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Pangasinense People of Pangasinan: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Philippines]

Pangasinense People of Pangasinan: History, Culture and Arts, Customs and Traditions [Philippines]

The province of Pangasinan is located on the northwest part of the archipelago. It is bounded on the west by Zambales, south by Tarlac, southeast by Nueva Ecija, and northeast by Nueva Vizcaya, La Union, and Benguet. The Lingayen Gulf is located north of Pangasinan.

“Pangasinan” is derived from the prefix panag and the root word asin, which means “a place where salt is made.” It also refers to the language, which is spoken along the central part in such towns as Alaminos, Mabini, Sual, Labrador, Lingayen, Bugallon, Aguilar, Mangatarem, Urbiztondo, Binmaley, Dagupan, Calasiao, Santa Barbara, Basista, Bayambang, Malasiqui, San Fabian, Mangaldan, San Jacinto, Pozorrubio, and Mapandan. Ilocano is the predominant language in the western towns of Anda, Bani, Agno, Burgos, Dasol, and Infanta, and in the eastern parts such as Laoac, San Nicolas, Sison, Binalonan, Tayug, Natividad, San Quintin, Umingan, San Manuel, Asingan, Santa Maria, Balungao, Villasis, Alcala, Rosales, and Urdaneta. Towns such as Manaoag, Santo Tomas, and Bautista generally speak both languages. Bolinao is spoken in the town of the same name.

Here are 3 interesting facts about the Pangasinan language that you may not be aware of:

1. Pangasinan belongs to the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) family of languages.

The Pangasinan language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian languages branch of the Austronesian language family. Bahasa Indonesia in Indonesia, Bahasa Melayu in Malaysia, and Malagasy in Madagascar are all closely linked to Pangasinan.

2. Pangasinan is one of the eight major languages of the Philippines.

It is the predominant and prominent language of the vast majority of the province's inhabitants of Pangasinan and northern Tarlac, situated in Luzon's central plains. Pangasinan is the language of the southwest portion of La Union and the neighboring towns of Benguet, Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, and Zambales. A few Aeta clans in Central Luzon's northern part are familiar with Pangasinan and even speak it.

3. Malasiqui, Binmaley, Mangaldan, and San Carlos are the municipalities in Pangasinan where the language is extensively spoken.

According to a survey conducted by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) between the years 2000 and 2010, Pangasinan was rated as the country's 43rd language spoken at home in the country. However, the PSA survey found that English and Filipino are now most commonly spoken in Pangasinan households. Only the towns of Malasiqui, Binmaley, Mangaldan, and San Carlos City have residents who are “solid” Pangasinan speakers or those who converse using that principal language.

The people of Pangasinan are called Pangasinense or Pangasinan. In the 1980 census, their number stood at 1,636,057. By 2010, it was 2,779,862.

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History of Pangasinan and the Pangasinense

There are no conclusive data about the origins of the Pangasinense. One theory hints of Java as a possible point of origin because the techniques of salt making in the northern coast of Java closely resemble those of the Pangasinense. These techniques have made Pangasinan the source of the finest salt in the Philippines.

Pangasinan Man Pangasinense
Damian Domingo, Un Yndio Natural de la Provincia de Pangasinan, circa 1830, Paulino and Hetty Que Collection

Other similarities with Java are seen in the tools and methods of cultivation, such as the use of the bamboo harrow and the peculiarly shaped scythe for reaping rice. The manner of venerating the dead, too, finds parallels in Java. The burial sites in Calatagan were evidently refurbished regularly. In Java, a yearly festival is celebrated by the living to honor the dead; the day is passed in devotion on the burial grounds, which are strewn with flowers.

Pangasinan Woman Pangasinense
Damian Domingo, Una Mujer Pangasinana Labandera, circa 1830, Paulino and Hetty Que Collection

Significant archeological finds in Pangasinan include a tooth of a pygmy elephant, discovered in 1911 on the island of Anda. The fossil, identified as elephas beyeri, was estimated to have existed sometime in the Upper Pleistocene period. This suggests the existence of elephants in the prehistoric past of the province. An ancient graveyard in Balingasay River in Bolinao was discovered in 1964. Dating of the remains reveals the graveyard has existed since the 13th to 14th century. Giant oyster and clamshells were evidently used as grave markers.

No written records of pre-Spanish Pangasinan have been unearthed. The chronicles of the Berber traveller Ibn Battuta speak of a Princess Urduja governing a kingdom called Tawalisi, which Jose Rizal theorized, to be Pangasinan. This assertion was taken up by subsequent pre-World War II historians. Recent research, however, tends to indicate that she was Indo-Chinese. Some writers point out that Sulu could also be the probable location of Urduja’s realm of Tawalisi.

There is no doubt, however, that Pangasinan has had contact with ancient travellers, most especially the Chinese. In Agoo, now La Union but formerly Pangasinan, evidence of extensive commercial intercourse with the Chinese and the Japanese abounds.

Pangasinan is one of the biggest and oldest provinces in the Philippines and accounts for more than half of the population of the Ilocos region. Before the Spanish occupation, the region was divided into the Panag-asinan, or salt-making coastal communities, and the Caboloan, or the interior plains where a type of bamboo called bolo (Gigantochloa levis) was abundant. It was to be the Augustinian missionaries who would map the entire region as Pangasinan. By the second decade of the 20th century, the name “Caboloan” had been obscured from memory.

In May 1572, Juan de Salcedo was ordered by his grandfather Miguel Lopez de Legaspi to explore and pacify the northern part of Luzon. Sailing up the Zambales coast and rounding Cape Bolinao, Salcedo was well received by natives along the coast, an experience that he did not encounter when he went inland. Later, another expedition headed by Martin de Goiti was launched to consolidate Salcedo’s gains. Following a brutal campaign where thousands of houses were razed and hundreds of natives killed, de Goiti set a pattern for subsequent conquistadores of extracting tribute to the maximum without rendering equivalent services in return. In 1582, Pangasinan was partitioned into six encomiendas, foremost of which was that of the Spanish King in Lingayen. Assigned to the task of proselytizing Pangasinan were the missionaries from the Dominican Order who were based in Binalatongan, now San Carlos City.

For most of the Spanish period, Pangasinan encompassed not only its present boundaries but extended down to Subic in Zambales, Gerona in Tarlac, and up to Bacnotan in La Union. In the latter years of the colonial regime, the territory of Pangasinan was much reduced after the creation of the provinces of Zambales, La Union, and Tarlac, the last of which included boundary towns that are presently under the province of Pangasinan. Traces of Pangasinan cultural influence can still be found in such places as Camiling, Tarlac, although the more peripatetic Ilocano have left a more lasting lingual and cultural imprint on the areas that were once under the territory of Pangasinan.

The pivotal role of the anacbanua (native elite) in the political and social life of Pangasinan forced them into acting as buffers between the ordinary people and the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. When the colonial impositions grew too harsh, the anacbanua were caught in a vise, unable to resist the exactions of the Spaniards yet reluctant to impose burdens on the people under their patronage, with whom their kinship ties went back several centuries. It was inevitable therefore that even in the revolts that arose in Pangasinan, from Andres Malong in 1660 to 1661 to the Katipunan in 1897, it was the anacbanua who provided the leadership.

Video: Local Responses to Spanish Colonization: The Cases of Andres Malong and Andres Lopez [Pangasinan]

The Malong Revolt of 1660-1661 was a sequel to the Maniago Revolt in Pampanga earlier that year. Malong was the maestre de campo, that is, the right-hand man of the Spanish alcalde mayor (governor), in dealing with the natives of Pangasinan. Responding to the people’s wish to be free of Spanish authority, he exploited the confusion resulting from the Maniago Revolt and consolidated the leadership of Pangasinan under himself, assuming the title “King of Pangasinan.” The rebels’ adherence to Catholicism led them to spare the parish priests. While sympathetic to Malong, the Catholic hierarchy worked at convincing the Pangasinense to re-embrace Spanish colonial supremacy. Malong became known for cutting the ears of the Spaniards, thereby earning the appellation “amputi layag” (white ear), which would later refer to the fearless people of San Carlos City, formerly Binalatongan, where Malong had staged his revolt. Malong was eventually tried and sentenced to die by musketry.

Subsequent rebellions like that of another Andres Malong and of Juan Caragay in 1718 and that of Juan de la Cruz Palaris in 1762 to 1764 all arose from the imposition of the tribute. The Malong and Palaris revolts highlight the pages of Pangasinan history during the Spanish colonial period. Although they and other leaders like Phalarez, Colet, Juan de Vera Oncantin, and Fernando and Melchor Hidalgo were timaua (free-born), the Spaniards had to appoint an anacbanua, Don Andres Lopez, as maestre de campo for Pangasinan to legitimize their rule. Again, the Catholicism of the rebels served to stem the tide of rebellion, with the parish priests being instrumental in bringing the rebels back to the Spanish fold.

Another important chapter in Pangasinan’s history is the invasion of Chinese pirate Limahong, who built a kingdom in Lingayen after attacking Manila in 1574 and decapitating the Spanish soldier Martin de Goiti. Limahong succeeded in eluding the Spanish forces led by Juan de Salcedo by digging a river channel. The Limahong Channel marker in Lingayen is a reminder of the Chinese pirate who once brought a thousand ships to the province of Pangasinan.

Daniel Maramba, revolutionary, governor, and senator from Santa Barbara, Pangasinan
Daniel Maramba, revolutionary, governor, and senator from Santa Barbara, Pangasinan, 1930 (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

Revolutionary recruitment by the Katipunan in Pangasinan was not extensive, limited as it was to the circle of the juez de paz (justice of the peace) of Santa Barbara, Daniel Maramba, who had been personally initiated into the Katipunan by the Supremo Andres Bonifacio and a relative of Valentin Diaz, a founding member of the Katipunan. In the first phase of the Revolution, Pangasinan was a quiet corner untouched by the rebellion in the Tagalog provinces. In the aftermath of the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, the Katipunan organization in Pangasinan became fully active under the leadership of General Francisco Makabulos. Aside from Maramba, the other revolutionary leaders were Vicente del Prado of San Jacinto and Juan Quesada of Dagupan. On 7 March 1898, Maramba made Santa Barbara the first “liberated” town in Pangasinan. Maramba expanded his operations to Malasiqui, Urdaneta, and Mapandan, while del Prado and Quesada launched operations in the western part of the province. On 30 June 1898, the Spaniards evacuated all their forces to Dagupan. To a man, the Guardia de Honor, local counterrevolutionary units organized by the Spaniards, went over to the side of the revolutionary forces. On 22 July 1898, the Spanish forces in Dagupan fell, marking the liberation of Pangasinan. Six days later, a provincial assembly was convened in Dagupan, and the Proclamation of Independence, first read in Kawit, Cavite the previous month, was recognized.

