Author Archives: ivatanlaji

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!


Laji Singer, Filomena Hubalde

Laji singer, Filomena Hubalde, explains the content of her song in Savidug, Sabtang, July 7, 2011.

(UPDATE: Sadly, Lola Filomena passed away in 2017. Her sharp mind and wit, her generosity and loving spirit will forever be missed. I think of her often as I lean out our bedroom window to gaze across our village of Savidug, just a few houses from where she lived and sang. Rest in Peace. And may this work to preserve Laji be a humble honor to her memory. DM.)

Lola Filomena Hubalde was the last living Laji singer in the small town of Savidug on the island of Sabtang. She carried in her songs the unique culture of the Ivatans, who reside in the remote, northernmost islands of the Philippines.

Hubalde’s life spanned the post-colonial American period, the Japanese occupation of World War II, the arrival of electricity and running water to the barrios, the martial law period under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and – more recently – the introduction of the Internet and mobile phones.

Throughout the many changes and developments, Hubalde and her fellow residents of Savidug, have maintained a traditional lifestyle that is based on fishing, farming, skilled handiwork and the Ivatan tenants of cooperation and hard work.

But today, Hubalde’s Laji, and the deep cultural knowledge it embodies, is in danger of vanishing.

This project aims to document and preserve Laji and the linguistic diversity of the Ivatans through audio, video and photographs. Filomena Hubalde is one of sixteen singers who volunteered to contribute their knowledge for future generations of Ivatans and for people around the world. You can listen to Hubalde’s Laji, Sinavung Ka Paru Ninuy, or watch a video with her here.

Ari da na! It’s here! The Laji Album

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Laji album – with all 44 of its Lajis, songs and chants – is finally here:

LAJI_foto_in hand

Close to 50 backers from the US, Philippines, Jamaica and other countries pledged to the campaign and dozens more spread the word, contributed insight and cheered on the project as we raised funds to produce an album that now can be shared with school children in Batanes and Ivatans across the global community.

To everyone who pitched in and believed in the project: a heartfelt Dyus Mamahes and Thank You!

From here, we will continue to work to document, preserve and promote this vital indigenous tradition – both in Batanes and abroad. There’s plenty more work to do to transcribe and translate Laji songs and videos.

In the meantime, you can check out the latest on the Kickstarter campaign here, listen to the CD and order online here, or check back to this site for ongoing updates.



Laji singers, community leaders gather in Vasay

On July 22, Laji singers from all three islands of Batanes met in Vasay with community leaders, school teachers, and Ivatan residents to celebrate the release of the audio CD, Laji: Indigenous Oral Poetry of Batanes. The CD brings together original field recordings in order to document and preserve this valuable tradition of Ivatan poetry.

After a week of strong winds and rain, Friday morning dawned with calm breezes and clear skies, allowing the singers from Sabtang to make the ocean crossing. They were joined by others from Itbayat and towns in the south, such as Uyugan, Ivana and Mahatao. As we say here, madinak u taw!

Laji and Kalusan singers await the presentation of their poetry.

Laji singers, Leoncia Fabro of Diura and Bernardo Cabuco of Ivana were joined by Kalusan singers from Uyugan.

District Superintendent, Wivina Gonzales, speaks before the crowd.

Leaders from the local schools called the gathering of the Laji an important part of bringing indigenous knowledge into the curriculum for the youth of Batanes. School District Superintendent Wivina Gonzales even treated the crowd to her own rendition of “Nunuk du Tukon,” a popular Laji that is known throughout the islands.

Youth singers Joseph Paduga and Monica Abad sang Laji for the Ivatan elders.

Dorian Merina, researcher for the Laji project, pledged to continue the process of reviving Laji.

Singer Melecio Alasco, front left, joined with Lourdes Nanud in the presentation.

Singers representing all of Batanes are joined by Basco Mayor Demy Narag, Governor Vicente Gato, District Superintendent Wivina Gonzales, researcher Dorian Merina and Dep Ed coordinator Linda Cadiz at the conclusion of the event.