Weaving Traditions in the Philippines
Weaving in the Philippine archipelago is more than just a function of necessity; it’s also an art form, a tangible expression of culture. It’s practiced alongside woodworking, carving, boat building, basketry, pottery, and mat weaving, with different ethnolinguistic groups executing a variety of designs, styles, and techniques to produce textiles that are distinctly their own.
Tboli blouse, circa 1800.
Beginnings of textile weaving in the Philippines
No one knows exactly how or when the practice of textile production and its related processes (such as fiber extraction and dyeing) started among the early inhabitants of the archipelago, only that it’s been practiced for hundreds, if not thousands of years, by different communities.
The Ifugao, who live in the Cordillera mountain range in Northern Luzon, attribute the origin of their weaving to Punholda’yan, one of their many deities, while the B’laan of Mindanao believe that the practice of weaving textiles was bestowed upon them by the goddess Furalo.
In terms of material evidence, archaeologists have found and dated items used in the production of cloth, such as bark-beating implements made of hard wood and stone, and spindle whorls made of stone and baked clay. Some textile-making tools have been identified as belonging to the Later Phase of the Neolithic Period, while others are dated to be from the Metal/Iron Age.
When a spindle whorl made of clay was found at an archaeological dig in Cagayan Valley, archaeologists gave it the same age as the pottery and imbedded rice husks that were discovered in the same area: 2610-2130 BC.
Aside from spindle whorls, other signs of textile production include imprints of woven textiles on clay pots and jars that were found in burial sites. Anthropomorphic earthenware burial jars found in a cave in Maitum, Sarangani Province in Mindanao and dated to the Metal Age have been observed to have net-like imprints on their bottom surface, suggesting the production and use of woven cloths in that period.
Ga'dang sash, late 19th century.
Filipino weaving communities
Textile production is practiced all throughout the Philippines. In the northern part of Luzon, weaving communities are mostly concentrated in the Ilocos and Cordillera regions, while in the southern part there are also weavers in Bicol and the island of Mindoro.
Over at the Visayan group of islands, weaving is practiced in Panay and Iloilo. In Mindanao, indigenous groups all over South Cotabato, Lanao, Zamboanga, Jolo, Basilan, Agusan, Bukidnon, Davao, and Maguindanao have their own weaving traditions.
Each group has its own weaving practices passed down through generation. Every meticulously handmade piece of cloth has its own function and symbolism, and carries with it the culture and beliefs of the people who make it. This is what makes them even more beautiful, and what makes them a veritable work of art.
We at NARRA are honored to work with Filipino artisans throughout the Philippines and excited to share with you all of the things we’ve come to learn about its many colorful weaving traditions. We are also thrilled to make the fine work of Filipino weavers available worldwide. Together, let us celebrate our heritage and keep it alive for generations to come.