Philippine arts

Ilocano Adelita Bagcal, Manlilikha ng Bayan for 2023, hailed as ‘cultural bearer’

John Michael Mugas

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Ilocano Adelita Bagcal, Manlilikha ng Bayan for 2023, hailed as ‘cultural bearer’

INA LITA. An Ilocana who hails from Banna in Ilocos Norte province has been named as one the "Manlilikha ng Bayan for 2023" for her commitment to safeguard and promote Ilocano oral traditions.


(2nd UPDATE) Adelita Romualdo Bagcal from Ilocos Norte is one of this year's National Living Treasures, promising to pass down the tradition of dallot to the younger generation

ILOCOS NORTE, Philippines – Adelita Romualdo Bagcal, a “Manlilikha ng Bayan 2023” (National Living Treasure) from Ilocos Norte province, wishes for more years to be added to her life. It’s not because she wants to live longer but to ensure that she would be able to pass down the fading tradition of dallot to the younger generation.

“Kalkalikagumak nga ada sumukat kanyak, ngem ti kayatko met a mapasamak kanyak itatta, manayunan kuma met ti panag-biagko ta makakitaak ken… maiyawatko pay kuma daytoy (It is my priority to find others who would also learn this but what I also want to happen is that I get an even longer life to be able to further pass this tradition),” Bagcal told Rappler in an interview on Friday, December 22.

Bagcal, fondly called “Ina Lita” by people close to her, was recognized as a National Living Treasure for being an “Ilocano master of oral traditions for her commitment to safeguarding and promoting the Dallot and other Ilocano oral traditions.”

INA LITA. An Ilocana who hails from Banna in Ilocos Norte province is one of the “Manlilikha ng Bayan for 2023” for her commitment to safeguard and promote Ilocano oral traditions. Jessie A. Bagcal

On Thursday, she greeted the news of the conferment of the award surrounded by the people dear to her and doing what she loves the most – singing.

Nine individuals from across the country were named as Manlilikha ng Bayan for 2023, the highest honor given by the state to traditional folk artists whose dedication allows indigenous culture to survive through generations.

Idi nalpas a naawatko didiay damag a nangabaknak ket aglaglagtoak, agsangsangitak idiay pagdadayaan idiay Bacarra ta simmampet gamin dagitay kakaanakak a naggapot abroad ket kiniddaw da nga mapanak agkanta ti Ilokano kadakuadaa (After I received the news that I was an awardee, I jumped and cried during a gathering in Bacarra town with my relatives who came home from abroad. I was there because they requested me to sing Ilocano songs to them),” said Ina Lita.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in a statement on Sunday, December 24, said that Ina Lita “is the only remaining master of the art that requires command of the Ilocano language and the figure of speech to recite a majestic piece.”

“As a master, she has managed to integrate the art into other social functions beyond weddings and courtships despite its slow disappearance. Beyond Dallot, Adelita has emerged as a leading force in the safeguarding and promotion of Ilocano oral tradition,” the NCCA said.

Traditional chant

Ina Lita was 15 years old when she showed interest to learn dallot, or one of the traditional chants in the life-cycle of Ilocanos. It is usually performed during courtship and marriage, and other special occasions such as birthdays.

She was in awe when she first saw her grandmother doing the art of dallot in their village. “Ngem agungetda nga mapannak sumursurot ta ubingak pay ngem ilibasko a mapan. Agdengdengak kadakuada inggana a nasursurok (My grandmother would often get mad when I go with them before because I was a child, but I would find a way to do so without her knowing it. I would listen to them until I was able to learn it),” shared Ina Lita.

The Ilokano ritual, which is part of a traditional wedding proposal,  also involves an elder performing dallot before a couple gets married. The consent of their parents must be obtained beforehand.

Ina Lita explained that dallot usually takes place when the groom’s party (or the dallotero) visits the bride’s house (dallotera) to ask for the latter’s hand in marriage and her parents’ permission.

Gagangay nga tradision ti Ilokano ti dallot – ta isu ti tradision nga pataudentay ti kaunegan ti puspuso tayo babaen ti dallot (Dallot has always been an Ilocano tradition – as we are able to surface the deepest longing of our hearts through Dallot),” she said.

One would need to learn about the ayug, or dallot’s unique melodic pattern, and the sao (words) to engage in the traditional chantsaid Ina Lita, adding that it was her fervent hope to pass these skills to the younger generation as dallot is no longer part of modern-day marriage preparations. “Gapu kadaytoy, maparuar mo dagitay antigo nga sarsarita idi un-unana (Because of this, one would be able to reveal deep Ilocano words from the past),” she said.

Ina Lita, who has earned the title as “dumadallot” or Dallot Queen of the North, has also been known as an expert of other traditional chants in the life-cycle of Ilocanos, including “duayya” (lullaby) and “dung-aw” (mourning ritual).

She was nominated to be considered for the award in 2021 with the help of Ilokano literature advocate Joel Manuel and the Gunglo Dagiti Mannurat nga Ilokano or the Association of Ilokano Writers in the Philippines-Ilocos Norte.

According to a paper published by Ilocano educator Dr. Mary Lou F. Aurelio, dallot is a word coined from two Ilokano words: dallang meaning verse or poetry and pallot which means chicken fight.  

“It is a duel of words carried on between a dallotero, presenting the groom’s side and the dallotera, representing the bride’s party,” added Aurelio, noting that it orginated and flourished in “ancient, pre-Hispanic times, specially among the rural folk.”

Basi (sugar cane juice wine) is passed around during dallot  as it involves merry-making during the meeting at the house of the woman, added Ina Lita.

She said that the award puts a spotlight on the fading tradition, which not only honors close familial ties among Ilocanos, but also highlights the province’s rich musical and literary tradition.

Kadaytoy dallot, nu agkasar danton, napinpintas met laeng ti panagkakadwa ti pamilya iti agsinnumbangir a partido, (With dallot, if the man and woman gets married, the relationship between the two families would be more beautiful),” said Ina Lita.

Passing down

Before this recognition, the 77-year-old Ilocana from the eastern town of Banna revealed that she was worried about the rapid disappearance of the tradition because nobody at first was showing interest to learn it.

And even though there were some, he or she would often get laughed at, specially by the younger generation.

This, however, did not discourage her as Ina Lita said it is was a part of her goal to pass down the tradition to the young ones about the art of dallot for it to be sustained. To showcase the traditional chant, she often travels to other towns in the province and makes it a point to perform during the annual fiesta in their town.

At least three of her grandchildren have volunteered to learn about the tradition, and one of them is her grandson, teacher Jessie A. Bagcal.

“With this award [conferred to my grandmother], I believe dallot and other Ilocano oral traditions will continue, and [that more efforts of] preservation will be done too,” said Jessie.

Ina Lita also shared that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts has been helping her reach out to more individuals, especially educators, to serve as the link in passing down the tradition.

Cultural bearer

In a statement, the provincial government hailed Ina Lita’s conferment as a Manililikha ng Bayan.

The province described it as a “remarkable achievement” as it called for the need to preserve and cherish Ilocano’s cultural heritage.

Ina Lita, described as a “cultural bearer,” now “stands as a living proof of cultural heritage, embodying the rich tradition of Dallot and other profound Ilocano oral legacies.”

Her “mastery of the intricate nuances of Ilocano oral traditions not only preserves the wisdom of her ancestors but also fosters a deep sense of pride and identity of the Ilocano culture,” the provincial government said. –

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