Kallautang as Ilokano Poetics of Exile and the Exile of Ilokano Poetics: Implications in Ilokano Language Teaching

(Prepared for the UHM Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program and the National Foreign Language Resource Center, U of Hawaii at Manoa, the Center for Philippine Studies, the Ethnic Studies Center, the Department of English, February 15, 2006)


The talk offers a reading of Ilokano exilic texts by using the trope of kallautang.

Kallautang, loosely, is wandering. We look at kallautang from three levels: cosmological, epistemological, and ontological. From these three levels, we import the aesthetic life of the Ilokanos in Hawaii and draw from there the connection of their literary works in their understanding of the world, in their mediation of what human life is all about, and in their attempt to look at existence in light of the demands of the meaningful and relevant.

With kallautang, there are two aesthetic movements that I hope to bring into the fore: (a) Ilokano poetics of exile and (b) exile of Ilokano poetics. The first movement talks about the texts and the discourse they propose on the reality of exile; here, we have a clear reading of the embedded ethnography of suffering seen in the cosmic, epistemic, and the ontological. The second movement talks about the aesthetic displacement—and therefore, estrangement, which happens when reading the Ilokano texts from the point of view of authors in exile writing from exile.

I am proposing kallautang as a conceptual frame through which Ilokano exilic texts may be read, critiqued, or taught. The choice of this frame is pedagogic: it both teaches the student to look at the exilic texts from the Ilokano language as attempts to communicate the complexities of exilic life and teaches him/her as well that all these attempts are culture and language-bound even if these are always-already also extra-cultural and extra-linguistic. The strategy for reading begins with an exploration of the language of the texts by looking at the way the authors expressed their ideas and ends with the surfacing of the idioms utilized in the attempt to poeticize the exilic experience.

Some Pedagogical Issues and Aesthetic Questions

Even as a child, I have always been amazed by the phenomenon of kallautang. I lived in the small farming barrio of my father west of Laoag City; the plains of the barrio lead toward the China Sea. Life was not easy in these parts: the farmers had to literally scratch out a life from the parched earth—parched in many months of the year except when the typhoon season came when the waters from the hills and mountains from the east—the Didaya—would make the rivers and streams swell and flood these plains and make them rich again for the planting. That was the cycle: the dry spell that meant hunger and famine which was why there would be the social drama of procession of San Jose Labrador all over the barrio to invoke the intercession of the saint so the rains would come and not the floods; and the storm season that, when the winds hit the barrio hard, it also meant disaster.

I remember my father announcing one day, when the clouds were gloomy and the winds from the hills came fiercely and challenged the newly planted rice down the delta. There was such terror in the howling winds. My father announced: “Awan, awan, impakatda man ti laingdan. Nagpartida manen ti pawikan. Mangngegmo ti panagibitna? Agkalkallautangtay manen. ” Translation: “Gardemet, gardemet, they came around again with their brilliant minds. They slaughtered a sea turtle again. Do you here how the sea turtle cries? We will go wandering again.” He would make the smacking sounds repeatedly as he would do when deep sadness overcame here—the smacking sound that I would experiment with as a child: Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk.

I did not, hear the sea turtle cry. At a young age, I had not seen one but had only imagined it from the books that I read, with their drawings of animals and people more important to me than the words that seemed to disappear with the wind. I did not understand him, of course, my father. I did not see the connection between the clouds and the winds, the sea turtle crying and the omen for kallautang, that wandering that would come visit and haunt the people of my father’s barrio. But during the years that we lived there, I saw a curious phenomenon: the departure of relatives to the ballasiw-taaw (to the foreign shore), and the constant, almost religious return of the Apo Hawayano (those who had come to Hawaii for a long time and had made a fortune working in plantations), and the outmigration of many families to other places outside Ilocos, the cities included. We add this here: during the regime of President Marcos’ Martial Law that officially spanned nine years from 1972 to 1981, the young men took to task the little wars the dictator would wage against our very own people in Mindanao and these young men from my father’s barrio, when lucky, would come home in sealed coffins guarded by soldiers so no one would open them and find out that there were probably only wood and log and some stones inside. There, in front of the humble huts of the family, they would lit a stump of madre de cacao, that visible small shrub that bloom with lavender flowers during summer, in order for the soul not to wander. “Tapno saan nga agkalkallautang,” the old people would say, “so the soul would not wander and make a closure so it can move on to the other life, to the life after life, to the sabali a biag.”