The Philippine-American War came to Pangasinan when the Americans landed in San Fabian on 7 November 1899. Naval artillery drove the Pangasinense out of their entrenchments, forcing them to retreat to San Jacinto. On the 11th, some 1,200 to 1,600 Pangasinense troops under General Tinio fought a desperate, pitched battle only to succumb to superior American firepower.

Meanwhile, an American column pushing north from San Fernando, Pampanga, forced Aguinaldo to transfer the fledgling Republic’s capital from Tarlac to Bayambang in southern Pangasinan. There, in an extraordinary council of war, Aguinaldo and his military leaders decided to disband the regular forces and engage in guerilla warfare. Aguinaldo, keeping just a step ahead of the Americans, worked his way north to La Union, passing through Calasiao, Santa Barbara, Manaoag, Pozorrubio, Alava (now Sison), thence to La Union. Aguinaldo’s wife and child were captured by the Americans in Pozorrubio. With two columns covering his retreat, he was able to escape to Isabela.

Underground organizing in Pangasinan followed soon after, with the establishment of the Katipunan shadow governments in most of the towns. The guerrillas continued harassing Americans and collaborating officials. Ultimately, the American policy of winning civilian officials over to their side and imposing the death penalty on all those who would not toe the American line eventually succeeded in breaking down resistance in Pangasinan. One of the first revolutionary leaders, Vicente del Prado, was betrayed to the Americans and was subsequently hanged like a bandit.

After the surrender or capture of the prominent leaders of the Malolos Republic, the Pangasinense were divided into those who favored peace and conciliation with the Americans, and those who wanted to fight for independence. The Federal Party was organized on 23 December 1900 by those who had compromised with the American government. The main object of the party was the incorporation of the Philippines in the United States. Prominent members included T. H. Pardo de Tavera, Cayetano Arellano, Florentino Torres, Ambrosio Flores, Jose Ner, and Tomas G. del Rosario, all of whom converted many Pangasinense to the idea of “benevolent assimilation.”

Girls on the basketball field in Dagupan, Pangasinan
Girls on the basketball field in Dagupan, Pangasinan, 1910 (Mario Feir Filipiniana Library)

The Americans encouraged political participation, taking care not to isolate local leaders. Even before the civil government was established, General Order No. 43, Series of 1899, and General Order No. 40, Series of 1900, provided for the creation of municipal governments staffed and chaired by Filipinos. The Civil Commission headed by Judge William H. Taft arrived in Dagupan on 15 February 1901, and after consultation with the local elite, established civil rule over Pangasinan. At first, suffrage was limited to the elite, but by 1916, when the legislative body was Filipinized, 54.1% of the male population was qualified.

The public school system was introduced, with an emphasis on civic education. Well attended, these schools oriented the youth to American ideals. English was made the language of instruction. In September 1902, Pangasinan’s first secondary school took in its first students. In 1906, the first vocational school opened in Lingayen; in 1916, an agricultural school in San Carlos. Private institutions, both secular and religious, helped relieve the demand for secondary education. In general, the American-instituted educational system raised literacy levels at the same time as it developed, especially among the elite, an admiration for the American lifestyle.

Aside from education, the Americans also promoted health and sanitation, commerce and industry, and agriculture and public works in Pangasinan. In 1905, the introduction of immunization against smallpox resulted in the disappearance of the disease by 1911. The Americans encouraged the cultivation of diverse agricultural products, although rice production remained dominant. In 1909, the province had 75 kilometers of first-class roads; by 1913, the number had grown to 169 kilometers. By 1916, it ranked first in the number of first-class roads. Other infrastructure included bridges, school and municipal buildings, public markets, dams, and irrigation works.

Pangasinan was not spared from the agrarian ferment that spread over Central Luzon in the 1920s and 1930s. Nowhere was the unrest more felt than in the eastern part of the province, where the presence of large landed estates in such towns as Tayug, Rosales, San Quintin, Santa Maria, and Umingan, and absentee landlordism combined to upset the old patronage system based on amicable landlord-tenant relations.

In Tayug, Pedro Calosa formed the Philippine National Association (PNA), an underground movement that preached independence, equitable distribution of wealth, and the primacy of the Philippine Independent Church. By 1930, most of the peasants in Tayug, Santa Maria, San Nicolas, and San Quintin had joined the PNA. On the evening of 9 January 1931, the PNA, led by Calosa and Cesario Abe, assembled in the barrio of San Roque in San Nicolas and launched a short-lived rebellion that led to the capture of Tayug. The rebels burned the presidencia (town hall), where the land records were kept in the municipal treasurer’s office.

The rebellion, which was supposed to spark widespread uprisings in the neighboring towns, was easily contained by constabulary reinforcements from Dagupan and Manila. The expected support from the countryside did not arrive. By 11 January, the rebels had surrendered and Calosa was captured. But the military failure of the rebellion did bring to national consciousness the plight of the Central Luzon peasant. Sympathy for the defendants in the criminal trials following the uprising reached the highest levels of government. The Manila press played up rural usury, unfair crop sharing, constabulary abuses, the perfidy of the rich, the cruelty of the municipal tax collections, and land grabbing as the roots of the unrest. Calosa and other PNA leaders were defended by the best lawyers, foremost of whom was Senator Alejo Mabanag of the Democrata Party. Except for Calosa and Abe, who received life sentences, most of the participants in the rebellion received only light sentences. Calosa was released in the late 1940s.

The Philippines entered into war with Japan on 8 December 1941 after the attack on Clark Air Field. Fourteen days later, on 22 December 1941, Japanese forces landed on the beaches of Damortis and Agoo in La Union. Until the end of 1941, northeastern Pangasinan was the site of battles between the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) and the Japanese army. Through the Japanese Military Administration (JMA), the Japanese Imperial Army governed the country with the cooperation of prominent Filipino leaders. Teofilo Sison of Pangasinan became the auditor general and budget director under the new administration. Governor Santiago Estrada, who was at first reluctant to serve under the Japanese, was later persuaded by Sison to cooperate.

On 14 October 1943, the Japanese-backed Philippine Republic was established, with Jose P. Laurel as president. In Pangasinan, Estrada remained governor. Except for the deteriorating economic conditions, the new republic brought little change. Guerrilla forces were organized by American officers who had not been captured or had escaped. Some of these organizations were the East Central Luzon Guerrilla Area (ELGA), the LAPHAM guerrillas (North Central Luzon Sector), and some unrecognized units like the 32nd Infantry Regiment and 155th Infantry Regiment of Miguel R. Acosta.

On 9 January 1945, a series of American landings began on the beaches of Lingayen, Mangaldan, and San Fabian, and lasted until 7 February, when Japanese troops were pushed out of the province. Rather than face the Americans, the Japanese forces under General Yamashita Tomoyuki retreated to the mountain fastness of the Cordillera, there to prolong the fight to the end of the war. On 28 February, the Commonwealth Government was reinstated; one of the first acts of the administration was to round up suspected “collaborators.” Teofilo Sison was the first to be tried and convicted, but he was given amnesty.

The Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed on 4 July 1946, two months after the national and congressional elections. Manuel Roxas of Capiz from the Liberal Party won over Nacionalista Sergio Osmeña of Cebu. In Pangasinan, the count was in favor of Roxas. Since the 1950s to the present, the political scene in Pangasinan has been dominated by the “elite,” which in the early years of the republic included Enrique Braganza, Agapito Braganza, Pedro Braganza, Eugenio Perez, Juan G. Rodriguez, Cipriano Primicias, his son Cipriano “Tito” Primicias Jr., Aguedo F. Agbayani, Amadeo Perez, Angel B. Fernandez, Laureano Jack Soriano, and Jose de Venecia.

During martial law, Pangasinan’s leadership was generally affiliated with the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (New Society Movement), an umbrella organization created by Ferdinand Marcos in early 1978. A year after Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino’s assassination, Pangasinan witnessed its first rally demonstration in Dagupan City. In the parliamentary elections of 1984, two opposition candidates won. During the 1986 Snap Elections, central Pangasinan gave 50% to the Aquino-Laurel ticket, but eastern Pangasinan remained Marcos territory. In the 1992 presidential elections, Fidel V. Ramos of Asingan, Pangasinan, became the 10th president of the Philippine Republic, while Jose de Venecia was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The Livelihood of the People of Pangasinan

In the 19th century, the opening of the port of Sual in 1855 and the construction of the Manila-Dagupan railway in 1887 accelerated economic growth within and outside the province of Pangasinan. Farm and other marine products were exported to Hongkong, then a British colony. Besides Sual, Dasol Bay, which was 14 to 20 fathoms deep, served as a port. Bolinao harbor, 20 fathoms deep, was considered one of the best harbors for ocean vessels. The abundance of coral reefs along the shores of the province also indicated a rich marine life.

Salt production in Dansol, Pangasinan
Salt production in Dansol, Pangasinan (Photo courtesy of the Municipal Government of Dansol, Pangasinan)

Pangasinan’s fertile interior plains are irrigated by the Agno River, which supplies the biggest river system in the province. The Agno originates from Mount Data in Cordillera between Benguet and Mountain Province; its water runs down from the mountains of Benguet to Pangasinan through San Manuel. It reaches Lingayen Gulf via Tayug, Asingan, Santa Maria, Rosales, Villasis, Sto Tomas, Alcala, Bautista, Bayambang, Mangatarem, Urbiztondo, Aguilar, San Carlos, Bugallon, Binmaley, Lingayen, and Dagupan. The last four towns and city make up the Agno Delta.

Rice is Pangasinan’s principal crop. In the east and central areas, which are watered by the Agno, Angalacan, and Toboy-Tolong rivers, two or three harvests can be made in a year. In the mountainous and rain-fed western part, one rice crop annually is the norm. Other crops grown are tobacco, corn, vegetables like tomatoes and onions, and fruits such as watermelons and cantaloupes.

Fishing, the other major livelihood, is being threatened by the rampant use of the dynamite and cyanide methods in Lingayen Bay. The boom in fish farms along the coastal areas has lessened the crisis a bit, but this has not significantly increased the employment opportunities for fisherfolk. The recent phenomenon of converting fishponds into prawn farms has also created a certain degree of dependence on the export market. Nevertheless, Pangasinan remains famous for its fishery products. Bonuan, a Dagupan barrio, is identified with bangus (milkfish). Lingayen’s bagoong (fish paste) remains a national delicacy. Fish caught in Lingayen Bay cannot adequately meet the demand for it and so has to be supplemented by fish coming from as far away as Bataan and Bicol.

Fishponds in the province culture tilapia, oysters, and shrimps. Binmaley and Dagupan fishponds are known for tilapia and oysters. Shrimp farms in the province are found in Dagupan, Binmaley, Bani, and Dasol.

