Collectively known as Ilocandia, the Ilocos Region is strategically located at the northwestern tip of Luzon. Its coastline runs along the international sea lanes of the South China Sea. It comprise the coastal provinces of La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.
An impressive region of sharp geographical contrasts, the Ilocandia covers some 17,980 square kilometers of land, almost 17 times bigger than Hong Kong's and 28 times larger than Singapore's. This accounts for roughly 5.9% of the total land area of the Philippines. It is a blend of clear blue seas, high mountains, rolling terrain and fertile river plains.
Originally, the Ilocos region had only one province which was among the most thickly populated areas in the country. A burgeoning population necessitated the creation of different provinces - Pangasinan in 1611; Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur in 1846; La Union in 1854; Abra in 1846 and Benguet in 1966.
Prior to the coming of the Spaniards, the coastal plains in the northwestern extremity of Luzon, stretching from Bangui (Ilocos Norte) in the North to Namacpacan (La Union) in the South, were as a whole known as a progressive region rich in gold. This region, hemmed in between the China Sea in the west and Northern Cordillera in the east, was isolated from the rest of Luzon.
The inhabitants built their villages near small bays called looc in the dialect. The coastal inhabitants were referred to as Ylocos, which literally meant "from the lowlands." The entire region was then called by the ancient name Samtoy, from "sao mi daytoy." The Spaniards later called the region as Ilocos and its people, Ilocanos.
Ilocandia has a rich culture reminiscent of colonial times. Vigan, the colonial metropolis and considered as the "Intramuros of the North", still retains the Castillan colonial architecture of the times. Lined along its narrow and cobble-stoned streets are old Spanish-type houses (commonly called Vigan house), most of which have been left abandoned. These stately homes have huge, high-pitched roofs, large and rectangular living rooms with life-sized mirrors, old, wooden furniture and ornate Vienna sets.
The churches of the Ilocos Region are the enduring symbol of the triumphant transformation of the Ilocano from being practitioners of indigenous religions to practitioners of theistic Christianity. Some of its most impressive churches are: the Vigan Cathedral in Ilocos Sur with its massive hand-carved images of the via crucis; that of Magsingal (also in Ilocos Sur) with its centuries-old wooden altar; the St. Augustine Church in Paoay (Ilocos Norte) which takes the form of a baroque-type built with massive buttresses; and Sta. Maria Church (Ilocos Sur), nestled atop a hill with a stone stairway of 80 steps, are both listed in the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Dances were mainly a reflection of the gracious ways of the Ilocano. The dinaklisan (a dance common to fisher folks), the agabel (a weaver's dance) and the agdamdamili (a pot dance) illustrate in simple steps the ways of the industrious Ilocano. Other popular dances among the Ilocanos are Tadek, Habanera, Comintan, Saimita, Kinotan, Kinnalogong.
The Land and its People
Historically, the people of the Ilocos Region are resourceful and industrious, their resilience, probably, stemming from their geographical location and extreme weather patterns. Their high inclination to save, misread by non-Ilocanos as characteristic of a typical tightwad, is evident in the high average savings rate of the region throughout the years. Ilocanos have an elaborate network of beliefs and practice which he applies when he deals with the people around him.
ILOCOS NORTE AND ILOCOS SUR, the twin hearts of Ilocano culture, are rugged and rocky, its narrow plains hemmed in by the mountains and the sea.
Ilocos Norte, its capital being Laoag, is bounded by China Sea in the North; and Luzon Sea in the West. Its population of 482,651 (as of 1995) speak generally in Ilocano and English and has a land area of 3,399 square kilometers.
Ilocos Sur, its capital being Vigan, has a land area of 3,399 square kilometers and is bounded by Ilocos Norte in the North; Benguet, Abra, Mt. Province in the East, La Union in the South and China Sea in the West. Its 545,385 people (as of 1995) speak fluently in Ilocano, English and Filipino.
LA UNION, its capital being San Fernando City, is bounded by Ilocos Sur in the North; Benguet in the East; Pangasinan in the South and China Sea in the West, has a land area of 1,493 square kilometer. It has a population of 597,442 (1995) and people speak in Ilocano, Tagalog and English.