The Heroine of the Ilocano Epic, "The Life of Lam-ang"

Tuesday May 27, 2014 ()

   The Heroine of the Ilocano Epic, 'The Life of Lam-ang'
ABOUT the life of Ines Kannoyan, heroine of the Ilocano epic, "The Life of Lam-ang", not much is given in the poem itself. Her story is embodied in the numerous tales which the old people of the region still love to tell (1).

According to the epic, Kannoyan, paragon of all the Ilocano virtues, was born in the town of Kalanutian (2) in northern Ilocos. It is said that Kalanutian was then a big town inhabited by Itnegs (3) and some Christian Ilocanos. Today it is a small barrio of the municipality of Sinait, inhabited by scarcely a hundred people. Nothing remains of the ancient town except its name and the supposed tomb of Kannoyan on a hill called Bantay Dayawen (4), about half a kilometer north of the barrio.

Kannoyan's father, whose name is not given in the poem nor remembered by the people today, and her mother, Unnayan, were the biggest land owners in the Ilocos and their katalonan or tenants were numbered by the hundreds. Their furniture and household (5) utensils were of pure gold. Kannoyan when a child played with golden toys. Gold, too, were the figures of two roosters and four hens which adorned the house yard.

The Heroine of the Ilocano Epic, "The Life of Lam-ang"

Though as an only child, Kannoyan was heiress to all this wealth, her parents did not allow her to grow up in idleness, and her industry as well as her beauty was reported far and wide. From all parts of the country young men -- Christian Ilocanos, Itnegs, and even Spaniards -- came to Kalanutian to pay court to her. But she did not care for any of them. She wanted to marry for love, although she would not have married a very poor man as this would not have been in keeping with the dignity of her family.

Thus she remained single until well in her middle twenties. Then came Lam-ang, a young warrior from southern Ilocos, rich and quite handsome, with whom she fell in love at first sight. The courtship, their marriage, and their life immediately following are all told in the epic (6). They lived at Nalbuan, home of Lam-ang, for some years which were not uneventful. Lam-ang, for the second time, went up alone into the mountains to punish the Igorots for taking the heads of three of his townsmen. According to the stories told, he slew hundreds, even thousands, of them (7).

In Kalanutian, where Lam-ang and Kannoyan spent the rest of their days, they lived mostly in peace. They were both converted to Christianity and became zealous preachers of the gospel. Kalanutian had a feeling in her heart that the life of blood and war which her husband had been leading was a reason why they still had no child. She hoped that their new life would induce God to bless them with a son. Through their efforts all of the people embraced the new faith, and they carried their work into neighboring regions, Lam-ang preaching among the men and his wife among her own sex.

Yet no child came to bless their union and Lam-ang began to lose faith in the new God. He grew tired of preaching and longed for his old warrior life. At this juncture, serious trouble arose between the towns of Kalanutian and Sinait which only a decisive battle could terminate, and Lam-ang was chosen to lead the Kalanutian warriors. The two forces met at Timmañgol (8), midway between the two towns. The encounter was a bloody one and many of the Sinait men fell, while Lam-ang's forces sustained only a few casualties. While himself leading the last charge, however, Lam-ang was set upon by a young Sinait warrior who thrust him through with a spear. Seeing their supposedly invulnerable leader falling to the ground, the Kalanutian fighters were stricken with panic and fled.

Kannoyan received the news of her husband's defeat and death and never recovered from her grief. She neither ate nor slept and soon breathed her last. As she had no child and all her own and her husband's relatives were dead, all her riches were buried with her, as was the custom. Her extensive landholdings she divided among the poor as an act of Christian charity. Unlike her husband, she never lost faith in the new religion and remained a Christian until her death. To the Ilocanos she exemplifies the ideal type of woman: loving and faithful as a wife, intelligent and sensible, industrious, virtuous, and beautiful.

It is not known whether Lam-ang was buried at Kalanutian or at Nalbuan. The probability is that he was buried at Nalbuan because legend only speaks of the tomb of Kannoyan at Kalanutian.

Her supposed tomb on Bantay Dayawen, or the Adored Hill, is held in great reverence by the people to this day. It is believed that it is guarded by spirits which can assume diverse forms.

The story is told that one dark night, around two hundred years ago, two gold phantom-ships, believed to be the golden ships of Lam-ang described in the epic, came sailing through the air from the south, lighting up with their radiant brilliance the landscape over which they passed, and landed on top of Bantay Dayawen. The people who had been watching the phenomenon in fear and awe, heard a heart-rending wailing, followed by a great commotion, and then a deep silence. At day-break the ships sailed southward, and were never seen again.

About ten years ago, it is said, a party of four men, noted for their fearlessness, went to dig up the gold treasure which legend tells was buried with Kannoyan. They chose a moonlit night, when they thought the spirits would be afraid to go abroad, and drank plenty of basi before they started out. They did not go in the daytime because it is believed that the gold is turned into black coals by the spirits on guard. Towards midnight, when they began digging, one of the party saw a black bird (kakok) on a nearby bush, and called the attention of his companions to it. In a moment they were surrounded by a score of horrible-looking fiends called sinan-pugot, and they fled, leaving their picks, shovels, and crowbars behind.

A third story has to do with a former classmate of the author who one afternoon in April was pasturing his carabaos at the foot of Bantay Dayawen. He was wandering about on the hillside looking for blackberries and, near the supposed tomb, suddenly saw a very poisonous snake (palapal) ready to throw itself upon him. He looked around and saw himself surrounded by these snakes. He took to his heels and that he escaped being bitten is regarded by the common-folk as a miracle.


(1) The material used in this article was obtained from the inhabitants of the barrio of Kalanutian, Sinait, where Ines Kannoyan, heroine of the epic, was born. The author was born and grew up in Sinait, near Kalanutian.

(2) Kalanutian is derived from lanute, a tree the wood of which is used for furniture; kalanutian denotes a place where lanute grows in abundance.

(3) Another names for "Tinggians". It means "pagan" and is sometimes used by the Ilocanos to designate all the pagan tribes of the Mountain Province. It is interesting to note that the surname "Bukaneg" was derived from Nabukaan nga Itneg, meaning "Christianized pagan". See "Pedro Bukaneg-A Philippine Moses" by Percy A. Hill, Philippine Magazine, June, 1931, and "The Greatest Ilocanos" by the writer, Philippines Free Press, March 21, 1931. Bukaneg was of Itneg parentage.

(4) Adored Hill -- so-called because it was the burial place of Kannoyan, whom the peasant-folk of Sinait have raised almost to the rank of a deity.

(5) Unnayan, Kannoyan, Lam-ang, Namongan, and Sumarang -- all found in the Ilocano epic-are pagan names.

(6) See "The Ilocano Epic, 'The Life of Lam-ang'" by the author, Philippine Magazine, August, 1933. The article contains a brief summary of the poem. During your stay in Baguio, remember olr

(7) Lam-ang's first fight with the Igorots occurred when he took revenge upon them for taking the head of his father. The fight is related in the epic.

(8) Timmañgol is an Ilocano word meaning a place strewn with unburied corpses. It is derived from añgol, meaning a sacrifice of many lives.


  1. Philippine magazine, Volume 31, Number 1, May 1931


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