Message: 2nd Grand Cañao, Rome, Italy

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2nd Grand Cañao
Rome, Italy
1 June 2014


Kanyaw: Achieving Unity through Respect and Flexibility

By Yvonne Belen

 Thank you Marilyn (Aro) for the introduction.

 I. Greetings

 II. Words of Thanks

I would like to thank the six Igorot/Cordillera organizations in Italy for organizing the Second Grand Kanyaw in Rome and for inviting me to speak at this special occasion.

To mention the Igorot/Cordillera associations, they are:  

•        Cordillerans in Italy of Bologna and Modena, Italy;

•        Cordillera Migrant Workers Association (CMWA) of Milan and Como, Italy;

•        Cordillerans in Modena;

•        ULNOS di Mountain Province in Rome, Italy;

•        United Cordillera Workers in Rome Italy (UCWRI); and

•        United Igorot Association Naples Italy. 

Thank you too to the hosts of this year’s kanyaw:

•        ULNOS di Mountain Province by Francis Kiwang and

•        United Cordillera Workers in Rome, Italy led by Felipe Kingay.

Furthermore, I would like to thank Rosmar Smith, secretary of UCWRI, who I was constantly in communication with, for attending to my many requests and for taking care of our (Michelle Budaden and me) accommodation. 

 III. Three Quotations

For my talk, I’ll share three quotations and weave some descriptions on Kanyaw.

The first quotation is by Bono, an Irish singer-songwriter and front man of the rock band U2. He says:

“To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.”

The second quotation is by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a German writer and statesman. He says:

“In the end we are all separate: our stories, no matter how similar, come to a fork and diverge. We are drawn to each other because of our similarities, but it is our differences we must learn to respect.”

And the third quotation is by Anthony “Tony” Robbins, an American life coach and motivational speaker. He says,

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”

The main points of the three quotations are

•        Unity is great but respecting our right to be different is greater;

•        Through our similarities, we come together however we have to respect our differences; and

•        When we make decisions, we stick to them but we have to be pliant like the bamboo and consider suggestions of others.

IV. Kanyaw, Kanyao, Cañao

Many of the things I will be saying about the kanyaw will be familiar to the peoples of the Philippine Cordillera in northern Luzon, Philippines. For the sake of others though, I would still like to talk about the kanyaw. I’ll use KANYAW because to me, the spelling looks more indigenous than cañao.

When we say kanyaw, the image that comes to mind is a celebration---with men playing the gongs or a hollow wooden drum called solibao, with women dancing, with everybody eating and with those attending going home with a wat-wat, a piece of meat hanging from bamboo- or rattan-made string.

I recall my childhood in Bontoc. When there’s a kanyaw in Alab, my birthplace and where my maternal grandmother comes from, we used go there. After the kanyaw, each of us young and old, is given our wat-wat and we would be carrying home this piece of meat tied with a rattan string. 

 V. Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Philippine Cordillera

We belong to different major ethnolinguistic groups, namely:

•        Tingguians of Abra,

•        Isnegs of Apayao,

•        Ibaloys of Benguet,

•        southern Kankanaeys of Benguet,

•        Ifugao of Ifugao,

•        Kalingas of Kalinga,

•        northern Kankanaeys of Mountain Province,

•        Bontoks of Mountain Province, and 

•        Ikalahan of Nueva Vizcaya but who live in the upper, forested regions of the Cordillera and Caraballo Mountains. 

While we’re from different ethnolinguistic groups, the common thread that binds us is we all come from the mountains. Golot is the Tagalog word for “mountain.” The Spaniards say cordillera and means “a system of mountain ranges.” The letter “i” as a prefix, means “people of” or “dwellers of.” So, when we say igolot or iCordillera, we are also saying, “we come from the mountains.” Igolot has since evolved to Ygorrote to Igorrote and to the present word, Igorot.  

 VI. Other Names of Kanyaw

In a kanyaw, we have festivities for thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest or rituals as offerings to the god, Kabunian. The kanyaw is called by other names.

•        The Bontoks say chomno,

•        the northern Kankanaeys call it begnas,

•        the southern Kankanaeys call it pedit and

•        the Ibaloys say peshit.

 VII. Peshit

Among the Ibaloys, there’s a belief that there should not be too much difference between the rich and poor. As a form of leveling off, the person in the community who has the most number of cows has a peshit. What’s it in for the person who holds a peshit? Well, after the peshit, he’s recognized as a community leader.

I’d like to relate a story from Cesar Tomilas Taguba, who was present during a peshit.  He says:

“I was five or six years old in Adaoay, Kabayan, Benguet and I recall a peshit that my uncle had.

Many people from the neighboring barrios or villages were invited. The people who came joined in the tayaw, tiktik. The peshit was held for seven days. There was dancing the whole day. I recall the bendiyan dance wherein many women and men participated. There was also a bacdiw (or chanting) by an old woman. Her bacdiw included narrative stories, among other things: history and life in the community. She also chanted some things about the person who has a peshit. 

Every day for the seven days, a pig or carabao is slaughtered. It was mostly pigs that are butchered. The meat slices served are big because people would like to “kunet” a big chunk of meat.

My favorite food was pig’s blood boiled in its intestine (after cleaning the intestine, of course.) Since we children were usually fed first, the old men would give us about 10 cm. long of boiled animal blood. We would be holding our share and biting into it while we’re playing.

