Magdaragat: People of the sea and the movie ‘Ode to a Seafaring People’

Updated: April 29, 2021, 8:55 A.M.

Vancouver, B.C.

April is National Poetry Month

Sol Diana and The Ode to a Seafaring People

April is National Poetry Month – a celebration of poetry  increasing awareness and appreciation of poetry.

Mildred German

Unceded Territories – The Suez Canal Crisis may be over.  422 vessels were freed after a mega-size ship blocked the canal for almost a week. The blocking cost an estimated $10 billion per day, affecting many industries dependent on the shipping industries in transporting goods and commodities.The news was followed by many nations and  memes made that went viral.


The majority of seafarers are Filipinos and they dominate jobs in seafaring and freight globally. It is not surprising that many Filipinos have a family member or a relative who works as a ‘seaman’ or ‘in a cruise’. For many Filipinos in Canada, seafaring is a common story.

The global shipping industry is responsible for the movement of 90% of our goods. But the essential and vital role of Filipino seafarers is often overlooked. Industries and governments neglect our overseas workers’ needs.

The over-sized bulk carrier ‘EverGreen’ tied up traffic in the Suez Canal. (Photo: Reuters)


The Mission to Seafarers is a worldwide charitable organization that advocates in caring for seafarers around the world. Its iconic blue building is usually close to the port and and acts as a ‘refuge’ for tired and wary seafarers.  In this house, they can relax, unwind, and find a sense of home and comfort.

Many of these seafarers are Filipinos, and they have many untold stories, stories that shapes  B.C.’s history. The movie, ‘Ode to a Seafaring People’ , honours these Filipino seafarers and reveals their hidden underworlds.

Directed by Vancouver-based Filipino-Canadian director Joella Cabalu, (“It Runs In the Family” ) and produced by Jessica Hallenbeck,  the film pays homage to the seafarers.  Cabalu also worked with Filipino-Canadian and East Van poet and spoken word artist, Sol Diana.

Here is our interview:

An Interview with Mildred German

Sol Diana is a spoken word artist born and raised on the traditional, ancestral, unceded, and occupied lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-Waututh First Nations (otherwise known as East Vancouver). He is of mixed Filipino and Scottish background and credits the Filipino artists he grew up around as his biggest influences. As the child of immigrants, he grew up witnessing how community cohesion is vital for survival. As such, he is grateful to have learned about the Mission to Seafarers and the important work they do to support seafarers.

Mildred: What is an ode? Can you explain why it is an ode to seafarers?

Sol: An ode is a literary form that celebrates an individual or a concept. “Ode to a Seafaring People” uses an ode structure to honour the role that seafarers play in the global shipping industry, a role that has been tragically overlooked and invisibilized, and is a role taken up by mostly Filipinos.

Just as a note: in this act of celebrating, I acknowledge that I was inspired by, and invoke an origin myth of the Igorot people of northern Luzon. It is important to also acknowledge that I am not Igorot, and whether my actions constitute homage, citation, or theft, is something I am currently discussing with community members and is something I want to continue talking about.

Mildred: How are oceans connected to not only seafarers but also Filipinos?

Sol: So-called Filipinos have always had storied relationships to water, including oceans and riverways, given the complex geographical make-up of the archipelago known as the Philippines – whether it be for fishing, trade, exploration, transportation etc. Water has been, and continues to be, the lifeblood of so many of our communities and I’m continuously learning of the different ways we have ancestral and traditional ties to water.

Because of various and overlapping colonial, imperialist, and capitalist forces, many Filipinos now have a different relationship to the ocean: seafaring to transport goods to sustain a globalist economy, often at the cost of their own physical, mental, and spiritual health. Many seafarers are on perilous and lonely journeys away from home for up to 10-11 months at a time.

To put it simply, Filipinos’ relationships to the ocean are both powerful and complicated. I’m still learning what those relationships are and how to fully appreciate them.

Mildred: Please share an excerpt of your poem that resonates to you as an artist making this film.

Sol: In both my own writing process and in the collaborative editing process with director Joella Cabalu and producer Jessica Hallenbeck, a line we continuously kept coming back to was: “It’s a marvel how we make ghosts / Out of the living.”

Joella’s film is a response to the phenomenon of ‘sea blindness’, or the overlooking of seafaring life and contributions. This line resonates with me because I feel it captures the almost eerie space that Filipino seafarers exist in—their role in the world as we know it is so vital yet so underappreciated, as though they are ghosts before their time. I am reminded of my uncles who are seafarers and their lively energy whenever they port, and how easily that humanity can be lost through sea blindness.

Mildred: From poetry to film, how powerful are words in the medium of moving pictures?

Sol: I think it all boils down to storytelling. Stories are how we make sense of ourselves, and how we scheme up better futures. Words are only one way of conveying and passing stories, and when different media are woven together, storytelling can become so much more powerful and accessible. As such, I want to express my sincere and humble gratitude to director Joella Cabalu who’s creative vision for the film held space for this kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration. I am continuously amazed and inspired by the ways that Filipinx artists are using different media to figure out who they are and amplify their stories, whether it be through poetry, film, rap, dance, tattooing, among so many others; not to mention, Filipinx scholars who are weaving together cultural teachings and stories with theory to imagine better futures for our communities.

April 28th is the National Day of Mourning,

A day to remember and honour those workers who have died, been injured or suffered illness in the workplace.

Acknowledging that seafaring is one of the most precarious and dangerous jobs, members of the Filipino-Canadian community lend their support for their compatriots and seafarers whenever the need arise. Many times, kababayans rally around these seafarers, providing aid and in raising awareness on the perils they face.

This February, the community reached out to our compatriots stranded in the port of Halifax for two weeks due to a storm which left one of them dead and others injured. d-three-others-injured-in-atlantic-storm/

In March 2021, the Victoria Filipino-Canadian Association (VFCA) launched a petition to demand justice for stranded and enslaved Filipino seafarers in Fiji. nds-justice-for-stranded-filipino-seafarers-in-fiji/

The short film Ode to the Seafaring People by Filipino-Canadian director Joella Cabalu, was first released in March 2021, and has been featured in the Seattle Asian American Film Festival 2021 and Disorient Film Festival 2021. It will be airing on Knowledge Network in 2021. More information at

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