Visiting elder Laji singer, Marta Vaso

Marta Vaso is the carrier of one of the most well-known Laji in Batanes. It’s called Lipus Ko Am Panahanen, and most Ivatans can recite the melody, if not the lyrics, from memory. Without her, this gem of a poem, would most likely have vanished in our tradition. (You can listen to her singing it, and check out the transcription of the lyrics, here.)


Marta Vaso, 90, is one of the last two living Laji singers in Ivana, Batanes. May 2018.

I first recorded her singing this Laji, and a few others, back in 2011. I also interviewed her about how she learned the songs and what the deeper meanings of her lyrics are.

This week I visited her at her home in the village of Ivana and found her, at the age of 90, to be lively, generous and full of stories!

I wanted to talk to her – and the other Laji singers – about the latest phase of our project: a roll-out of the audio CDs to the classrooms in Batanes to be used as learning materials. She was pleased to hear the update and offered an insightful comment. She said that many of the youth who listen to her sing are respectful, but lose interest because they do not understand the meaning behind the lyrics. Without this comprehension, they just end up reciting empty verses.

I thought this was a very astute observation. How can we expect our youth to appreciate Laji without taking the time to pass along the full significance of the language? Laji not only holds within it our cultural history (as the respected Dr. Hornedo noted in his studies on the subject), but a treasure of linguistic tradition. When I speak to Laji singers, they take great care to explain the metaphors and double-meanings (and humor, yes!) behind their lyrics. Without their explanations, the full beauty of the poems is lost.


Visiting Laji Singer Marta Vaso in May 2018 to update her on the Laji project and share our CDs, poster and letters of appreciation.

To this end, the next phase of this project is to transcribe and translate as many Laji samples as I can. I hope to continue this valuable work throughout 2018 and into the coming years. I am always looking for help — so if you have expertise or would like to support, please contact me here. This is the latest in a project that began for me over 15 years ago – and I have come to realize will mostly likely continue for a lifetime. (Catch up on the full history of how this all got started.) Hopefully, this will honor the legacy of Lola Marta Vaso, and the rest of the Laji singers here in Batanes!


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