Legarda braves heckling to promote native wearBy Cathy C. Yamsuan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Undaunted by the heckling of some male senators, Sen. Loren Legarda gamely posed before cameras recording the live debates in the Senate session hall and described her outfit in detail.
“This is a T’boli belt,” she began as she moved away from the microphone stand hiding her clothes from view. “Each strand that holds a bell takes two weeks to make. Imagine the months it took before this was finished.”
“This is a Bagobo skirt and this bracelet is from the Mangyans. And I wear them with pride,” she said
Enduring the jeers of her colleagues (one even called her kleng-kleng, referring to the tiny bells attached to her belt) is just another challenge Legarda faces in her efforts to bring attention to the artistry of indigenous peoples.
Not a popular advocacy, she realizes. But Legarda noted that more than a decade ago, very few paid attention when she talked about the environment, climate change and disaster-risk reduction.
‘A good fire’
“But now these are words of mouth. There will always be challenges. Somebody has to start the fire that will become a bushfire, a wildfire, but it would always be a good fire,” she said in a recent interview.
Legarda’s latest baby is saving the production of indigenous fabrics from extinction brought about by public apathy.
One thing she laments is that indigenous culture is not a political issue, hence the lack of attention from politicians who may have the power to save it.
Before attending the Senate session, Legarda was the special guest at the launch of “Hibla: Pavilion of Textiles and Weaves of the Philippines” held in a mall an anklet’s throw from the Senate.
The exhibit highlighted different weaving traditions like the B’laan technique of mother-of-pearl beaded tribal wear and the T’boli traditional cross-stitching and art of weaving together sequins, brass bells and beadwork.
There also was the panubok embroidery tradition of the Panay Bukidnon group from the Visayas; traditional weaving by the Ivatan, Gaddang and Hanunuo Mangyan; abaca/bariw mat-weaving from Antique; Iraya Mangyan nito basketry; Subanen pulaw weaving; Ekam Maguindanao mat-weaving; Ata Talaingod liyang weaving; T’boli tinalak weaving, and B’laan mewel weaving.
Legarda is passionate about securing government financial support for the indigenous communities.
A previous effort can still be gleaned in the National Museum, where a permanent exhibit of indigenous fabrics is showcased on the entire floor of one wing.
Indigenous People’s Month
Legarda said the mall exhibit was her way of raising the stakes. By herding together the culturati, socialites and varied types of influence peddlers, she hopes to attract more attention to aboriginal artistry, especially since October is Indigenous People’s Month.
She said the exhibit aimed to tell “the stories of indigenous communities through the intricate processes of weaving that were passed on by their ancestors.”
The exhibit “also reveals the passion for learning, creating and educating of master weaves and culture bearers of different indigenous groups,” she said.
With the help of the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (Citem), the senator took pains to bring to Manila entire families of indigenous artists.
Story of a soul, a community
At the launch were groups of grandmother-mother-aunt-daughter artisans who demonstrated their specialized skills of weaving or embroidery.
Unlike mass-produced fashion items that predictably lose their trendiness, there is a story to tell in each product touched by the hands of indigenous artists, according to Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on cultural communities.
“A blouse, a skirt, a belt, a scarf or a basket, carefully and expertly crafted, narrates an anecdote of an individual soul, a story of a community, the saga of a people, the spirit of a culture, the way of life,” she said.
Legarda sees a government program focusing on cultural tourism as a way to save the indigenous people’s craft.
Niche to explore
“Cultural tourism is a niche we can explore. Other countries have done it. We can do it. At present, it is already being done in different small ways in the country,” she said.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. raised a similar idea during questioning by Commission on Appointments members prior to his confirmation a few months back.
Jimenez said provinces without tourist spots could develop cultural attractions to lure novelty seekers. Or develop industries that would provide the merchandise that would make the memory of their travel experience more tangible.
“We have 110 indigenous or ethno-linguistic groups in the country. All of them have their own rituals, their own food, practices, basketry, beadwork, weaving, etcetera,” Legarda said.
“We are very rich and so just on the cultural tourism angle, on promoting the artistry and culture of indigenous peoples, that’s already cultural tourism for you,” she added.
“If there is no support from the market, if nobody will buy their products, these people will either go to Manila and look for jobs or stay in the province and be jobless,” she said.
Need for capital
She stressed: “If there’s a market for their products, such as this effort to expose them to the world market, then more of the women will do this. But first, we want to preserve their traditions, the way they are. Second, we want to provide them the capital so they are interested in continuing it.”
“Otherwise,” she said, “it’s a dying craft.”
The senator said one of the Mangyans who participated in the exhibit marveled at the sight of the cavernous exhibit hall.
“This is our first time in the big city. It is good that we are given attention,” Legarda quoted the woman as saying.
Legarda said the government could look for possible markets for the products of indigenous peoples or provide them with funds to sustain their traditions.
“We can provide market access for indigenous peoples. Then we will fund Schools of Living Traditions by giving them capital for micro enterprises,” she said.
Ultimately, a permanent showroom would be ideal.