The Flight of the Igorot to Canada and the start of the BIBAK association

The Flight of the Igorot to Canada and the start of the BIBAK association

by Irene Mestito-Dao

The BIBAK association held it’s Canao on May 21st, 2011. This year’s presentation featured Bontoc Mountain Province. The four dances presented follow the story of a young boy’s journey to Canada. Here is a summary of the presentation:

Once upon a time a little boy named Padlon was born in a western Bontoc village called Besao. The village was 7km to the nearest available vehicle transportation. It had no electricity and no running water. The only people wearing shoes were the American missionaries and the 2 school teachers.

When Padlon was six, his oldest sister got married. Brides did not wear wedding dresses, they wore a tapis in their tribal colours, wrapped around their waist as a skirt. Traditionally, it is the mother of the bride who weaves the bride’s tapis for the wedding. The first dance of the evening, Takik or Wedding Dance is performed to celebrate the union of two people.

One day Padlon and his friends climbed the tallest mountain. When they were on top, they were surprised to see other villages. They also saw their first airplane, but never having seen an airplane before they called it a big flying bird. On May 1, 1950 Padlon left Besao to go to school in Lepanto. He started his 7km hike to the town of Sagada to catch the bus to Lepanto. The bus was bigger than the houses in his village so he was excited to enter it, until it moved. Motion sickness kicked in after 12km. In Lepanto he experienced his first electric lights, flushing toilets and best of all, the radio. But since everyone spoke Ilocano instead of his dialect, Kankaney, he became very homesick. To cheer him up, his uncle invited him to Bontoc to watch the War Dance which depicts a clash between two warriors and ends with a peace pact ceremony.

Padlon stayed in Lepanto and enrolled in Grade One under the name Ben. That way even if the teacher punished him to write his name 100 times it wouldn’t take as long. When he was in grade four he changed his name again, this time to Milton. He stayed in Lepanto until he graduated from high school. He then proceeded to Baguio City to attend Baguio General Hospital School of Nursing. Being only one of two males in his nursing class of 56 students, it was common for Milton to be invited to perform the Boogie Dance of Bontoc, a courtship dance performed by young couples.

Milton graduated in 1965 and signed up to work as a nurse for the National Red Cross in Vietnam. However his mother flatly refused to let him go to Vietnam . He then heard that the Canadian government was recruiting nurses. So it was that on Sept. 14, 1966, with only $14 US dollars in his pocket, he boarded the flying bird he once saw from the tallest mountain of Besao and headed off to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

The following year marked the arrival of the first Igorot couple John and Gliz Gano, as well as Arthur Michael and Cesar Castro. On December 31, 1968, these four men performed the first Igorot dance in Canada using Queen Annes pots and pans to celebrate the birth of the Canadian born Igorot baby – Aileen Gano. It took another 6 years before they were joined by other immigrants from the Cordillera region like the Bangloy’s, Buduhan’s, Asunsion Teleken and Conchita Kibeten (Talbot). Then on April 19 ,1994 BIBAK was formed with John Gano as the first Bibak president.

This little boy who embodies the true Igorot Bontoc spirit will now dance tonights final and most popular dance presentation, the Ballangbang Dance with 2 generations behind him: his daughter Irene Mestito-Dao and his two granddaughters, Katelyn and Lauryn Mestito-Dao. Padlon Ben Milton Mestito is not only the first Igorot to come to Manitoba, he is the first Igorot to arrive in Canada!

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