Ever since, I would look at life in a bigger, wider frame, particularly the life of Ilocanos who have left hearth and found home somewhere else. The Ilocanos have wandered a lot—and like the rest of the Filipinos, we have practically peopled the world because we are all over: in schools as well as in prostitution houses, in the hallowed halls of the Vatican as well as in the banal houses of gambling in Las Vegas, in the desserts of the Middle East as well as in the cold of Alaska. We have become some kind of an Everyman, universal and yet suffering, universal and yet struggling to find some sense and meaning in the everyday.

On this note, I began my experiment with how to come to terms with the Ilokano texts. I must admit that I began experimenting with strategies and tactics in teaching Ilokano literature when I was an academic in the Philippines. I must confess that I have been amazed with the kinds of literary production of many Ilokanos from Hawaii even as a kid. If there was one thing that pushed me to read, it was not my books in the grades—it was the Bannawag. My grade school books, I would devour them in one or two weeks right after getting them, and I did not see any motive to read them again. But the Bannawag came each Wednesday, rain or shine, storm or summer. And each Wednesday was one of fun because I would be the first one to read the Bannawag before all others could even lay their hands on it. For me, the Bannawag was sacred as it showed me the door to another world, to other worlds. I did not know that this would lead me to another level of kallautang, another wandering, and another straying away.

In one module that I prepared for my class in Ilokano in the University of the Philippines, I put together what I categorized as “Ilokano diasporic literature.” I used the trope of the children of Israel, in that ancient and biblical sense, allusions and all, history and all. Little did I know that this will inaugurate my particular way of revering and respecting the literature of exile written by Ilokanos after having gone through this wandering, this panagkalkallautang.

I held on to the kallautang trope and used it to push for a different reading of the literary materials in order to understand more and more the possible world of experiences opened up by the texts.

This is exactly what I intend to do here: to read some text and offer a reading of these texts by invoking certain premises:

1. That a language is always a site of discourse
2. That a literary material, while linguistic and cultural, is also at the same time extra-linguistic and extra-cultural.
3. That language learning necessitates a recognition of the linguistic and cultural, and the extra-linguistic and extra-cultural.

WOR(L)DING: Words Becoming Worlds

Having said these premises, let us look at some text that I selected from a number of sources. The choice is ad random—but guided in a way by the thematic of kallautang in various levels.

There are concrete markers from the texts that we need to look into and I list them down here:

Adda Kaibatogak: Roland Bueno

• Adda kaibatogak
• Agnanayon
• Adda iti barukong ti ray-aw
• Ray-aw a mangbukel iti balikas
• Sudi ti sin-aw
• Agtinnag nga arbis iti kalgaw
• Anges ti nagungar a kararua
• Natadem nga ugis ti daniw ken sonata
• Tugot ti dam-et ti lua ken dara/ a nagtaudan ti utek
• Sumsumged a kinakayumanggik
• Nayon ti sadiwa
• Dalan toy pluma
• Ditoy ballasiw ti taaw
• Disso a namuoyan ti ubas
• Karasakas ti unas
• Sumken latta ti iliw
• Bang-it ti temtem
• Dawa ken /palatang ti paga a rumrumkuas
• Ti lubong-daga a nakainawan

Daytoy Hawaii: Carlo Laforga

• Daytoy ti Hawaii
• Iti barukong ti birhen a kabakiran
• Nabanglo dagiti bakras ken tanap
• Makagargari dagiti agpagnapagna a diosa/ kadagiti parke ken abenida
• Makagargari dagiti agil-ilad iti kadaratan/ Iti Ala Moana ken Waikiki
• Adda began kadagiti silalamolamo/a mannala iti entablado
• (Rabii) Pirgis ti langit/a nayaplag iti daga

