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The Ilocano has an elaborate network of beliefs and practices through which he deals with the world around him. These beliefs and practices developed and nurtured by his ancestors, guide him in going through the different stages of life. It is possible, however, that many of these beliefs and practice are gaining less importance among Ilocanos of today.     Click on any of these topics: Pregnancy and ChildbirthInfancy,   AdolescenceCourtship, Marriage, Death and Burial

Pregnancy and Childbirth

A woman's intense craving for sour fruits, such as tamarind, green mango or orange is usually interpreted as a sign of pregnancy. The fruits that she eats provide clues to the child's appearance.

The pregnant woman observes a number of practices believed to insure against a painful and difficult delivery.

She sits on a mat and never on the bare floor, to avoid having gas pains.  She always has grains of salt with her whenever she leaves the house to ward off evil spirits who may take away her unborn child.  She does not go outside the house at night with her hair down lest she have a snake delivered along with her baby.  She is forbidden to sit on the stairway as this is a position associated with difficult delivery.  When cooking, she must thrust the bigger pieces of firewood into the fire before the smaller pieces, a practice said to ensure a normal delivery.

On the sixth month of pregnancy, the mother's dreams, her physical and emotional state, the food she eats, and the fetal position are taken as indications of the child's sex.

Only a select few are allowed inside the house while the woman is in labor. These are the mangilot (midwife), the husband, his parents and the couple's other children, if any. This is because of the belief that the presence of unlucky people could cause a difficult delivery.

Walking the woman around the house to empty her water bag during labor is supposed to ease childbirth. When a woman is undergoing extreme difficulty, the husband either turns the house ladder upside down or massages crushed ginger on his wife's belly.

A conceiving woman should not take her fancy on pictures, dolls and flowers so that the child will not become dumb or on images of saints because the child will not be able to stand but will only be rolling on the bed or floor.  If a conceiving woman takes fancy on a pitcher-type water pump, her child will be hare-lipped, and if she eats twin bananas, she will give birth to twins.  If she is fond on reading music books, her child is likely to become a musician.  Likewise, the newborn is likely to become an accountant or a businessman if the conceiving woman has a liking for books on mathematics.

A woman expecting a baby should not lie across the width of the bed or by the doorway because she may have difficulty in delivery.  She should not take a bath in the evening because she may bloat.  She should not eat the liver or head of chicken lest the child will become stubborn.  As soon as the baby is born, he is wrapped with the clothes of either parent. The child is said to become closer to the parent whose clothes he was wrapped with. The newborn child is also made to use old clothes so that when he grows he will not be fond of wearing new clothes which depicts extravagance. The use of a folded newspaper as a pillow for the newborn is supposed to make him intelligent.

The washing of  clothes and the mat used during delivery is done only during the day with proper ceremony. The clothes must not be washed in the shallow part of the river where the current is swift and noisy for this would make the child naughty and irritable.

After the delivery, the anglem is made. This consists of burning twisted rugs placed in an earthen jar called bak-ka to drive away evil spirits and to make the navel of the baby heal faster. The neonate is given ampalaya juice mixed with castor oil to expel impurities taken in while it was still in the mother's womb. The woman who has just delivered should not eat food that is spicy or that causes itch such as eggplant, bamboo shoots, and camote within the period of five to six months, gabi or aba, and peanuts up to one year. Likewise, she should not eat papaya because this makes the child agaras (suffer from thrush).

The mother and child are made to rest in a specially inclined bed called balitang (bamboo bed).   During the mother's fifteen to twenty-day rest also called the dalagan, the husband manages the household. The woman resumes her housework only after she has rested and taken a full bath.

Ilocano mothers go through a process of inhaling smoke from medicinal incense while a bowl of hot coals warms her wounds. Called sidor, this is said to relieve the mother’s pains and reposition the displaced uterus.

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If the kajyanak (newborn) has physical defects, he is given a hair washing rite presided over by a folk healer. If the defect is not healed, the family accepts the baby's condition and views it as a sign of good luck.

The child's sleeping position is the subject of his parents' special attention because of certain meanings associated with each particular position. It is said that if the baby sleeps float on his belly on the floor or bed, bad luck or hardship will befall

the family. If the baby gnashes his teeth, he is said to have parasites in his body. When the baby begins to turn around and roll, the parents are advised not to help him, for it is believed that if they do, the baby will be too dependent on them when he grows up. It is usually at the end of the fourteenth month when the baby is considered strong enough and allowed to walk by himself.

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Pubescence for the girl comes at age eleven when most girls begin to menstruate.  Some of the taboos which girls observe during menstruation include: eating sour fruit which may cause blood clotting and menstrual cramps; taking a bath or carrying heavy objects which may cause matipdan (sudden stop of menstrual flow) which may lead to insanity or death. Girl at this stage are also asked to sit on the 3rd step of the stairs so that she will have only three days of menstruation.

