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2018
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Woodcarvers, weavers, & Baguio’s crafts industry
by Jane B. Cadalig

CORDILLERA IDENTITY -- Handloom weavers and woodcarvers are among the skilled individuals in Baguio who are responsible for the city’s induction to the Unesco Creative Cities Network under the crafts and folk art category. -- Jane B. Cadalig/Harley F. Palangchao

When he was about eight years old, Billy Gano was already carving inanimate pieces out of wood. At that time though, he threw the pieces right after he finished carving them. The reason: He did not want his father to see any evidence that he was playing with the knife, which was forbidden for kids his age out of fear that they might hurt themselves.

Another thing, he consi-dered wood carving as a game and saw his works as throw-away pieces, ones that could not pass the standards of a seasoned woodcarver, which his father and most of their kin are, thanks to their Ifugao lineage.

Irene Agcapen, meanwhile, started weaving when she was 12 years old. Determined to help her parents earn a living, she learned the craft with the help of her grandpa-rents, aunts, and her friends.

At a young age, Irene learned the complexity of interlacing threads to produce a garment that details the desired design.

Traditional knowledge and skills

Billy and Irene represent several other Cordillerans who are engaged or who are working in Baguio’s weaving and wood carving industries, among the other industries that showcase the talents of the city’s many creative people. They are also among the skilled workers whose craftsmanship helped provide livelihood to their own families and to others’ families.

Billy’s family hails from Ifugao, but they have settled along Asin Road, which borders Baguio City and Tuba, Benguet.

Travel website TripAdvisor tagged Asin Road as the “Ifugao Woodcarver’s Village,” courtesy of the many shops selling carved pieces ranging from miniature animals to life-size statues that dot the road.

Irene, on the other hand, hails from Bontoc, Mountain Province and is now one of the weavers at Easter Weaving Room at Guisad, Baguio.

Easter Weaving Room offers an array of hand woven creations ranging from the attires of the different Cordillera provinces to fashion accessories, among other handicrafts.

They may be engaged in different specializations – one carving pieces out of wood, usually for décor; and the other creating fabric out of threads usually for fashion, accessories, or décor – but Billy and Irene play the same significant role: They help in the preservation of Cordillera’s indigenous knowledge and skills, apart from the livelihood that their skills generate.

Unesco recognition

Billy and Irene are among the gifted workers who have come to Baguio City to showcase their skills and contri-buted to the city’s recognition as a creative city by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (Unesco).

Baguio was inducted to the Unesco Creative Cities Network on Oct. 31, 2017, courtesy of its distinguished crafts and folk art. It is the first city in the Philippines to join the global network.

Among the other cities that were cited last year as Unesco Creative Cities under the crafts and folk art category are Chiang Mai, Thailand; Cairo, Egypt; Barcelos, Portugal; Limoges, France; and Madaba, Jordan.

According to unesco.org, 64 cities from 44 countries have been designated as Unesco Creative Cities in various categories last year.

They join a network at the frontline of Unesco’s efforts to foster innovation and creativity as key drivers for a more sustainable and inclusive urban development,” Unesco stated in its website.

Not just about commercial value

Billy, who was finally allowed to hold a knife and chisel when he was about 11 years old, said woodcarving is not only about producing pie-ces to be sold on a commercial scale.

Having developed the love for the wood-knife-chisel combination at a young age, he said carved pieces also have “stories,” and meanings behind them, like that of the works of a painter.

He said there is a difference between carving done solely for livelihood or commercial purposes and carving done as a work of art.

“For example, if you carve a statue of the ‘deer hunter’ just to sell it at the market as a souvenir item, you are into commercial production. But if your intention in carving is to tell the story of the deer hunter, you’re doing it for art and your work will show it,” he said.

The deer hunter depicts a primitive man with the animal straddled on his shoulders. A dog is usually part of the carving.

Billy said if a woodcarver wants to tell the struggles of the deer hunter, for instance, he will create details in the statue’s “eyes” and “facial expression” that would tell that story.

The woodcarver, he added, could go on and rouse the audience’s curiosity by emphasizing other details on the hunter’s tools or the kind of G-string and bandana the statue is “wearing.”

“The carver could even create details in the manner by which the deer hunter “stands” and carries the animal on his shoulders to tell a story behind the artwork,” the 35-year-old woodcarver said.

