Dung-aw: The Ilocano Song of Lamentation
The Art of Dung-aw
Ilocanos have a collection of dirges or dung-aw, chanted or wailed in funeral wakes lamenting the passing of the dead.
To tourists or non-ilokanos hearing dung-aw, it sounds like a phrase that is more sang than spoken. It usually peaks to a crescendo of discordant shouting then tapers of to melodic whimpering.
The Tradition of Dung-aw
What others don’t know is that dung-aw is the ultimate ilocano show of emotion.
Ilocanos are very stoic people. They take each blow that life brings stone-faced and unfazed. Be it poverty, sudden crashes of fortune or simply the hardship of daily labouring; Ilocanos are the goats that take in everything, saving what they can and moving forward steadily without much complaint.
Dung-aw is the song of the soul that ilocanos sing to ease the pain of losing a loved one. It is the release of the pent-up flood of indignation and suffering. A cry from a heart that can no longer keep its peace.
In a wake, when one person starts chanting dung-aw, a lot more people follow, so that the whole chorus sounds like one synchronized voice punctuated by an occasional scream. Not just women, but also men, sing this song of grief. The song usually ends with every singer humming or whispering a personal sonata, heartbreaking and tear-filled. But more often than not, people know that dung-aw is over when the one chanting it collapses in exhaustion.
I sang my own dung-aw just tonight. I had no idea how long it lasted. But after my song, my voice was shot and I was barely concious. I needed that cry. And I have a feeling that I will be singing it a lot more times this week.
This post is dedicated to Mommy (22 August 1916-3 october 2007).
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