by Pamela Fumero
MARAWI CITY (PIA)–The self-love movement has paved the way for women all over the world to stand up and take pride in who they are, all while celebrating milestone after milestone in both their careers and personal lives.
But Lorielinda Marte, founder of the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association Inc., managed to put her own twist on an already empowering movement. By taking pride in their identity and their culture, she and her husband not only stopped the decline of ancient art but also ushered it into the spotlight and finally gave it the recognition it always deserved.
The Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association Inc. got its start in 2012, when Lorielinda got a beautifully made banig as a wedding gift. Enamored by its craftsmanship, she pestered the giver to tell her where to find the weavers.
In their culture, the banig is used for a wide range of ceremonies at social and traditional gatherings. Not only that, but it is also commonly given as a wedding present to welcome the newest member of the family. So imagine both the disappointment and heartbreak she felt when she found the weavers of the gift she kept so close to her heart simply roaming around the city trying to sell their products, only to have it either credited or bartered for rice and thrifted clothing.
As if that were not enough, it soon became apparent to her that the younger generations of their tribe held no interest in learning the art of weaving, much less continuing it.
“Unsaon man na namo nga wala man siyay value (What can we do, they’re worthless now)?” they would say.
Realizing that such an important part of their culture and tradition might be going extinct woke something up in Lorielinda. Together with her husband, who was also a Lumad leader, they worked to give Bukidnon’s weavers a market that would show off their work and raise awareness about their culture.
At first, they only had one weaver, but it was enough to get them started. As time went on, they slowly grew in numbers and caught the attention of the Sandata Institute, an Indonesia-based nongovernment organization (NGO) in Cagayan de Oro, which gave them a grant for capacity building that included seminars on women’s and indigenous people’s rights as well as ‘sodsod’ grass propagation, one of the main materials for their products.
Since then, the association has grown to have 148 Tagolwanen women weavers, and they have been diversifying their products to include woven bags, table runners, hats, and wall decorations, to name a few.
Each product, especially their banigs takes about one to two weeks to make. After harvesting the leaves needed for weaving, they are, for lack of a better word, “feathered and left out in the sun” before the weavers can start, but even then, there are other factors to consider. For example, even in Malaybalay’s cooler climate, weavers can only work on products either at dawn before the sun is up or at night when it has long retired to prevent the leaves from wilting. Strong winds also pose a threat for the same reason, so whenever it gets a little too windy out, production has to be stalled.
Still, all that work proved to be worth it when their colorful mats and other products are so eye-catching that they attract both locals and tourists alike, causing them to regularly flock to their showroom in Malaybalay City. They got so popular, in fact, that even the Australian Embassy took notice and gave them a grant for a weaving center, which will double as a cultural trade hub as well as become Bukidnon’s School of Living Tradition and essentially function as a heritage center.
With the construction already having started and expected to be completed by June, the center—as well as the association that built it in the first place—seeks to keep the Tagolwanen tradition of weaving alive. Because of its cultural significance, it also holds the potential of becoming a cultural ecotourism site as well, where people can go and see the weaving process as well as learn a few tricks of the trade, should they be interested.
Because they are becoming more and more popular, younger generations who had given up on them have now gotten interested in them again and are proud to be indigenous people. Some weavers have managed to put their children through college thanks to weaving.
Lorielinda says that the association is more of a social enterprise than a business, even though it is a good business. Throughout their journey, she has had the pleasure and privilege of watching the Tagolwanen women she works with come out of their shell and take pride in their ethnic identity.
Giving them the chance to not only practice their cultural traditions but also make a living from them has changed these women and given them the power to wear their ethnicity like a badge of honor. It has also shown young people how important their traditions are in modern society and encouraged them to take on the responsibility of making sure the art of weaving will continue.
After centuries of colonization by not one, not two, but three countries, it is truly rare to have something so uniquely Filipino intact and survive through the centuries. Thanks to Lorielinda and the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association Inc., the art of weaving has not only survived the test of time but has also planted seeds in society that ensure its passage into generations to come. (PJF/PIA-10)