then and children now are much the same. Parental advice is not always heeded. As with so many children, the three daughters believed that at their age—young by most standards but the oldest they had ever been—that they knew plenty. Or at least they knew enough to make their own choices.

            And so, once they arrived at the water’s edge, the daughters did not hesitate to climb in.

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            They were young. Too young to realize that things may not be what they appear or to think to check how deep the water was before they strayed too far from land. As it turns out, it was much deeper than they expected and much deeper than it looked from the shore. And the three of them had taken to the water with such frenzy and vigor that they were left completely at the mercy of waves they did not expect to encounter.

           In moments, the youngest and smallest was struggling to keep her head above the waterline. She had much of the same impulses, you know? When we swim sometimes we are struck by the urge to let our feet touch the floor, just so that we can feel assured that it is there or to push us upward and forward. Maybe there is a good reason for it, better than what I have just said. Maybe it is something we can all understand and sympathize with. But sometimes our instincts and urges can lead us astray.

            And that was what happened here. There was no finding the bottom. Not for her and not right then. The water was far too deep. Seeking it out only pulled her deeper down where she forced to learn that she was not as strong of a swimmer as she had always thought to be.

            She struggled, but the currents only pulled harder. She fought them wholeheartedly, but she couldn’t manage it. And it seemed like her efforts only pulled her deeper and deeper into the darkness of the water below.

            The surface above her head was still. There were no disturbances indicating where she was. And that’s what her sisters were looking for. They knew something was wrong when she did not arise for a breath. But they didn’t know what to do, and they did not know where she was. Struggling to keep their own heads above the surface, they looked around desperately for her, but there was no sign.


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            Aran and Angalo appeared over the chaos as the search for the third daughter grew more frantic. They counted the heads they could see. The problem was apparent.

            Thinking quickly and before panic could set in, Angalo knelt down and dipped the corner of his loincloth into the sea where it quickly started to absorb the water, draining most of it in a matter of moments. Soon, the youngster daughter was revealed, coughing and gasping for breath. In their haste to retriever her, the water was cast aside, never to be returned to the South China Sea. And now it is what we know it to be.

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            The Ilocano people had their own vocabulary for their communities, for the way they organized in their corner of the world. It was a class society, but perhaps that is to be expected considering how common that it is in all civilizations. The most foundational level, the Ilocano called their towns ílli, and each ílli had a chief or ári. And this chief—usually male but could be female if a strong woman was the only option in terms of an heir—was meant to always be a driving force in this community. Either due to their strength, wealth or wisdom. While it was an inherited position, if the heir wasn’t meeting expectations, they could be kicked down a peg or someone else could rise and take their place, and this replacement usually came from the babaknang or merchant class. And then you have the fishermen, the farmers, and then the servants and slaves—enslaved either through an unresolved debt incurred by them or their ancestors, which would make them more akin to an indentured servants or outright slaves taken as prisoner during a war or conflict.

            It’s something I think we heard about in schools before I guess. Things that other communities or other civilizations across the world did. It must just be a tendency of human nature. One of our worst ones that we need to work to overcome.

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            There were no further incidents that day. Then again, it was not as if the family actively sought anything out. They were all tired. Exhausted, in fact. And the excitement was gone, replaced by fear and dread.

            And so, they returned home without saying a word. There, they ate a small dinner and retired to bed.

            By then a few hours had passed. It wasn’t much time, but even with that, the daughters—even the youngest—had settled down from the excitement. The daughters found it easier to rest than their parents. Parents are—then and now—are haunted by the terrors they children encounter, those things that endangered them or attacked them. These two legendary beings were no different. Aran laid awake while Angalo fell into sleep reluctantly. It was a fitful sleep, plagued with nightmares of his daughter’s near demise that day and all the ones that could come later.  Now that he knew just how vulnerable and delicate she really was.

           He tossed and turned, which Aran noticed but did nothing about. She was just upset, after all and found herself immersed in destructive thoughts of her own. Her husband’s plight would have to wait, she would have thought. If she could think.

