Textile Arts Council members visit the Philippines
By Leslee Budge
For over sixteen days our group from the Textile Arts Council traveled the full length of the Philippines archipelago from Laoag city in northern Luzon, the large island on which Manila is situated, to General Santos, on the southern island of Mindanao. Here we drove to remote T’boli villages near Lake Sebu. We also visited numerous cities on the island of Panay.
Moving thought out this island nation, we stopped at the workshops of indigenous weavers from different cultural groups using fibers as diverse as abaca or banana fibers, pina or pineapple fibers, cotton, silk and cotton polyester. We were fortunate to have the assistance of members of the Custom Made Crafts Center, a Filipino non-governmental organization working towards improved quality of life for forest-dependent communities, in setting up demonstrations at the many workshops we visited.
On the island of Mindanao around Lake Sebu live the T’boli ‘dream weavers’—so called because they dream of the patterns they will weave. As in many cultures there is mythology and sacred significance linked to the t’nalak cloth that they weave. For our first visit, we walked 45 minutes to the small village of Lamkanidang, with threatening thunder clouds closing in. Just as the skies opened up in a cloud-burst we reached the bamboo, thatched roofed house where the weavers were awaiting us. Here we were given a PowerPoint presentation about their culture. Afterwards we saw the full process from harvesting the abaca; removing the fibers from the banana stock, drying; tying the stands to make long filaments; tying the fibers for the tie-dye process to create the ikat pattern; dyeing the yarns; preparing the warp (the fibers that compose the length of the fabric); putting the warp on the back-strap loom and finally the weaving process. This demonstration of the process of weaving was repeated in many of the workshops we visited.
From Mindanao we flew north to Laoag city, visiting museums then driving south and back towards Manila. Passing through Paoay we stopped at the Inabel weavers. The art of Inabel weaving is handed down from generation to generation. Next we stopped at the workshop of Magdalena Gamayo, a National Living Treasure awardee for Inabel weaving. Born in 1924, she has been weaving since the age of 16. She continues weaving, teaching and inspiring others to follow her path.
Our next flight took us to the city of Kalibo on Panay island where we learned about creating pina cloth. Pina is made of the leaf fibers from a variety of pineapple. The fiber is very fine—the finished fabric is like a fine silk organza. This art nearly died out 30 or so years ago but has been revived. Like abaca, the fibers are striped from the plant source to create pina fiber. The cloth is woven using silk for the warp and pina for the weft. Pina is used to make the Filipino men’s shirt, barong, and women’s dresses which are still worn for formal State events. Elaborate embroidery is often used to embellish this luxury cloth.
We drove south to the city of Iloilo. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Iloilo was known as the Queen of the South, exporting Manila hemp and hablon, a cotton cloth, woven by the people living in and around Iloilo. During the Spanish time, in the 1800s, Iloilo was known as the ‘Textile Center of the Philippines’. Hablon is a heritage industry in Iloilo. The making of hablon is not just a means of livelihood, it is also a culture, a tradition, an irreplaceable fragment in the whole that is Iloilo. Unfortunately, nowadays it is impossible to find a pure cotton hablon cloth, since the poly-cotton yarns are more affordable. Neither cotton nor silk are grown to any large extent in the Philippines.
Throughout our tour we used Manila as a base. While there we had the opportunity to meet with members of HABI, the Philippine Textile Council who graciously briefed us on the variety of textile we would be seeing and their significance in Philippine cultural life.