The northwestern coast of Luzon is exposed to the southwest monsoon and is shielded by the Cordillera mountain ranges from the northern and northeastern air currents. The result is a well-marked wet and dry season that bring in excessive rains and extreme droughts. The narrow coastal plain with highly eroded soil and dense population has made for the development of a very hardy group of people. The Ilocano are in the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Abra, and Cagayan. They are highly concentrated in areas near the mouths of the Laoag and the Abra Rivers. While the population is generally homogenous, a northern and a southern dichotomy may be postulated in terms of dialect differentiation, if not a sociological one as when northern Ilocano would refer to those in the south as “those across the river.” As late as the nineteenth century, there were eight to ten dialects known.
The total national population is 5,915,557, with concentrations in the Ilocos Region distributed in Ilocos Norte (460,684), Ilocos Sur (519,273), and La Union (548,251). In Cagayan there are some 557,442 Ilocano; in Pangasinan, 909,970; and in Isabela, 744,915 (NSO 1990). Ilocanos are found in all provinces of the country.
The people are essentially rice producers who also indulge in extensive agriculture with cash crops like tobacco and garlic. There has been a continual migration of labor to different parts of the country to the southernmost reaches, and even to other places like Hawaii and California. Outmigration was caused by dense population pressures in a land with limited agricultural potentials. It is one of the most densely populated regions in the country. The agricultural production is not sufficient to meet local needs thus much of the population went into the labor market and interregional trade. Tobacco is the leading cash crop. The textile industry in the area has a long tradition. Fishing is second only to agricultural production.
Among the more dominant of the ethnic groups, they have figured prominently in the political, educational, economic, religious, and other sectors of society. Intensely regionalistic like most of the other major groups, the Ilocano take pride in their roots and language.