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THE ILOKANO, the native of Ilokandia, or Ilocos region, calls his literature Kurditan Samtoy (from the words “kurdit” which means to write, and “saomi ditoy”, meaning our language here).

       The ancient Iluko writer expressed himself in folk and war songs: in the dallot, a versified exchange of wit between a man and a woman; in the badeng, love song; and, in the dung-aw, the death chant. Even before the coming of the Spaniard in the Ilokos in 1572, Biag ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang), the famous Iloko epic, was believed to have been sung by bards accompanied by the kutibeng, a native guitar.

       The first book ever published in Iluko was the Iluko version of Cardinal Bellarmine’s Doctrina Christiana, printed in 1621. Translated by the Augustinian Spanish Friar, Fr. Francisco Lopez, with the help of Pedro Bucaneg (1592-1630), the book contained the earliest recorded poems in Iluko as well as a portion written in the ancient Iluko script. The book also reduced the ancient Iluko alphabet into the Latin alphabet. Fray Lopez also wrote, again with the help of Pedro Bucaneg, the first book on Iluko grammar, Arte de lengua yloca, published in 1627 which laid down the rules for the writing of poetry in Iluko. On the other hand, though born blind, Bucaneg was the first known Ilokano poet. Considered by many as the Father of Iluko Literature, he was the first to put down into writing the Lam-ang epic. In his honor, the Ilokanos have indulged in a literary joust delivered extemporaneously which they call the bucanegan, similar to the balagtasan of the Tagalogs and to the crissotanof the Pampangos.

       One other significant Iluko poet in the 17th century was Pablo Inis (1661-1698), who found solace in the Catholic faith and wrote poems and prayers in honor of the Virgin Mary. In the 18th century, the only notable Ilokano writer and poet was Jacinto Kawili (1770-?).

       The 19th century saw the publication of Antonio Megia’s Iluko translation of the pasion. While published only in 1845, Megia’s Iluko pasion was written in 1621, and thus, as Wenceslao Retana pointed out, was the very first Philippine “pasyon”. The 19th century also produced the first internationally famous Filipino poetess, Leona F. Florentino (1849-1884), whose poems like Naangawan A Kablaaw (A Jolly Birthday Greeting) and Nalpay A Namnama (Blasted Hope), were among the earliest lyrical and satirical verses in Iluko. Some of her works were exhibited in the Exposicion General de Filipinas in Madrid in 1887 and in the Exposition Internationale in Paris in 1889. She was represented in Mme. Andzia Wolska’s anthology, Bibliotheque Internationale des Oeuvres de Femmes, edited in 1889.

       The last two decades of the 19th century also witnessed the unprecedented growth of Iluko literature. Isabelo de los Reyes (1864-1938), Leona Florentino’s illustrious son and recognized as the Father of Philippine Folklore, founded in 1889 the El Ilocano, the first regional newspaper in the Philippines which published fiction and poetry. De los Reyes wrote the first short story in Iluko, Ti Langit Ti Inanamatayo (The Glory of our Hopes), published in El Ilocano while Fr. Rufino Redondo, an Augustinian, wrote the first Iluko novel, Matilde de Sinapangan, published in 1892. Other noted writers in Iluko during the period were Fr. Justo Claudio Fojas (1855-?) who wrote Ti Gloria (Heaven), considered as the first Iluko poem that is of a mystical nature; Ignacio Villamor (1863-1933); Claro Caluya (1868-1914); and Fr. Mariano Dacanay (1862-1930).

       The 20th century, which brought intense political changes in the country, witnessed the blossoming of Kurditan Samtoy during the peace time under American tutelage, the Commonwealth era, the 2nd World War and after the restoration of independence. The first decades saw the publication of important Iluko novels, likeBiag Ti Maysa A Lacay Oenno Nacaam-ames a Bales (The Life Of An Old Man Or A Very Frightening Revenge, 1909) by Mariano Gaerlan (1887-1956), Uray Narigat No Paguimbagan (Success Despite Obstacles, 1911) by Facundo Madriaga (1886-1924), and Mining Oenno Ayat Ti Cararua (Mining, or love of the soul, 1914) by Marcelino Crisologo Peña (1866-1923). Great Iluko sarsuelas were also written during the period, like Neneng, Noble Revalidad (Noble Rivalry) by Mena Pecson Crisologo (1844-1927), Dagiti Agpaspasucmon Basi (The Basi Retailers) by Pascual Agcaoili y Guerrero (1880-1958) and Panagpili (The Way To Choose) by Isaias R. Lazo (1887-1963). The better known essayists and poets of the period were Eleuterio Guirnalda, Victorino Balbin, Jose Castro, Buenaventura Bello, Camilo Osias, Alejo Mabanag, Jose Garvida Flores, Antonio Fogata, Cornelio N. Valdez, Mauro A. Peña, Efraim Ma. Ordinario, Antonia Marcos Rubio, Ursula Villanueva and Enriqueta de Peralta.

