Local plant keeps Abra weaving sustainable
PEÑARRUBIA, Abra – Loom-weaving and embroidery, a tradition spanning generations among ethno-linguistic groups that settled in Barangay Namarabar of this town, remains alive and continues to be a medium of preserving the rich culture, practices, and beliefs of this Cordillera province.
The town’s current generation of Tingguians, also known as Itnegs, is making sure the industry lives on, by producing authentic Abra woven fabric based on the traditional way of textile dyeing, which uses natural ingredients yielded by plants and trees indigenous or have been thriving on Abra soils.
For years now, the Namarabar Indigo Natural Dye Producers Cooperative (NINDPC) has been producing natural dye used in coloring yarns and fabrics, which are used in making Abra’s ethnic attires and other woven products. For this, the traditional natural dyeing practices have been included in the One Town, One Product program of the Department of Trade and Industry.
The cooperative, founded by the Agaid family and now headed by Luis Jr. Agaid keeps true to the traditions of natural dyeing using malatayum (indigofera tinctoria plant), one of few plants that yield true indigo or blue color and one of the original producers of indigo dye.
Agaid’s sister, Ludivina, told the Courier that malatayum was first used by their ancestors who discovered its uses. Mostly farmers, they used to come in contact with these plants that grow abundantly in the area when going to their farms and in the process, their clothes got stained by it.
“So they experimented on it. Weavers then had no chemicals to use in coloring their threads. They used the plant and the outcome was good. So ‘yung mga sinaunang habi, natural dye ang ginamit, na siya ring ginagamit namin hanggang ngayon,” Agaid said.
She said the process they have been adopting now involves soaking the leaves or barks of malatayum in water until it forms bubbles. They would take the bubbles and soak it with cake foams for five days and let it dry. They will then grind the soaked dried foams to become natural dye powder, the finished product that they use in coloring threads or yarns for weaving.
For other dye colors, Agaid said they use barks of trees like narra to yield red and mahogany for brown or pink.
While using them for coloring fabrics that their members weave and embroider, the natural dyes the cooperative produces are also sold to other weavers and individuals who use it for other purposes.
Their production of natural dye also means livelihood for farmers and households that grow malatayum in their backyard. While giving the plant growers an income source, it allows the cooperative to have a steady source of malatayum for their dye production. The cooperative has at least 15 farmer-members who grow the plant and mahogany trees.
Agaid explained that an authentic traditional Abra fabric uses natural dyes. Although a few of their designs use artificially colored threads, she said most of their designs are exclusively made of natural dyed fabrics.
Abra fabrics come in different forms: pinilian, sinulito, binakol, several kinds of tiniri, various kinds of dinapat, and kantarenes.
Using these fabrics as their canvas, weavers make intricate patterns of figures that for them convey messages or those that are symbolic of their cultural beliefs, such as hand-woven patterns of tadek, a traditional Abra dance; lizards, which symbolize either good luck or a visitor; flowers that represent purity; rice; and fingers.
“The designs are unique to us, ones we could truly call as tatak Abra that cannot be copied with exactness. Only someone from Abra or one with knowledge can explain the histories and reasons behind the designs. So when one buys our fabrics or our ethnic designs, they take with them more than the fabric, but also piece of our history,” she said.
Compared to ordinary fabrics and other products of modern textile dyeing, Abra inabel is quite pricey, but it has become popular and preferred by those who are aware of the intricate process of its production and unique creativity applied on every piece.
Since the cooperative has made a demand for natural dye-yielding plants and trees, Aguid said they have observed that some areas in their place that used to be vacant have turned green and robust as the community started planting them. To date, farmers have been maintaining malatayum plantations and some mahogany trees in Namarabar.
She added that producing natural dye does not harm the environment because it does not require them to cut the trees or uproot the plants to obtain the raw material they need.
“Through these woven fabrics made using our local resources, we believe we help in preserving the culture of our province, and so we make sure we care for our environment,” she added.
The National Commission on Culture and the Arts and DTI have been supportive of the industry in terms of training of future generations of weavers and dyeing through the school of living traditions, promotion, marketing, and how to make the coop’s products competitive.
Through Internet, the cooperative is able to promote its products as well as meet potential clients, and also reach out to those who are interested to learn about natural dyeing through seminars, or those who want to buy natural dyes for their own uses.
On Oct. 17 to 19, woven designs and products of the NINDPC were among those exhibited during the Manila Fame at the World Trade Center, Pasay City.
The event supports local small- and medium-scale enterprises and artisan communities by working with local designers to create new product collections and providing a professionally managed platform to present export products to the global market.
It will also be joining the Sikat Pinoy Crafts Fair, a national marketing event for textiles, weaves, and tribal wear/costumes, among others, on Oct. 26 to 28. – Hanna C. Lacsamana