Back to Article List

FE L. ANDICO

       Pangasinan occupies the northern part of central Luzon, bounded by the China Sea and Lingayen Gulf. It is 170 kilometers north of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The province is mostly plains and coastal areas, while the remainder is agricultural or forested. Three river systems flow through the province, and the Cordillera, Benguet, and Zambales mountains bounded it. It was noted early on that the province was at a lower elevation than the rest of Luzon. Pangasinan has six districts, and the cities of Dagupan, San Carlos and Urdaneta. It has forty-six municipalities. Provincial population was registered at 2,178,212 in 1995. The average size of households is 5.24, and the literacy rate 96.6%. The voting population in 1995 was 1,147,818.

About 43% of the people speak Pangasinan, and roughly the same percentage, Ilokano. Bolinao-Zambal is spoken in certain areas, although studies reveal that it may belong to another ethnic group. The orthography of Pangasinan has vowels clustered in groups of three to five in all, e.g. linaoa (breath); lioaoa (light). The proportion of people speaking this language seems to be on the decline, however, due to linguistic pressure from Ilokano and Tagalog. The difficulties of mastering the language and the migration of people from other locales have been cited as a factor, although the pervasiveness of Tagalog in mass media and the educational system is also responsible.

Pangasinan derives its name from a phrase meaning “the place where salt is made.” An alternative etymological interpretation is from the word caboloan, “the place where bamboo grows.” In this case, the species of bamboo alluded to is a particular variety that is known for its smooth texture and ability to take a fine finish, making it suitable for weaving baskets and other crafts. The province was referred to as Feng-Shia-Shih tan in a Chinese manuscript of the sixteenth century. Envoys from the province paid tribute to Emperor Yung-Lo of the Ming Dynasty (1372-1424). Accounts by Ibn Batuta and Chao Ju Kua tell of the flourishing trade between Pangasinan and Arabia, Borneo, Japan and India.

In 1572, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi conquered Pangasinan. Within eight eight years, the province had been established. Lingayen was the first town to be created; except for a four-month long occupation by the Chinese corsair Limahong, in 1575, the pacification campaigns of the Spaniards progressed. Missionaries described the people as “hostile, obstinate, barbarians, the worst, the fiercest and the most cruel of all tribes.” By the early 17th century, however, the natives came to be described as possessed of infinite goodness, and “some are of very good intelligence and are ingenious.” The facade of a seemingly tranquil province belied the growing intransigence of its people in reaction to the onerous exaction’s of the colonial government. The revolts led by Andres Malong and Juan dela Cruz Palaris in 1660-1662 and 1762-1765 ignited a century-long sentiment to be freed from exploitation and impositions.

In the early months of 1898, thirteen western municipalities joined the revolution that broke out two years earlier. During the period following the Filipino-American War, the La Partido was founded. In 1930, Pangasinan was declared financially able to join the Commonwealth. During the Second World War, Filipino guerilla units fought side-by-side with the Americans. With the establishment of the Fourth Philippine Republic in 1946, several prominent politicians from Pangasinan joined Congress. In the EDSA revolution in 1986, General Fidel V. Ramos figured as a leader, and in 1992 was elected President of the Republic.

The province of Pangasinan has a rich and varied folk literature. An example of this is the Aligando, probably the longest local folksong at 563 lines (excluding four quatrains). It is also considered an original Christmas carol, and takes about an hour and a half to perform. Other examples of this ancient oral tradition include 631 proverbs, 465 riddles and puzzles, numerous myths, legends, tales of supernatural creatures, and love songs known as petek. The storytellers, known as tumatagaumen, wove tales for every season. Indicative of the peoples’ values and skills too were their dances. Thus, the imunan was a courtship dance, the tagam a war dance, and the kumakaret a test of dexterity. These dances were accompanied by the music of the tulali, a flute used during festivities.

Since ancient times women have played a leading role in their communities. They enjoyed a wide variety of privileges other than those related to religious functions. In courtship, men were subject to a period of servitude, and although marriages were arranged, a bride price was practiced, and women could keep property and initiate divorce. The legendary Princess Urduja was renowned for her intelligence and her enlightened rule. Significantly, the women of the province figured prominently in the agrarian colorum movement of the 1930s and in the women’s suffrage movement.

The people of Pangasinan are noted for their piety; both the Virgin of Manaoag and the Son of God (Divino Tesoro) are said to have worked miracles. However, they also maintain a deep-seated belief in supernatural beings beyond the fold of the Church. These include the pasatsat, a gruesome ghost rolled up in a mat, anddikay dalen, literally, ‘grass of the earth,” dwarves who form a band and parade around at midnight, riding on bamboo twigs that sway with the wind. In pre-Christian times, the supreme deity was “Ama-Gaolay.” The people believed anitos or spirits lurked everywhere, capable of inflicting pain and suffering, or of granting rewards. ThePistay Dayat (Feast of the Sea) is an ancient ritual offering to the spirits of the waters to pacify the gods. Old women known as amiteras were priestesses, who performed ceremonies called maganitos to secure favor from the heavens. They believed in an afterlife. Death, for  them, was a voyage, thus, food and other needs were buried with the dead. Mourning rites required an abstinence from rice, wine, meat and fish. A gold chain or a piece of rattan worn around the neck symbolized mourning attire with a great banquet marking the end of mourning.

The people of Pangasinan are something of a paradox. They count among their fold the fiercest rebels against colonial rule, taking pride in calling themselves amputi layag or “white ear,” in allusion to the ears of Spaniards that they severed as tokens of victory. Pangasinan is one of the few provinces in the country whose people, both the elite anacbanua and the dependent timawa joined hands in revolt against the Spanish colonizers while keeping to the Catholic faith. They have been seen as exclusive, attempting to remain ethnically distinct yet they have absorbed a substantial Ilokano ethnic community. However, they are not regionalist. No presidential candidate has obtained a majority vote from the province. The people have also proved to be both traditionalist yet progressive quoting a statement: “while it is not an established fact that Urduja and her kingdom were in Pangasinan, let us keep her as belonging to the Pangasinense.”

About the Author:
Fe L. Andico is an Associate Professor of Asian and Philippine Studies at the College of Arts and Sciences and the Director of the Center for Gender Studies at Pangasinan State University in Lingayen, Pangasinan. She obtained her Ph.D and M.A. Degrees from the University of the Philippines. Her past publications include “Women in the 1931 Tayug Uprising”, “The Zambals of Bolinao and Anda”,”Pangasinan”, and “Women Fisherfolk and Sustainable Development”.