When mathematics interweaves with culture

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Ateneo’s Mathematics professor, Dr. Ma. Louise Antonette de las Peñas and Cultural Master Mat Weaver Janeth Hanapi with the attendees of ‘Weaving Mat(h) s’ lecture held in February at Ateneo Mathematics Society

Ateneo’s Mathematics professor, Dr. Ma. Louise Antonette de las Peñas and Cultural Master Mat Weaver Janeth Hanapi with the attendees of ‘Weaving Mat(h) s’ lecture held in February at Ateneo Mathematics Society

In a rare opportunity, a mathematician, together with a master mat weaver, gave a presentation demonstrating the mathematics embedded in various mat designs of a Philippine indigenous community.

Sponsored by the Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Mathematics Department, together with the Ateneo Mathematics Society, professor of Mathematics Ma. Louise Antonette De Las Peñas and Cultural Master Mat Weaver Janeth Hanapi came together to show the interplay between mathematics and culture.

Entitled “Weaving Mat(h)s,” the lecture was held at the Rizal Mini Theater of the ADMU in February to a crowd of students, faculty, and other interested groups.

In her presentation, De Las Peñas described the various geometric elements and algebraic structures present in the elegant colored repeating patterns of the mats created by the Jama Mapun. She highlighted the fact that even without advanced mathematical training, the weavers are able to create, by hand, complex geometric designs depicting advanced levels of geometry and algebra using a combination of a weaving and counting technique.


Interestingly, these motifs are woven directly into the mats relying only on a mental blueprint, without any need for paper or pencil. Following De Las Peñas’ presentation, Hanapi gave a demonstration, and explained the workmanship required for creating the colorful mat designs that are a source of pride among the Jama Mapun.

In the talk, De Las Peñas also stressed that an important feature unique to the Jama Mapun weaving is the “tupi” or fold. This fold allows the weaver to weave designs directly into the mat by controlling the direction of a colored pandan leaf. This clever technique, she perceives, will play a significant role in the development of mathematical theories in the geometry of colored woven fabrics. It is clear that the Jama Mapun community can help enrich mathematical education and research.

The academic lecture is part of the ongoing research project “Symmetries of Philippine Culture” supported by the Ateneo de Manila Loyola Schools Scholarly work grant, headed by De Las Peñas, with Agnes Garciano and Debbie Verzosa of the Ateneo de Manila Mathematics Department.

In this research, the finite designs and repeating patterns occurring in art forms of various Philippine ethnic communities are studied through an analysis of their symmetry groups and colored symmetrical structures.

The different algebraic structures can be used as a framework to distinguish the artwork coming from a particular cultural community. Another part of this research is the development of material for integrating an analysis of Philippine art forms within the school or university curriculum.

The interdisciplinary lessons can be used to teach concepts of geometry and algebra, history, social studies, art and Philippine culture. It is anticipated that this study’s focus on the mathematics inherent in local designs can promote better appreciation for Philippine heritage and culture.

De Las Peñas and her collaborators, Garciano and Verzosa, have also recently received a grant entitled Mathematical Symmetries of Indigenous Philippine Artwork from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

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