Weaving the Threads of Filipino Heritage
A few years back, Philippine traditional weaving practices and colourful indigenous textiles were put into spotlight when it was put on permanent exhibition at the National Museum through the efforts of Sen. Loren Legarda. Entitled, “Hibla ng Lahing Pilipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles,” the exhibition highlighted the distinct creativity and DNA of the Filipino people among other cultures through fabric.
Eventually, the exhibition was graced by Queen Sofia of Spain, Paolo Zegna of Ermenegildo Zegna, and Lady Lynn Forester de Rotschild among many others and continued to gain popularity. However, it did not only rest on the museum but was promoted further on malls when Rustan’s chairman and CEO Nedy Tantoco partnered with the senator.
Filipino artistry and creativity are evident in various art forms but what makes the weaving culture distinct is its power to unite people as strong, resilient communities bound by living tradition and colourful textile patterns and motifs.
Origin: Ilocos Region
The Ilocano of northwestern Philippines is well-known for their handweaving, a tradition with ancient roots, with the kapas or cotton as the main material.
They use the pedal loom, locally called pangablan; employ several weaving techniques; and have numerous designs/patterns. Different weaving techniques include the basic plain weave, the double-toned basket weave or binakul, and the multi-heddle weave (binetwagan or tinumballitan), among others. Among the complicated one is the brocade weave or pinilian, which uses sticks inserted on selected warp threads to create designs that float on the threads.
There are two kinds of pinilian: scattered and continuous supplemementary weft techniques. The weavers of Pinili, Ilocos Norte, are said to be adept in the simultaneous warp and weft-float type of pinilian called the impalagto, a technique unique in the town.
Origin: Mountain Province
The Bontoc textile revolves around the idea of centeredness, which symbolises permanence, order, and balance, key factors in the life of the Bontoc people. Weavers demonstrate this idea through the direction of their weave, from the edge to the middle, to the symmetry of the cloth construction and the repeated warp-striped design.
Bontoc weavers learn the craft through various stages. Young Bontoc girls usually start their training with the simplest part of the cloth, the langkit or edging. Next, they move on to pa-ikid (side panels), learning simple designs such as fatawil (warp-bands) and shukyong (arrows). After mastering this level, they move on to the most challenging part, the sinangad-am design which represents the Sinamaki weaving. Here, they incorporate designs on the bands such as tinagtakho (human figure), minatmata (diamond), and tinitiko (zigzag). The pa-khawa (the center panel) is the next thing they have to master. The center panel features a band in the middle and a kan-ay (supplementary weft) at its end.
Because of the complex process of adding the kan-ay, the center panel would be woven last. When all the parts are ready, they would be sewn together in the reverse order of their creation, ending with the langkit.
Origin: Province of Kalinga The Kalinga textiles exhibit motifs executed as though they are embedded in the geometry of weaving itself. It has a distinct dialogue between red and blue, expressing itself in broad red and blue bands of plain or twill weave, and creating densely-composed groups of tight stripes.
The Kalinga weavers, particularly in the upper Kalinga area, put textures on the striped bands using twill-weave technique. Tiny motifs, patterns, and embellishments have characterised Kalinga textile, including miniature lattice, continuous lozenge pattern locally called inata-ata, and pawekan or mother-of-pearl platelets, among others.
Considered the finest of Philippine textiles, the piña fabric is made from the fibers of the leaves of the red Bisaya pineapple through an arduous process. The extraction of the fibers is a most delicate and tedious process.
The leaves provides two kinds of fibers—the bastos or the rough fiber, and the liniwan or the fine fiber. Using a shard of Chinese porcelain, the stripper removes the epidermis of the leaf, exposing the lustrous bastos fiber. After stripping the leaves of the rough fibers, the stripper then run a coconut shell on the inner layer of the leaf to expose the liniwan.
The degumming process entails repeated rinsing, beating, and air-drying of the fibers. When the fibers are completely dried, the weaver connects each strand through knotting to produce long continuous strands before the weaving process, which uses the pedal loom.
The Aklanons of western Panay Island are known for the piña with inlaid supplementary weft designs or more often embroidered with floral or vegetal designs on the lattice ground. Lumban in Laguna and Taal in Batangas are known embroidery centres. The piña is the preferred material for the barong Tagalog.
Communities: Kiniray-a and Hiligaynon
Origin: Panay Island
Hablon is Hiligaynon for “something woven,” from the root word habol, “to weave”. It refers to the hand-woven textiles by Kiniray-a and Hiligaynon weavers.
In a Panayanon legend, ten datus from Borneo landed on Panay Island, established settlements and ushered in an era of development. One of the legendary datus was Datu Lubay, who is said to introduce the art of weaving textiles.
Weaving using the pedal loom had been common in the provinces of Iloilo and Antique until the arrival of mechanised weaving. Now, there are very few places where traditional weaving is practiced, notable of these are Miag-ao in Iloilo and Bagtasan, Bugasong in Antique.
The hablon is usually a plain weave and has plaid and striped designs. It is usually used for the patadyong, the Visayan wraparound skirt, and panuelo.
Saputangan Tapestry Weave
Known for being highly-skilled, with impressive weaving repertoires, Yakan weavers produce textile with five different kinds of weaving, often differentiated by technique, pattern, and function.
The bunga-sama is a supplementary weft weave, made by using pattern sticks or heddles in the loom to produce the pattern. The colourful striped siniluan is characterised by warp-floating pattern. Saputangan is a square cloth best known for its intricate and rich design, involving optical illusion to create depth in the patterns. The inalaman is made using an elaborate supplementary-weft technique, and often used for women’s wraparound skirt. The pinantupan, which is also used for the wraparound skirt, utilises simple weft pattern arranged in the bands.
