The Story Behind the Story

Ants and grasshopper (Photo Credit: Thesweetmelissa)
Ants and grasshopper (Photo Credit: Thesweetmelissa)

Ilokanos are always referred to as tightwads or kuripot. Well, I guess they are partly right. We Ilokanos have that sense of frugality within us, but being branded as kuripot is too much. Perhaps thrifty is the more appropriate adjective.  We save our money not for the things we want, but only for the things we need.  We don’t want to waste our hard-earned penny on luxuries.  If there is anything we want to purchase, we have to think twice before buying it or else we will be reprimanded by our elders who also ingrained this attitude from their predecessors.

Ants and grasshopper   (Photo Credit:   Thesweetmelissa)
Ants and grasshopper (Photo Credit: Thesweetmelissa)

 We were always taught to set our priorities.  I remember when I was young; I would always ask my parents to buy me this and that.  But they would tell me, “nakkong, dim nga masapul dagita. Han mu ruwamen ta bagim iti nanam-ay nga biag ta narigat agbiruk kwarta” (You don’t need those, my child. Don’t get used to a luxurious life because every penny is hard to earn).   I wasn’t used to having new clothes, shoes, bags, and toys, or any ostentatious material especially when I was a kid.  My cousins and other relatives bestow me their alus or possessions they no longer like or are interested in. When my sister and I were in grade school, we were always envious of our schoolmates who had their wheel bags rolling behind them.  We wanted the same. But of course, mama and papa said “nagadu’t bags yu dita nga inted dagita iikit yu. Isu latta usaren yun.” (Your aunts gave you a lot of bags. Why don’t you use those?) Even when we got to high school, we didn’t own new bags and shoes.  We wanted Sterling notebooks and stuff like that, but we always had to make do of the budget for school supplies our parents gave us.

I can’t say this goes for all Ilokanos, but most of us really are prudent when it comes to money.  This may be attributed to the kind of living we were accustomed to.  We have to work hard and find ways to live a normal life, that is, to attain our basic needs.  We can’t sit there and relax while everyone else is busy working in the fields or in the sea.  We don’t want our neighbors to brand us sadut or lazy.

Like other Filipinos, we also have that sense of shame or bain. As much as possible, we don’t want to be the topic of  gossip.  We also have to figure out first how others will react before pushing through with any plans.  We don’t want to embarrass ourselves and our families especially that people will talk about us on the basis of our deed and from whose family we came from. My lolo always told us, we should take care of our name.  We shouldn’t do anything that may ruin our reputation.

..And sadut is not a nice word to describe anyone, not a quality to be proud of.  Thus, we Ilokanos are raised as diligent children, always learning how to do things in our own way.  Even as kids, we were taught how to be responsible especially when it comes to household chores.  When I was four or five years old, I already knew how to cook rice.  Small a child I was, I had to make use of a chair just so I can reach the sink.  I also enjoyed washing the dishes especially when I see my parents being glad with what I do.

It went on like that even as I grew up to be a teenager.  I am the first of three children and as usual, panganays were always the ones with greater responsibilities.  Whenever our parents leave us with something to do or fix in the house, my siblings won’t do what they were asked to do.  And because I am the panganay, and I will be held responsible for my siblings’ actions.  I always had to accomplish their tasks. That prevented us from being reprimanded.

When we ask for extra allowance for school, we always have to do extra work.  Our parents would make us do this and that, clean this, finish that, before they give us what we want.  Even as youngsters, we had to work hard for extra allowance.  While other children pass by our house on their way to school, we were there sweeping our yard.  We can’t leave the house unless it’s clean. Honestly, I didn’t know why they were doing this to us; not until I went to college.

I was already on my own—away from my family. I had to do things without them.  One of these is to budget my allowance wisely so that I can save for some things I need, and maybe, want to buy.  Whenever I buy something I really need, I would tell my parents where I spent my allowance and won’t feel guilty about it.  But when I buy what I want, I usually save for it.  Most of the time, I would skip one meal so that some of my budget for food could be put aside for the item I want to purchase or I will be so matipid the following days.  That is, if I really want the item and if I am sure that it is of great use.  But if I know that it won’t be of any relevance later, I would just forget about it and move on—telling myself “di mo kailangan yan. Di mo kailangan yan” (You don’t need that. You don’t need that).

Moreover, when someone asks us to treat them for lunch or merienda, most of us would say we have no money even though we have.  We can’t be sure what may happen.  We may need that money for emergency purposes and the like.  Because of this, people often say “tama sila. kuripot nga talaga kayong mga Ilokano” (They were right. You Ilokanos are tightfisted). Whenever this situation happens to me, I would answer them, “we Ilokanos are just thrifty and saving for the bad days”.  If I treat my friends out, it means I will have to spend so little the following days or weeks.

Ilokanos are not kuripot as we are said to be.  We can be generous with other things, but when it comes to money, we always make sure that we won’t be the ones who have nothing when we need it.  We can help someone if he badly needs support, be it emotionally or physically.  What are neighbors for? But financially, yes we give them what we can give.  But we can’t give that much if we don’t have that much.

I remember a story about the ant and the grasshopper.  All day, the ant works his way to store food while the grasshopper just plays his violin.  The grasshopper even taunts the ant that he should stop working for a while, and join him for a drink. But the ant won’t stop working.  When winter came, the grasshopper was left in the cold with no food while the ant rests by the fire inside his house with plenty of food.

Hence, I can say the ant was an Ilokano.

author:  pauline mie


About pauline mie

I am a fourth year Communication student of the University of the Philippines Baguio and I am taking Journalism as a major and Broadcasting as minor. I can't say I'm a great writer. But I sure can write good stories.