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Of Braiding Tradition & Modernity: Giving Philippine Indigenous Weaves a New Life

by Shanice Espiritu January 18, 2018

Of Braiding Tradition & Modernity: Giving Philippine Indigenous Weaves a New Life

If you asked me a few years back, I would have been unable to name a single indigenous weave design from the Philippines. It was just not common knowledge to know the different types of weaves that exist all around the Philippines, let alone see them. There was very little interest in this indigenous art form in spite of a very diverse culture the Philippines is proud to have. This led to weaves almost fading from public consciousness. The culture seemed to almost die out, and young descendants of master weavers have once or twice thought of moving out of their ancestral lands in favor of not-so-exciting jobs in Manila.

No one wanted to continue weaving because the patterns were hard to learn, finishing a woven mat or garment took a lot of time, and not a lot of people were willing to buy these textiles since they were handmade and more expensive than commercially-made ones. But most of all, the biggest factor on why the indigenous fabrics industry started dying was because of the general lack of interest from the public.

 

A booth in ArteFino showing beautiful Mindanaoan tapestry
A booth in ArteFino showing beautiful Mindanaoan tapestry. A lot of these unique patterns have been passed on from one generation to another for centuries.

 

Preserving Indigenous Cultures

I only learned about the plight of indigenous people and the state of the indigenous textile industry last year, but I was very fortunate to have learned it in an event that was trying to curb the same industry’s untimely death. The name of this event is the Likhang Habi Market Fair, a three-day artisan market that showcased local artisans, Filipino social enterprises, and of course, weaving communities and their local businesses. The Habi Fair is a project by Habi: The Philippine Textile Council, an organization founded in 2009 that aims to promote Philippine textiles.

 

Scenes from the Habi Fair - Kontra-GaPi, a contemporary-ethnic music and dance ensemble performs onstage
Scenes from the Habi Fair, which was held last Oct. 22-22, 2017. Here, Kontra-GaPi, a contemporary-ethnic music and dance ensemble performs onstage.

 

Aside from highlighting the woven materials of the master weavers, it was also an immersive experience for me since it was my first time encountering members of indigenous communities from various areas in the Philippines. They were gracious enough to show the audience the different types of dances they had, the customs they practice, and of course, the food they harvest from their land. It was a festive display of a culture so different from the one I grew up with, but we were still united by the commonality of being Filipino.

 

The Manila Collectible, Co. booth during Habi Fair
The Manila Collectible, Co. booth during Habi Fair. The pretty tassel earrings at the back as well as the malongs in front are made of 100% Philippine cotton.

 

Hunger For More

My experience in Habi Fair last year was an eye-opener, and because of this, I became insanely curious about communities and people who practiced not only weaving, but a different way of life.  I wanted to not only experience a wider spectrum of Filipino culture through learning about the art of indigenous weaving, but I also wanted to hear the stories of these people who grew up knowing and practicing customs different from mine. I yearned to know how the fabrics they wove told their stories, or even how the patterns in these fabrics were conceived in the first place.

For instance, in one of the fairs I attended, I met a woman from the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association who was a dreamweaver, meaning the patterns she weaves into her mats have all been conceived from her dreams. Therefore, no two patterns are alike. I found that amazing, considering she has been weaving for decades and each mat she finishes (which takes around 2-3 weeks) is uniquely its own.

Can you just imagine the countless stories that have been intertwined within the threads we wear or see?

 

Shanice Espiritu with a weaver from the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association
Me, some friends, and a weaver from the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association. She wove this mat for 3 weeks. No two designs of hers are alike, and the material used for the mats are a special type of grass locally found in their area

 

Colorful handmade woven bags, necklaces, bracelets, and belts
Colorful handmade woven bags, necklaces, bracelets, and belts. The beauty of indigenous patterns are not only just for cloth, but also through beads, grass, and anything else that the locals can use.

 

Blending Tradition With Modernity

Another ingenious way of bringing Filipino weaving into the spotlight once again is to adapt these threads into modern wear. These are brilliant innovations since the colors of these weaves add a unique flair into clothes and at the same time make them wearable for everyday use. They are also brilliant conversation starters, and in my case, it gives me the opportunity to promote local finds that incorporate weaves into them as opposed to just plain blouses or skirts.

 

The Lipi Enterprises booth at Habi Fair
The Lipi Enterprises booth, a store that sells shoes, bags, and apparel that have touches of handwoven fabrics on them. By incorporating weaves into modern wear, we can preserve indigenous textiles.

 

Kaayo Modern Mindanao booth in ArteFino
Kaayo Modern Mindanao booth in ArteFino. Kaayo marries Mindanaoan traditional clothing and design with modern wear.

 

Tali Handmade booth in Artefino
Tali Handmade booth in Artefino. The bags are handwoven by female inmates from a city jail in the Philippines.

 

What’s great about this whole trend towards Filipino slow fashion is that through the process of inquiring about the weaves and buying it, you get to learn about the whole process, the hard work that the weavers put into the designs, the methods they use to weave, and even uplifting stories of how their businesses help their families while keeping the tradition alive.

All in all, it is very encouraging to know there are people who are working  hard to keep tradition alive, and there are communities devoting their time and effort into saving a unique Filipino tradition. I believe that in a number of years, with a steady amount of advocates and an undying love to preserve what beautiful culture we have, the Philippine weaving industry will move past its dying state and flourish into mainstream consciousness. And maybe by then, when you ask someone on the street to identify a Filipino indigenous weave, hopefully she will have loads of things to say.

 

Shanice Espiritu with beautiful Yakan tapestry
Me with beautiful Yakan tapestry. Yakan cloth is identifiable by its geometric patterns and bold, often contrasting colors





Shanice Espiritu

Author

Shanice wears many hats, but her favorite is being an advocate of Philippine history and culture. She currently works under the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines, and is a slow fashion model and photographer on the side. When not being any of those, she loves making lists, playing the piano, and scheming about how to make the world around her a little more colorful.


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