The deer hunter is one of the woodcarvings – along with the man in the barrel, bulul (the Ifugao rice guard), huts, giant spoons and forks, and various animals – that are sold in almost all tourist shops in Baguio.

A deer hunter carving, when bought at the souvenir shops could cost as low as P1,000 to as much as P40,000 depending on the size of the statue, according to Billy.

However, a deer hunter that has been carved through a woodcarver’s meticulous planning and storytelling could cost up to P100,000.

Billy said he can no longer recall the pieces he carved, but among them were miniature cats, because it was the usual object that was carved at the time. He also used to carve spinning tops and sling shots. Since he did not see any value to the pieces he created and because he was afraid of being caught playing with the knife, those carvings went straight to the bin as soon as they were done.

It is only now that Billy realized that the pieces he crea-ted when he was young could command higher prices today.

No koma indulin ko dagidiay inaramid ko idi, baka mailakok ida ti nangina tatta,” he said.

How does one know if a woodcarving is a work of art or solely made for the tourist shops?

Billy said a woodcarving produced as an artwork is usually sold at exhibits. It is also a lot more expensive than commercial woodcarvings.

“Besides,” he said, “an art aficionado knows how to distinguish a wood carving that has a ‘story.’ They can tell if the piece was just carved for the market and if it was done for art,” he said.

Weaving: An undying art

For Irene, 48, weaving has been her source of livelihood since she learned the skill at a young age. In 2008, she joined the women at Easter Weaving Room who, knowingly or unknowingly, are helping preserve one of Cordillera’s traditional arts, besides earning for their families.

There was nothing fancy about her entry to Easter Weaving Room: The company announced it was looking for weavers. She applied and she got hired.

Although she was already considered a skilled weaver at that time; courtesy of her years of creating traditional Cordillera attires such as the tapis, G-strings, and other garment pieces; Irene said she was assigned to weave fabrics used as accessories when she first worked at Easter Weaving Room.

“When I was hired in 2008, the first assignment I got was to weave ‘beltings,’ the ones used for straps of bags and sandal straps or those used to accentuate clothes,” she said.

Today, she is one of the more seasoned women weavers of Easter Weaving Room. The skillful hands of women weavers there are responsible for the colorful and well-detailed tapis, wall decorations, table runners, bags, or even the chic sandals accentuated by the Cordillera weaving designs, which are sold at the factory’s display area at Guisad and those that are exported to other parts of the globe.

Irene’s skills, and that of the women weavers at Easter Weaving Room, may be considered archaic in today’s fast-paced generation, but nothing beats the quality of a garment or an accessory that has been produced by the meticulous hands of a handloom weaver.

For every hand-woven artifact, expect that the women weavers, warpers, and sewers infused labor, patience, and artistry into the creation.

The continuing and growing demand for hand woven products also helps the weaving industry continue to thrive, to provide livelihood and to carry on the tradition of creating the rich tapestry of the Cordilleran’s culture and heritage.

In its website, Easter Weaving Room stated: “The Easter Weaving Room continues to preserve the Cordillera culture, particularly the weaving heritage, by serving as an instrument in promoting native handicrafts and providing a home for the enhancement of indigenous Igorot skills.”

“The Easter Weaving Room and quality Cordillera weaving will continue to remain synonymous in response to the needs and preferences of its patrons and the weaving tradition shall be preserved and sustained for generations,” it added.

Weaving for various clients

Since its establishment in the early 1900’s, Easter Weaving Room evolved to a textile factory that produces an array of creations – from clothing, décors, placemats, accessories, bags, and slippers to non-fabric items.

Irene said aside from weaving for the tourists and the locals, they also weave for institutions or groups.

She said the sablay (sash), which students of the University of the Philippines don when they graduate, is created by the skillful hands of women weavers of Easter Weaving Room.

The woven sablays are not only for the graduates of UP Baguio, but also for the other constituent universities of the UP system.

“In the last graduation, we created around 3,000 sab-lays,” Irene said.

During the interview, she was weaving a UP sablay, meticulously interlacing the yellow gold yarns that form the ancient alphabet called the alibata into the maroon and green threads, UP’s official colors.

According to the UP website, the alibata in the sablay is equivalent to ‘U’ and ‘P’ and “is not meant to be read in a syllabic way as the corresponding baybayin characters are.”

