How I met Aunt Lilli and other relatives in Butuan (pronounced Bu-twan) was quite unexpected. I have been dreaming of meeting them, my long-lost relatives on my father’s side, many years ago when Lolo Javier of Pangasinan told me his brothers migrated to Butuan when he was just a young boy.
I have only gone to Pangasinan or to La Union, my grandfather’s and grandmother’s towns respectively, for work assignments. It was only Tita Norma and Tita Cherry Esguerra Licdan, my father’s cousins, who helped me trace my roots while I was drafting our family tree. Pangasinan, La Union and Butuan are just images of a distant past.
It was my first flight to Butuan City, a place I have only read in books as known for the discovery of the 1,600-year-old balanghai, an ancient boat made of sturdy, thick planks of wood connected to each other without nails. Archeological finds in Butuan had revealed it was the center of commerce in that part of Mindanao where traders dock to sell goods and Spanish conquistadores get their supply of drinking water and food. Archeologists had also found golden Buddhas and rare artifacts embedded in the muddy mouth of the river, evidences of its link to the glorious Sri Vijayan past.
Upon leaving my things in the hotel resort where I was billeted, I immediately put on my walking shoes and slung my husband’s camera to scour the city of its historical places. Knowing nobody, I sought the help of the Regional Tourism Department where I was given a guide map and brochures about the place. Inquisitive me asked the obliging staff who the head of the tourism department was whom I can interview for a possible story for my newspaper then where I worked as a reporter.
She answered warmly during that cold rainy afternoon: “Liwliwa Esguerra.” Hmmm, Esguerra. I quickly responded: “Can I interview her? She must be my relative if she is from Pangasinan.” Aunt Lilli must have heard and felt my excitement. She peeped from the conference room and finally invited me to sit inside her spacious office. I introduced myself. It was Lolo Javier’s name that linked her to me. I found my relative!
Lolo Javier’s brothers Milo and Melchor migrated to Butuan to look for greener pastures in the 1950s. Indeed they found their place under the sun in this part of Agusan as they become professionals through sheer determination and hard work. Lolo Melchor married Paz Buque who hailed from a family of educators in Nasipit. Lolo Milo became a school principal. Nana Minda became a nurse and currently lives in Quezon City busying herself as head of a review center for nurses. Some of the cousins migrated to Canada and Austria from Butuan.
Aunt Lilli invited me to a family reunion on the second day that I was in Butuan. Relatives came from as far as Vienna and Vancouver to grace the grand matriarch’s birthday celebration in a hotel where I was also billeted. Coincidence? Everything happens for a reason, as an Asian saying goes.
I wondered what Aunt Lilli’s name means in Ilocano. Liwliwa means joy, she explained. I wondered, too, why she remains single, she being the youngest in a big brood of the Esguerra clan in Butuan and radiantly beautiful in her pixie hair with a yellow rose pinned on her blue dress. Just the same, it was a joy meeting my new-found relatives in Mindanao. Thank you, Aunt Lilli.