The malong is known to be a daily essential for the Moros and Lumads, but, perhaps, it is time the urbanites and the rest of the nation are introduced to the versatility of this tubular garment, and how it can be easily integrated in today’s fashion.
Dr. Minang Dirampaten Sharief of Mindanao State University, Marawi City, an expert in Muslim culture, explains that the malong can be used in an unlimited number of ways. “In Meranaw (pronounced Muhranaw) culture, the malong is a wardrobe staple. It can be worn at home, on the beach, or on special occasions. It also has utilitarian purposes.”
For daily use of the Moros and Lumads, the unisex malong is tucked at the waist and secured by a belt. It is also sometimes knotted in front or at the side like a sarong skirt. Swathed around the hips and legs with one end brought between the legs and folded into the waistband,
Women have used malong for modesty. Worn over the head, the malong drapes women’s faces for reserve. “In our culture, it’s not appropriate for women to expose their beauty. Whether they are bathing in the lake or walking on the street, women use malong to cover their entire body and face except for their eyes. This also creates an aura of mystery,” says Dr. Sharief.
The wearing of malong can also be altered to fit the occasion or activity. Dancers wear malong with one end hanging from the left arm, keeping the right arm free to move. Folding the malong on diagonals, it then becomes a kimono-like blouse or a shawl. The clever folds transform it into a stylish turban. During the summer, the malong is twisted and tied around the upper and lower body to form a swimsuit. “You can adjust the material if you want to show less skin while swimming,” Dr. Sharief adds. In diving and sports, men twist it and tie it like a loincloth. It can also be used as a tapis for bathing in the lake, or even as a robe or beach mat.
From the example above, the malong extends its uses even outside of clothing. In Lake Lanao, children turn the malong into a floater. “You catch the wind on the tube; tie it on both ends and around the waist. When the malong is inflated by the air, you won’t sink,” says Dr. Sharief. It has also been used as a sail and fishnet. With two bamboo poles, it becomes a stretcher.
Of course, urbanites probably won’t use it for such things, but it continues to surprise us with its many uses. The ends of the malong can be twisted to make a large tote, or modified to make a medium-sized shoulder bag, backpack, or even a fanny pack. At home, it is used as a blanket, tablecloth, curtain, divider, canopy, and even a hammock. A large malong is known to be used as a matrimonial blanket when couples want to cuddle in cold weather. It is also common to see mothers slinging a malong over their chests to carry their infants.
Despite the many uses that a malong provides, Dr. Sharief states that a malong can cost as low as P250, but it is just two pieces of machine-made fabric that have been machine-stitched. The silk malong can cost P10,000 when hand woven by artisans, as is tradition, but this tradition is going on a downward spiral with members of the younger generations preferring to take white-collar jobs rather than continuing this weaving tradition. While fabrics printed even in Malaysia and Thailand bear the signature nature and geometric patterns of the malong, these are still merely machine-made products of the industrial age instead of the traditional woven designs from legitimate artisans. “These are not authentic,” Dr. Sharief says.
A simple piece of cloth, the making of which has been handed down through our ancestral heritage, proves its versatility until now. A product of our rich culture, the malong can easily integrate into our modern fashion while still providing its many other uses; it need only gain awareness from the multitude of people in the country. Dr. Sharief notes that if there’s a greater demand for authentic malongs, members of the younger generations can continue the weaving tradition and keep it alive.
Photos: Ayunan Gunting
Models: Taraka Mayor Nashiba Sumagayan, Prosecutor Kookai Lao, and former DILG ASEC Nariman Ambolodto
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