Aside from UP’s sablay, the sash or the ‘belt’ worn by cadets of the Philippine National Police Academy during graduation, is also hand-woven at the Easter Weaving Room.

Irene said other schools have also asked Easter Weaving Room to weave for them fabrics to accessorize graduation attires.

“Just recently, we wove orders from the University of the Cordilleras, which were used by graduates of their Senior High school,” she said.

-- Jane B. Cadalig

Challenges

The wood carving and weaving industries may be thriving even without much government funds infusion compared with other industries, but the future of these are confronted by the dwindling number of individuals who are interested in learning the skill.

For one who is engaged in wood carving like Billy, this challenge is compounded by government regulations, like the implementation of the total log ban, which has created a massive dent in the industry.

“Since the ban, the supply of wood has become scarce. Woodcarvers could get permits, alright, but before you could be issued a permit, you need to go through a tedious and a very long process,” he said.

He added there should be shift in how the log ban policy is implemented.

“The policy should not be a ban in cutting trees. The government should allow the cutting of the mature trees, but these must be replaced by planting. We should learn from how other countries make their timber industries alive but still able to preserve their environment. They allow cutting of mature trees but they require a replacement for the cut ones. This way, you do not kill a livelihood,” he said.

He added that shift in the policy will allow individuals like him to continue showcasing their creativity through wood carving.

What are the best materials to carve in the first place?

The best species for wood carving are gmelina, acacia, and mahogany, according to Billy.

“Pine trees and narra are not good materials for wood carving, although we could carve them for designs when they are already made into furniture,” he said.

But even before the log ban, Billy said young people like him have resorted to other jobs. Those who obtained degrees pursued their profession or have looked for other sour-ces of livelihood. Others went into mining.

“When we were younger, almost everyone is carving wood, now iilan na lang ang interesadong mag-carve,” he said.

“Unfortunately,” Billy added, “you cannot force the young ones to go into wood carving.”

Irene shared Billy’s idea. She said most youth nowadays are not that interested in learning the art of weaving because they have a lot of opportunities when it comes to employment.
Ado gamin ti pagbirukan ti trabaho tatta, haan nga kasla idi,” she said.

Love for work

Despite the challenges of the industry, Billy said he would continue carving pie-ces. Besides being a source of income, he said wood carving is his passion.

He sees wood carving as an expression of his artistic side. He has participated in several local wood carving exhibitions. He also joined an international carving competition in Switzerland in 2015.

When he becomes a father, Billy said he will not prohibit his kids from “playing with the knife” if the intention is to learn the art of carving.

For someone who’s passionate about creating art pieces out of wood, Billy said the wounds endured by someone who holds the knife and the chisel are part of the learning process. He said being concerned about a child’s safety is one thing, letting the child explore his talents is another.

“Getting wounds is part of wood carving, because you actually learn from those cuts,” he said.

Irene, a mother of five, said she is willing to teach her kids how to weave, but she still put an emphasis on the importance of them finishing their education first.

“I am into weaving because it is the job I want to do. I am willing to teach my kids how to weave, but I always tell them to finish first their studies,” she said.

Skills that define cultural identity

They might not realize it, but Billy and Irene’s wood carving and weaving abilities, respectively, are gifts that help define Cordillera’s culture and heritage even if some may consider these skills obsolete.

While others learn skills that match what the global market needs – information technology, food and beve-rage, customer assistance, and health and wellness-related, among other industries – it might not hurt to also develop and enhance indigenous skills like wood carving and weaving if only to preserve the talents that helped carve the identities and weave the culture of the Cordillerans.

As in the case of Baguio, where skilled and talented Cordillerans converge, there is no need to emphasize the important roles of individuals practicing their unique skills in the city’s various industries – ones that catapulted Baguio City into the global network of Creative Cities.

-- Jane B. Cadalig

Other news
:: The school’s role in shaping young talents
:: Baguio City moving beyond 109 through culture and creativity
:: Designing a creative city for Baguio’s crafts industry
:: Adding Cordillera culture into Baguio’s cullinary industry
:: Preserving the Ibaloy culture through School of Living Traditions
:: Literature thrives in a city above the clouds
:: What is a Baguio film: A docu in the making
:: Steering policies to sustain Baguio as a creative city
:: Creative Baguio title slips prospects into the creative community’s mind
:: Baguio’s folk and country sounds

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