Culture-Philippines: Looming Crisis For Handweaving

weaverHere is a picture manang Josie, one of our weavers, who is often busy finishing her latest handwork for my shop. Yet we are worried that hand weavers like her are a vanishing breed. Our objective is to preserve our crafts and popularize hand weaving by making people more aware of it. To help spread the word, I would love to share this article by Tess Raposas.

CULTURE-PHILIPPINES: Looming Crisis for Handweaving

VIGAN, Philippines, Apr 5 1998 (IPS) – The searing heat of the early afternoon usually makes farmers in rural Philippines seek the shade and steal some sleep, but homemakers like Lucia here in this northern city use the siesta lull to work on their looms.

Agriculture is still the main livelihood in the northern Philippines, but for many women in the region, weaving bolts of colourful cloth by hand is more than just a hobby. Handweaving is in fact a tradition passed on from generation to generation in towns like Vigan in Ilocos Sur province, and other provinces like Abra and La Union in the north. In fact, products from weavers here have become renowned elsewhere in the country for their artistry and high quality.

For some women, the craft has also become a good source of secondary income for their families. Manang Lucia, for example, is often busy finishing her latest handiwork for an eager shopowner for whom she may produce 10 metres of fabric at a time. Yet local business leaders and village elders worry that handweavers like her are a vanishing breed, and are thus scrambling to find ways to revitalise the industry.

“It’s not that people are buying less and less handwoven materials,” says Mario Gasser, president of the Vigan Chamber of Commerce. ” It’s because less people are weaving. As a labour- intensive enterprise, there seems to be a problem in ensuring that the skill is passed on from one generation to the next.”

Indeed, townsfolk here say young people seem uninterested in learning the art of weaving and are more keen to land jobs in offices or factories, preferably in the cities. A chronic lack of capital meanwhile bedevils the women who want to expand their business, and discourages others from considering the craft as a source of added income.

Thus, concerned local officials have made it a point to include the revival of the handweaving industry in their development plans. Here in Ilocos Sur, the tourism council is distributing handlooms to elementary and high school students to encourage them to hone weaving skills.

Provincial officials also have decreed that the ‘abel Iloko’ , or Ilocano woven cloth, will be used for the uniforms of public school teachers, students and provincial government personnel in line with this year’s celebration of the centennial of the Philippine declaration of independence. In Abra, the handwoven products have become highlights in trade exhibits and fashion shows staged in part by famed Manila-based fashion designer Patis Tesoro.

In earlier times, woven cloth were used merely as wraps to cover parts of the body. These days, however, the materials are turned into napkins, placemats, pillowcases and blankets.

The weaving designs and patterns usually vary from town to town and province to province. Here in Ilocos Sur, checks and stripes prevail; in Abra to the north, the designs are based on the images of the traditional gods. Pieces of cloth with the higher thread counts can last generations and become heirloom pieces. Says one Manila-based ‘abel Iloko’ blanket enthusiast: “It just gets better and softer as time passes.”

But with its five-stage process, weaving can be tedious work, which is also why the craft does not easily appeal to younger people. And while the finished product can fetch a good price in the market, the weavers themselves are paid rather small sums.

A metre of the handwoven material, for example, sells for as much as 2.50 U.S. dollars in a small shop but the weaver gets only 26 cents per metre for the effort. A weaver can expect a maximum monthly earnings of just 80 dollars, even during the peak season.

Some weavers, however, have managed to parlay their skills into bigger business enterprises.

Industry stalwart Rowilda’s Weavings had such a beginning. Says manager-owner Dominic Panela: “Now we do job-out and support the work of the small-scale weavers by supplying them with the thread and contracting them to supply us with their products…our market is still largely domestic, but we also get orders from abroad.”

Panela says he shares the concern of many that handweaving may be a dying craft but he is optimistic that at least his own children will soon be actively helping him in the business instead of considering other job options.

“I’ve been teaching them the art of weaving,” says Panela. “So far, their response toward it has been positive.”

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