Indigenous groups from different parts of the Philippines practice respective weaving traditions making it one of the oldest local industries observed in the country.
Tribal brothers and sisters from the northern cluster are famed for their blood-colored Cordilleran weaving, attesting to the fierce nature of the canao practitioners of the mountains. The central groups with their flowery and nature-inclined designs reflect the peoples’ calm disposition. South’s colorful fabrics serve as an image of the different cultural groups thriving together in the region—Muslims, Christians and lumads. Other weaves mirror the surroundings like the patad embroidery seen in the de’vit attires of the Ibaloi consists mostly of triangles depicting the high mountains of the Cordilleran region.
And while weaving defines the cultures and behaviors of the indigenous peoples, modernization and commercialization has affected the traditional art. Patterns from woven cloth are now copied into fabrics that are manipulated easily by factories. Indigenous-inspired bags can now be manufactured without the authenticity of fabrics.
But more importantly, it results to the decline in the practice of weaving itself by the local craftsmen. This concern is tackled in Dreamweavers, a documentary on the t’nalak weavers of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato.
It shows how only a number of elders in the community practice the traditional art. Through the years, the weavers have aged along with their crafts. And the more alarming concern is that the younger generations have taken not as much interest in the continuation of their creative industries as their precedents.
The same is happening in Luzon. In a visit to a weaving center in Baguio, most of the employed workers are women in their mid-ages who use the money to send their children to school, leaving the traditional learning of the craft for later. Most of the indigenous youths are now heading to the cities to study and experience the modern life.
But hope is not lost. Indigenous youths have not completely disregarded the traditional art of weaving. There are still some who show interest in preserving it by enrolling at the Schools of Living Traditions (SLT).
Created by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ (NCCA), SLTs aim to preserve Filipino weaving practices by teaching to the younger members of the communities.
According to UNESCO, there are two ways through which cultural heritages are preserved. First is through recording and archiving of cultural materials and second is to preserve it in living form ensuring its transmission to the next generation.
Already, there are a number of SLTs established around the country. In Kiangan in the north, the SLT headed by Normalita Ballawon is dedicated to the Ifugao weaving, while another one is headed by Rosalyn Fianza-White dedicated to the de’-vit weaving with patad embroidery. There is also one in Gaddang for the massinun weaving.
In the central island clusters, SLTs were established for the Higaonon mat and Subanon sapyay weaving, as well as the B’laan fabric and clothing.
In the SLTs, masters of the craft transfer their artistry to the youth through hands on training. This ensures that the spirit and true sense of the tradition is not lost in translation if they are to learn it through the recorded material.
Another effort to recognize the Filipino art of weaving is organized by NCCA, the Gamaba Award that honors cultural masters of the craft. Out of the 13 Gamaba awardees, five are indigenous weavers of their respective communities: Magdalena Gamayo of Ilocos; Lang Dulay, a Tiboli weaver of t’nalak; Salita Monon, Bagobo textile weaver; Darhata Sawabi of the Tausug; and Haja Amina Appi, Sama mat weaver of Tawi-Tawi.
Besides SLTs and Gamaba recognition, weaving industries also thrive through the promotion and continuous exposition through modern technology.
Hibla, a website dedicated to Filipino weaving tradition features works of the SLTs including textile crafts, beadwork and embroidery. Moreover, the site disseminates to netizens various information on different government and non-government programs that keeps the culture of weaving alive.
With the many means through which Filipinos could be involved in the preservation, promotion and appreciation of the art of weaving, there is no excuse for each citizen not to take part in the cause.