Bicolano people

The Bicolanos are the fifth-largest Filipino ethnolinguistic group.[1] Their indigenous region is commonly considered to be Bicolandia, a region composing part of the Bicol Peninsula and neighbouring islands of south-east Luzon.

The Bicolano people are largely an agricultural and rural people, producing rice, coconuts, and hemp. Nearly all of them are Roman Catholics. Their language is closely related to others of the central Philippines, all of which belong to the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) family of languages.[2]

Bicolano people
Kabikolan / Mga Bikolano
Vicols (Bikolanos) preparing Hemp -Drawing out the fibre (c. 1900, Philippines)
Bicolano men preparing hemp by drawing out its fibres, c. 1900
Total population
5.9 million
(6.9% of the Philippine population)
Regions with significant populations
(Bicol Region, Quezon Province, Northern Samar, Metro Manila)

Bikol languages, Tagalog, Masbateño, Waray, English
Predominantly Roman Catholicism with some Protestants, and Islam
Related ethnic groups
Tagalogs, Visayans


Albay wagons, 1899
Bicolano men with their wagons, from Albay, c. 1899.

According to a folk epic entitled Ibalong, the people of the region were formerly called Ibalong or Ibalnong, a name believed to have been derived from Gat Ibal who ruled Sawangan (now Legazpi City) in ancient times. Ibalong used to mean the "people of Ibal"; eventually, this was shortened to Ibalon. The word Bikol, which replaced Ibalon, was originally bikod (meaning "meandering"), a word which supposedly described the principal river of that area.

Archaeological diggings, dating back to as early as the Neolithic, and accidental findings resulting from the mining industry, road-building and railway projects in the region, reveal that the Bicol mainland is a rich storehouse of ceramic artefacts. Burial cave findings also point to the pre-Hispanic practice of using burial jars.

The Spanish influence in Bicol resulted mainly from the efforts of Augustinian and Franciscan Spanish missionaries. Through the Franciscans, the annual feast of the Virgin of Peñafrancia, the Patroness for Bicolandia, was started. Father Miguel Robles asked a local artist to carve a replica of the statue of the Virgin in Salamanca; now, the statue is celebrated through an annual fluvial parade in Naga City.

Flag of the Katipuneros of Bicol
The flag of the members of Katipunan in Bicol.

Bicolanos actively participated in the national resistance to the American and Japanese occupations through two well known leaders who rose up in arms: Simeón Ola and Governor Wenceslao Q. Vinzons.[3]


Bicolanos live in the southeastern peninsula of Luzon, now containing the provinces of Albay, Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Catanduanes, Sorsogon and Masbate (although the majority of Masbate's population are Visayans). Many Bicolanos also live in the province of Quezon.


Bicolanos number about 5,900,700. They are descended from Austronesian-speaking immigrants who came from Taiwan during the Iron Age. Many Bicolanos also have Chinese, and Spanish admixtures. Most of the townsfolk have small traces of each heritage while their language is referred to as Bicol or Bicolano. The Bicolano language is very fragmented, and its dialects are mutually incomprehensible to speakers of other Bicolano dialects. The majority of the Bicolano people are devout Roman Catholics and Catholic Mass is celebrated daily in many churches in the Bicol Region.

Culture and traits


Ginataang sigarilyas, a notable Bicolano dish of winged bean (sigarilyas) cooked in coconut milk (gata) with pork and anchovies.

The Bicolano cuisine is primarily noted for the prominent use of chili peppers and gata (coconut milk) in its food. A classic example is the gulay na lada, known outside the region as Bicol Express, a well-loved dish using siling labuyo (native small chillies) and the aforementioned gata. Meals are generally rich in carbohydrates and viands of vegetables, fish, and meat are cooked in various ways. Bicolanos almost always cook their vegetables in coconut milk; for meat recipes such as pochero, adobo, and tapa. A special meat dish is the dinuguan. Fishes that serve as common viand are mackerel and anchovy; in Lake Buhi, the sinarapan or tabyos (known as the smallest fish in the world) is common.


