The case for protecting culture through indigenous fabrics – Manila Bulletin
Over the past two years, there has been a huge increase in the support and wearing of local Filipino fabrics. More and more people are incorporating traditional materials into everyday fashion to send a message – wearing one’s culture is now fashionable.
The Philippines’ indigenous textile industry, however, is still plagued with challenges.
Questions abound, such as “Are there enough artisans to meet the growing demand?” How to protect craftsmanship and tradition from the perils of a growing industry?
At a recent conference hosted by Humboldt University Berlin as part of the Philippines Advanced Studies Program, Vice President Loren Legarda and Dr. Analyn Salvador-Amores of the University of the Philippines-Baguio and Museo Kordilyera discussed the importance of protecting cultures and tradition, especially traditional fabric.
Attended by over a hundred participants as well as Philippine Ambassador to Germany Ma. Theresa Dizon-de Vega and German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel, the conference shared the value of one of the most complex cultural traditions in the Philippines along with Germans and Filipinos.
Fine Filipino fabric
Legarda, a strong advocate for cultural preservation, focused on the importance of the pineapple fiber industry and how we need to keep it alive.
Piña, a fabric made from pineapple fibers, has often been regarded for its beauty and delicate nature. Highly prized since the 1860s, it was a gift of choice for European royalty.
Unfortunately, pineapple fiber production has declined in recent years as demand has declined.
Legarda sees the problem stemming from diminishing awareness of this aspect of Filipino culture and called for efforts to help and promote the industry.
“It takes several people, many hands to create textiles. From farmer to harvester, weaver, yarn maker, sewer, the laborious process must be understood and appreciated,” Legarda said, noting that support for locally made traditional textiles sustains many families.
In 1998, the weaving of the piña-seda was introduced in the province of Aklan. He married pineapple fiber to silk and the result was a more accessible fabric, with a lower price. Mulberry cultivation and silkworm breeding have also entered the process to open up more job opportunities. Unfortunately, piña-seda production has also declined as the commercial fashion industry has taken a greater hold on the market here and abroad.
Bringing northern craftsmanship to life
Dr. Salvador-Amores leads the Cordillera Textiles Project (Corditex), which has found existing textiles with patterns that have not been produced by the current generation of weavers for years.
On a mission to rejuvenate traditional weaving in the Cordilleras, she and her team work to revive lost designs using technology. “The Corditex intervenes by understanding the textile patterns that we reconstruct by reweaving them using digital loom technology,” explains Salvador-Amores. “Then we return them to the community and reweave them using their backstrap or footlooms. This way they can revive the traditional textiles they once had.
Reviving authentic and traditional weaving and ensuring accurate historical and anthropological information related to the craft is a long and arduous affair. The team, however, has made a lot of progress.
Corditex has identified the issues faced by most traditional weavers, from the aging population of master weavers to the implications of traditional weaving on their health.
Among these problems are bone and muscle problems in the neck, shoulders and back, which are accompanied by chronic pain and poor eyesight, to name a few. These are the prices artisans have to pay for their craft.
“It is the hope of the Corditex team to suggest or design a loom that is ergonomically suitable for weavers,” Salvador-Amores said. A loom that does not completely replace those they are used to but will prevent them from developing poor health conditions over the years.
“Appreciation of Filipino textiles is essential and urgent, as it is a culture-based livelihood. We can all support it by reading about it, learning more about where it came from, the indigenous peoples who woven it, their culture, heritage and traditions.
Other problems faced by weavers come in the form of scarcity of raw materials and the rise of fast fashion and commercialization which have paved the way for the illegal reproduction of ethnic woven patterns printed on good material. market.
Working together towards a goal
Legarda called for the need for unified efforts to preserve traditional weaving practices. “To ensure the sustainability of the local textile industry, there is a need for convergence between the government agencies involved, with the private sector as well,” she says. “From the production of raw materials, to trainings and workshops, to the supply of equipment and materials, to the program of product development and promotion, and to a systematic marketing system.”
She also highlighted the need for research to improve production and for increased awareness that will lead to more people supporting the work of artisans.
Legarda recently introduced Bill No. 636 to recognize and protect the handloom industry in the country and open doors to support weaving innovation and professionalize it.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) is also working on digitizing the Philippine handloom industry, adding the concept of Culture-to-Cloud which will promote the use of technology in the safeguard of the cultural value and the maximization of the economic derivatives of the industry.
Salvador-Amores notes that the growing popularity of using traditional fabrics in modern fashion is helping the industry, but she reminds designers to be mindful.
“Fashion designers and all should be wary of textile patterns or textiles to use,” she says. “They should conduct research on textiles that are sacred and cannot be mass-produced and textiles that can be used for other purposes.”
She has seen fashion designers use burial blankets for clothing and textiles that cannot be cut into pieces used as parts of an outfit. “Being informed about it is the greatest weapon, thus respecting the ethnic community to which specific textiles belong.” She adds that working with traditional fabric should be a collaborative effort with the weavers and communities that hold the historical and anthropological knowledge relating to the fabric and the tribes that produce it.
Legarda adds that for everyone, the way we can all help is to keep ourselves and others culturally aware and grateful. “Appreciation of Filipino textiles is essential and urgent, as it is a culture-based livelihood that has been passed down from generation to generation,” she said. “We can all support it by reading about it, learning more about where it came from, the Indigenous peoples who woven it, their culture, heritage and traditions. Only when we are aware of it can we appreciate and protect it.
Photos published with kind permission of Museo Kordilyera.
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