Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wisdom from a Banana Leaf

Sometime on September 2012, together with 10 community leaders we stayed in Malaybalay for few days to attend to some engagements with our government partners.

SOLED KI was invited by the Department of Agriculture, NOMIARC and the partners from the province to join the Farmers Field Day. It was a gathering of different farmers around the region, including the indigenous peoples to learn new agricultural technology. For the leaders of SOLED KI, they took it as a venue to engage potential partners with the hope of building collaborations with them.

Every night is a time for serious discussion on anything that concerns the indigenous peoples. Concerns on livelihood, land tenure, food security, education, health, environment and "klaymet sins"; But one thing that caused them the most serious concern: the banana leaf.

Matigsalug leaders share a meal over a banana leaf. The person who prepares the food equally divided the rice and the viand to assure that each one has good share. After the meal, nothing is left wasted but the used leaf.

During meal time, as our boarding house lacks enough utensils, the most logical way to share our meals together was to look for a banana leaf, the most reliable and easily available.

After few meals together, one of the leaders complained that we almost finished up all the good leaves and they fear that the owner will reprimand us for taking the good leaves. Thus, the next meal would mean pushing one another who will take the banana leaves as everyone fears of being reprimanded.

Then one of the leaders calmly said, "Now i realize how hard it is to live in the city. Its giving us a hard time just to look for banana leaves. Had it been in the mountains, we can have as much banana leaves we need without fear of getting reprimanded by the owners. I can't imagine that only a banana leaf can give us very serious problem".

And everyone burst out in laughter.

Yet after the laughter and the horsing around subsided, we realized that yes, it was a serious remark that left us with something to ponder.

A single banana leaf, giving a serious problem to the indigenous leaders.

Looking deeper, yes a single banana leaf can explain concerns on livelihood, agriculture, health, education, environment and climate change, and obviously, food security.

The Last of the Matigsalug Cotton-Weavers

Today, while I was asking how are the elders in the community are going, Datu jimboy handed me a woven cloth given to me by Iney. He said the old woman was crying when she handed the cloth as if the elder bidding goodbye to the craft she has lived her life so well. The elder woman has been complaining of joints pains and failing vision.

Iney looking from the "window" of her little hut.
Iney, as she is fondly called by everyone in the community is one of the few remaining traditional weavers of the Matigsalug tribe. Faithful to her craft, she dedicates her time preparing the cotton thread, then setting up the design, then on her back-strap loom she rides with full authority despite her frail body, and once again slowly fulfill her dedication to her craft.

During community visits, she would call me in my local name "Umatung", which means " a man with big body".
She wold then ask me if I was able to bring a dye, a thread or her favorite "manika" leaves, tobacco and betel nut. Chewing a "mamaen" or a betel nut is still widely practiced among the Matigsalug elders.

Iney meticulously choosing the right cotton bulb, then drying for the desired moisture and working on the spindle to make the thread.

Few leaves of manika or tobacco will lighten her mood. Then she would instruct me to visit her home to see her unfinished craft. If it happens that she kept a finished woven cloth, she would hand it to me and then later would ask me to buy her some sugar, which most of the time I readily oblige.

Iney wishes that the young women will get interested in the craft that their elders have taught them. 

Iney on her back-strapped loom patiently spends her time weaving. Her deformed body could have been due to osteoporosis. Her son, Bong-bong recalled that a couple of year ago, Iney started to bend her back permanently. Bong-bong attributed Iney's condition to the back-breaking activities that her mother also spent on over the years.

Some few years ago, such weaving practice have been dead for so long. Until an renown anthropologists, in the person on Dr. Erlinda Burton rediscovered the cotton weaving practice of the community after investigating on the presence of cotton plants in the community. Asked on its utility, the people referred to the "habel" the woven cloth that they make into a moga, the traditional Matigsalug dress. Getting more curious on the weaving process, Dr. Burton sought for support from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) to conduct further research on the craft, and gradually putting pieces together until the prototype bamboo looms were produced by one of the elder artisan, Amey, the older brother of Iney. When several tools were made ready, 20 younger women were identified to be trained by Iney. IN the end, there were six (6) women who finished the training sessions.

However, until today, revitalizing the importance of cotton weaving as a cultural treasure among the Matigsalug people remains a challenge as women seem to devote their time working in the farms to earn daily wage to support their families everyday needs.

The leaders of the community are still exploring for ways to get younger women to find viable economic value on their weaving tradition. They hope that the younger women will fulfill the dreams of Iney to leave them the skills.

Despite her old age and physical challenges, Iney is hopeful that the women will continue weaving, not only for economic reason but for the love of the craft and their traditional systems.

Being away from the community for a long time, I have been excited to go back to the community and see Iney in her small hut, smiling her way as she patiently weave some of her last cotton cloth.

May Iney's craft be passed on to younger Matigsalug women as a legacy of those gone before her.

May the last of the Matigsalug cultural masters become an inspiration to more indigenous women and youth.