Copra processing and abacá stripping are generally done by hand. Fishing is also an important industry and fish supply is normally plentiful during the months of May through September. Organized or big-time fishing makes use of costly nets and motor-powered and electric-lighted boats or launches called palakaya or basnigan. Individual fishermen, on the other hand, commonly use two types of nets – the basnig and the pangki as well as the chinchoro, buliche, and sarap. In Lake Buhi, the sarap and sumbiling are used; the small fishes caught through the former is the sinarapan. The bunuan (corral) of the inangcla, sakag, sibi-sibid and sakag types are common. The banwit, two kinds of which are the og-og and kitang, are also used. Mining and the manufacture of various items from abaca are important industries. The former started when the Spaniards discovered the Paracale mines in Camarines Norte.

Coconut and abacá are two dollar-earning products that are grown in the coastal valleys hillsides or slopes of several fertile volcanoes respectively. The Bicol River basin or rice granary provide the peasants rice, corn, and root crops for food and small cash surplus when crops evade the dreaded frequent typhoons. For land preparation, carabao-drawn plough and harrow are generally used; sickles are used for cutting rice stalks, threshing is done either by stepping on or beating the rice straws with basbas and cleaning is done with the use of the nigo (winnowing basket).

Cultural values

Like their other neighbouring regions, Bicolanas are also expected to lend a hand in household work. They are even anticipated to offer assistance after being married. On the other hand, Bicolano men are expected to assume the role of becoming the primary source of income and financial support of his family. Close family ties and religiosity are important traits for survival in the typhoon-prone physical environment. Some persisting traditional practices are the pamalay, pantomina and tigsikan. Beliefs on god, the soul and life after death are strongly held by the people. Related to these, there are annual rituals like the pabasa, tanggal, fiestas and flores de mayo. Side by side with these are held beliefs on spiritual beings as the tawo sa lipod, duwende, onglo, tambaluslos, kalag, katambay, aswang and mangkukulam.

On the whole, the value system of the Bicolanos shows the influence of Spanish religious doctrines and American materialism merged with traditional animistic beliefs. Consequently it is a multi-cultural system which evolved through the years to accommodate the realities of the erratic regional climatic conditions in a varied geographical setting. Such traits can be gleaned from numerous folk tales and folk songs that abound, the most known of which is the Sarung Banggi. The heroic stories reflect such traits as kindness, a determination to conquer evil forces, resourcefulness and courage. The folk song come in the form of awit, sinamlampati, panayokyok, panambitan, hatol, pag-omaw, rawit-dawit and children’s song and chants.

To suit the tropical climate, Bicolanos use light material for their houses; others now have bungalows to withstand the impact of strong typhoons. Light, western styled clothes are predominantly used now. The typical Bicolano wears light, western styled clothes similar to the Filipinos in urban centres. Seldom, if ever, are there Bicolanos weaving sinamy or piña for clothing as in the past; sinamy is reserved now for pillow cases, mosquito nets, fishing nets, bags and other decorative items.[3]

Magayon Festival
Bicolanos celebrating the Magayon Festival. The festival is held in Albay, where the Mayon Volcano is located, every April.

Bicolanos observe an annual festival in honour of the Virgin of Peñafrancia every third Sunday of September. The towns of Naga comes alive. During the celebration, a jostling crowd of all-male devotees carries the image of the Virgin on their shoulders to the cathedral, while shouting Viva La Virgin! For the next seven days people, mostly Bicolanos, come for an annual visit light candles and kisses the image of the Virgin. To the Bicolanos, this affair is religious and cultural, as well. Every night, shows are held at the plaza the year's biggest cockfights take place, bicycle races are held and the river, a lively boat race precedes the fluvial procession. At noon of the third Saturday of the month, the devotees carry the Image on their shoulders preceded to the packed waterfront. The image is boarded onto the barge and the procession begins. With much splashing back to the old chapel until next year's celebration.[4]

Indigenous religion

Prior to Spanish colonization, the Bikolano people believed in an indigenous pantheon of deities. These deities were honoured in feasts and everyday life ways. Among the most notable of these deities of Ibalon (present Bicol Region) are:

