Story and photos by Efleda P. Campos / Senior Editor
FORTY indigenous craftsmen and artisans proudly joined over 200 mainstream master-handicraft makers from all over the country to display one-of-a-kind creations, mostly handwoven fabrics, to feature their native designs and symbols.
The number of participating indigenous artisans was unprecedented, said Rex de la Peña, Enterprise Development Officer of Non-Timber Forest Products Exchange Program Philippines, which assisted the indigenous people (IP) exhibitors participate in the Sikat Pinoy National Arts and Crafts Fair held at Halls 1 to 3 of SM Megamall in Ortigas Center, Mandaluyong City, from October 26 to 29.
De la Peña said in previous craft fairs, only a handful of IP exhibitors—four to five—joined.
“The participation of more IP craftsmen is indicative of several things. One is their desire to show the world their creations, made the traditional way, using organic materials and age-old techniques,” he said.
“Another is the recognition of the need to inculcate in the younger generation the desire and the pride to continue their culture and traditions through their native craft,” de la Peña added.
The fair was organized by the Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI) Bureau of Domestic Trade Promotion, assisted by the Office of Sen. Loren B. Legarda, who provided support funds to subsidize the travel, display and other incidental expenses of the exhibitors.
Among Legarda’s advocacies is keeping the age-old traditions of the country’s IP groups alive and thriving.
The exhibitors, totaling 265, came from as far north as the Cordillera Administrative Region and as far south as Tawi-Tawi.
Proudly displayed were hand-woven shawls, scarves, skirts, embroidered blouses, blankets, accessories like bracelets and necklaces made of colorful beads, table runners, vests, ponchos, crocheted shawls, backpacks made from jute (saluyot leaves and fiber), decorative and functional baskets, and a myriad of other household products and housewares. The artisans came from the Philippines’s various tribal and ethnic groupings, prominently Muslim, Kalinga, Ibanag and Ilocano.
Also shown were traditional handloom-weaving implements used by the artisans in their work centers, many from the comfort of their homes.
The four-day fair was visited by several thousand walk-in buyers, both locals and foreigners, who purchased items for personal use and commercial purposes.
There were also inspirational speakers, including the exhibitors themselves, who narrated their experiences in keeping their traditions and culture alive by sharing their knowledge and skills with the younger members of their tribes.
Also sharing their expertise were food exhibitors, who discussed T’boli cooking demonstrations; the history of Philippine coffee; Mindanao cuisine and halal-food preparation; financing micro, small and medium enterprises; proudly Pinoy coffee by Goldfish Café; music and the performing arts; and a mini concert.
The underlying mission of the exhibit was embodied by the School of Living Traditions (SLT) to teach tradition and culture, “the olden ways,” to younger people of the tribe, including children. The web site of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) said the SLT continues through the efforts “of a living master, culture bearer or culture specialist who teaches skills and techniques of doing a traditional art or craft. The mode of teaching is usually nonformal, oral and with practical demonstrations. The site may be the house of the living master, a community social hall or a center constructed for the purpose.”
Ellenora C. Aliguyon, NCCA cluster head, said she is continuing what Manuel Dulawan, an Ifugao, began in 2000: Teaching the younger generation of Ifugaos the arts and culture of their tribe.
“This includes teaching the younger ones our craft and traditions—chanting, singing, dancing, playing traditional musical instruments and hand-weaving fabrics,” she said.
Lily B. Luglug, also an Ifugao, said she proudly embraced the propagation of the Ifugao culture during college, some 50 years ago, when she diligently learned the traditional ways of handweaving, and immersed herself in the family business of manufacturing and selling traditional Ifugao handwoven products—their hinabi blankets, shawls, runners, skirts, blouses—in their traditional vibrant colors, dyed organically.
Today, she heads two weavers’ organizations in Banaue, Ifugao, helping keep their native crafts and culture alive by collaborating with the DTI and the Design Center Philippines to continuously upgrade their designs, keep their traditional skills sharp and up to date and incorporate new designs without sacrificing their centuries-old ways.
“I am proud to say our weaver-members are not only women; we have recruited and are training two young men who want to practice our traditional handweaving techniques,” she said, beaming proudly.
Her two weavers’ organizations have at least 50 active members, working in their community center or from their homes.
Fernando Buhle, another exhibitor from Ifugao, said he learned to weave after he got married, learning the craft from his mother-in-law.
“Ikat weaving is a tedious process,” he said. “You must really love what you do to want to continue the tradition. Fortunately, my son Sammy is very much involved in the production and selling of our products.”
Buhle said it takes one weaver a whole month to make a medium-sized blanket, which he sells for between P5,000 and P7,000. His other products include shawls, ponchos, bags, table runners, wall decorations and the native skirt tapis. Incorporated in the design of the products are symbols of peace, prosperity, and strength, mainly symbolized by animal figures revered in the Ifugao culture.
His products had been sold at SM Makati Tesoros in and the Gaisano Mall in Davao; and had been purchased by foreign visitors who trek to his home and workplace in Lugo, O-ong, Hingyong, Ifugao.
The variety and quality of the various products sold at the Sikat Pinoy fair indicate the renaissance and staying power of indigenous arts and crafts in the Philippines.
Image credits: Efleda P. Campos