The saputangan is an example of a tapestry weave, considered the oldest and most traditional technique in producing ornamented woven textiles, aside from the plain weave technique wherein stripes and plaids are formed.
The saputangan is worn by Yakan women in different ways depending on the occasion such as elen-elen (for everyday wear), hap tabuan (for going to market) and ginuna sipagkawin (worn like a veil when attending a wedding).
Origin: Sarangani and South Cotabato
Tabih, in Blaan, refers to the native tubular skirt, and also to the textile, while mabal means “woven” or “to weave”. The Blaan weave the tabih using abaca fibers and the back-strap loom. The fibers are dyed using the warp tie-dye resist ikat technique and natural dyes from native plants. Designs usually depict crocodiles and tiny curls. The Blaan are also known to be accomplished embroiderers and the tabih is often meticulously embellished with embroidery. A practice traditionally reserved to women of high status, weaving has a strong spiritual context in Blaan society, believed to be the gift from Furalo, the goddess of weaving. Aside from the tubular skirts, the abaca textile is used for making garment for men, as well as covering for important materials such as knives.
Community: Bagobo Manobo
Origin: Davao del Sur
The Bagobo, a subgroup of the Manobo, are expert in extracting the fibers of the abaca from the leaf sheaths and selecting the very fine ones for weaving their textiles.
They use the back-strap loom for weaving inabal abaca fiber textiles with ikat-or tie-dyed resist designs forming mother-and-baby crocodile figures in geometricised abstracted forms. The dyestuffs are all extracted from plants in their surroundings. The finished abaca fibers undergo a polishing process, using a smooth shell.
Beeswax, which is applied to the beater during the weaving process, adds to the sheen during the finishing process. The Bagobo textile is usually used for making the native tubular skirt, of which there are two types, sinukla and the bandira.
Origin: Eastern Mindanao
The Mandaya, which can be found in the provinces of Davao Oriental, Davao del Norte, Compostella Valley, Surigao del Sur, and Agusan del Sur, have a strong weaving tradition as seen in their coarsely textured dagmay, hand-woven using a special kind of back-strap loom, made from abaca fibers, and following intricate designs revolving around man and nature, specially the crocodile.
They use a mud dyeing technique. Used to obtain black, the technique is based on the reaction between the tannins applied on the the yarn before treatment, and the iron found on the mud. The bark of the tree, which contains tanninsm is pounded to a pulp and boiled together with the abaca yarn. The mud is then added to the mixture. The yarn is steeped for one to several hours for the best results.
Dagmay designs usually tell the story about the weaver and her community, as well as the spirits that live on Earth. The dagmay is usually used for women’s skirt, but it is also used as blankets or wraps for the dead.
Origin: Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur
The Mëranaw of Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur know a wide range of weaving techniques including the weft and warp ikat tie-dye resist and continuous and discontinuous supplementary weft design.
They are know for the malong, a tubular lower garment. Among its several types, the malong a andon is the most highly valued. This is followed by the malong a landap, which is known for its tapestry bands called langkit, often used to join the broad panels of silk together. Another kind is the malong a bagadat, made from similar wide bands in contrasting colours and separated by narrow bands of warp ikat.
Made using a narrow, specialised kind of tapestry loom, langkit, usually comes in two kinds: tabrian or the narrow panel, and lakban or the wider panel. Beautifully designed, the langkit has distinct Maranao okir designs including potiok (bud), dapal or raon (leaf), pako (fern), pako rabong (growing fern) and katorai (flower). These intricate designs are made using discontinuous weft.
Pis Syabit Weave
Origin: Sulu Archipelago
The Tausug women are experts in tapestry weaving and embroidery, while men do the large hanings in appliqué. They specialise in the production of pis syabit (head scarf) and kambot/kandit.
The pis syabit is traditionally worn by men and warriors. A most complicated design technique, the pis syabit tapestry weaving of Tausug has no preset pattern sticks or pre-designed warp yarns into which the weaver inserts the desert yarn.
The weaver has to clearly imagine the pattern in her mind as she inserts one coloured weft yarn one at a time to fill up the space in the warp, in a sequence her mind only knows. The weaver creates a perfectly symmetrical composition of squares and Xs with hooks, and in seven to eight colours.
Origin: South Cotabato
The traditional textile woven by the Tboli women, t’nalak represents birth, life, union in marriage and death, and shows the uniqueness and identity of the indigenous group. It is often utilised as blankets and clothing, and used in royal wedding ceremonies on rare occasions.
The Tboli weavers are often called “dream weavers” but this applies only to a few dedicated weavers. It is believed that the designs and patterns are bestowed on them by Fu Dalu, the spirit of abaca, through their dreams.
The tedious creation of the t’nalak starts with extracting the abaca fibers, which are them combed to remove the sap. They are connected from end to end, and knotted and prepared for design prior to resist-dyeing, known as the ikat method.
A t’nalak traditionally has three colours: black, red, and white. The fibers are then woven using the backstrap loom. The textile is then washed in the river, beaten with a wooden stick to flatten the knots, and burnishing the surface with a cowrie shell.
The late Lang Dulay was widely regarded as one of the best weavers and was bestowed the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan in 1998. Pictured here is one of her creations.
“As an outstanding expression of communal creativity, Filipinos can take great pride in the amazing diversity and beauty of their textile arts, which can match or even surpass other weaving traditions in the world,” said Felipe De Leon Jnr, former chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. “We should not allow the wealth and exuberance of this cultural heritage to succumb to the homogenising monoculture of global consumerism and the monotony of mass production,” said De Leon.