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Weaves of fantasy

What is now known as Likhang Habi Market Fair was founded in 2009 under the steerage of Habi The Philippine Textile Council as an oasis of local handwoven textiles and various crafts made of native materials.  

Bags, baskets, and other crafts displayed at the recent Likhang Habi Market Fair.
It aims to preserve and promote the indigenous weaving industry by devoting its efforts in creating programs, delivering lectures and workshops, and displaying wearable woven fabrics and various crafts—beddings and mats, laptop cases, shirts, skirts, gowns, hats, baskets—made by local artists and craftsmen from the different regions in the country.  

The two-day market fair, held at Glorietta in Makati City last week, showcased tribal accessories, looms, spinning and weaving implements, and photographs of the evolving weaving culture and tradition of the past.

An updated version of terno
Weaving has been a way of life for many. Most used abaca fiber called nipis as fabric for clothes. The Ifugaos and Aetas wove their attire out of bark to make G-strings and the Bontoc tapis. Mindanao weaves—Yakan, T’boli, B’laan, Maguindanaoan, and Tausug, to name a few tribes—are testament to their rich colorful heritage, culture, and identity. 

When the Spaniards brought Roman Catholicism into the Philippines, new religious practices and ceremonial rites necessitated the use of palaspas woven from stalks of coconut or buri palm, thoughtfully braided into particularized details and patterns and accentuated with colorful flowers fashioned from crepe paper.

Weaving is a centuries-old tradition kept alive by handing the intricate process from a generation to the next, principally to the women and daughters in the family. 
Habi, or weaving, is a centuries-old tradition of different tribes and is kept alive by handing the intricate process from a generation to the next, principally to the women and daughters in the family.  Most materials were obtained from local sources: buri, inabel, raffia, pineapple, abaca, and cotton. The cotton is highly comparable to the Egyptian cotton used by our ancestors in trading with China for porcelain, and later exported to the Old World through the Spanish galleon trade.

Weaving involves many threads being measured, cut, and mounted on a wooden platform. The threads are dyed and woven on a loom. Weaving expresses people’s creativity, belief systems, and ideologies. Textiles are also essential to the personal, socio-political, and religious lives of the indigenous groups. They represent rank, power, and wealth, and are used in sacred ceremonies.  

Mona Lisa on silk
Weaving tells of a communal intention, that of mediating between humans and the elements of nature through extensive creation by skillful hands fashioning homegrown, ordinary plants into remarkable works of art.

For centuries, our forefathers from the Ilocos region down to the southern tip of the Philippines have been creating distinguishable patterns and designs in a matrix of rainbow colors which give full clearness to the weaver’s efforts to indicate a particularly celebratory culture. 

Woven garb
From the Cordilleras and other northern regions of Ilocos, Ifugao, Bontoc, Gaddang, and Kalinga, weaves like pinilian, langkit, paikid, and fatawil with cotton as main material, and designs like tinagtakbo (human figure), minatmata (diamond), and tinitiko (zigzag) are regional features. The Kalinga weave, meanwhile, is mostly a geometry of bands with red and blue stripes.

Visayan weaves have the t’nalak from abaca. Aklan uses the red Bisaya pineapple for Barong Tagalog, as well as the towns of Lumban in Laguna and Taal, Batangas. Banton cloth from the Banton Islands in Romblon boasts a cultural treasure, the oldest cloth in the Philippines woven (ca. 13th century), found in a coffin inside a Banton cave and worn by a high ranking tribe official.

The weaving communities of Mindanao have likewise very distinct patterns and designs: Mandaya weaves called digmay made from abaca has patterns of man and crocodile, geometric shapes, cross and diamond patterns. B’laan uses abaca with cross stitches, outlines of human figure, and mother-of-pearls. 

Man dons a Muslim fabric
Maranao and Maguindanao use silk or cotton for their malong with colorful bands called langkit and the sarimanok as the key figure in their art. Yakan weaves use the python pattern, bunga sama (diamond pattern), sinaluan (bands), pussuk labbong (saw-tooth pattern). Bagobo design is tied to the magandi (a warrior class) of red color, with motifs of lightning, plants, stars, and human figures.  

T’boli is known for t’nalak, patterns of bangala (man in house), klung (shield), sawo (python), in zigzag patterns. Tausug has the sarong habul tiyahian, pis for head cloth, tadjung (tubular skirt), and kandit (sash).

Aside from woven textiles, other products were exhibited using similar designs. Samar is famous for its handcrafted mats from the sedge grass called tikog.  Quezon and Bulacan provinces, as well as those in the Bicol region, make hats, bags, slippers, and baskets from abaca, coconut, and buri leaves.  Also of interest are the hats from Maguindanao and the Yakan hat of Basilan. 

The Cordillera pasiking is used for carrying grain. The Bontoc akob is used as lunch basket, while the salakab, which is made of bamboo and large leaves, is used for trapping fish in rice paddies. Basey mats from Leyte uses pandan leaves and buri.

Various weaving patterns and designs in different colors.
What used to be a gainful export item has become part of a dwindling market. The decline of our weaving industry has been traced to various reasons. Local materials are hard to find. Some plants have become scarce due to environmental and climate changes. Producing textiles made of scarce materials makes the end result an expensive one. The demand for handwoven fabric is low; people prefer to buy the more inexpensive mass-produced fabric. Today’s generation has other life targets, and safekeeping the heritage is not one of its present interests.  

Weaving is no longer in a popular synch with modern reality. The export market for weaving is somewhat a neglected field.

Likhang Habi can be an influential force by providing a continuous active exhibition programs to enhance Philippine textiles through education, communication, and research to create in the Filipino mass consciousness the preservation of our roots. Aggressive participation to the Likhang Habi Market Fair can create the impact to put our woven exports on the international map.

Photos by Diana B. Noche

Topics: Likhang Habi , Likhang Habi Market Fair , Habi The Philippine Textile Council , Native materials , weaving
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