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Arts Culture The Untold Sacred Weaving of Ifugaos

The Untold Sacred Weaving of Ifugaos

The Untold Sacred Weaving of Ifugaos
By Joleysa Aguilar
September 23, 2019
Hand-weaving textile is one of the most interesting crafts of the Philippines, weighed with immense cultural significance. Little does one know, weaving is a sacred art. It is an elaborate process with many stages which includes a ritual.

At Kiangan, the birthplace of Ifugao, weaving has always been a part of the community’s daily activities. May it be for economic purposes, cultural preservation or personal use. The Ifugaos of Kiangan either practice traditional weaving which follows old-age techniques passed on through generations, or the ikat, where bundles of yarn are tightly wrapped together and dyed as many times to create a desired pattern or design. 

The weaving process usually starts with buying cotton from HABI, the Philippine Textile Council of the Philippines. The cotton then is twisted and collected into strands to prevent unwanted tangling. The colour combination is based on the ones available to the weavers. Most colourants are obtained from the seeds of nature: collected leaves, trees, mud from the river banks, or plants like mayana which give a greenish and yellowish colour to the thread.

The patterns used are mostly traditional ones, typically nature-inspired and beliefs-based. The bayawak pattern, for example, is based on an eponymous giant lizard said to be one of the gods who came down to earth to teach natives water irrigation. On the other hand, the phyton symbol is placed on borders of weaving textiles, inspired by a god who came down to Ifugao in the form of a snake to guard boundaries. A dividing line, in forests or rice fields, for example, is considered sacred among the Ifugaos because land is very precious to them. In addition, the star symbol represents abundance, multitude, and fertility.

Today, Kiangan weavers make use of contemporary designs and patterns based on their own likings which are less intricate. “We usually ask our granddaughters to find for designs online so we can make them,” says Benita Balangto, an Ifugao Master Weaver.

Undeniably, weaving requires patience, commitment, hard work, imagination, and attention to details from the artisan. But it doesn’t end there. It is a venture that requires being blessed by higher gods. Ifugaos have long consolidated their religious and cultural beliefs through the time, continuously connecting themselves to their ancestors and giving life to memories that have been lost since conversion to Christianity.

From time to time, the Mumbaki, a religious elder performs a ritual that follows: Chanting, sacrificing chickens, and telling stories on the beginning of weaving.

The tones of the chants usually differ based on the person performing it, but the content always remains the same. The first good sign towards a successful weaving comes with the appearance of normal bile from the sacrificed chickens. This means that the gods favour the proposed activity. Moreover, if the bile is deemed unfavourable by the mumbaki, a second ritual has to be performed, this time, the butchering of a pig.

It is believed that performing the ritual means blessing the cotton thread and physical condition of the weaver. It is very important for them to have the thread spacing right and correct count variations. There should be no fine cracks between groups of warp threads, missing weft, or fabric defects.

Aside from the weaving ritual, Ifugaos also have a sturdy dogma when dyeing and weaving. Weaving is forbidden when a relative dies –this is seen as bad luck.

At present, weaving seems like a disconnected past to most Filipinos. This is where HABI comes in. They advocate for the upholding of the country’s indigenous weaving culture from various places like Basilan, Mindoro, Kalinga, and Ifugao. They don’t just encourage the use of natural fabrics, they also go to different places to impart knowledge on sustainability, natural dyeing, traditional and modern weaving techniques, and their history.

Support indigenous weaving culture and artisans at the Likhang HABI Pioneer Artisan Textile Market and Craft Fair on October 11-13, 2019 at the Glorietta Activity Centre. To know more, visit habitextilecouncil.ph.

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