RAMON, ISABELA — In one of his books, the late historian Teodoro Agoncillo explained the peripatetic trait of the Ilokanos thus: their land was too small and unproductive so they have to look for greener pasture elsewhere.

The Ilocos narrow territory between the mountains and the sea was bound, as it did. to produce an industrious, frugal people, Agoncillo added.

Originally called Ylocos, it then consisted of what is now known as Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. La Union, one of the Ilocos provinces, was organized in 1840 out of several towns of Ilocos Sur, Mt. Province and Pangasinan.

But before they set forth on the cold regions of Alaska and Canada, the sugar plantations of Hawaii, and the US mainland, the burning desert of the Middle East, Ilokanos first “colonized” non-Ilokano areas where there were then vast tracts of of uncultivated lands: Cagayan, Isabela and Nueva Vizcaya and even Nueva Ecija and Apayao (when it was still part of the old Mt. Province), Pangasinan, Zambales and Tarlac.

That was in the 1900s when waves after waves of Ilokanos and their families left their homeland by foot, then via the kareton or karison (carabao or cow-drawn wagons) or biray (small wooden boats) to the virgin lands east. Most of them took the northern route, the risky Patapat Road, a passageway on the side of a mountain chain, now replaced by a viaduct.

Later, in the 1950’s, the Ilokanos went further south–to Mindoro, Palawan and the island of Mindanao, even Sulu and Basilan.

It was said that the Ilokanos, along with the Ilongos and Cebuanos, opened the frontiers of Mindanao through their pioneers.The Ilokano settlers in the region included people with surnames like Barbers, Pimentel, Floirendo (the Davao banana magnate was a native of Bauang, La Union), Datoc, Baga, Cerilles, Pichay.

The Ilokano migration was economically-motivated, according to Dr. Antonio Tamayao of the Cagayan State University in Tuguegarao City. People looked for jobs and bigger tracts of land, he noted in a research paper.

Dr. Tamayao listed 13 towns in Cagayan as predominantly Ilokano–Alcala, Lasam, Sto.Nino, Baggao, Sta.Ana, Allacapan, Ballesteros, Buguey, Claveria, Gattaran, Gonzaga, Sta. Teresita and Sanchez Mira.

No other ethno-linguistic group sought land and spread across the country as relentlessly as the Ilokanos, according to Dr.Jaime Raras of the University of Northern Philippines.

And no other ethno-linguistic group in great numbers sought their fortune outside the Philippines as the Ilokanos. As early as 1840, substantial numbers of Ilokano speakers had been employed in private homes, in the military and even in the White House, according to Ana Marcelo, a fourth generation Ilokana of Sacramento, California.

Marcelo, in her book, “Agpamakanda: 150 Years of Ilokanos in America’s Restaurants,” focused on the US Mainland, where most of the Ilokano diaspora’s story took place. Guerrero Coloma/NorthboundPH  (to be continued)