Boys aged thirteen to twenty-one voluntarily submit themselves to kugit (circumcision) by the local specialist. The rite usually takes place near a river, a creek or a stream. The materials used are a sharp knife or blade, a wooden mold made from a stripped guava branch, guava brew and coconut palm scrapings. Like the pubescent girl, the circumcised boy discards his childish games and pranks for more adult pursuits.

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Courtship begins with a series of casual conversations and visits to the girl's home where the boy gets to know the girl and her family. Long courtships are expected to give both parties a chance to be sure about their own feelings for each other. The boy sends love letters to the girl regularly as constant reminders and declarations of a willingness to continue the amorous pursuit.   The harana (serenade) is also one way of expressing love. The boy asks a group of friends to join him, on a moonlit night, in waking up his beloved maiden with love songs.

The relationship, once formalized, is carried out with utmost discretion. The girl is expected to remain modest and chaste.  Tradition strongly requires that the woman maintain her virginity until marriage.  Otherwise, she will have to face such grave consequences as being ostracized by the community or disowned by her family.  Sex education comes in the form of stories read and told by older folk.

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Panagasawa or marriage to the Ilocano is but a reaffirmation of the man and woman's gasat (fate). It is considered a sacred partnership which lasts until the death of either partner.

Once the couple decide to marry, the boy informs the girl's parents about their plans. This announcement is known as the panagpudno. Approval is sought from the boy's parents since they usually spend for the wedding and provide for the dowry. When both families agree, the date of the wedding is set either by consulting the planetano (an almanac which lists all good or bad days for all activities),  or by communicating through the billeta, a letter sent from the boy to the girl by a messenger. The response is also sent through the same messenger.

It is during the palalian, a meeting between both families held in the girl's home, that the sab-ong, the sagut, the parawad and the other details of the wedding are discussed.  The purpose of the sab-ong (dowry) is to provide the couple with something to start their married life. It may consist of a piece of land or enough money to buy some land. The sagut is the amount of money needed for the bridal trousseau. Borrowing a wedding gown is taboo for the Ilocano. It is regarded as a grave insult to the families of the betrothed. The sagut provided the basis for the Ilocano boast that "the Ilocano groom always dresses his bride from head to foot." The parawad is given by the groom to the bride's mother as a token of appreciation for properly bringing up her daughter. The sab-ong is presented during the albasya, a long, elaborate ceremony held the day before the wedding.

It is a taboo for a bride to fit in the bridal gown before the wedding because this brings bad luck or misfortune to the couple. It is also taboo for the bride and bridegroom to ride in the same vehicle in going to church for the wedding because this portends bad luck. Care must be taken by the groom when giving the aras (several one peso coins) to the bride during the wedding ceremony. The dropping of even only one coin brings bad luck. Only one matchstick should be used to light the candle of the groom and bride. Those candle burns faster is believed to die ahead. The veil sponsors should pin the veil very well, for there is a belief that a veil that falls augurs an unsuccessful married life.

On the sinadag (eve of the wedding), another ceremony, the saka, is held. In the saka, either at the boy's house or at the convent, the couple are ritually introduced to their sponsors and prospective in-laws. The highlight of the ceremony is the couple's public declaration of love for each other.

As a rule , all Ilocano weddings must be held in church. After the ceremony, all proceed to the groom's residence for the padaya. The padaya is a lavish wedding feast which also serves as an occasion for the renewal of family ties and loyalties. This practice enhances community life with the involvement of the neighbors in all the preparations. The reception is a ritual in itself as all participants observe a certain decorum that clearly illustrates the Ilocano respect for tradition.

After the wedding ceremony, when the bride and bridegroom arrive at the latter's house, an old maid waiting at the foot of the stairs hands them lighted candles. Care should be taken to have these candles lighted when being carried to the altar inside the house otherwise, one of the couple will die young. The parents of the newlyweds secretly advice their respective son or daughter to go up the stairs ahead of the other. Reaching the top flight first symbolized authority in the family. Groom is beaten in this race, he becomes ander di saya ("henpecked).

If the Upon reaching the place where the reception is to be held, both the bride and the groom are required to enter the house together as a sign of maintaining the balance of authority in the home and to guarantee equal longevity. Lunch for the newlyweds begins with a dish of boiled mungo beans, a symbol of fertility. The bride and groom take turns feeding each other in a series of pleas which ends in a touching show of love for each other. A highlight of the celebration is the tuptupac or the bitor. These rituals involve the giving of cash to the newlyweds by their visitors. The gifts to the bride and groom are given and counted separately to determine the economic capability of both families. After counting, the money is handed to the groom who hands it over to his wife for safekeeping.

The last ritual for the day is the mangik-ikamen in which an old man and an old woman present the dal-lot (wedding song). The theme of the dal-lot is the ups and downs as well as the do's and don’ts of married life.

