Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Northern Weaves

(A quick travel in Baguio, La Union)
Weaver working on her craft using traditional wooden looms (Baguio)

The travel

Anticipating a million pilgrims (and its chaos) that will celebrate mass with the visiting Pope Francis, I decided to sacrifice the chance to witness the event and headed north.

Of course, I only partially expected a relaxing time, anticipating that ‘the likes of me’ will also avoid the crowd.  I was partially wrong –  there were not a few ‘like me’, there were probably hundreds of thousands who visited Baguio that same weekend.

Checking out Casa Vallejo (still standing) and Mt Cloud bookstore, plus La Galag

The drive from Manila, to NLEX (North Luzon Express), to SCTEX (Subic-Clark-Tarlac) and the new TPLEX (Tarlac -Pangasinan) all the way to Urdaneta Pangasinan was a breeze.  Upon exit, we saw and immediately stopped at Matutina’s resto – a popular stop-over in Pangasinan.   “One hour waiting!” declared the owner-looking woman in the reception.  The parking was full, the resto was even more jam-packed by hungry people. Oh oh, not a good sign.

We temporarily switched ‘hungry’ to ‘can wait’ and drove on. 20mins was a long wait – we stopped by some karinderia and ate whatever was available.  ‘Good enough’ was better than hungry.

The drive along Kennon road was uneventful.  Until the last stretch near Camp John Hay’s junction.  Traffic jam!  A bad one.  A long one. Bad sign#2.   I have a Baguio map which is only 50% useful.  Difficult to use and navigate on non-geometric road system.   Waze was a great app, useful friend in complex road systems like Baguio.  It ‘told us’ to turn right somewhere, and through many zigzag roads, and somehow somewhere, we got to the city’s interior.  Now came the knock-on-your-door-may-I-stay-for-the-night game.  At first, we targeted good, known hotels. All fully booked!  Decided to just ‘take the first available’ strategy.  Didn’t work – all next 20 something inns, hotels, stay-inns, transients were just fully freakin booked!   I was tired from running door to door only to be rejected. Finally, I chanced upon this inn near the old Casa Vallejo (an antique hotel that may soon be ‘destroyed’ by developer).  Again, I was shooed ‘fully booked’.  I was tired. I stayed. I begged.  Was doing my best puss-in-boots paawa look to the old lady. “I only need a small, a tiny room. And a toilet.  I don’t need a bed or blanket, just a room.  Pleeeassse…”  

New players in the city were everywhere.  This Patch Cafe in Bloomfield hotel offered a homey feel.

I stayed for a while, listening, sensing. Some guests talking about reservation issues, another also demanding a room, etc. I waited.  Guests went in, guests went out. In the chaos, somehow -something told me they do have some spare rooms.  Just need a little patience.  Which was running out by then.

Puss-in-boots mode again “Lola, one small room lang..”  She finally but reluctantly offered a quad-room discouraging me with the 1800php price tag.  I paid immediately.  Damn, I was willing to spend more just so I can rest.  It was already late, nearing 6pm.  And getting uncomfortably cold.

The rest of the Baguio trip was not as pleasant as it used to be.  The visits to popular sites and restos were all mired by long queues, shoo-away-we-are-fully-booked treatment,  and bad road traffic - it was like, the main roads of Baguio had turned to big parking lots.

But that’s life, one just needs to enjoy the little nice things and always look at the brighter side.  Whatever, or however small that is… 
Baguio City at night - never stops to impress me


Part of my objective was to see traditional hand weaving.  Baguio’s Easter Weaving (in Easter road) offered not only products or textiles, but a view of how weaving was done via old looms.  Most of the woven products are Igorot in origin (Cordillera), but it also showcases other weaves from other ethnic groups of Northern Luzon.   I’ve seen similar process when I visited Sagada several years back.  In Baguio, the loom operators can make a variety of textile designs presumably, know-how coming from different sub-groups.
 (the video demonstrates the use of loom for weaving)

In this world of electronics and high-tec machinery, along with its eco-impact and lost traditions – seeing the wooden looms in operation offered a bit of hope.  The hope to preserve centuries-old weaving tradition; the hope of creating quality hand-woven products in the most planet-friendly way.

After 2 days in Baguio, and before the thousands of tourists starts driving home, my group decided to escape the chaos and drove to Bangar, La Union (almost 100km away).  My objective was again to witness hand-weaving (and buy a few samples).  Ilocos region (and this part of La Union) is famous for Inabel, or Abel-Iloko.  A classic hand-woven textile product that is in existence for several centuries. 

There in one of the houses that offered Inabel products, I saw a young, 16-year old girl operating the loom.  For me, a good sign.  A sign that the old tradition will at least continue for this generation.  Of course, I bought a few.  Maybe a lot. ;) It’s ‘cheaper at the source’.
Similar looms are used in Ilocos and La Union. Here in Bangar, a new generation of weavers are keeping up the tradition. Pic - 16yo weaver of Bangar

How can we help?  

Being ‘westernized’ and ‘urbanized’ exposed us to lots of brands.  Good (‘branded’) and bad ones (copy-cheaps).  Too much imports kill local brands.  It enriches other countries and impacts growth of local economy. Worse, it could kill our weaving tradition, and our artisans will die out.  The price of cheap products may sound value-worth in the short-term, but affects our system, tradition and environment in a bigger way long-term.
Stocks of Inabel in one house, ready for interested buyers

By supporting and buying our traditional crafts and products, we help our local artisans (that’s livelihood), we help preserve art and tradition (that defines our history and who we are), and help grow local economy.  Most products ‘from the source’ are actually cheap, so when you have time – go travel and see nice spots, but also visit our artisans, their shops and do get some of their products.  You may be surprised to experience that our ‘brands’ are actually better.  That it is actually worth the price.
Related Post
T'nalak - T'boli Weaving

As a supporter of this craft, I bought many ;)  partly for my Inabel Product R&D

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The view of Baguio City at night was all worth it. Though there were puss-in-boots paawa look moments…that was funny.:D