       During the Commonwealth era, Leon C. Pichay(1903-1970) published his novel Apay A Pinatayda Ni Naw Simon? (Why Did They Slay Don Simon?), the first known detective novel in Iluko. Three very important anthologies of Iluko poetry saw print during the period: Sangcareppet A Dandaniw (A Sheaf of Poems, 1926) edited by Antonio Fogata and Mauro A. Peña; Dal-lang Ti Amianan (Songs Of The North, 1936) edited by Leon C. Pichay; and, Kutibeng Ti Kailokuan (Lyre of Ilocos, 1936), edited by Efraim Ma. Ordinario. In 1935, Dr. Leopoldo Y. Yabes published his composite version of the Biag Ni Lam-ang (Life of Lam-ang).

       The period also witnessed the publication of the Iluko magazine Bannawag (Dawn) by the Ramon Roces Publications (now the Liwayway Publishing, Inc.) which played a great role in the development of Iluko literature, specially after the 2nd World War. While it ceased to come out during the war years, it resumed publications in 1947, and serialized the novels which are now considered modern classics in Iluko Literature, like Dagiti Balud (The Prisoners) by Dr. Hermogenes F. Belen; Sasainnec (Sobs) by Estela Rimorin-Gordo, the first woman novelist in Iluko; Atap a Sampaguita (Wild Sampaguita) by Melecio A. Ballesteros; Anak Ti Tirong (The Son Of A Pirate) by David D. Campañano; Dagiti Mariing Iti Parbangon (They Who Awaken At Dawn) by Constante C. Casabar; Lanut Ken Pakalatkat (Vine And Trellis) by Pacifico D. Espanto; Rebelde (The Rebel) by Gregorio Laconsay; Dara Iti Angin (Blood In The Wind) by Arsenio T. Ramel, Jr.; Ti Kangayedan Iti Tunggal Tao ( The Most Dignified In Every Man) by Atty. Benjamin M. Pascual; Dagiti Ramut Iti Ganggannaet (Roots In A Foreign Land) by Dr. Marcelino A. Foronda, Jr.; Casa Fernandez (The Fernandez House) by Peter La. Julian; Tirong Ti Sulu (The Pirate Of Sulu) by Dr. Hermogenes F. Belen; Dagiti Asin Ti Lasag (Salts of the Flesh) by Reynaldo A. Duque; Saksi Ti Kaunggan (The Witness Within) by Juan S. P. Hidalgo, Jr; and, Dagiti Bin-i Ti Kimat (The Seeds Of Lightning) by Cles B. Rambaud.

       The works of named Iluko writers, poets and essayist one time or another, like Trinidad A. Benito, Pacifico Pe. Benito, Luz Flores Bello, Vicente Llanes, Leandro Ablang, Magdaleno Abaya, Jose Resurreccion Calip, Benjamin Panlasigui, Arturo Buenavista, Godofredo S. Reyes, Sobre Sellado (Manuel Jimeno), Santiago Alcantara, Salvador E. Nilo, Juan B. Quimba, Metodio Velasco, Jeremias Calixto, Melchor P. Gazmen, Pelagio A. Alcantara, Meliton Gal. Brilliantes, Juan S. P. Hidalgo, Jr., Benjamin M. Pascual, Guillermo R. Andaya, Paul B. Zafaralla, Horencio Ma. Hernando, Abraham Pasion, Reynaldo A. Duque, Manuel S. Diaz, Peter La. Julian, Amado I. Yoro, Ricarte A. Agnes, Cles B. Rambaud, Onofrecia Ibarra, Dionisio S. Bulong, etc., appeared in the pages of the Bannawag.

       Perhaps worth mentioning also is the presence of a very powerful association of Ilokano Writers, the Gunglo Dagiti Mannurat nga Ilokano iti Filipinas (GUMIL Filipinas). First organized in 1961 from its lowly beginnings at the barangay level, the association now has chapters not only in the Philippines but also abroad. The local chapters are: GUMIL Ilocos Norte, GUMIL Abra, GUMIL Baguio,GUMIL Cagayan, GUMIL Ilocos Sur, GUMIL Isabela, GUMIL La Union, GUMIL Metro Manila, GUMIL Nueva Vizcaya, GUMIL Pangasinan and GUMIL Quirino. Abroad, the member chapters of GUMIL Filipinas are: GUMIL Hawaii (1971), GUMIL Guam (1988), GUMIL California, USA (1994), GUMIL Maui (1991), GUMIL Greece (1995), GUMIL Big Island (1996) and GUMIL Oahu (1996).

       The GUMIL contributes a lot to the advancement of Kurditan Samtoy. Aside from sponsoring annual literary workshops, it has also ventured into book publishing. So far, GUMIL Filipinas has published more than 60 books, excluding those of GUMIL chapters as well as individual writers who have decided to publish their works on their own.

       With the Bannawag and the GUMIL, Kurditan Samtoy is here to stay. And the Iluko writer continues to write, expressing the sentiments of his race, thus enriching further the literary traditions of his region in particular and of his country in general. 

About the Author:
Reynaldo A. Duque is a trilingual (Iluko, Filipino, English) writer who has won 76 literary awards, the latest of which is the First Prize in the Filipino Epic Category of the Centennial Literary Awards for his entry “Candon”. He is the Managing Editor of Liwayway magazine and the Regional Coordinator for Northern Luzon of the NCCA Committee on Literary Arts.