Postcard showing a roving cart pulled by a bull and loaded with native handicrafts from Pangasinan
Postcard showing a roving cart pulled by a bull and loaded with native handicrafts from Pangasinan (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Paz)

Basket weavers in Caboloan communities used to depend on the bamboo called “bolo” as chief raw material. But because of its large-scale use, this sturdy kind of bamboo, also used to make nipa houses, has dwindled in number and is now feared to be almost extinct. Handicraft in the 1980s was the highest dollar-earning industry in Pangasinan. 

A hexagonal bowl attributed to Pangasinan Philippine Basketry
A hexagonal bowl attributed to Pangasinan (Philippine Basketry: An Appreciation by Robert F. Lane. The Bookmark, Inc, 1986)

Bamboo-based products such as hampers, fish baskets, bookshelves, and chairs were cottage industries concentrated in the city of San Carlos and Basista town (formerly part of San Carlos City), which were the centers of ancient Caboloan’s Binalatongan. These bamboo-based products were peddled by ox-drawn carriages from San Carlos City to Manila and to other areas like Laguna, Quezon, and the Bicol region. The merchant’s journey from Caboloan to Manila ceased in 2004, but products are still sold through the paktura system, where products and sometimes even cattle are loaded in trucks for the metropolis.

Salakab or fishtrap attributed to Pangasinan
Salakab or fishtrap attributed to Pangasinan (Philippine Basketry: An Appreciation by Robert F. Lane. The Bookmark, Inc., 1986)

The everyday economic life of a number of Pangasinense depends on the production of rice cakes. The tupig is a native delicacy made from ground glutinous rice and coconut strips. The Calasiao puto is another rice-cake delicacy, which is now sold in some parts of Metro Manila. The tupig and Calasiao puto are the more popular pasalubong (souvenir treat) products among visitors.

In recent times, Barangay Palacpalac in the town of Pozorrubio has been known for its bladesmithing since its homegrown blacksmith, Hernando de Guzman, became popular for his swords used in Hollywood films such as The Lord of the Rings, Batman, and Braveheart.

Commercial development is evident in Dagupan City, the economic capital of Pangasinan. The 1990 earthquake, however, destroyed many structures, including one major bridge in Dagupan, and created a shift in investment to the eastern towns, especially those lying along the McArthur Highway, such as Urdaneta and Rosales.

Pangasinan Political System

Precolonial Pangasinan society was stratified into the pangolo or anacbanua, the timaua or freeborn, and the aripuen or slave, a structure similar to that of the Tagalog and the Visayan, with the kasamak of Pangasinan corresponding to the aliping namamahay of the Tagalog. Slavery for reasons of captivity or peonage also existed among the ancient Pangasinense. The pangolo presided over communities governed by naugalian or custom law. Customs regulated property relations, trading, interpersonal relations, and land and resource use.

Provincial Building of Pangasinan
Provincial Building of Pangasinan, 2014 (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Paz)

With the help of the anacbanua, the friars were able to convert the cailianes or followers of the pangolo. The anacbanua were later co-opted by the Spaniards to serve as their administrative surrogate, and they formed the core of the principalia (native elite). Efforts by the Dominican missionaries to centralize the population of Pangasinan into the poblaciones (towns) were largely unsuccessful, because the majority of the people preferred to stay close to their sources of livelihood: the rice fields, forests, rivers, streams, and the seashore. Only the anacbanua could afford to live bajo de las campanas (under the bells) because only they had the surplus wealth from their shares of the harvest to construct houses and maintain themselves without having to rely on their day-to-day subsistence on the land or water.

Wealthy Ilocano migrants, as gobernadorcillo (mayor) or alcalde mayor, were integrated into the anacbanua as political elites. Such was the case of Katipunan founder Valentin Diaz from Paoay, Ilocos Norte. His merchant parents moved to Tayug, Pangasinan, after the opening of the port of Sual in 1855. Another wealthy Ilocano was Isabelo Artacho, who had served as one of Emilio Aguinaldo’s generals in the Biak-na-Bato Constitution. Artacho was from Vigan but became governor of Pangasinan from 1905 to 1908.

Many anacbanua political elite during the American period would later be known nationally. Assemblyman Pedro Maria Sison from the 4th District would become senator in 1916. The country’s first chief justice, Manuel Moran, was from Binalonan, Pangasinan. He was appointed Supreme Court Associate Justice in 1938 and Chief Justice in 1945. Moran’s mother, Maria Palisoc, was from Lingayen and his father, the Irish-English William Moran, was part of the British-owned Manila Railway Company.

Under the American tutelage, the Sufragio Femenino or Women Suffragists of the north was organized to campaign for the women’s right of suffrage in the 1937 referendum. This was led by Maria Magsano of Dagupan. One of its members, Geronima Pecson from Lingayen, would become the country’s first woman senator.

In 1946, Eugenio Perez from San Carlos City, a member of the Liberal Party, would serve as the first Speaker of the House. Thirty-five years later, his son-in-law, Jose de Venecia from Dagupan, would become the Speaker of the House. Pangasinan is considered to be the third vote-rich province after Cebu and Cavite.

Pangasinan plays an important part in the politics of the Ilocos because its population comprises half of the region. There have been attempts in the postwar history of Pangasinan to separate the predominantly Ilocano eastern part from the Pangasinan central and western districts of the province, but so far none has prospered. One reason is that leadership in the province has shifted among politicians in both east and west, with Ilocano-speaking governors needing the support of the western districts, which have large populations, and Pangasinan-speaking governors needing the revenues from the more agriculturally productive eastern districts.

The present-day political structure of Pangasinan reflects the national system of governance down to the barangay level. Leadership, however, is fought over by scions of families traditionally looked upon as leaders within their communities and descendants of the ancient anacbanua. However, the increase in commerce and the emergence of a larger middle class in the province have opened the door for new names in the political arena. The last war also created opportunities to carve out political careers for nonmembers of the landed elite, especially those who served with distinction in the various guerrilla units. Recently, a new pool of political leaders drawn from among the student leaders and young professionals who were in the forefront of the anti-Marcos struggle has emerged to challenge the hold of the traditional elite.

With the aggressive increase of Ilocano migration into the province, fears of an eventual decline of the Pangasinan language have been expressed. In many towns, a social pattern has emerged: traditional families, notably those of anacbanua origins, continue to speak Pangasinan while the immigrant families speak Ilocano.

Pangasinan Cuture, Customs and Traditions

Traditionally, the maiden was the subject of much negotiation between her parents and those of the prospective groom. Each of the two families had an albahiyas (intermediary) who handled the negotiations by way of a poetical joust until the dasel (bride-price) was mutually agreed on. The dasel might consist of rice, farm tools, and draught animals. The bridegroom also had to render a period of service in the house of his future parents-in-law to prove his suitability as a husband for their daughter.

After this period of service, the groom’s parents performed the seguep, the ritual asking for the girl’s hand in marriage. The parents would bring 12 different viands on bigao (round, flat baskets) to the house of the girl’s parents. The marriage ceremony was climaxed by the handing over of the dasel to the bride’s parents. Feasting, drinking, dancing, and general merrymaking followed.

The institutions of dasel and albahiyas did not disappear with the arrival of the Spaniards and have in fact survived until fairly recently. With the progress of the cash economy, dasel consisted more and more of cash funds and residential lands, and less and less of farmland and draught animals.

Traditionally, there was a feast on the eve of the wedding and another on the day itself, held in the bride’s home. This feast was followed by the pagatin at the house of the groom, in which relatives from both sides contribute to the newlyweds’ starting capital, usually by pinning money on the couple’s clothes as they perform a wedding dance.

Divorce was easily obtained in precolonial Pangasinan on such grounds as the absence of an offspring. The bride-price remained with the bride’s parents. Should a husband want to resume conjugal relations with his ex-wife, the latter’s parents could demand a new bride-price.

The precolonial Pangasinense placed material possessions such as food, clothes, anointing oils, and gold with the dead for their use in the afterlife. The gold was to pay for the boatman who would ferry the dead along the length of a river to the spirit world. Slaves of important persons were beheaded and sent to serve their masters in the next world. While in mourning, relatives feasted and abstained from rice, wine, meat, and fish, partaking only of roots, fruit, and water. The bereaved also wore mourning clothes and a gold chain or a piece of rattan around the neck. The end of the mourning period was marked by a great banquet with much feasting and drinking.

In contemporary Pangasinan, husband and wife do the household chores together. As in any other family, wives work to augment the meager income their husbands make. According to visitors, many Pangasinan husbands cook better and take care of their children more than their wives.

The clannishness of many families today may trace its roots to the kinship system in ancient Pangasinan. This also accounts for the patronage system and political dynasties, which characterize the political life of the people.

Pangasinan Religious Beliefs and Practices

The ancient Pangasinense had an animistic religion, with Ama-Gaoley, also known as Apo Laki, as the chief deity. Lesser spirits called anito were responsible for a host of phenomena relating to the weather, plant growth, and good health, as well as the protection of rivers, trees, and other sites. Illness was deemed a punishment for offending the anito. These spirits were held with respect and deference.

Calasiao Church
Calasiao Church, 2014 (Joanner Fabregas, Wikimedia Commons)

There was extensive use of charms for varied purposes such as the warding off of evil spirits or bringing of good luck. Rituals were presided over by manag-anito, priestesses who invoked oracles and idols, interpreted dreams and omens, and divined propitious times for certain activities. The manag-anito as the community’s folk healer and religious leader still exists today.

Image of Our Lady of Manaoag
Image of Our Lady of Manaoag, 2014 (Wilfred Naval)

The arrival of the image of the Nuestra Señora del Santisimo Rosario de Manaoag has enriched in a syncretic way the manag-anito tradition. The ordinary folk appropriated the religious image of the Virgin as their own through the narrative of the Virgin’s apparition. The story of the Virgin who was beckoning (mantawag) a farmer to erect a church on the apparition site was propagated by the Roman Catholic Church itself. Hence, the image of the Virgin of Manaoag and her story serve as a symbol of the Pangasinan folk’s appropriation of Catholicism into their own religious life. The encounter between pre-Hispanic manag-anito tradition and Spanish Catholicism has evolved into the kind of religiosity that characterizes Pangasinan people today. A significant number of Pangasinan families, both conservative and traditional, send at least one son to a seminary school to become a priest.

Response to Spanish Catholicism is not limited to the observance of church religious feasts and obligations as well as the devotion to the Virgin of Manaoag. In the 1930s, another apparition of the Virgin allegedly took place in Barangay Pugaro in Manaoag. The Virgin appeared to Daniel Casabar beside a well that is believed to have curative powers for people with various ailments. Casabar’s father, Cirilo, was a former sacristan of the Manaoag Shrine. Casabar, who owned the property, built a chapel and a Stations of the Cross around what is now known as the Virgin’s Well. This has become a pilgrim site and tourist destination. Millenarian groups with links to Mount Banahaw, such as the Sagrada Familia and Tres Persona Solo Dios, are regular pilgrims to the Virgin’s Well.

