Jun 19, 2024

Members of the Vancouver Island Cordillera Association and BIBAK BC performing the canao.  Photo by Johnedel Matias.

People attending the Vancouver Island Cordillera Association’s (VICA) Grand Cañao at the Canadian Legion Building in Langford, Victoria, British Columbia on July 27, 2019 sat at tables, not around a crackling fire as tradition would dictate.  

The hall was filled with lights, and though a picture on stage showed the beloved Cordillera mountains in northern Philippines, the mists and low-hanging clouds were missing. Despite the very Canadian venue (Costco shopping giant was nearby), the Cordillera spirit blazed old and strong and inextinguishable that night.

Some of those present walked the hills and fields of the Cordilleras as children. Some would have been married in those mountains with their whole village in attendance, their union celebrated with the clang of brass gongs, the thumping of feet in dance and voices shouting in celebration. They would have worn the bright-colored weaving unique to their province, and feasted on animals slaughtered especially for the occasion. 

For some, the village feasts were not memories but the stuff of stories – stories told in late-night conversations between their parents or when relatives came visiting, at parties and other social occasions. These younger people were born far away from the mountains, or left when they were very small. But that was the whole point of the evening – for generations of peoples of the Cordilleras in B.C. to come together tofeast, dance and sing, as the many generations before them had done, in a grand festival, the Cañao.

After a short invocation by community member Rufina Pinangat, the evening started with a dinner that included Canadian roast beef as well as Filipino lechon, ice cream and fruits in season. Once the tables were cleared, Dominga Passmore, a founding board member of VICA opened the program, emceed by Sam Claver, an undergraduate student at the University of Victoria (UVIC) who traces her roots to Kalinga and Bontoc. 

Current VICA president Amando Pitag welcomed everyone to the gathering and introduced guests Pablo Wigwigan, President of BIBAK BC (after the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao, and Kalinga), and representatives of BIBAK Seattle who had come all the way from Washington State. 

In her keynote address, educator, community worker and VIC founding board member Petra Durrance reminded everyone of the need to protect and preserve deep-rooted cultural identity and traditions. Meredith Tayaban gave an inspirational talk highlighting the growth and achievements of VICA. Geovahne “Banny” Fillag of Calgary sang the plaintive Nan Layad Nan Likatan, an Igorot folk song about remaining true to what one loves despite much hardship and suffering.

And then it was time to dance, and dance everyone did. People of all ages, all manner of dress, of various ethnicities, backgrounds and dancing skill joined in, dancing to the gangsa(gongs) as well as “Dancing Queen” and other line dancing numbers.Parents and elders in the gathering danced to the beat of the gangsa with confidence, solemnity and sure feet, perhaps from experiencing many such celebrations. The younger people in the group, including the VICA dancers and the young men representing BIBAK BC, were more tentative but no less solemn and graceful. The dancing was, for them, not just for show or entertainment but a solemn tradition that they were keeping alive and were proud to be part of.

Congratulations to the 2019 officers and board members of VICA, and to the committees that managed the hard and successful work of making the Grand Cañao a reality. Chester Ateo-on and Terri Biddic choreographed the show while Andrea Johnson, Kevin Domondon and Elize Cortez-Poliput together the souvenir program. Responsible for the program overall were Melanie Ba-a, Marcos Ogen, Andrea Johnson and Dominga Passmore. Ryan Velasquez and Carlo Amino took charge of the tickets.

Pitag was preceded by Marcos Ogen (2012-2015) and Teresa Biddic (2016-2018). Since its founding, VICA has been an active participant at various community events in Victoria, including the Victoria Asian Heritage Celebration, Folktoria, the 50thanniversary celebration of the Victoria Filipino-Canadian Association, and the Bayanihan Cultural and Housing Society`s Mabuhaycelebration at Centennial Square.

In the 2019 Cañao, just as in 2015, the spirit of solidarity, generosity, welcome, as well as independence and a deep pride in the Igorot heritage was on full display. 

In the words of Dr. Chandu Claver, VICA founding Board Member: “The Igorots still stand strong and proud as they uphold not only their right to a unique culture, but also their right to the land which is the basis of their culture. For Igorots who have been pushed out of the Philippines to search for a better future for themselves and their families, there is a strong desire to preserve this culture.”

Organizations such as the VICA serveas an anchor and a welcoming refuge” for the people of the Cordilleras who have much to celebrate and be proud of.

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