The highlight of the peshit and which I recall with excitement is watching men wrestling with the pigs. The pig they catch they bring home for their barrio. The person who has a peshit provides 10-15 pigs that are placed in a big, muddy pigpen. The pigs are first smeared with oil. Later, three or four representatives from each barrio rush to the pigpen and go for the biggest pig. The barrio representatives dodge each other until only one group is wrestling with the biggest pig. This group would try to pin down the animal. I see the barrio representatives getting soaked in the mud; I hear the pigs squealing; I hear people shouting and cheering for their barrio representatives. Finally, when the barrio people see their representatives get the big catch, they give a loud cheer.

                    To me, the peshit is the grandest of all grand kanyaw.”  

 VIII. Reasons for a Kanyaw

•        Aside from the kanyaw being a celebration, it’s an occasion to bond with others in the community and with neighboring tribes.

•        The kanyaw is a time for healing and there are rituals that are followed.

•        And the kanyaw is an opportunity to get to know one’s relatives and trace one’s ancestry.

When I was young, we had many relatives who used to visit my maternal grandparents in Baguio City. Sometimes, I’m around when they visit. After they leave, my grandmother would say, “Agi tako dadi.” (They are our relatives.)

I never asked my grandmother how we are related to our “relatives.” And that’s what I regret.

Nowadays, when someone says we are related, I always ask how.

IX. Traditional priest

There’s a traditional priest who leads the prayers. In the article, Clan reunions replace ‘cañao’ tradition in Benguet by Maurice Malanes, he writes:

“In thanking the heavens, a traditional priest would pray: ''O gods and spirits of the heavens, bless members of this family (referring to the cañao's host family). Let their cattle and livestock become more productive. Let their rice, peas, grains, camote (sweet potato) and other crops bear good harvest. Spare this family from ailments and bless the family members with long, healthy lives. O gods and spirits, we are asking all these so that tomorrow or one of these days, we can again celebrate your blessings for this family and have the chance again to honor you and pay our respects.”

 X. Attire Shows One’s Status in the Community

When men and women go to the kanyaw, they dress their best. Men wear specially-woven G-string and women wear their specially-woven skirts and heirloom beads of agate.

While G-string’s use is to cover the groin and buttocks, it is also a statement of one’s class in the community or society.

In Kate Fumnag Chollipas Botengan’s book, The Socialization of the Bontoc, she says: “Clothing for the Bontoc identified clearly who belonged to what level of social status and economic capability.”

Among male residents of Sadanga, Mountain Province, the G-string’s designs and colors distinguish the rich from the poor.

I quote from the book, The New Mountain Province published by the Provincial Government of the Mountain Province:

“…The designs in the weaves symbolize the class of the person.

The more color combination and the more complex designs, the higher is the social and economic standing of the person wearing it...

Just like the woven products worn by the women, the men have their own depending on their status…

XI. Decision-Making

During a kanyaw, the person having a kanyaw or the council of elders makes the decisions. The goal is to have a successful event. While someone or a group makes the decisions, it’s the community members that implement the different tasks. The boys gather firewood, the men butcher the animals, the women cook. There is a goal and decisions are made and everyone in the community carries out the activities. Whoever makes the decision though should be willing to change the plan when others suggest what might be better.

XII. Kanyaw Abroad

And so it is with holding a kanyaw abroad. Although we come from different ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippine Cordillera, we are united when we have a kanyaw. The similarity that binds us is being peoples of the mountains. The differences are we come from various tribes with a language, customs and traditions. While we have made our decisions, we are also open to other ways of implementing it. 

For our kanyaws and other activities abroad, let these be occasions where we unite and learn to respect our differences; where we realize that while we have similarities, we respect our differences and when we make decisions, we stick to them but we are like the bamboo and could be swayed in our approach.

 XIII. Three Quotations

I’ll end with the quotations: 

(1) To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.

(2) In the end we are all separate: our stories, no matter how similar, come to a fork and diverge. We are drawn to each other because of our similarities, but it is our differences we must learn to respect.

(3) Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.

Thank you and have a wonderful day.YB


Bono, “To be one…,” Accessed 20 May 2014,

Botengan, Kate Fumnag Chollipas. The Socialization of the Bontoc. Quezon City: Kate C. Botengan, 2004.

Cordillera Schools Group. Ethnography of the Major Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Cordillera. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 2005.

Goethe, “In the end…,” Accessed 20 May 2014,

Malanes, Maurice. “Clan reunions replace 'cañao' tradition in Benguet.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, 9 May 2000.

Provincial Government of Mountain Province. The New Mountain Province. Philippines: Provincial Government of Mountain Province, 2010.

Robbins, Anthony. “Stay committed…, Accessed 20 May 2014,

About the Author (Excerpt of “Introduction” read during the 2nd Grand Cañao)

With hindsight, Yvonne is grateful to her parents for having moved from Manila to Bontoc, Mountain Province in 1952. Most of her classmates at the then Mountain Provincial High School in Bontoc are Igorots. It’s during her stay in Bontoc and Baguio City from 1952 through 1960 that she realized she’s an Igorot. 

She finished her Bachelor of Science (BS) in Preparatory Medicine and BS in Education at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, and her medical degree at the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center. 

As a school physician at the Benguet Schools Division for nearly two years, she visited 11 of the province’s 13 municipalities (except Atok and Bakun).

Presently, Yvonne devotes her time to Igorot Cordillera BIMAAK Europe (ICBE), a loose network of Igorot/Cordillera organizations and individuals in Europe. She helps to organize the biennial conferences, edit the conference Proceedings, and monitor postings for the website:

The article “Kanyaw: Achieving Unity through Respect and Flexibility” is an edited version of the speech she delivered during the Second Grand Cañao held in Rome, Italy on June 1, 2014.


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