            In his dream, their daughter was drowning again. But this time, the restlessness of the water made her plight more obvious. Waves rose and fell over her head, smacking her down deeper and deeper each time she managed to pull herself up for a single breath. Just enough to scream. Just enough for a scream that would pierce his soul and echo in the distance The water would break, revealing her terror-stricken face for him to see, and being the father that it is, he would go to her. Or he would try. He would throw his body forward with all his might, but he could not cross the distance to get to her. She remained distant. The water’s edge remained distant. Miles upon miles away even for a being as large as he.

            Thinking quickly, Angalo reached for his loin cloth. Even in the dream, he remembered that there was a time it had worked before. Certainly it would work now.

            But when he reached for it, he found it gone and nowhere in sight. Panic set in. For the first time, Angalo did not know what to do. Desperate, he lurched forward again.

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            But that was in his dreams. In the real world, his daughter was safe and he was still lying down in his dwelling place with his feet pointed towards mountain. In his restless state, his body jerked, and his foot slammed against a mountain, knocking it down and reducing it to rumble, creating the Banaoang Gap we know today.

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            As someone who feels a disconnect between myself and my ancestral homeland, this next bit feels particularly important. Maybe it shouldn’t, considering my family comes from a different ethnolinguistic group, but that’s the sort of difference that only has the weight and relevance that you are willing to give it. And I’m not willing to give it any. Not when I could take something valuable from the alternative.

            The Ilocano people have had a mass migration of sorts, though that terminology seems too strong. When you look at the results it may make sense, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

            The traditional Ilocano land across the seaboard of Luzon is a rather forgiving one. Or rather, it’s a pretty generous one. All the same, around the mid-19th century, the population became too much for the land to support, and the resulting pressure sent people outward, across the Philippines and as far away as Hawaii and California. In fact, it’s thought that around 85% of the Filipinos in Hawaii are from this ethnolinguistic group.

            Which shouldn’t matter. I admit. But when I read this, it stripped away the more irrational thoughts in my head. That’s one way to set up this next thought, I guess. Keeping the bar nice and low.

            But like I’ve said before, I grew up being one of the two Filipinos in my immediate community. And the other one was my mother. But at the same time, I knew there were other Filipinos out there. We saw them when we went to mass at a more distant church or at the occasional run in at a grocery store, (inhale) which always led to a very long conversation.

            I knew about them. But it never felt like they were real. And it made me feel more alone. Because, like I said, I wasn’t going through the self-identification stages the way I should have been. Instead, I was going through deeply traumatic things, struggling to connect at times but always desperate to. Little facts like this create some sort of perceived connection. Enough for me, at least.

            And I guess that mind set has carried over to today. Old habits die hard, or so the saying goes. Also, it probably doesn’t happen that podcasting or the production of a podcast can be a very isolating experience. I mean it doesn’t technically have to be. A lot of people do it with their friends or with people they are fond of. And Miscellany Media Studios is a slowly growing network. But at times, it still feels that way. It feels lonely to be the person talking into a microphone in an empty room with my new cat as the only company. And yeah, she just came home last week. So this is a very new solution. (breath) That doesn’t fully take care of a problem.

            I’ve always been a solitary person, but I don’t think I should be when doing this dive into my heritage. Because part of what it means to be Filipino is to be in a community. It’s surrounding yourself with people that love and care about you who also love laughing and singing and food. That much I know and have always known. So don’t hold it against me when I desperately cling to shreds of information that prove to me that there are other people like me out there. That’s a fact I tend to forget.

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            This has been a production of Miscellany Media Studios. Thanks for listening! If you like what you heard, consider subscribing, we’re on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Player FM, and other players. Find us and transcripts at or on Twitter @miscellanymedia for updates on current and future projects, including Night and Ink. Do you want to maximize your productivity? Do you want to create all the things while balancing your day job and personal wellbeing? Let us sort through the advice found across multiple dimensions and bring you the best and the worst, if it’s funny.