Religious history in Pangasinan, which traces its roots to its manag-anito tradition, is inseparable from the growth of millenarian groups and agrarian unrest. The Guardia de Honor de Maria, led by Julian Baltasar, Agraviados by Antonio Valdes, Kapisanan Makabola Makasinag by Pedro Kabola, and Philippine National Association by Pedro Calosa, were religious organizations that fought against authorities from the Spanish to the American period. These organizations, which started as religious in nature, came to lead antifeudal struggles against colonial policies that were elitist and pro-landlord.

These millenarian movements are also the result of the syncretism of the manag-anito tradition and Catholicism. However, these are mainly found in eastern Pangasinan, where the feudal relationships in large agricultural estates have created problems of injustice and inequality. On the other hand, in central Pangasinan, where the Dominican religious order was established, the townspeople would receive Spanish Catholicism on their own terms as anacbanua.

Despite initial difficulties in evangelizing the Pangasinense, the Dominicans eventually secured a foothold for Catholicism in the province. Today, Pangasinan is a bastion of Catholicism in the country. However, other sects such as the Philippine Independent Church, the Iglesia ni Kristo, and the various Protestant denominations have their adherents, mainly among residents of Ilocano descent.

The religiosity of the Pangasinense is attributed by many to the Lady of Manaoag, to whom the Dominican missionaries consecrated the whole province. Hence, since Spanish times, Pangasinan has been the stronghold of Marian devotion in the Philippines. One Spanish priest observed that from childhood, men and women wore the rosary. When they died, a rosary was part of the funerary accouterments buried with them. In practically all homes, whether rich or poor, images of Our Lady of Manaoag occupy a prominent place in the house. All Pangasinan churches have an altar dedicated to the Virgin and most towns have cofradias del rosario (confraternity of the rosary).

Our Lady of Manaoag is a spectacular drawer of devotees not only from Pangasinan but also from the rest of the country. Many tales form part of the Manaoag legend. One gozo (religious song) chronicles the miracles attributed to the image, such as the healing of the sick and the lame, the resurrection of the dead, the putting out of fires, the driving away of pests, and the image’s own refusal to have her dress changed. Another important Marian image is the Virgen Dolorosa of Mangatarem, which is housed in a private home. The Virgin is believed to have protected the townspeople from the turmoils of war. The sash of the Virgin is also borrowed from time to time by pregnant women, who wear it on their last week of pregnancy to ensure a safe delivery.

Another popular image is that of the crucified Christ or the Divino Tesoro of Calasiao. The image is said to have enabled the cart that carried it to pass through the narrow door of the schoolroom. It is also believed to have helped a woman give birth after she underwent three days of labor; helped free a cuadrillero (prison guard) by causing an escaped prisoner in his charge to return to the fold of the law; and intervened in favor of a condemned man to receive a pardon from the King of Spain. Stories of healing attributed to the image have increased its following among devotees, who flock to Calasiao during the image’s fiesta from 24 April to 2 May.

Pangasinan is known for its faith healers as well. Faith healers Jun Labo and Alex Orbito are well known locally and internationally. Labo became mayor of Baguio City, and Orbito, who built the Pyramid of Asia near the Manaoag Shrine, became the spiritual adviser of former president Fidel V. Ramos of Asingan. Orbito is said to have predicted the presidency of Ramos who, before assuming office in 1992, was better known as a military man than a politician.

Pangasinan Old Architectures and Community

Precolonial Pangasinan dwellings differed little from the ones found in other coastal areas in the Philippines. They were of bamboo and nipa and were described in one Dominican tract as “small” and “narrow.” They were set on stilts with low roofs of nipa. The space beneath the house, which could be enclosed, sheltered animals for domestic consumption, and also served as an activity center, where household chores like winnowing and rice milling were done. Some houses had ladders for the living room and the batalan (kitchen). These ladders were drawn up at night as a precaution against thieves, burglars, and wild animals. The layout of the villages tended to follow the coastline and the riverbanks, with many of the houses built directly over the water.

American-era Gabaldon-style high school, Lingayen, Pangasinan

American-era Gabaldon-style high school, Lingayen, Pangasinan, 2015 (wikimediacommons/Hannachiever07)

With the coming of the Spaniards, the Pangasinan towns were laid out in the time-honored pattern of plaza-church-cabildo complex, with roads radiating at right angles to the plaza. Colonial houses were built around the church. Some of these vintage houses can still be found today in the provincial capital of Lingayen. Most pueblos were built on existing centers, but others were established after Spanish roads were built.

The majority of Pangasinan churches are Romanesque in style. However, the Cathedral of San Juan Evangelista in Dagupan City is European Baroque. In contrast, the Church of San Pedro y San Pablo in Calasiao is Philippine Baroque, that is, less ornate, with the gold leaf less burnished than San Juan’s. The Calasiao Church is built with bricks and has three naves. Most Pangasinan church altars are replete with angel motifs. Even churches that begin as Gothic end up as Baroque, like the Mangatarem Church. The Gothic style is popular only with the Iglesia ni Kristo temples.

The Church of the Purificacion in Binmaley is the largest church in Pangasinan, measuring more than 90 meters long. The church is made of brick with a wooden apse and a spacious nave. Two tiers of windows provide adequate lighting. Graceful capitals support the wooden cornices, and wooden pilasters are symmetrically arranged. The tall, slender, and elevated dome is flanked by four big windows and is supported by eight elegant wooden columns. There are five beautiful altars, excluding the baptistry, which is a chapel with an iron grill. The main altar is baroque. The floor of the presbytery and the dome is of Chinese marble tiles.

The Cathedral of Manaoag has a cruciform layout and has murals depicting stories related to the Lady of Manaoag. Behind the altar is a staircase leading to the sacristy, where a door opens to the niche of the image of the Virgin. Devotees climb this to be able to touch the garment of the image through an opening in the door.

The American colonial period saw the appearance of new types of buildings. One of the most important was the Gabaldon-type school building, designed by American architect William Parsons but so named after the Nueva Ecija Assemblyman Isauro Gabaldon, who authored the act that provided funding for the building of two thousand schools all over the country. In Pangasinan, its archetype is the Pangasinan Normal School in Bayambang and the High School in Lingayen, with their wide, circular columns and Roman arches. Capiz shell shutters are still evident in some schools although the offices and libraries have long since transformed their windows into glass jalousies with wooden or iron grills. The Sison Auditorium in Lingayen, another archetypal Gabaldon structure, is now being remodeled along more modern but less elegant lines.

The Lingayen provincial capitol is an impressive example of a kapitolyo built along neoclassic lines during the American period. Erected during the gubernatorial term of Daniel Maramba, it was the centerpiece of a larger town plan for Lingayen, which was divided into the following zones: the provincial government center, the municipal government center, the commercial district, and the residential areas. The provincial government center was located near the beach and included the provincial capitol, the provincial high school, the provincial trade school, and the governor’s mansion. A four-lane boulevard divided by a garden park replete with fountains connected the provincial government center with the main highway and the municipal center at the old town plaza. The old poblacion was designated as the residential area, and the commercial district was placed at the main highway, covering the approach to the kapitolyo.

Detail showing the caryatid of the Castillo House
Detail showing the caryatid of the Castillo House (Philippine Ancestral Houses 1810-1930 by Fernando N. Zialcita and Martin I. Tinio Jr. GCF Books, 1980)

The Castillo house in Rosales, while essentially following the bahay na bato (stone house) form prevalent in many areas in the Philippines, has art nouveau caryatids depicting female nudes on its facade, thus revealing the liberalization of social mores. Two buildings that betray some Chinese influence are the Urduja House, also known as Governor’s Mansion, in Lingayen and the Limahong marker in Lucap, Alaminos.

Since the 1970s, the urban development of Dagupan City has been spurred on by the commercialization of its market spaces, with consumers coming from all over the province as far as La Union and other towns in Ilocos Sur. Dagupan City’s downtown, which is the Chinatown of Pangasinan, is the center of commerce and trade, where people gather to transact business and avail themselves of other services. Thus, the city’s name comes from pandaragupan, meaning “to gather.” During the 1991 earthquake, Dagupan City’s infrastructure suffered severe damage, and the entire downtown (Chinatown) was buried 2 to 3 meters below ground level. However, rehabilitation did not take long and in fact for Dagupan, the disaster accelerated economic growth.

By the year 2000, the construction of malls and other business infrastructure had contributed to the rapid growth of the commercial center, requiring the expansion of the central business district to its peripheral locations. Dagupan Downtown, also known as Chinatown, is concentrated in Perez and A.B. Fernandez streets. However, the expansion of the business and information technology (IT) center from downtown has reached the Lucao district and stretches toward the town of Binmaley.

Pangasinan Handicrafts and Arts

Pangasinan abounds in handicrafts and is famous for bamboo and rattan artifacts. There are also handicrafts made of marsh grasses. A familiar sight down Central Luzon after harvest time are the bullock caravans originating from Pangasinan, laden with bamboo, rattan, and grass crafts, including chairs, tables, hampers, baskets, lamps, mats, and household bric-a-brac. Binalatongan, now San Carlos City, and Calasiao are known for bamboo crafts that have been exported abroad.

Mural in the Manaoag Cathedral depicting a legend about Our Lady of Manaoag
Mural in the Manaoag Cathedral depicting a legend about Our Lady of Manaoag (Katya Palladina, Dash Point Pirate,

Village artists have made six murals in the Manaoag Cathedral depicting the legend of the Virgin of Manaoag, from her first appearance to a farmer to the various miraculous events that followed the visitation, such as the time when the Manaoag Church burned down and the image remained unscathed.

The most accomplished of Pangasinan’s prominent visual artists is the late Victorio C. Edades, who was one of the pioneers of modernism in Philippine art and for which, in 1976, he was named a National Artist. Edades is from Barrio Bolosan in Dagupan City. He graduated valedictorian in 1915 and pursued a course in painting at the University of Washington. After his return to the Philippines, he mentored renowned painters Botong Francisco and Galo Ocampo.

Abstract artists of the 21st century are Nestor Vinluan of Pozorrubio and former dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Fine Arts, and Benjie Cabangis, also a UP professor, from Lingayen. Contemporary visual artists from Pangasinan who have had their works exhibited at the Liongoren Gallery are Erick Garayblas for painting and Alma “Urduja” Quinto for sculpture. Besides being a painter, Garayblas is an indie-game developer and the founder of Kuyi Mobile, a Philippine-based game development company. On the other hand, Quinto is a cultural worker who uses her art as a way of transforming communities and as a form of healing. The Liongoren Gallery in Cubao has housed many other artworks and exhibits. It is owned by curator Norma Liongoren from Dagupan and painter Alfredo Liongoren from Zambales.

