Yakan fabric is star of Tumahik Festival
Fluttering their arms and strutting to native percussions, men and women in brass-buttoned shirts, loose trousers, sashes, overskirts and headgear formed colorful formations in the streets. Then men jumped with spears and shields to show their virility, while the women swayed with their patterned malong and baskets.
As one of the 13 Muslim groups in the Sulu archipelago, the Yakan had a proud moment in the annual Tumahik Festival in Basilan, held last March 1 to 7 in Isabela City and organized by the Basilan provincial government and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The Yakan are the first settlers of Basilan, who are distinguished by their proud bearing and colorful handwoven attire, and Tumahik is a Yakan war dance that shows off the performers’ virtuosity.
The festival featured parades, dances and native costume contests participated in by Isabela’s barangays, and a Yakan oratorical and poetry competition, which highlights the tribe’s oral tradition.
“The Tumahik Festival showcases the rich culture of the Yakan,” ARMM Regional Gov. Mujiv Hataman said, noting the festival also brings to the fore the Yakan costumes and its growing fabric industry.
This tribe is recognized as one of the best weavers in the country. Their fabrics are used by exporters to make fashion and home accessories, and are exhibited in international trade fairs.
These fabrics come from pineapple and abaca fibers colored with herbal dyes. The Yakan maintain a centuries-old tradition of handloom weaving handed down from generation to generation. Each work is a labor of patience and love; it’s why it takes five days to produce only one meter of fabric.
The results are stunning, nonetheless: no Yakan fabric design is duplicated, as there will be variations in lines and colors. Each design is culled from the weaver’s memory or mood.
The most intricate design, the Seputangan or head cloth, is characterized by rhomboids with flowers and geometric shapes. These patterns symbolize good fortune and abundance.
The Palipattang derives its patterns from rainbow colors, while the Bunga-sama takes after the python skin. The Kenna-kenna is patterned after a fish, the Dawen-dawen after the leaf of a vine. Pene mata-mata is inspired by a series of eyes, while the Kabang buddi is a diamond-shaped design.
Anak-Mindanao Rep. Princess Sitti Djalia T. Hataman explains: “Fabric has an extensive importance in our society. Native textiles are a symbol of cultural identity, family tradition, sense of community, honest work and livelihood.”
“Traditionally, we see indigenous fabrics as practical or sacred, as they are either worn as daily garments or used in rituals. In keeping with the times, our indigenous fabrics have been integrated in art, modern fashion and home décor. Although the tribes still adhere to tradition, their uses will keep evolving.”
The solon adds that although the Yakan fabric is one of the great prides of Basilan, the province also offers other attractions.
Basilan maintains its rural charm. The beaches along Malamawi island are famous for its fine, white sands and fresh coconut drinks directly plucked from the coconut plantations. Lampinigan is an hour’s drive from the capital Isabela. The rocky coastline opens out to a resplendent ocean view.
There are other must-see places in Basilan that show its multi-ethnicity. The Kaum Purnah Mosque in Isabela City is a museum of the cultures of the different indigenous and Muslim groups. For Christians, the Cathedral of Saint Elizabeth of Portugal and the Chapel of Peace on Calvario Peak are sanctuaries.
Near the city center, the Cabunbata Falls is a quick escape, surrounded by a jungle of rubber trees. Pusuac Spring Park offers exotic flora and fauna. The other famous beaches include Tenusa Island, Calugusan and Palm Beaches in Lamitan, and Sumagdang Beach in Isabela City.
In cuisine, the Yakan are known for their dulang—molded sticky rice with native chicken, fried fish and vegetables served on a banana leaf. The chicken or kaliya is prayed over before being slaughtered, then is cooked with spices, herbs and powdered rice. The sweet jah panyam pitis is a chunk of sticky purple rice, coconut milk and raw sugar.
Hataman hopes that through the Tumahik Festival, the tribal arts and crafts and tourist attractions of the province will change the perception of an embattled Basilan.