Ditoy America: Lourdes Nedic

• Ditoy America nabaknang, napintas, nadalus, natalna
• Ditoy America adda dagiti mabikbiktima
• Ditoy America adda dagiti mapapatay
• Ditoy America adda dagiti aggaapa
• Ditoy America agbarbartek dagiti agtutubo
• Ditoy America adut’ pamastrekan
• Ditoy America adu dagiti malayoff
• Ditoy America dagiti ubbing ti kayatda nga agtrabaho
• Ditoy America awan ti lugar dagiti lallakay ken babbaket
• Agawid dagiti nataengan iti Filipinas ta sadiayda nga agpension
• Ditoy America adut’ paglinglingayan
• Ditoy America adu dagiti labuslabus a babbalasan
• Ditoy America adut’ pagsusugalan
• Ditoy America adu dagiti babaknang
• Ditoy America adu met dagiti marigrigat

Isisina: Dolly Ortal

• Dios-ti-aluadna
• Isisina: immay a kasla allawig
• Kawa: di pannakakita/pannakakitkita (Gaze)
• Malmes ti puso iti lindo
• Tangadem ti ngato ket maparmatam ti siisem a rupa
• Nagbabaetan dagiti: ulep
• Ladingit a binalon ti panagbaniaga

No Lumnek ti Init: Pacita Saludes

• Equation: init, biag, agmalen a trabaho, maris ti biag

Naimnas a buyaen ti lumlumnek nga init
Nasilnag dagiti umam-amarilio a rayosna
Kasla ipakitana dagiti naaramidan iti agmalem
Kas tay bigat nga ileleggakna
Nagduduma a maris ti biag iladladawanna

• No lumnek ti init: imminent death, the inevitable, the GREAT INEVITABLE
• Resignation:

No lumnek ti init
Mabalin kad pay inka taliawen
Dagiti napasaran iti nadagaang a panawen
A nangpadso kadagiti arapaap ken gagem
Ti panagbiag a narang-ay ken natalingenngen

• Umdasen dagiti nabuslon a laglagip ken buya
• No lumnek ti init/
Sublaten ti ulimek ti rabii a panaginana

Waipio Peninsula: Agmatuon: Amado Yoro

• Agmatuon
• Nakitak ti kinataok
• Agsangsang-atak met nga init: EQUATION—init equals self
• Self as agmatuon, agmatuon as self
• Kinagangganaet: pannakigasanggasat
• Anem-em a marikna iti agmatuon
• Iti Waipio peninsula luomenda/ sabali pay a tarigagay
• Pimmanawak iti Sta. Romana/ awitko ti arapaap a nainaw
• Pobre: rutayrutay, kinakurapay
• Nariknak ti ling-et/ a matnag iti tapok a panagbirok iti siping
• Uray sadino ti yan, kumalatkat latta ti gasat
• Adda init a bimmeggang
• Balligi uray ti panagtawataw
• Naitenemak idin iti manuskrito
• Nariingak manen ti aglulua a pluma/ket nakitak manen ti Sta. Ramona
• Iti panaglayag ti init: namnama ken panirigan

Discussion and Analysis

In all these, we see the production and creation of a world peopled by the poets, a world made possible by the mediation of word, of images, of ideas, of thoughts—in a sense, of memory made present because language remains present in exile.

There is a certain tension in the expression, a certain to-and-fro movement of time and space. But this is what ground the exilic experience.

We see, for instance, that emotions and feeling and passions for the homeland do not take a break—do not take a vacation--precisely because time and space are not cut-off even in exile but are simply extended and pushed farther to account the presencing of the present of the poet of exile.

We see exile in his most vulnerable condition: the difficulty of eking out a life, the discrimination by virtue of the color of the skin, death, alienation, retirement—all of these pointing to the reality that America as a country holds on to a separate of values: young, individualism, capital, activity, movement, disconnect, and lack of relationship.