Pangasinan Folk Literatures

Pangasinan folk literature has been traced to the Kabayawasan tradition, which includes diparan (proverb), bonikew (riddles), tambayo (lullabies), cancionan (song jousts), and tongtong (stories). Under the bayawas (guava) tree, children and elders would sing songs and tell stories that are improvisational in nature. These types of oral literature are light-hearted, witty, and sometimes sentimental. The most popular forms of indigenous poetry in Pangasinan that continue to be used today are the bonikew or pabitla and the diparan.

Riddles, which may be after-dinner diversions, come in rhyming couplets but may extend to three, four, or more lines. Verses have assonantal rhyme in different combinations and use metaphors to refer to the object of the riddle. The following is an example (Nelmida 1980, 90):

Pusoy balolaki,

Gatas na marikit,

Payak na andirit,

No sikaray manlaktip,

Saksakey so pansumpalan da. (Gagalen)

(Heart of a young man,

Milk of a maiden,

Wing of a dragonfly,

When they join together,

Would become just one. [Betel Chew])

Some riddles are puns on the answer. For example (Nelmida 1980, 87):

Ay salo, ay ama, ay agi! (Salomagi)

(Oh my goodness, oh father, oh brother! [Tamarind])

Objects of riddles include animals like the carabao, turtle, octopus, or bird; and plants like the bamboo, coconut, rice, and corn. Abundant in Pangasinan, the bamboo is the object of this riddle (Nelmida 1980, 88):

Olnos lan olnos

Sanga lan sanga

Ag balet mambunga. (Kawayan)

(Always bearing shoots

Always branching out

Yet bears no fruit. [Bamboo])

The activities of a rural community, such as farming, fishing, and coconut gathering, also become the objects of riddles. Farming is a common theme, as in the following (Nelmida 1980, 89):

Ulo to ayep

Say kabalgan to kiew

Say ikol to too. (Toon manbabaka)

(Its head is an animal

Its body is a tree,

Its tail is a person. [Man plowing with a carabao])

Urban themes include objects like slippers and urbanized costumes, as well as the Western forms of writing and priests’ sermons in church. The last two are exemplified by the following riddles (Nelmida 1980, 90-91):

Dalin ya amputi

Binin andeket

Intanem na lima

Inani sangi tan mata. (Papel tan

lapis, insulat tan binasa)

(White soil

Black seed

Sown by the hand

Reaped by mouth and eyes. [Paper

and pencil, writing and reading])

Walay sakey ya kiew ya


Kinalab na sakey ya makabat

Mataltalag so makasampat

Na rosas ton mapalagapag.

(Pari ya mansersermon ed pulpito)

(There is an overspreading tree

Climbed by a wise man

Very few can catch

The flowers falling from it.

[Priest delivering a sermon from the pulpit])

Riddles are occasionally revived because they reflect the tastes of the people of their time. They act as an indicator of the stage of a people’s economic development, as a showcase of their folk ethos, and as a mechanism for coping with major experiences like that of colonization.

There are probably close to 300 diparan or dimaran known in Pangasinan. These usually have two, three, or more lines and assonantal rhyme in various combinations. The following is a couplet with an aa rhyme scheme (Nelmida 1980, 85):

Agmo nibagan aralem so danum

No agmo ni atokor.

(Say not that the water is deep

If you have not plumbed its depth.)

Many of the images employed in Pangasinan proverbs are commonplace objects seen and found in the field, farm, or village. Large feet, for example, are singa karyo (like shovels), while big, bulging eyes are matan singa bisokol (eyes as big as a snail). A pregnant woman’s heavy and shapeless body is singa inpakesneg a lasong (like a mortar set on the ground); the slow-moving person is singa tataleman a belas (like rice soaked in water).

Pangasinan proverbs are generally didactic, underscoring the importance of fair play, truthfulness, prudence, honor, kindness, humility, and industry, and condemning the opposites of these virtues. The following riddle counsels prudence (Nelmida 1980, 81):

No agmo labay so nadangdang,

Agka onaasinger ed apuy.

(If you don’t want to get singed

Don’t go near the fire.)

The art of composing poetry was developed early, and poetical fencing was a regular feature of prenuptial negotiations. A poet for the groom, for example, recites a verse about a butterfly in search of a flower, to which the poet for the bride replies that their flower cannot be tasted by any butterfly. The verbal joust is couched in such metaphors and continued until an agreement has been reached.

Book cover of a Pangasinan impanbilay or metrical romance
Book cover of a Pangasinan impanbilay or metrical romance, 1961 (Nicanor G. Tiongson Collection)

The Spanish Christian influence on Pangasinan poetry is seen in the gozos, the impanbilay, and the pasyon. Usually found in the novenas to various saints, the gozos are verses of praise and supplication to the saint in whose honor the novena is being held. Most famous are the gozos to the Lady of Manaoag.

The impanbilay, literally “life,” is the Pangasinan metrical romance, which is the counterpart of the Ilocano panagbiag and the Tagalog awit or buhay. Usually set in dodecasyllabic quatrains, the impanbilay narrates the lives and exploits of heroes and characters in kingdoms set in medieval Europe. Some of the more famous impanbilay include the Impanbilay nen Florante tan Laura ed Nanariay Albania (Life of Florante and Laura in the Kingdom of Albania), 1925, a translation by Miguel Gumawil of Francisco Baltazar’s awit; the Impanbilay day Pitoran Sanaagui ya Infantes de Lara ed Nanariay Espana tan si Principe Morada Gonzalo ed Nanariay Turquia ya Aguirad Sananey a Ina (Life of the Seven Children of Lara in the Kingdom of Spain and the Prince Morada Gonzalo in the Kingdom of Turkey who is their half-brother), 1930; the Impanbilay nen Esmenio ya Malamang ed Ateng to tan Anac na Saray Masimpit a San-asawan Agustin tan Aduana ed villa Espeleta tan Sacup na Ciudad na Roma (The Life of Esmenio in the town of Espeleta of the Kingdom of Rome), 1961 edition; the Impanbilay nen Padre Juan tan Beata Maria ed Ciudad na Roma (Life of Father Juan and Blessed Mary in the city of Rome), 1961 ed.; and the Impanbilay nen Princesa Estela ya Anac nen Ari D. Felix tan Reyna Beatriz ed Nanariay Napoles (Life of Princess Estela, Daughter of King Felix and Queen Beatrice in the Kingdom of Naples), 1961 ed. Other narratives that use the awit form but are about other topics are Impanbilay na Manoc a Tortola (Life of the Chicken as a Turtledove), 1935; and Pedro Sison’s Bilay Daray Sira ed Dalem na Danum (Life of the Fishes in the Water), 1939.

The pasyon or narrative of Jesus Christ has a version in Pangasinan. The earliest example, as recorded by W.E. Retana, forms part of the Gozos a Pangguiaalang ed Santa Cruz a Inateyay Cataoan tin Jesucristo: tan Gozos ed Santos Angel a Bantay tan Pantaotaoag day Camareroad Purgatorio tan Gozos ed San Roque (Praises of Praise to the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ: and Praises to the Guardian Angel and Lamentations to the Souls of Purgatory and Praises to Saint Roche), 1861. A second pasyon exists in manuscript form and is titled Passio Domini Nostri Jesu Criste, whose text in Pangasinan was copied by Juan de Montimayor in 1849 from a work probably written by the Dominican Fray Gonzalez. The third pasyon is the most popular, the Pasion na Cataoan Tin Jesucristo ya Dinemuet ed Saray Masantos a Evangelio tan Pinaliman na Saray Daquel a Incalingo ya Oalad Saray Arum a Pasion a Impluima (The Complete Passion of Jesus Christ Taken from the Holy Gospel and Purged of the Many Mistakes Found in other Written Passion). Originally published in 1855, this pasyon covers events from the creation of the world to the resurrection of Jesus. It uses the quintilla verse and has lessons at the end of major episodes.

During the American colonial period, many poets wrote poems to be declaimed or sung. Among them is Pablo Mejia, considered the “Prince of Pangasinan Poets.” Mejia wrote Bilay Tan Kalkalar nen Rizal (Life and Teachings of Rizal) in metered verse and classical Pangasinan. Other poets of the 20th century are Pedro Sison, Onofre Abalos, Miguel Acosta, Gabriel Braganza, Zoilo Cendaña, Onofre Sison, Francisco Untalan, and Jose Oliveros Valerio. Most of their poems were featured in Lioaoa, a weekly in Pangasinan and Ilocano published from 1915 to 1932; in Tonung, a weekly in Pangasinan edited by Mejia from 1928 to 1935; in Silew, a monthly magazine published from 1934 to 1943; and in other publications like the Mafa, Palaris, The Pangasinan News, The Agno River Times, The Pangasinan Courier, and, after World War II, The Pioneer Herald and The Sunday Punch, the last having been founded by Ermin Garcia in 1954.

Pangasinan fiction begins with the uliran (folktales) that form part of the oral tradition spanning different periods in Pangasinan history. Three favorite folktales have to do with the origin of the Hundred Islands, the naming of the Angalacan River, and the founding of the Manaoag Church.

The Hundred Islands are said to be the bodies of slain warriors who defended the land of Raha Masebeg from invaders across the sea. Fighting to the last man, the warriors led by the Raha’s son, Datu Mabiskeg, succeeded in annihilating the invading force before they touched land. The gods were said to have immortalized the warriors so that they could watch over their homeland forever.

The mermaid of Angalacan River whose appearance on moonlit nights signifies a plentiful catch
The mermaid of Angalacan River whose appearance on moonlit nights signifies a plentiful catch (Illustration by Lou Pineda-Arada)

Along the Angalacan, a mysterious lady frequently appeared to fishers, strolling along the riverbank during moonlit nights. During those nights, the fishers’ catch was plentiful. One day, a fisher caught a huge fish. Refusing to heed the people’s pleas to release it, the fisher took the fish home and cooked it for supper. The fisher was found dead the next morning. After this, the lady no longer appeared on moonlit nights, and fishers found their catch diminished. Whenever a person drowns in the river, the people attribute it to the mermaid’s revenge and they whisper, “Angalaca la met!” (You’ve got one again!).

In Manaoag, a peasant was going home one evening from the farm when he heard somebody calling him. Turning, he saw a lady on top of a hill. The lady turned out to be the Blessed Virgin who asked that a church be built for her on that site. The Virgin was then referred to as the managtaoag (she who calls), later shortened to manaoag.

Pangasinan legend about a peasant’s encounter with the Blessed Virgin of Manaoag
Pangasinan legend about a peasant’s encounter with the Blessed Virgin of Manaoag (Illustration by Lou Pineda-Arada)

In the novenas, religious literary forms such as the calar have been composed to venerate the Our Lady of Manaoag and to celebrate the feasts of patron saints and All Saints’ Day. The calar is a narrative illustrating the powers and effectivity of certain devotions or religious practices. For All Souls’ Day, one calar explains that souls can be saved from purgatory if people can forgive those who have done them wrong. Following the narration of the calar is the omameng, a reflective or meditative discussion of the calar’s story.

