The Bicolano people are the fourth-largest Filipino ethnolinguistic group. Their native region is commonly referred to as Bicolandia, which comprises the entirety of the Bicol Peninsula and neighbouring minor islands, all in the southeast portion of Luzon.
They are largely an agricultural and rural people, producing rice, coconuts, and hemp. Nearly all of them are Christians, predominantly Roman Catholics, but with some Protestant minorities. Their language, which is actually a collection of closely related varieties, is closely related to other languages of the central Philippines, all of which belong to the Austronesian (specifically Malayo-Polynesian) super-family of languages.
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 the city of Legazpi) 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 artifacts. 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.
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. Historically, the Bicolano people have been the most rebellious against foreign occupation.
Bicolanos live in Bicol Region that occupies the southeastern part of Luzon, now containing the provinces of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes and Sorsogon, as well as Masbate (although the majority of Masbate's population are a subgroup of Visayans). Many Bicolanos also live in the southeastern towns of the Calabarzon province of Quezon.
Bicolanos number 6,299,283 in 2010. They are descended from Austronesian peoples who came from Taiwan during the Iron Age. Many Bicolanos also have some Han Chinese and Spanish admixtures. Most of the townsfolk have small traces of each heritage while their language is referred to as Bicol/Bicolano. The Bicolano language is very fragmented, and its dialects are almost 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 of the Bicol Region's churches.
Culture and traits
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).
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.
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.