Cover PHOTO: Getty Images

Filipino indigenous textiles provide a glimpse of the country's rich cultural heritage. In this article, Tatler delves deeper into its origin and how the modern world is slowly wrapped by this centuries-old tradition one thread at a time.

In the modern world, Filipino indigenous weaving traditions struggle to survive in the face of more affordable, factory-produced textiles. Because of this, various institutions have launched programs that seek to encourage younger generations to pick up the age-old tradition and learn how the unique patterns and raw materials represent our country's rich and diverse culture.

In this article, Tatler further explores the weaving culture in the Philippines. Read on as we tell you more about its origins and symbols. 

Read also: Weaving the Threads of Filipino Heritage

Origins

The weaving culture in the Philippines dates back to the 13th century. The tradition makes use of raw materials like local cotton, abaca, fibres, and pineapples. Many Filipinos are very spiritual people; in fact, our traditions are rooted in beliefs that were passed on by our ancestors. Handloom weaving is no different, it is believed that this cultural practice is associated with the indigenous peoples' bridge to spirits who will help them attract good health and protection in the Earthly realm.

Through the ages, the tribes considered weaving as a recreational activity where weavers are able to convene and socialise with each other. 

Symbols

Weaving in the Philippines is more than just a culture perpetuated out of function or necessity, the tradition is considered an artistic expression of beliefs. For instance, textiles and colours are used to represent different rituals in the country. There are specific patterns used for traditional dances for courtship, healing, war, harvest, and protection. 

Indigenous tribes also associate colours with different events. Brown or earthy hues are usually reserved for matters related to death and mourning; meanwhile, red is the colour of power used by the Pinatubo Negrito for their healers. 

Below are some of the commonly used symbols in indigenous fabrics: 

More from Tatler: Liwayway, La Herminia, Filip + Inna, and More: Local Brands That Champion Filipino Weaving Heritage

Binanniya

The Binanniya is a pattern that resembles a lizard, an animal that kadangyans (rich or high-status people of Ifugao) use to symbolise wealth and nobility. 

It is believed that a messenger deity once went down to Earth in the form of a lizard to show the first terrace builders the source of water for their crops. Since then, the Ifugaos carved lizards in their rice granaries.

Binituwon

For tribes in Ifugao, the Binituwon or stars represent the children of the sun and moon. Women believe that they would not have a hard time bearing a child when such a pattern is etched on their belts. 

In some cases, the Binituwon is also a sign of abundance.

Tatler Asia
The Binituwon symbol ┃Photo: Narra Studio
Above The Binituwon symbol ┃Photo: Narra Studio

Tiniktiku

Ifugao's Tiniktiku is a symbol that represents the Munkontad or the messenger deities of the tribe. The said messengers include Bagillat (lightning), Atibungallon (rainbow), and Buh Wit (cobra); they are entities that the tribe believes to travel with great speed in every corner of the universe. 

The tribe used to put these patterns on their gammit skirts or inlah'dang blankets.

Tinaggu

The Tinaggu is a human-like pattern that symbolises Ifugao ancestors who have attained the status of demigods in the afterlife. The said people are expected to bring guidance and protection to the descendants they have left behind.

Related: The Untold Sacred Weaving of Ifugaos

Tatler Asia
The Ifugao Tinaggu pattern ┃Photo: Kipas.nl
Above The Ifugao Tinaggu pattern ┃Photo: Kipas.nl

Penneh Kaban Buddi

The Yakan fabric is known for traditional patterns like the Penneh Kaban Buddi. The pattern is a series of diamonds (also called mata-mata), triangles, squares, and other angular shapes that are commonly found on bedsheets, cushion covers, and even bamboo hats.

Linuhhung

The Linuhhung represents the agricultural gods of Ifugaos. The tribe believes that engraving these symbols on their clothing would mean that the deities would bestow them with good harvests. 

Tatler Asia
(Top most part) The Linuhhung ┃Photo: Ifugao Nation
Above (Top most part) The Linuhhung ┃Photo: Ifugao Nation

Eben Lobun

Many T’nalak weavers use weaving to express the beautiful sceneries that surround them. One great example is their Eben Lobun pattern that pictures the formation of nimbus clouds that contain heavy rain.

"Eben" is also a word that is used to describe a sling that is carefully tied to carry a baby.

Indigenous Textiles In The Modern World

Industrialisation, commerce, and colonialism all played their respective roles in transforming the fundamental context of weaving in the Philippines. In the modern age, handloom weaving in many communities has become a primary source of income. Because of this, textile patterns and designs have drastically evolved to cater to consumer demands. 

Textile patterns that originally belong to specific ethnic groups are now being used in neighbouring tribes. Some are incorporated to pop culture motifs, using colours, yarns, and other materials that are imported from other countries. Lower quality weaves are also produced frequently to boost tourist sales; this is the reason why some tribes lose tighter, higher quality weaves.

Despite this dilemma, the concept of Filipino indigenous fashion developed rapidly. Depending on the intention of the wearer, handwoven textiles remain to be symbols of social and political expressions of ethnicity against a framework of a broader national identity

See also: The Likhang HABI Market Fair Takes Filipino Artistry Online 

How To Wear Indigenous Textiles Responsibly

Organisations like Habi: Textile Council protects the Philippine weaving industry by making it their mission to preserve and promote the culture through education and research. The group actively echoes the call of Indigenous tribes to the proper usage of Filipino textiles. 

According to Marlon Martin, chief of Save the Ifugao Terraces Movement and founder of Ifugao Heritage School, there are three ways that a person can wear indigenous textiles irresponsibly:

  • When the wearer claims a culture to be his or hers when it isn’t.
  • When the wearer has no knowledge or context of cultural property.
  • When there is an act of disrespect.

He also suggested enthusiasts of indigenous textiles consider the living conditions of the weavers. “Most of our weavers weave so they can have something to eat for the week. The death blanket for example; the sellers cannot say that you can't use it, they need to sell to get their basic needs," he said implying that it is the wearer's job to research before using any textile. 

In the end, Martin said that cultural ignorance may be avoided if people take time to educate themselves. "It is a worldwide movement, everybody is being called out for cultural appropriation," he said. "It's a universal rule. Respect, love and educate ourselves so we can educate other people. That is the best way to combat cultural appropriation," he concluded.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.