Pangasinan popular fiction flourished, especially in the first half of the 20th century. Some of the notable fictionists who published short stories in the Silew, meaning “light,” and Sandiy Silew are Juan Villamil, Leonarda Carrera, Nena Mata, Francisco Rosario, and Maria Magsano.

Of the novelists from Pangasinan, Maria Magsano is considered by many as one of the most important. Although she started serializing her works in Silew before World War II, her novels were not published as books until after the war. Her first novel, Colegiala Dolores (Convent-Bred Dolores), 1952, is about a wealthy heiress who chooses to marry the schoolteacher Mario. The padre cura (parish priest), who is interested in Dolores, has Mario jailed for being a Katipunero (revolutionary) and creates other misunderstandings to separate the two. In the end, the two are reconciled. Another novel, Samban Agnabenegan (My Sacred Oath), 1954, is about the whirlwind courtship between Evangeline Lopez, only child of Iloilo landowners, and Dr Rudolfo Villamin, son of Pangasinan peasants. A conflict arises because Evangeline has to compete with Rudolfo’s profession for his time and attention. A third novel, Bales na Kalamangan (Price of Infidelity), is the story of Rosalinda, who is abandoned by her wealthy lover, Don Alejandro, by whom she has several children. Alone, Rosalinda rears her children, who all succeed in their professions. When Don Alejandro’s wife dies, his adopted son takes steps to reunite his father with Rosalinda.

Another important novelist is Juan C. Villamil, whose novels include Ampait a Pagbabawi (Bitter Repentance), 1950; Amis na Kapalaran (The Smile of Fate); Pinisag ya Puso (A Broken Heart); Dyad Tapew day Daluyon (On the Crest of the Waves); Sika tan Siak (You and Me); and Pakseb na Kapalaran (Decree of Fate). Also significant is Serapio Doria Fernandez, who published in the news magazine Tonung; and Miguel Acosta who wrote Marco Merlin, 1930, a novel that underscores the importance of education to an individual who wants to succeed in life.

Many Pangasinan writers would write in English in the 1960s. Armando Ravanzo, considered the guru of creative writing in English in the province, was an editor of the English-language magazine, Traveller. Ravanzo’s works were published regularly in the magazine, together with those of Manny Cornel and Rey Hortaleza.

National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose is best known for his Rosales novels: The Pretenders, 1962; My Brother, My Executioner, 1973; Mass, 1973; Tree, 1978; and Po-on, 1984. Two other landmark novels in English are America Is in the Heart, 1946, by diaspora writer Carlos Bulosan, and His Native Soil, 1941, by Juan Laya. Feudal exploitation in the vast agricultural estates of the eastern towns of Tayug, San Quintin, Santa Maria, Umingan, and Rosales during the American colonial rule was the center of Jose’s Rosales novels and Bulosan’s works, which depict the landlord-tenant relations and the Huk rebellion.

In 2000, the earlier Silew would be resurrected with the Balon Silew, meaning “new light,” which featured works written in Pangasinan, Ilocano, and Tagalog by old and young writers. The most prolific writer in the Pangasinan language today is Santiago Villafania of Santa Barbara. He has published several books on poetry, among which are Balikas ed Caboloan (Verses from Caboloan), Malagilion, a portmanteau of the words “malapati, agila, lion” (dove, eagle, lion), Pinabli (Beloved), Bonsaic Verses, and Ghazalia. Villafania echoes the patriotic voices of the early anacbanua writers but displays more determination in the propagation of the Pangasinan language as a language of poetry and philosophy.

Pangasinan Folk Songs

Pangasinan songs may be associated with certain seasons of the Catholic calendar, such as Christmas or Lent; with particular occupations or activities such as fishing or farming; and with stages in the life cycle such as courtship or weddings.

The Pangasinan aligando may be the longest Christmas carol in the Philippines. Probably deriving from the Spanish word for gift—aguinaldo—the aligando consists of 142 quatrains. The singing takes about one-and-a-half hours. The aligando is sung either in the traditional or modern way. The traditional aligando has a four-quatrain introduction consisting of 13 to 15 syllables per line. The aligando proper has eight to nine syllables per line and focuses on the story of the Magi. The singing of the aligando is held after supper on the evenings between the Feast of the Epiphany on 6 January and the Feast of the Presentation at the Temple on 2 February. It is sung by women in the first voice and men in the second. The aligando carolers kneel as they sing the lines about the Adoration of the Magi of the Christ Child. This is a 32-line passage rendered in a slower tempo than the rest of the song. The story ends with the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt.

The modern aligando, called the galikin, from the Pangasinan word galicayon, literally “come, all of you,” is also known as the short aligando because it drops some stanzas of the original and modifies its language. It includes a refrain with a catchy tune, the first words of which are “Galikin, galikin,” the Pangasinan equivalent of “Adeste Fideles.”

During the Holy Week, the pabasa or chanting of the pasyon, lasts for three nights, from Holy Wednesday through Good Friday. However, the chanting may be shortened to only one night if the cantores (singers) sing until dawn. Like its counterparts in the other regions of the country, the Pangasinan pasyon is a comprehensive narration that starts from the story of the Creation to Christ’s passion, resurrection, and last days on earth.

In May, the Santa Cruz de Mayo in Pangasinan remains a wholesome entertainment at summertime especially for young children and students on vacation. In the past, the procession was held daily. The choristers, composed of old ladies, sing most stanzas of the song while the young ones sing the refrain, which goes this way:

Lawas sikay galgalangen

Santa Cruz sikay anapen.

(Always you will be venerated

Holy Cross, we will look for you.)

The biggest fun, however, is the Liwas si or Galletas tan cafe (Always Cookies and Coffee), in which the people eat galletas (plain cookies) with coffee.

In October, the Maria Dayat na Kasantosan (Mary, Sea of Holiness) is a special devotion to the Lady of Manaoag. This is celebrated through the long gozos capping the daily prayers during the nine-day prayer or novena. This singing is not necessarily done in the church itself.

On the Feast of All Saints, the pantaotaoag is sung. The song is a lament for the souls in purgatory. It contains the following: two introductory stanzas of two lines each, 13 stanzas of two lines each, and another 13 stanzas of six lines each. The six-line stanzas have nine to 11 syllables per line and are rhymed in an AAAABB pattern.

Songs, dances, and rituals are common ways of celebrating occasions that mark the life cycle of a person. Since precolonial times, a child who reached the age of seven has been celebrated through a ritual called panagcorona (crowning) marking the the child’s coming of age. The seven-year-old child is garbed in festive attire and is made to stand in the middle of the hall on a dais. Participants in this ceremony are the youthful celebrant, the parents, the godparents, and the invited guests. In the ceremony, the panagcorona song is sung, accompanied by clapping and hugging.

Maidens are serenaded by their suitors with a petek (literally, standing in front of one’s house), also known as harana. Suitors would sing songs of love, such as the distinctively Pangasinan Rosing songs. Rosing is a favorite name for a fair maiden, similar to the Visayan “Inday,” the Ilocano “Manang Biday,” and the Tagalog “Neneng.” “Malinak Lay Labi” (Clear Is the Night) is a petek or serenade. Popularized by Linda Magno over the airways, it has a haunting melody, whose lyrics describe how the lover is awakened during a quiet evening from a dream of his ladylove whose beauty is “a joy to behold.” “Andi Bali, Rosing” (It’s Alright, Rosing) is one of the oldest known serenades, in which the lover expresses his fear that his sweetheart might forget him. “Panterter Na Luak Mansalmak” (My Heart Cries) is another standard petek. Here, the lover is in the depths of despair and if he continues to be in such a state because of the way his sweetheart treats him, he would prefer to “take poison that takes away life.”

Love songs in Pangasinan range from courtship songs to serenades that speak of the simple joy of loving or of frustration and despair. There are also nuptial songs sung before or after the marriage ceremony which include reflections of the bride-to-be and songs from the parents-in-law.

“No Siak So Mangaro” (When I Love) is a favorite tune for community singing at conferences and seminars in Pangasinan. In the song, the lovesick swain proclaims his undying love and care for his paramour, a devotion that must be matched by his rivals for the beloved’s affection. He will “cover with a handkerchief the floor you walk upon.” He imagines his lady as a lemon candy he rolls playfully on the tip of his tongue. He would neither chew nor swallow her but let her stay there and “enjoy” her. He adds that should he die, he would live again if she would only look at him.

“No Siak So Mangasawa” (When I Marry) tells of how the would-be husband will take care of the would-be wife as if she were a baby. He would spoon-feed her at mealtime, prepare her milk upon waking up, drive away the mosquitoes at bedtime, bathe her, comb her hair, and massage her tired muscles. All of these he will do in the hope that she will never forget him.

“Say Pusok So Mannangnangis” (My Heart Cries) may have originated in the town of Bayambang, where it is quite well known. It is a song of despair, in which the lover complains of the way his beloved treats him. He writes her but she drops him only a few lines folded in a tiny piece of paper. He longs for her and he asks the wind to waft his longing toward her who is an extension of his life.

In “Matalag Ya Ngarem” (It’s a Rare Afternoon), a lover sighs and pines for his loved one because he fails to see her one afternoon. His head aches and his body is “spiritless”; anything he eats “hardens like cement in the chest” and the water he drinks “curdles in the throat.” It’s a rare afternoon and week that he doesn’t count the days until they are together again.

“Say Onloob Ed Estado” (One Who Enters the Married State) is an engaged girl’s wedding song as she ponders her fate. She says it is difficult to enter the married state because one has to leave one’s parents. She then calls on the plants and the weeds to shed off their leaves because she is now “leaving the parental abode.”

“Abeten Koy Manugang Ko” (I’m Going to Meet My Daughter-in-Law) is sung by the groom’s mother after the wedding reception, which is held at the bride’s house. The bridal party goes to the groom’s house, where a simpler reception called pagatin (stepping on) awaits them. On her way to the gathering, which is usually smaller and consists only of immediate relatives and close friends, the groom’s mother sings a joyful welcome song as she goes out to meet her daughter-in-law. She says she is “going to dance the kindo-kindo” and will ask the bride to sit by her side. She then sings of “two hearts united, beating as one,” and of her fond hope that “no marital spats would mar the new couple’s life” so that they will live a prosperous life. After the song, a boisterous ceremony called the paketketan follows. The well-wishers shower money or attach bills to the bodice and shirt of the newlyweds, and the family of the two parties gamely try to outdo each other’s generosity.