Yes despite all these, the poet of exile remains faithful to the requisites of his art and life and this fidelity somehow pushes him to exile his poetry, at a certain point. We see, for instance, the image of the pen, in Amado Yoro’s sensitive portrayal of the Waipio sun: noontime sun: at its earnest, rays and all, light and all, in the peak of its power to give light, to warm the heart; at the summit of all that which is possible, a midpoint between beginnings and endings in a plural sense—and yet at the same time certain that soon, pretty soon, the noontime sun will have to slide to the west, start to eclipse back to the dark and there, in the bosom of the sea, in the heart of the depths, in the abyss of the dark night, the sun will set.

There is an active sorrow in many of the poems as we can see and they are an allegory of the exilic condition: the affirmation that, indeed, they have left the homeland with so much hope for a bright future and that they have retained that hopefulness that life will be better here. And yet the allegory has to end in death, in its metaphorical or literal sense. We can only say, in the end, Dios ti agaluad, dios ti saluadyo—God will take care of you, God will be your caretaker. This is clearly seen in Dolly Ortal’s “Isisina.”

In Bueno’s “Adda Kaibatogak,” there is that acceptance of one’s lot in life—kaibatogan, the heavens above your head, the exact spot of the heaven meant for you by fate, destiny, the gods—a cosmology of life that transcends from the mundane to the spiritual; for there is the giver of destinies of men and women and our duty is to look for meaning and relevance, to look for new hopes somewhere even if at some points memory as past holds you back: “Sumken latta ti iliw/Bang-i iti temtem, dawa ken/palatang ti pagay a rumrumkuas.”

Even in sorrow and nostalgia, we can have a sensory and visual feast: the burnt smell of stumps evoking cold mornings, the rice heavy with grains. Transport these visuals and the sensory markers and we have a Hawaii that is different with freeways and free loves and free spirits—and yet the freedom too to go figure what you want to be, minus the infrastructural shackles that are reducible to, in the final sense, the lack of money down there in the homeland, this lack of purchasing power, the lack of opportunity to gain a footing in life.

Laforga, of course, was selective in his presentation of Hawaii—and there can an injustice here as he paints of the islands in some male chauvinist terms—or terms that have been inherited from the language of Ilokano patriarchy: nude dancers on the stage, beautiful ladies walking on the streets, seductive women in the sands of Waikiki. We see his voyeurism here—and we are jolted of the portrayal. There is commoditization here and we register our protest. But if we read these descriptions, superficial as they are, as extensions of the concept of defining what Hawaii is, then we can tentatively forgive him especially if we put in the context of the contrast between Hawaii and the place where he came from before immigrating. In a way, we say, Hawaii is perfectly new world, perfect in its unfamiliarity to the newcomer.

In Nedic’s “Ditoy America,” we can go on with the transformative possibilities of grammar and as was shown, we can begin to generate more statements by starting off with “ditoy America.” The pedagogic possibilities of the piece are most possible this way.

This experience of being enamored—awed, perhaps, is a more apt term—by the beauty of Hawaii is seen as well in Saludes’ “No Lumnek ti init.” But that sense of the beautiful is contradicted by the imminent goodbye because of the inevitability of the coming to an end of the sun rising and peaking at noontime as Yoro has previously posited. Even the, Saludes looks for salvation elsewhere and resists the power of death—of the sun setting: memory as memory and the memory of places and scenes and spectacles—in effect the memory of a landscape that speak because it speaks of eternal time, of endlessness of the spirit, of the continuity of life.


The tactic to go back to the linguistic expressions of the literary pieces brings about awareness about the possibilities of language—of any language for that matter. But the language education teacher using such a technique must bear in mind that while it is true that there are linguistic givens in a literary work, there are also extra-linguistic factors as well. The role of the language education teacher is to facilitate the production of a world made possible by the word. I call this the wor(l)ding technique—this going beyond the textual to account the extra-textual, the contextual, the sub-textual, and if it happens, the para-textual. I only hope that I have shown how to do it.

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