Their grandmothers had woven pandan mats in their time, selling them, or barter-trading them in the lowlands of Calatrava and its neighbors in the northern tip of Negros.
Today, Thelma Canillo and her neighbors in Barangay Mahilum, Calatrava still weave the same leaves as their grandmother did, but produces plenty of other things besides the native banig: bags, folders, organizer covers, wine handles and a whole lot more.
Even the baloyot, the original bag made by their grandmothers has evolved into the colorful Carolinas and the like.
The products, especially the bags, have gone on from Calatrava to the world, in big departments stores in Manila as well as in private closets abroad. One product that is a source of pride not only for de la Cerna and the weavers but for the town in general are the folders they do for the Department of Tourism campaign’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” which logo features a Philippine weave. They swell with pride telling of this, how the local pandan plant, woven by local hands, has become part of the national tourism campaign.
The story of these weavers is an example not just how plentiful are our resources in the country sides are, but how we can tap into our traditions and deploy them for development.
Canillo and a few other weavers act as buying and selling stations for the entire village. Buyers send their designs, or choose from existing designs, to place their orders with de la Cerna, who farm out the work to other households. They do the weaves in their homes but a few work inside mountain caves, which are a lot cooler and more comfortable, says Mitzi Lavilla, Calatrava’s tourism officer. The weaves are then brought to Canillo’s house where workers do the finishing, sewing them into bags or baskets or purses or folders before they are delivered.
Aside from the adults, the children participate – some of them help in the weaving, others in dyeing, some in gathering the pandan leaves. While their grandmothers used to barter baloyot or banig, — a piece for two kilos of rice — the new generation weavers are starting to value not just their products but also the pandan plant itself: a piece of leaf now goes for P0.30 each.
Here you have the tradition of weaving, passed on through generations in the humble homes of mountain people and here you have the pandan plant which teem the roadsides and the mountains. Here, indeed, you have the formula for countryside development: products we can sell here and especially abroad, which we can produce with competitive advantage.
Unlike most of our handicrafts, these weaves are difficult to copy. Even China, with its reputation for copying and producing products at a fraction of how much we produce them, would be hard-put copying these weaves. It will have to grow pandan the way it grows in these parts – I don’t think this plant can grow as lushly and as profusely even in the Philippine lowlands – and learn the skill that began generations ago.
Oh yes, China can always produce the synthetic version of these weaves, and maybe do it more efficiently and cheaply, but they will never have the patina of an old, mountain tradition in them, the idea that this bag or that mat was created by hand from leaves taken from the fields. That is a powerful handle for these products, considering that the world is now starting to pay for things done by hands and made out of sustainable resources.*