A day after the wedding, three rites are held. These are the atang, an offering given to the spirits of the departed kinsmen and posing and mangatogangan whereby the groom turns over his personal belongings to the bride.

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Death and Burial

To the Ilocanos, gasat (fate) detemines their life on earth.  Death to them means the fulfillment of destiny, the inevitable. It is because of this Ilocano view of death that they are better able to bear the passing away of their loved ones with courage and fortitude.

The Ilocanos have traditionally believed that most of man's illnesses are caused by spirits. Even accidents have often been attributed to the supernatural, to spirits that could either be the aswang (witch) or the mannamay (sorcerer).

Death is often preceded by omens such as a black butterfly which enters a house at night or during an eclipse. When a person is dying, an old woman is usually called in to pray and attend to him. Sometimes, a coconut shell is placed under the dying man's bed so that everyone in the room may hear the angel and the devil fighting for possession of the man's soul. When a man dies, an atong (burning piece of wood) is placed in front of the gate of his house. This announces a death in the family to spirits and the living alike. The fire is left burning for the duration of the wake.

If relatives are being awaited, the corpse is embalmed for an extended wake. Members of the household are expected to refrain from working for the duration of the wake. Those keeping vigil recount all the good deeds of the deceased before the group. In some towns, the family hires the services of a mandung-aw, who provides the wailing and lamenting during the wake. Family members also do this to express their grief anguish, and pain. The presence of young men and women at the vigil prevents the spirits of the preternatural world from stealing the corpse.

Chores that are tabooed during the wake include cleaning or sweeping the house. It is believed that another member of the bereaved family will follow soon if this belief is not observed. Taking a bath or rubbing the skin with isiso (stone) will cause scabbies. Taking a bath in the house where the dead lies in state is prohibited. Meeting and seeing visitors to the door and accompanying them to the door when leaving are taboo.

With the belief that there is life after death, the clothes and other paraphernalia are buried with the dead. This is also done so that the soul will not come back for his precious possessions.  However, if something is forgotten and someone in the neighborhood dies, a relative will place the remaining precious belonging of their deceased to the dead relative.

Likewise, there are also food taboos like eating maninggay (horse-radish) whose leaves easily fall off and sour food or snails called bisukol. Violation of these means death to another member of the bereaved family.

Before the funeral, the dead man's kin perform the mano (kissing of the hand). Each family member pays his last respects by kissing the dead man's hand or by lifting the hand briefly to his forehead. After the mano, the women cover their faces and heads with black veils.

Before the coffin is taken out of the house, a rooster or a hen, depending upon the sex of the decease, is beheaded and thrown out into the yard opposite the stairs. The sacrificial animal precedes the dead in the beyond, ensuring his safe passage and announcing his arrival. After this, the coffin is brought out of the house. The pallbearers are cautioned against having the coffin touch any part of the house lest another death occur in the family. Rice is strewn all over the coffin for good luck. The coffin bearers also guard against tarrying on the stairs, for a relative might be possessed by the dead man's soul. The doors and windows of the house are shut after the coffin is brought out to prevent the soul from disturbing those whom he left behind. These are reopened only after the funeral party returns from the cemetery.

To show extreme grief of the bereaved family, the members wear black clothes and a manto ("lack veil) which is worn by the female members of the family. Solemn music is played during the funeral procession from the house of the dead to the church and then to the cemetery.

After the funeral, members of the family and relatives go through the diram-os; that is, they wash their faces and upper limbs with a basin of basi in which some coins were immersed to ward off the spell of the evil spirit. The following day, immediate relatives have the golgol (hair shampoo) in the river to wash away any. To show extreme grief of the bereaved family, the members wear black clothes and a manto (black veil) which is worn by the female members of the family. Solemn music is played during the funeral procession from the house of the dead to the church and then to the cemetery.

After the funeral, members of the family and relatives go through the diram-os; that is, they wash their faces and upper limbs with a basin of basi in which some coins were immersed to ward off the spell of the evil spirit. The following day, immediate relatives have the golgol (hair shampoo) in the river to wash away any power of the spirit of the dead. This is followed by the offering of niniogan (a kind of rice cake), basi, buyo, and tobacco.

Every night for nine nights, a lualo (prayer) is offered for the dead. On the ninth night, an umras is prepared. On a table are placed 12 plates full of native cakes and delicacies like patupat, linapet; busi, kaskaron, baduyca; and two fried chickens. These should stay the whole night to be distributed the following morning to the leader of the novena prayer and to those who assisted in preparing the umras. On the ninth day is the pamisa (feast).   Before the pamisa, the leader of the group offers a spoonful each of the cooked foods on the altar.  The pamisa is again held to commemorate the one-month and the one-year death anniversaries. On the first year anniversary of the dead is the waksi marking the termination of the mourning as symbolized by the lifting of the black dress.

In spite of the influence of modernization, traditional beliefs still persist among the Ilocanos. These play an important role in keeping family relationship as well as community relationship intact.


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