THE blockbuster National Arts and Crafts Fair was held last weekend, organized by the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Trade Promotions Group under Undersecretary Abdulgani Macatoman and the able organizing manager, Marievic M. Bonoan, director of the Bureau of Trade Promotion and well funded by Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda’s initiative to promote Filipino products both for the domestic and world market.
Held from Thursday to Sunday, October 24 to 27, it took up three halls of the Megatrade Center at Megamall, with 277 booths from all over the Philippines. This is the biggest arts and crafts fair in the country, and it has been such a success in introducing new products to clients and clients to producers that it was decided to do it twice a year.
The featured activities ranged from how to sell online to an indigenous dress fashion show featuring Cordillera weaves, Aklan piña, Bohol cloth and patadyong material from Antique, Mindanao tribal outfits from Marawi to Agusan, to Iloilo folk dances. This fair did not only feature indigenous textiles but other products like folk arts in bamboo (Bulacan bamboo umbrellas and decorative backdrops), food items, natural dyes, home décor and practical items like foldable bamboo trays (for eating in bed), abaca floor mats, a huge variety of mats and baskets made of materials ranging from rattan, to bamboo, to abaca, to fabric. And lots and lots of handbags in bamboo, abaca, a variety of vines like rattan and nito.
It took me all of three days to check out everything on display. One just cannot do it in one day unless you’re made of really sterner stuff. In any case, I was captivated by Manang Charit’s (of Paoay) Ilocano inabel. She had bolts and bolts of them and fashion designers (they are smart enough to know that market fairs like these bring in a variety of materials they can use) were taking samples for future orders. She had a variety of designs from dark threads to light threads with a large spectrum of designs, all attractive and traditional.
Over at the Antique booths, I saw woven piña from Tibiao that looked elegant with a sprinkling of gold thread. It is to be remembered that the whole of Panay, not just Aklan, weaves piña. Iloilo, Capiz, Antique were fully represented.
Aklan’s super delegate at the fair was Raquel Elisorio, winner of two prizes in the Montinola Piña Weaving Competition this year. Her booth showed off her winning pieces as well as other equal winners (according to me). Her son, Carlo, is the best piña knotter in the area, and has been at it since he was nine years old. Raquel has been working with the regional DTI offices to give piña weaving workshops around the country. She began as a member of a weaving cooperative organized by the Aklan State University, which is in Balete, Aklan, and a big supporter of the piña weaving industry. Now she has a name and fame as one of the leading piña weavers in the area. Another reliable piña supplier is La Herminia, which was also present with its indefatigable head, Arlyn Tumbokon, winner of the Montinola Piña Weaving Competition for two years running now. La Herminia has pioneered in weaving abaca piña, which comes out as a kind of linen — sturdy, decorative and a totally Filipino fabric.
Provinces like Abra and Agusan, and Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, were there in force. Abra has many weaving skills as well as embroidery. It is also quite accomplished in the production of natural dyes. They were selling indigo powder along with natural dyed woven material. Agusan has delicate embroidery that is hardly seen in these parts. There were also Kiniraya ethnic tribes from Panay who do beautiful embroidery and Mangyan handwoven textiles dyed in indigo. Palawan was amply represented by Puerto Princesa and the Jama Mapun ethnic tribe woven baskets.
Food items, from peanuts in all forms to dried fish, honey, all kinds of jams and relishes were everywhere. Passing by a Bicol booth, we were given a sample of pili nut butter to taste. Better than peanut butter for its delicacy and exquisite texture; once we tasted, we bought.
Of course, I ran out of money at the end of each sortie into that wonderland of native arts and crafts. In one instance, I saw an irresistible abaca doorstep at a shop, which had a number of them. I promised myself I’d go back the next day with the money to buy it. Alas, too late. After looking and looking for the abaca stall when I came back and which I could not find despite making a note of where it was, I finally asked and I was pointed to a sold-out stall. No more abaca doorstep mats. Gone to some more provident persons who had the money for a timely purchase.
Marawi was spectacularly present with silk cloth, cotton decorative woven fabrics, inlaid furniture, brass decorations, drums, kris blades and musical instruments. Speaking of musical instruments, there was a booth with bamboo flutes, which a virtuoso played with background music from the stage set for programs. “Leron Leron Sinta” was played beautifully by the young flutist, John Benedict Oliveros
Bicol was also very present with a variety of baskets, abaca products from floor mats to hats to pili marzipan and skinless pili nuts. Pili is unique to Bicol and they know what to do with it, like the new pili nut butter product.
All in all it was an eye-opening show that showed what a variety of materials, skills, arts and crafts this country has. It was too an exhilarating experience to see so many of us busy doing what is in effect a cultural activity based on our environment and traditions.
We look forward to the next edition of the National Arts and Crafts Fair.