Ilokano and Amianan Studies, Northern Luzon Cultures, and the Universities from the Regions: Towards a Theory and Praxis (Part 1)

(Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD, teaches at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and coordinates the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program of the Department of Hawaiian and Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures. You can email him at: [email protected] or log on to his website: for other articles on Ilokano life, culture, and society.  – Ed)

A Hermeneutics of Mixed Purposes

My take on the issues that enmesh the concepts and realities of Ilokano Studies, Amianan Studies, the cultures of Northern Luzon, and the role of the universities from these regions is admittedly pre-shaped and pre-formed by my advocacy interests to preserve, perpetuate, and promote Ilokano and Amianan languages and cultures.

The voice of about 30 million people that trace their heritage from these languages and cultures has largely been stifled and marginalized through the centuries and it is high time this voice was heard.

There is an inseparable tripod in the attempt to resist and reclaim: to resist the onslaught of hegemonic cultures and languages and to reclaim ownership of a language and culture—even to languages and cultures—that somehow partly defines the claimant. In the context of Ilokano Studies, the language and culture is specific to Ilokano. In the context of Amianan Studies, the languages and cultures that we are here committed to preserve, perpetuate, and promote are the languages and cultures of all the peoples of Northern Philippines so that while we acknowledge the position of Ilokano in this part of the country as the lingua franca, we recognize at the same time the right of other languages and cultures to co-exist with this lingua franca. The commitment thus of Ilokano language and culture and its advocates is to respect and assure the non-Ilokano communities their fair share of a democratic cultural and linguistic space afforded by any self-respecting nation-state that, among others, advertises itself as ‘democratic.’

I admit that my being a culture and language teacher is itself a perspective that provides some biases and prejudices in the way I look at this emerging body of knowledge we call Ilokano and Amianan Studies, and these biases and prejudices are built-in from the logic of such a perspective.

I recognize that this is itself a kind of an intellectual ‘uma’ in the Ilokano and Amianan sense, a ‘lichtung’ in the Heideggerian sense—a clearing—through which I get to see the world from the forest of ideas, and the seeing is about (a) what is it to be an Ilokano in an ever-changing world; (b) what becomes of an Ilokano in an ever-changing landscape and topography of experience; and (c) what is it and what becomes of an Ilokano in an ever-changing geography of pain and struggle and sacrifices both in the ‘ili’ and the ‘pagilian’—the town and/or country—that is both a physical and psychical territory, a memory and emotion, a sense of affiliation and a sense of reference, a parameter and premise for belonging to a group.

We extend the very same logic of the issues raised about the Ilokano to account the bigger context in which we locate him, and the questions are ever-constant, recurrent, persistent, insistent: (a) what is it to be a people of the Amianan; (b) what becomes of the people of Amianan in an ever-changing landscape and topography of experience; and   about what it means to be a people defined and determined by a certain linguistic identity. For a people is defined and determined, first and foremost, by the kind of language that they speak and that, the claim about bloodline and gene pools do not what an ethnic group finally makes.

I must admit, however, that my long years of cultural advocacy work in many fronts, such as teaching in the University of the Philippines and now at the University of Hawai‘i and experiencing what is it to be a teacher of an ‘othered’, marginalized language and culture, have given me that rare privilege of being a messenger to an Ilokano Everyman.

Searching for a Framework

The experience of ‘marginalization’ whether as a teacher or a student—and I have been both—in the context of a hegemonic  positioning of a dominant culture, is a multiple struggle, endless and everyday.

In the Philippines, as in all the lands of exile of the Ilokano, Hawai‘i included, this marginalization despite claims to diversity and multiculturalism and multilingualism, is as subtly sinister as the unwanted epistemologically tragic consequences of neocolonialism.

Frantz Fanon’s “Wretched of Earth” has talked about this and points to us the evolving of a social agent and actor that acts as the new lord and master, even if the former colonizer is long gone; Renato Constantino’s many essays on the effects of what he called ‘neocolonization’ including his work on the need to form a liberating critical consciousness, “The Miseducation of the Filipinos,” reminds Filipinos of the need to be always on the guard for that which mis-shapes and deforms and misinforms consciousness, including the ‘Englishization’ of the mind-sets of the Filipino people, with such Englishization bringing about the erasure, in a systematic fashion, of the native consciousness that could have provided a measure of looking at possible alternatives to a captive consciousness without necessarily invoking a grand past that is not there but only imagined and held on to as a symbol of a collective memory; Zeus Salazar’s theoretical proposal for a “P/Filipinolohiya”—studies about the Philippines—that is framed by a recovery of the essentials of the ethnos, the ‘lahi’, the ‘puli’; Prospero Covar’s “Araling Pilipino” frames a notion of an ‘anthro’ that is both respectful and respecting of tradition and chance and posits the dynamic of political engagement; Bienvenido Lumbera’s courageous and daring act of re-claiming of the aesthetic, literary, and cultural experiences of the ‘native culture’ almost erased by the apparatuses of multiple colonial experience; Paulo Freire’s notion of a pedagogy of liberation not only “for” but also “by” and “with” the people; and Virgilio Enriquez’s concept of ‘liberation psychology’ that, among others, returns to the site of personhood and community defined by the terms of Philippine culture and world view, and thus by a specific Philippine language and the terms offered by that language—all these and more provide the theoretical impetus for a rethinking of  Ilokano and Amianan Studies, herein referred to as IAS.

(To be continued)