April 13, 2024

If there is something the Cordillera is uniquely known for, it would be their intricate handwoven patterned textiles. I was around 12 years old when I first stroked a Cordilleran fabric. Little did I know back then that the patterns, motifs, and color schemes in these clothes were not mere embellishments but rather diverse cultural signifiers.
The Philippine Textile Research Institute noted the region is home to 21 percent of weavers in the country. However, despite being a national heritage, the number of master weavers in the region is dwindling over time, according to Corditex Project Leader and University of the Philippines Baguio Professor, Dr. Analyn Salvador-Amores.
It is interesting to note that the major indigenous groups in the region such as Bontok, Ifugao, Kalinga, Tinguian, Kankana-ey, Apayao, and Ibaloy have their own unique weaving styles with forms and patterns that are heavily influenced by their distinct religious, socio-political, and artistic origins and values.
For instance, in Ifugao, they call their weaving ikat where they incorporate a resist dyeing process on the threads to create a fuzzy appearance. In Bontoc, Mountain Province, they include typical geometric shapes such as human figures to symbolize the Igorot warriors’ bravery or the eye to represent guidance. To underestimate the richness of the Cordilleran weaving tradition is already a mistake one can make since it occupies both cultural and functional niches in the country.
During the Corditex weaving workshop recently, I was able to talk with Cathy Domigyay, a master weaver from Bontoc, Mountain Province. When I asked her on the importance of weaving, she said, “Mahalaga dahil ito ang kauna-unahang naimbento ng ating mga ninuno. Di ba, ‘yung backstrap na pamamaraan. Ngayon man nung nag-modernize ‘yung merong pedal loom. Tapos nakagawa sila ng machine. Pero ito talaga ‘yung traditional kaya kailangang naituturo sa mga bata.”
Today, one of the major concerns of master weavers is the youth’s lack of enthusiasm for the art of weaving. Considering also that some weavers are getting older and some who knew the patterns have passed away, this makes the CordiTex Project a great initiative of Salvador-Amores as it could rekindle interest in the craft among the Cordillera youth by allowing them to learn the discipline and patience of crafting a textile art.
One might argue that the Cordilleran weaving is now a dying culture but not for Salvador-Amores. “For the last three to five years, there’s a strong revival of traditional weaving in the Cordillera. Primarily with the handloom weaving. There’s an awareness of weaving already. Various ang iba’t ibang efforts – institutions, enthusiasts, artisans. So I think it’s not dying. It’s better to talk about appearing or reviving tradition rather than disappearing,” she said.
While she acknowledges that there is a decline in master weavers (because it is passed through oral tradition), I believe that frequently nurturing our collective appreciation of this tradition maintains the Cordillera’s identity tightly knitted. Knowing and appreciating our very own heritage is the first step of understanding and empathizing others. The call is to listen and engage in the practice. In that way, we can keep the stories alive through the fabrics.