In “Say Anak Liglioay Ateng” (A Child Is the Joy of Her Parents), parents reminisce over the years when their child, now a bride, was still a baby and of how she was a “balm to banish all cares and sorrow,” how she grew into adulthood and “searched for a rooster.” As the young couple listens to this song, they are reminded that within the foreseeable future, they too will have their own child, to whom they will sing lullabies, and who, when grown, will also look for a mate.

Pangasinan work songs are about farming and fishing, the two primary livelihoods of the Pangasinense. “Cansioy Dumaralos” (Song of the Farmer) is full of praise and pride for the farmer without whom would result in people going hungry. “Pinalapa” (A Clearing) chronicles the hardships of maintaining a clearing in the mountain, although it has a lively tune and is sung with many mimetic gestures. “Cansioy Sumisigay” (Song of the Fisher) speaks of the joy of fishing in calm seas and the peace and egalitarian values engendered by fishing-related activities. “Diman Ed Mangabol” (Over in Mangabol) glorifies the life of the fisher, where “hunger is unknown.” These work songs are expressed in four-line verses consisting of eight or nine- syllable lines, in mono-rhyming pattern.

Pangasinan ballads have a humorous bent to them. “Dalem na Dayat” (In the Depths of the Sea) is a song about a man who lives under the sea for three months, and who, having eaten his fill of seafood, cannot find water to drink. “Duaran Mamarikit” (Two Spinsters) is a satire on choosy women who fear the onset of spinsterhood and would settle for even a toothless old man. “Linaway Tawen” (It’s Heaven’s Will) is a comic song about the disabled doing what they are supposed to be incapable of doing: the dumb singing, the deaf listening, the blind watching, the toothless grinning, the armless playing the guitar, the harelipped playing the flute, the paralytic clapping, and so on. “Pito, Pito, Combibe!” (Whistle, Whistle, Halt!) is sung with much body movement and is about a man who, while searching for his lost love, is stopped by a police officer at a checkpoint. “Kansioy Bulangero” (Cockfighter’s Song) is a cockfighter’s humorous farewell song to cockfighting after he realizes the folly of this vice.

Pangasinan Folk Dances 

Imunan or courtship dance performed by Cabaloan Performing Arts Guild
Imunan or courtship dance performed by Cabaloan Performing Arts Guild, 2016 (Milo A. Paz, LotusBlaze Projects)

In Pangasinan, dancing is a necessary social skill, whether one is paying court to a lady or hobnobbing with political leaders and their wives. Fiestas and affairs are capped with dancing in the plaza. The imunan (jealousy) is a courtship dance from San Jacinto, depicting a love triangle involving two girls and a boy. The boy tries to please the girls, who are trying their best to get his attention and favor. He lavishes attention on the girls, flirts with them, and dances with each one. The attempt is successful and, at the end of the dance, all is sweetness and harmony among the three dancers. The girls wear a long skirt, camisa, or blouse with long, wide sleeves; a soft panyo or pañuelo, which is a kerchief worn around the neck; and corcho or chinelas (slippers). The first girl has a fan hanging at the right side of the waist and the second girl hangs her fan on her left. The boy wears the barong tagalog, which is a long-sleeved shirt buttoned in front; dark or light-colored trousers; and chinelas or shoes.

Binasuan performed by the Cabaloan Performing Arts Guild
Binasuan performed by the Cabaloan Performing Arts Guild, 2016 (Milo A. Paz, LotusBlaze Projects)

Video: BINASUAN Folk Dance

From Bayambang comes the binasuan (literally “with glass”), which is performed by a girl or several girls and requires extraordinary grace and dexterity. Dancing to the tune of “Pitoy Oras” at three counts to a measure, the girl balances a glass on her head and one on each palm. The glasses are half-filled with water, and the dancer must execute continuous fast turns then kneel or roll on the floor without spilling the water or dropping the glasses.

Similarly, the courtship dance kumakaret makes use of glasses half-filled with wine or tuba (fermented coconut water). It originated from the kumakaret or wine makers. The girl wears a siesgo, a tailless long skirt with tapis, kimona or blouse with short sleeves, and soft panyo on her left shoulder. The boy wears camisa de chino, which is a collarless, loose, long-sleeved shirt; and colored trousers. The partners, both barefoot, face each other two meters apart. The girl stands at the right side of the boy when facing the audience and has a glass on top of her head and on each palm.

The tanobong is a dance named after a kind of grass used for making brooms. In the coastal towns of Pangasinan, people gather tanobong flowers when not engaged in fishing. The dance depicts the different steps in broom making. Each dancer is dressed in any working costume and is provided with a wooden bolo or any similar instrument for cutting, a wooden hammer or pounder, and a chopping board. Stools or chairs are placed at the back of the room, one for each dancer.

Group of dancers performing the sayaw ed tapew na bangko of Pangasinan Sayaw sa Bangko Folk Dance
Group of dancers performing the sayaw ed tapew na bangko of Pangasinan (CCP Collections)

Video: Sayaw Sa Bangko [Sayaw Ed Tapew Na Bangko] - Filipino Folk Dance

The sayaw ed tapew na bangko (dance on top of a bench) [Sayaw sa Bangko Folk Dance] comes from Lingayen and is another demonstration of grace and agility. It is danced on top of a bench about 2 to 3 meters long, 15 centimeters wide, and 60 centimeters high. The girl wears a skirt with a long tail tucked at the right side of the waist, a camisa, and a soft panyo around the neck. The boy wears a camisa de chino and colored trousers. Both dancers are barefoot. The bench is placed horizontally at the center of the room or stage. Partners stand in front of the bench 60 centimeters apart from each other, facing the audience, with the girl at the boy’s right side. They execute their steps in 2/4 time, then change to 3/4 time, moving backward and forward, hopping, and making lateral cuts with the foot, and bowing to each other.

The pastora (shepherdess) is a courtship dance popular in many towns of Pangasinan, especially in Bugallon, Bayambang, Malasiqui, and San Carlos. The girl wears a maskota skirt, camisa, and soft panyo folded in a triangle over the left shoulder, with the two ends tied together down at the right side of the waist. A handkerchief hangs at the left side of her waist. The boy wears a camisa de chino and white trousers. A handkerchief is kept in his pocket. The partners stand opposite each other two meters apart. The girl is at the right when facing the audience.

Pangasinan Rituals

Pangasinan has a wealth of theater forms, from rituals of pre-Hispanic origins, such as the gaton (offering) and the pantaotaoag (to call upon), to the genres developed during the Spanish period, to modern forms. The gaton is a ritual where food is offered to the spirits to appease them for whatever transgressions human beings may have committed against them, such as acapuldac, or unintentionally scalding a spirit by throwing boiling water on its abode, and acapasakit, or unintentionally harming a spirit while toting firewood or doing farm work. The gaton is best done at dusk when spirits are abroad or noon when the underworld communes with humankind.

The pantaotaoag is performed by a managtaoag or medium, as an augury for an afflicted person who may have caught a spirit’s mischievous fancy, a condition called abanbanuan. The managtaoag throws ilik (unhusked rice grains) on a plate of water while reciting incantations. The formation that the ilik will take will be the managtaoag’s basis for interpretation. Another form of augury is breaking the shell of an egg over a glass of water and looking at how the yolk will separate from the albumen.

Religious observances, especially during Lent, have given birth to some theater forms that Pangasinan shares with other Christianized groups in the Philippines. On Easter morning, the abet-abet is performed before daybreak. An arch with a black streamer around it is erected near the church. Devotees dressed like the Mater Dolorosa line up towards the arch. An angel approaches the Blessed Virgin, takes off her black veil, and announces that Christ is risen. The Blessed Mother is now dressed in her customary blue and white as she faces her son, who is clad in radiant white. Somewhere on the patio, an effigy of Judas is burned.

In some towns of Pangasinan, the sinakulo is held on the street during Holy Week. Characters are costumed the way holy images of Lenten processions are dressed, with Christ in the robes of the Nazarene complete with wig and rays, and the Virgin Mary in traditional blue veil and white gown. The dialogue in Pangasinan is amplified by a loudspeaker placed atop a jeep that is parked behind the cast. This sinakulo is usually held in the daytime.

Pangasinan Sarsuwela

The first written sarsuwela in Pangasinan, Say Liman Ag Naketket, Pampinsioan (The Hand That Cannot Be Bitten, Must Be Kissed), 1901, was by Catalino Palisoc of Lingayen, acknowledged to be the “Father of the Pangasinan Sarsuwela.” He himself produced the play, which was restaged repeatedly for more than 25 years until his death. An admirer of Rizal, Palisoc was deeply influenced by the anti-friar tone of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (Subversion). The play’s villain, a friar, smears the reputation of Luis, lover of Filipinas, who is coveted by the friar’s servant. The friar also maneuvers to have his servant win the position of capitan over Luis’s father, who is more deserving. All these machinations are attempts to mask the friar’s own desire for Filipinas. Luis and Filipinas elope to Manila, where Luis joins the revolutionary movement Katipunan and later returns to his hometown to save his and Filipinas’s families from the friar’s ire.

Palisoc was primarily a propagandist and educator who sought to deliver telling messages and pointed questions about social ills using his sarsuwela as his platform. The other surviving plays of Palisoc are Sakit na Baley (Disease of the Country), 1905; Say Abangonan (Old Customs), 1906; Say Mangasi Singa Kinalab na Balita (One Who Shows Charity Is Like a Tree Smothered by the Balete), 1906; Natilak So Inaral ag Natilak so Natural (Learning Is Sooner Shed Off than One’s Nature), 1907; Nanariay Ambugan (Kingdom of Braggarts), 1908; Say Mibibyang (The Meddlers), 1912; Pacayariy Pilac (The Power of Silver), 1913; Politicay Tilaan (Political Bluffing), 1914; Manliket Ka Baley Ko (Rejoice, My Country), 1919; and Talonggaring na Seseg (The Advantage of Diligence), 1920. In these, he raises issues such as the deterioration of the Pangasinan tongue, the value of education, women’s right to suffrage, the people’s colonial mentality, the bias against manual labor, social inequality, and the insincerity inherent in politics. In emphasizing the message rather than dwelling on the nuances of the medium, Palisoc has been criticized for his aesthetic and structural shortcomings.

Another sarsuwelista (sarsuwela playwright) of Pangasinan was the prolific Pablo Mejia who injected meaningful lessons and raised valid social issues through his plays. His first sarsuwela, Say Aron Ginmalet (Ingrained Love), poked fun at “deeply rooted false values and bad habits” such as judging people by what they owned, preferring foreign-made over local products, and looking down on honest work. Basingkawel (Election Campaign), a two-act sarsuwela completed in 1911, parodies the gimmicks and machinations of politicians during elections. The popular Manuk ya Ibubulang (Fighting Cock), also known as Silib na Tubonbalo (Cleverness of Youth), 1914, depicts the misadventures of two youthful lovers who resort to various tricks to circumvent the obstacles put in their way by the girl’s parents. A song from this sarsuwela, “Say Liglioay Ateng” (The Joy of Parents), is now a Pangasinan folk song.