Name God(dess) of
Gugurang The Bicolano Supreme deity who defeated Cagurangan and declared Asuang to be his inferior. He commanded light and fire. Depicted as tall, muscular with silver hair, He once resided in Kamurayan or heavens but left to reside in Mt. Mayon, in his place he appointed Bulan in the heavens with the wind people. He is the symbol of the good (an mga marhay) ready to punish the bad (an mga maraot). When the people saw fire (kalayo) flowing out of the crater of Mayon, they would grow afraid. They would then offer a sacrifice (atang) to him to appease his wrath. The Baliana, a priestess, officiated in the ceremony. Always when they committed wrong, there would be loud moaning of the earth followed by an eruption of fire and lava.[5] Ancient Bicolanos had a rite performed for him called Atang.[6][7]
Asuang He was Gugurang’s equal until Gugurang proved he is superior to all. He tried to steal Gugurang's sacred fire but failed. He was also from the heavens but descended to Mt. Malinao. Asuang is the father of Oryol, who was the most beautiful and powerful female in the land of Ibalon before Magayon and her sisters came. Some say Asuang is tall and muscular, having long dark hair and is extremely attractive but the moonlight reveals his true form which is ugly and monstrous. Even though he is considered by all as a dark and evil god and beast, he is afraid of the young god, Bulan (god of the moon). The two are worshiped side by side by the cross-dressing priestess called “Baylan”. It is said that upon Asuang and Bulan's first encounter, the moonlight was shining brightly, casting moonbeams upon Asuang, thereby showing his true form. Instead of being horrified, the comely god, Bulan stood unwavering. Bulan then befriended Asuang, not because Asuang was monstrous, but from the goodness of his heart. The two became extremely close afterwards.[6][7][5]
Haliya The masked moon goddess of moonlight and the arch-enemy of Bakunawa and protector of Bulan. She is the goddess of moonlight and Bulan’s sister, confidant and protector. Her cult is composed primarily of women. She is strong and adamant as Bulan is weak and submissive. She is depicted as a very lovely young woman. She and Bulan are the most pursued and fairest beings in the heavens. She wears a mask to hide her beauty. She was convinced by the wind people or Tawong Lipod to go down to the waters of the earth to bathe. She is worshiped by women, she is the symbol of strength in women. There is also a ritual dance, called halea/haliya, and is performed to be a counter-measure against Bakunawa, who wants to swallow her brother, Bulan.[8]
Bulan Fairest son of Dagat and Paros. He is comely and docile. Bulan obeyed his brother's will without question. He became the beautiful moon when he was restored back to life by the powerful Gugurang and placed him in the “Kamurayan” or Heaven. The god of the pale moon, he is depicted as a pubescent boy with uncommon comeliness that made savage beast and the vicious mermaids (Magindara) tame. He was pursued by Magindang (the god of the sea) when he descended into the waters of Bicol. He is a close friend of Asuang. He has deep affection towards Magindang, but plays with him by running away so that Magindang would never catch him. The reason for this is because he is shy to those he loves. If Magindang manages to catch Bulan, Haliya always comes to free him from Magindang's grip. There is a story concerning Bulan and the takay flower, that the moon god saw a lovely maiden drown and made her into the “takay” flower or the Bicolano water-hyacinth.[5]
Magindang The powerful god of the sea and ruler of all its creatures. Venerated by fishermen and sea voyagers. He gives bountiful catch and safe passage to all who call to him. He is depicted as handsome, tall, and muscular with long flowing hair. He was tricked by Oryol who commanded the Magindara (vicious mermaids) to kill the beautiful maiden Malinao. He has deep affection to the lunar god Bulan and pursues him despite never catching him. Due to this, the Bicolanos reasoned that it is why the waves rise to reach the moon when seen from the distant horizon. Whenever he does catch up to Bulan, Haliya comes to rescue Bulan and frees Bulan immediately.[5]
Okot The god of the forest and of hunting, protector of flora and fauna. Tall, muscular with brown skin and is said that he has a belt of vines. He whistles to imitate the call of birds and human. He is prayed upon in times of hunting.[5]
Bakunawa A gigantic female sea serpent deity of the deep and the underworld who is often considered as the cause of eclipses. She saw Bulan when he descended to swim with the magindara and had fallen in love with him. Unnoticed by the boy moon, she swore to eat the him instead. She transformed into a huge eel-like dragon (some say dragon with gills with the mouth the size of a lake). As the devourer of the sun and the moon, she became an adversary of Haliya as Bakunawa's main aim is to swallow Bulan, who Haliya swore to protect for all of eternity. During eclipses (where bakunawa tries to swallow Bulan), the people would light torches to make notice to invoke Bakunawa’s rival Haliya. Haliya, is portrayed to always hear the people's voices in those times, and comes to always rescue Bulan successfully.[9][5]
