Saffy loves abel and will spend hours rubbing her face on it. She is swathed in a mosquitero scarf. For a moment we thought the cover design was the eagle of the Nazi Reichsadler, but Rene says it is the two-headed eagle symbol of the Augustinian Order, woven into an abel blanket from the 1920s.
Five years ago, during a trip to Ilocos Norte, Rene Guatlo brought us to a shop that sold local textiles handwoven in the traditional manner. That was our introduction to abel, the hardy homespun Iloko fabric with the austere designs. Since then Rene has schooled us (ininggit niya kami) in the varieties of abel: binakul with the op-art patterns, binandera, burbur, bitbituka, mosquitero, etc.
Through our interest in abel, we’ve gotten to know other indigenous textiles such as the hablon of Iloilo and the sinamay of the Bicol region. We’ve lurked in bazaars organized by HABI: The Philippine Textile Council, whose mission is to promote the understanding, appreciation and use of indigenous Philippine textiles.
Inside back cover: Kandit, a Tausug waist cloth
Now the textile council has published Habi: A Journey Through Philippine Handwoven Textiles, an introduction to our rich weaving traditions. Essays by Adelaida Lim, Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, Robert Lane, Lourdes Veloso Mastura, Floy Quintos, Rene and other experts take us through the histories, symbols and processes of these living, wearable artifacts.
“Weaving is not only traditional but spiritual, symbolic, sacred,” HABI chair Maribel Ongpin writes. “What it produces expresses identity, culture, history, including dreams, the belief system, the environment.”
Today indigenous weaving traditions struggle to survive in the face of cheap, factory-produced textiles. As Rene pointed out, the weavers are getting older, younger generations are not as interested in picking up the old ways and learning the intricate patterns, and raw materials are getting scarce.
By popularizing handmade indigenous textiles, HABI hopes to promote the market for the fabrics and keep weaving alive in the 21st century. This attractive book edited by Rene Guatlo, designed by Katherine Bercasio, and packed with vivid photos by Patrick Uy, should get more than a few readers hooked on handwoven. We especially like its portable, un-fussy design and strong visuals. Coffee table books may be impressive, but we can’t carry them around with us.
HABI: A Journey Through Philippine Handwoven Textiles retails at about Php400. Copies are available at the HABI office, Unit 4D Carmen Court, 6080 Palma Street (Backwell), Bgy. Poblacion, Makati City. Telephone (02)4782765. Open Monday to Friday, 7am to 2pm. For inquiries, visit their Facebook page.