Panaun Aman (The Past Era) was written by Mejia in 1915 and is considered to be the longest sarsuwela in Pangasinan. First presented in Calasiao on 9 July 1916, it bears thematic similarities with Palisoc’s Say Liman. The father of the heroine Halo prevents her from marrying the rebel Nanoy, because he does not want to displease the friar. He has plans of running for the position of capitan or mayor. The friar casts covetous eyes upon the heroine, who manages to flee from him. Nanoy and Halo are secretly married. The revolution breaks out. Nanoy is captured and exiled, and returns only upon the arrival of the Americans. Nanoy leads the revolutionary forces into town, captures the friar and the guardias civiles, but frees them over the objections of the people, saying that the revolution was fought to correct the injustices of those in power and not for revenge. The families are reunited and the sarsuwela ends happily with the passing of tyranny and the dawn of peace and tranquility.

Panaun departs from Mejia’s other plays in that the comic phrases and interludes that characterize them are absent. While it follows Say Liman’s revolutionary and anti-friar theme, Panaun’s characters have more depth, and its language is more quiet and realistic.

The following year, Mejia wrote Dosay Liput (Treachery’s Punishment), a short sarsuwela about a man trying to avenge his friend’s betrayal. This was followed in the same year by Divorcio, which presents the pros and cons of divorce. In the end, the issue remains unsettled, and the spectator is left to decide for himself about the desirability of divorce.

Other than Palisoc and Mejia, Pangasinan sarsuwelistas are Pablo Bermechea of Dagupan; Juan Biason of Mangaldan; Francisco Cruz, Juan Cruz, Jose Santos, Sergio Ferrer, and Mike Ventanilla of Lingayen; Basilio Dalope of Urdaneta; Alejandro Mendoza of San Carlos; Andres Tamayo of Santa Barbara; Gregorio Venezuela of Pozorrubio; Pablo Vicente of Asingan; and Jose T. Pecson, Vicente Quintana, Francisco Reynoso, Antonio M. Sison, Juan Villamil, Felix Zamora, Juan Santos, Julian Zulueta, Jose Mejia, and Nicolas Mejia.

Favorite themes among Pangasinan sarsuwelista include Spanish tyranny, as seen in Sergio Ferrer’s Baclao ya Gulong-gulong (Chain around the Neck), Mejia’s Say Panaun, and Francisco Cruz’s Taloran Pasak na Filipinas (Three Nails Piercing the Philippines); the local elections, as presented in Palisoc’s Politicay Tilaan, Mejia’s Basingkawel, and Juan Santos’s Say Karamilay Basingkawel (Election Campaign Practices) in 1935; and the value of education, as shown in Palisoc’s Nanariay Ambugan and Mejia’s Ginmalet. In using the sarsuwela as a tool for exposing social ills, Palisoc established a norm where “the dramatists and the audience had come to agree that a zarzuela which did not preach a moral was not worth its salt” (Magno 1954, 19).

One sarsuwelista, Juan T. Biason, made family relations the focus of his works, such as in Marocsan Mansiomang (The Unkind Stepmother), Malamang ya Anak (The Ungrateful Daughter), Maaron Anak (The Loving Child), and Say Biin Maarod Asawa to (The Woman Who Loves Her Husband). Pangasinan audiences were scandalized by his Say Biin Maagap a Oalna (A Virtuous Woman), which depicted the life of an adulteress.

The sarsuwela has since declined, superseded by the movies. The skill and quality of sarsuwelistas, who have since relied more on prepared tunes to accompany their songs, have also declined. The sarsuwela has also lost its didactic character, with postwar sarsuwela being increasingly focused on love. Although there still are minor performances, the sarsuwela are now usually adjuncts to a variety show, which includes cancionan (literally “singing session”), comedy skits, acrobatics, and other features.

Cancionan in Pangasinan

A couple performing the musical debate cancionan
A couple performing the musical debate cancionan (De Asis 1984)

Poetical fencing found its full flower in the cancionan, a debate in verse and music, pitting a man against a woman. The cancionan verses vary from 4-8 lines per stanza and are usually set to known tunes. In the old days, the cancionista used the ponto natural, which allows the voice to be prolonged and well controlled. Cancionan used to last from at least three hours to as long as 6-8 hours, but the demands of present-day audiences in the age of the sound-bite have prompted the development of the cancionan, which has been pared down to 1-2 hours for stage performances and 30-45 minutes for radio performances.

The traditional cancionan has five parts: the pasantabi or introduction; the panangarapan, where the female cancionista grills the man on his pedigree and other personal circumstances; the panagkabatan, where the male cancionista reveals his intention to court his female counterpart, to which the latter puts verbal obstacles, riddles, Bible trivia, even superhuman tasks, liberally dishing out puns, mimicry, and other witticisms; the cupido, where the man tries to impress the woman with his verbal and musical skills, accompanying his oral argumentation with an instrument, oftentimes a guitar; and the balitang, where the woman rejects the man’s suit by refusing to let him come onstage with him or accepts him by inviting him up the stage.

A famous cancionista couple in the 1930s, Alejandro Mendoza and his wife, conducted their cancionan in the town plazas. Their battles lasted well into dawn and dealt usually with courtship themes. The foremost cancionista in Pangasinan today is Lorenzo Morante of Dagupan, better known as Tasong-taso. In the 1960s, Morante introduced a twist to the cancionan by adding a third person in the debate. With his wife, Gregoria Diaz, and Benedicta Bandung of Urbiztondo, Morante popularized this cancionan form, later to be known as imunan.

Morante was also instrumental in developing the shortened cancionan and adapting it for the radio through his own program, Cancionan on the Air, over Dagupan radio station DWDW. The abbreviated cancionan dispenses with the pasantabi, the panangarapan, and the panagkabatan to go straight to the meat of the debate. The singing debaters dispute such topics as “Siopay Maong ya Manangkaili: Say Mayaman odino say Pobre?” (Who Is More Hospitable: The Rich or the Poor?). Diaz and Bandung have since retired and Morante has teamed up with Fely Manuel. Another cancionista of note is Rosie Evangelista of Sison.

Pangasinan Theater Groups 

Among the theater groups that have emerged in Pangasinan in recent years are the Pangasinan Cenaculo, the Kankanti Ensemble, and the Ala-Uli Theater Group. The first, which was later to be known as the Tanton Dramatic Guild after the Lingayen barangay where their first sinakulo was staged, started as a club, organized by Leocadio Villanueva to present sinakulo patterned after the world-famous Oberammergau passion play in Germany. From its humble beginnings, the guild has staged its plays in diverse locations in Pangasinan and as far as Baguio City.

The Kankanti, named after the Pangasinan word for “butterfly,” was organized in the 1970s by Ricardo “Rex” Catubig, then regional director for Central Luzon of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA). The group makes extensive use of Pangasinan folk literature themes. In the plays Talintao, Bambano Laki Bai, and Sigsilew, the Kankanti combines traditional rituals with new techniques. Catubig also organized the Ala-Uli Theater Group, which also looks to Pangasinan folklore for its themes.

The Tambayo Cultural Group was organized by Perla Samson-Nelmida in the 1980s at the Pangasinan State University in San Carlos City. This group, whose name means “panacea,” performed Pangasinan folk songs and staged religious presentations during the Lenten Season in school and community events. In 1994, the Tambayo staged a Pangasinan sarsuwela at the Sison Auditorium in Lingayen.

The Caboloan Performing Arts Guild, originally known as Teatro Magayaga, or “cheerful theater,” is the official cultural group of the Pangasinan State University, Lingayen campus. The guild held a concert at the Sison Auditorium on 18 February 2014 for the benefit of the victims of Typhoon Agaton. It showcased Pangasinan culture and the arts through music, theater, literature, and dance.

Pangasinan's Notable Artists

The provincial government, through the local tourism office, organized performing groups such as the Danggoan Pangasinan. Danggo is a type of indigenous music in Pangasinan. It can also mean an anthem or a patriotic song. Danggoan Pangasinan is a dance group intended to preserve, popularize, and revitalize original dances in Pangasinan such as the sayaw ed tapew na bangko, oasioas (wave), and binislakan (use of a stick). In 2011, the provincial government launched the “Balitok a Tawir” (Golden Heritage), an annual folk-dance-and-song competition among performing groups from local government units within the province.

In 2012, the Calasiao Children’s Choir ranked ninth among 1,000 choirs that competed in the 1st Xinghai Prize International Choir Championships in Guangzhou, China.

Pianist and composer Ryan Cayabyab belongs to the Cayabyab family of artists in San Carlos City. His first cousin, Vicenta Cayabyab de Guzman, portrayed the role of Madame Butterfly at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and abroad under the auspices of former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Cayabyab’s second-degree grandson, Andrew Bryan Sapigao, was the grand champion in piano at the National Music Competitions for Young Artists Foundation, Inc. (NAMCYA) in 2007. Sapigao was a child prodigy of the UP Conservatory of Music.

The most important contribution of Pangasinan to the country’s theater production is the works of National Artist for Theater and Design, Salvador “Badong” Bernal of Dagupan City.

Pangasinan as Featured in Media

The cancionan tradition lives on in present-day radio musical performers such as folk guitarist and singer Lorenzon Tason-Taso and Roman Rapido. Their folk wit, humor, and the rhythmic tunes are characteristic of the cancionan of old.

Palaris Films was under the helm of Fernando Poe Sr., who was from Barangay Caoayan Kiling of San Carlos City. It produced films such as Dugo at Bayan (Blood and Country), 1946, Limbas, 1947, and A La Viva! (To Life!), 1948. The first film was written and directed by Poe. The second film was written by Buenaventura Medina Sr., with screenplay by T. D. Agcaoili. A La Viva! was directed by Lamberto Avellana.

Film and television stars from Pangasinan are as follows: Gloria Romero, Barbara Perez, Lolita Rodriguez, Carmen Rosales, Donita Rose, Vic Pacia, Fernando Poe Jr., Tessie Tomas, and Ric Segretto. Fernando Poe Jr., known as the “King of Philippine Movies,” was posthumously declared National Artist for Film in 2006.

Christopher Gozum’s Anacbanua
Christopher Gozum’s Anacbanua, 2009 (Photo courtesy of Christopher Gozum)

An indie filmmaker from Urdaneta, Christopher Gozum debuted with the film Anacbanua, which won for him the Lino Brocka Grand Prize in 2009. The film presented Gozum’s interpretation of Pangasinan life and culture. Gozum’s earlier film, The Calling, won best short film in the 9th Cinemanila International Film Festival in 2007. He also won two Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature for his two full-length plays, War Booty, 2001, and the Pasyon of Pedro Calosa & the Tayug Colorum Uprising, 2002. Gozum has established Sine Caboloan, his own film outfit.


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