Languiton The primal Bicolano god representing the sky. Sovereign of all the flying creatures in the skies. The four children of Paros and Dagat rebelled against him, albeit two of the siblings had doubt. Languiton ultimately won, striking the four deities with his prowess, ehich led to the creation of the son, moon, stars, and earth. Of the four, only the moon, Bulan, was revived by Gugurang.[5]
Tubigan The god of water and the celestial ocean, ruled over all the swimming beast.[5]
Dagat The divine embodiment of the seas and ocean and daughter of Tubigan who took Paros the winds to be her husband and equal, they ruled over the skies and the seas. Love is one thing stronger than the gods for it killed her and Paros, other belief that they have found contentment and had simply slept, the sky and the sea. When she died/slept from the waters the god Magindang was born.[5]
Paros The divine embodiment of the winds, ever changing, arrogant and polygamous until he was bested by Dagat, he fell in love with her and changed his old ways, they ruled over all the skies and seas. He and Dagat had four powerful children (Daga, Adlao, Bulan and Bituoon). When he died his energy gave birth to the Taong Lipod or the wind people and the trinity of the most powerful gods of Bicol (Cagurangan, Gugurang, Asuang), and to lesser gods such as Onos and Batala[5]
Daga Enormous as he is strong, his body is made of rocks. Arrogant that he had inherited most of his father’s powers of the wind in addition to his strength. Daga persuaded his brothers to attack Languiton to steal his power but failed. He was struck down and his body became the earth[5]
Adlao Noticeably happy and optimistic. Known as he golden man, he was reluctant of his brothers' plans but loved Daga too much to go against him. He became the sun after being struck by Languiton.
Bituoon Lovely and bright and the only daughter of Paros and Dagat. She was made of silver. She was accidentally killed by Languiton thus became the stars.
Cagurangan Former supreme to Gugurang and Asuang, until Gugurang proved to be far more powerful and superior. Cagurangan had control over the winds and all the flying beast.[5]
Batala He is a lesser god, kind and helpful. Batala commands the “anito” or all ancestral spirits of men. He is invoked in times of need and trouble. He comes in a form of a bird and is believed to be a middle aged man with a robust physic.[5]
Onos God of storms, deluge and flood waters. He is muscular and tall with white tattoos all over his body. He sends storms to villages and farmlands when people forget their “atang” (offerings or prayers). He is the guardian of Takay, a lesser god. Takay fell in love with Kanaway, so Onos tried to separate the two. He shot Kanaway with his lightning but Kanaway only turned to stone. Angry, Onos attacked Mount Asog with numerous lightning bolts, thus making it sink and turn into Lake Buhi.[5]
Oryol A demi-goddess in Bicolano myths, she is mentioned in the Ibalong Epic. Believed to be the daughter of the deity Asuang. Oryol possesses inhuman beauty and prowess when it comes to seduction. Aside from being beautiful in stories, it is told that she has a beautiful voice that could lure anyone (both men and women, even animals). Half of her body is a serpent. It is believed that the Naga and the Magindara obeys her every command for she is a demigoddess.[5]
Anitos The name of millions of ancestral spirits venerated in communities and households, little wooden idols depict them. Believed to guide their living descendants and bring graces and good fortune.[5]

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 11, 2010. Retrieved January 27, 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Bicol - people". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  3. ^ a b "The Bicolanos - National Commission for Culture and the Arts". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  4. ^ Herrington, Don. "Bicolanos Culture, Customs And Traditions - Culture And Tradition". Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Ancient Bicolano Pantheon of Deities and Creatures - Philippine Mythology". 8 February 2016. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Asuang Steals Fire from Gugurang by Damiana L. Eugenio". Archived from the original on 2009-05-26. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
  7. ^ a b The Aswang Project (15 January 2010). "ASWANG Folklore - Filipino Mythology Animation". Retrieved 13 August 2018 – via YouTube.
  8. ^ "Inquirer NewsInfo: Bicol Artist protest Natl. Artist awardees". Archived from the original on 2009-09-11. Retrieved 2010-04-03.
  9. ^ "Eclipse; Bakunawa eats the sun behind a curtain of clouds". Retrieved 2010-04-03.

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