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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Celebrating Philippine piña weaving tradition

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Everything starts with the cultivation of the Red Spanish pineapple cultivar. Locally called as pinya Bisaya, this variety of pineapple is grown in the backyards and large farms, not just for consumption, but also for its fibers that would be utilized for weaving piña textiles.

The farmers grow the pineapple for 18 to 24 months. When the plants reach maturity, they would harvest the leaves, from where they would extract fibers.

Transforming the raw materials into finished products is quite a tedious process, which begins with the extraction of the fiber.

Using a shard of porcelain, they would scrape the epidermis of the leaf, extracting the bastos or the rough fiber. A coconut shell is run across the inner layer to get the finer and more valued liniwan. This process is repeated in all the harvested leaves.

The harvested fibers would be repeatedly washed in running water. This process is called degumming. After washing, the fibers would be air-dried and bundled.

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For 18 to 24 months, farmers grow pineapples where they get the leaves to extract fobiers

When the fibers are dried, they are knotted to create long, continuous strands or threads. This also takes time because the workers tie the fibers one by one. They would also coil them in a clay pot to prevent the strands from tangling. Then, the strands would be spooled around the bamboo bobbins. These strands are then put into a sab-ongan (warp wheel) for desired dimensions.

And only then, the weaving would start. In Aklan, weavers use wooded upright pedal loom, with two or four-foot operated bamboo treadles in their designated places for weaving. The most common patterns in piña weaving are the ringgue (lace weave), pili (inlaid weave), tablero (checkered pattern), or a combination of these.

Like in theater productions, it takes a village to create one piña product. You need farmers to grow the pineapple, scrapers to harvest the fibers, knotters to create long threads, warpers to put these threads on the loom, and weavers to create the textiles. But the work doesn’t stop there. You need designers to bring out the beauty of the piña, and traders to bring these products to the target market.

The communal characteristic of the traditional piña weaving nurtures a unique send of belonging, mutual respect, and interdependence among the practitioners and bearers of the tradition. This shared passion to keep the tradition alive is truly admirable, becoming a cultural marker for the Philippines and a living heritage that the world values.

In December 2023, the craft and tradition of the handwoven piña or pineapple textile of Aklan was inscribed into the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Humanity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The declaration was made during the 18th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee in Kasane, Botswana, held from Dec. 4 to 9 last year.

A piña made pañuelo displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Piña weaving is the fifth ICH element from the Philippines to be inscribed, after the hudhud chants and the punnuk ritual of the Ifugao, the Darangen epic of the Meranaw and the buklog ritual of the Subanen, which was inscribed in the separate List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding. On the other hand, NCCA’s School of Living Traditions was inscribed in UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices.

The Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity comprises “elements that help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.” At the same time, the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding includes elements that “require urgent measures to keep them alive.” 

Additionally, the Register of Good Safeguarding Practices “allows States Parties, communities, and other stakeholders to share successful safeguarding experiences and examples of how they surmounted challenges faced in the transmission of their living heritage, its practice and knowledge to the future generation.”

The UNESCO Lists of ICH aims to better protect and create wider awareness and recognition of these heritage elements. UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists now feature 694 elements corresponding to 140 countries, and the Register now features 37 practices corresponding to 31 countries.

Haboe nga piña (piña handloom weaving) is among the most recognizable handwoven fabrics in the country. The country also has weaving using cotton (such as in the case of inabel of Ilocos) and abaca.

‘Tampuhan’ by Juan Luna featuring a Filipina in traditional dress made from piña fabric

With its translucent fabric with an elegant luster and ivory color, remarkable for its delicacy and simplicity, piña textile is often used for terno and barong Tagalog, as well as other finery. It can be embroidered or painted on, making it a very versatile vessel for creative expression and designs.

The weaving of the piña is estimated to be about two centuries old, starting after the introduction of the pineapple to the Philippines, and the process remains almost unchanged over time.

The Akeanon people of Aklan in the northwestern portion of Panay Island, part of the Visayan cluster of islands in the central Philippines, are known for producing the piña. Production is historically concentrated in the barangays of Old Buswang and New Buswang in the capital town of the province, Kalibo, as well as in nearby municipalities, such as Makato, Tangalan, Balete, Banga, and Lezo. Recently, the practice of the craft spread to other areas such as the provinces of Antique, Capiz, Leyte, Camarines Sur, and Palawan.

In Aklan, pineapple farms exist in 15 municipalities—Altavas, Balete, Banga, Batan, Buruanga, Kalibo, Lezo, Libacao, Madalag, Makato, Malay, Malinao, Nabas, Numancia, and Tangalan.

Until today, piña weaving is alive in Aklan, considered as a family and community heritage, and the knowledge and skill are passed on in traditional ways. 

Recently, different organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, assist in the transfer of knowledge such as the School of Living Traditions of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

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