Here’s How I Celebrated My 30th Birthday

Editor’s Note: I represented the Ambassador at the 23rd anniversary of Igorot UK, one of the oldest Filipino community organisations in the UK that is composed of six other organisations representing some of the major groups in the Cordilleras.  The organisation’s advocacy is to pass down the treasured traditions of the Cordilleras to new generations and to raise awareness and appreciation on one of the most beautifully complex facets to Philippine arts and culture that they represent.  I was asked to deliver a speech (which, thank God I succeeded in doing ever so briefly!) during the Grand Cañao, so I decided to draw on many of my most memorable experiences during my travels in Northern Luzon.  After my speech, we danced with the members to the beat of the gangsa (gongs) and drank tapey / tapuy (rice wine) on the side.  It was one of the most memorable ways to celebrate my birthday.


Good evening, every one.  I am happy to participate in yet another cañao.  The first time I was invited to take part in a cañao was many years ago during my first visit to the Mountain Province.  I was invited by my classmate to celebrate  an important milestone in their community.  That day marked the first of many visits across the Cordilleras.  Every time, I would take home some coffee, some textile, and many happy memories.

The Cordillera region and the people who wholeheartedly welcomed me into their hearts and homes have influenced me greatly as a travel writer and photographer.  That is why places like Buscalan, Mayoyao, Sagada, and Batad, among many others are not just my happy places but the places where I believe I came of age in mind and in spirit.

One time, I was asked by my editor to write about spelunking in Sagada. I had never tried spelunking before and so it was my first time to explore this deep, long cave and to put my life in the hands of complete strangers who helped me come to terms with two of my greatest fears in life: heights and darkness. But what was more important was listening to their story of how much they valued their relationship with nature and the great lengths they went through to protect it for future generations to see and enjoy.

I also had the opportunity to live with a family in Banaue.  It was such a random adventure when I hopped on a bus from Manila, transferred to a can from Baguio, and arrived on a foggy morning in Banaue where I stayed with a couple who were kind enough to take me in and give me a room in their house. The rest of the weekend was spent scaling the rice terraces and moving farther to Batad where nights were spent telling stories around a bonfire.

Every visit to the Cordilleras feels like a home coming to me because there is this strong sense of community among the people.  it is this same sense of community and identity that I felt when I met some of you during the Philippines Studies Conference last July at SOAS.

Today, I have three wishes for the Igorot UK family as you celebrate another milestone in this organisation :

First, that this tradition of cañao will continue to live on in the hearts of future generations of the Igorot UK family so that this culture of belongingness, love, and care will continue to resonate in the years to come.

Second, that the passion to share the rich cultural heritage of the Cordilleras will continue to burn in the hearts of all members.  The world deserves to see more of this beautiful facet of the Philippines because Cordilleran heritage is not just the heritage of the Filipino people but the heritage of mankind.

Third, that you will continue to represent the best of the Philippines wherever your journey takes you. And wherever you may be I hope you will continue to wear your tribe with pride .

On behalf of Ambassador Antonio M. Lagdameo and the Philippine Embassy, I wish you a meaningful celebration and a bountiful harvest of blessings.

Thank you for having me here and for welcoming me into your community and into your family.

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