Australia helps preserve Tagoloanen women’s indigenous tradition of weaving
It was during Lorie’s wedding when an elder from the Tagoloanen tribe, an indigenous tribe in
Bukidnon, gifted her with a beautiful banig (mat). Lorie and her husband, who himself is a datu and tribe member, were curious to learn more about the piece, and what they uncovered was a tribal tradition that was slowly fading away. According to the elderly weaver, the very few weavers who remained were discriminated against and poorly compensated.
Lorie could not believe that these traditional mats with exquisite geometric patterns handed from generation to generation of the tribe are slowly dying because of lack of market exposure. So, she helped this elderly weaver sell her mats by offering them to friends in Manila. She continued helping other weavers in their community one after another until she and her husband realized that they could help them more by organizing them into a group business based in Barangay Casisang, Malaybalay City, Bukidnon.
In May 2012, Lorie organized the women weavers of Tagoloanen tribe into an association called Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association, Inc.
They started small. With just 500Php, Lorie gathered the weavers to make and sell woven mats, and the earnings from the sale were used to make their next batch of mats.
“It was a slow and steady growth, building from one sale to another, until the group were finally able to earn just enough for me and my husband to join an exhibit in Manila”, Lorie recalls.
With very little money, they were able to join some more expos in Manila – they would stay in their friend’s room, and only when they have sold more than enough would they be able to buy a ticket home.
Despite these challenges, the association grew under Lorie’s leadership. As the weavers continue to share its products to a wider market, they get to contribute a sizable share of income to the family, that the husbands and children now view weaving as both a source of income and professional pride. The weavers have also been able to send their children to school and after a few years of the association’s existence, the tribe has started producing a generation of college graduates with higher income jobs. Today, the association is composed of 100 women weavers, and sells its products online through its website and Facebook page. They also have resellers in Manila, Australia, the United States of America, and Turkey.
This year, the association is building a Tulugan, the Tagoloanen tribe’s term for a grand hall used for assemblies. Tulugan will be a central venue for weavers to weave, innovate and practice other Tagoloanen traditional ways of living; for the young generation to formally learn the traditional weaving skill, their ancestor’s culture, as well as lead the crafts enterprise in the future; and for scholars and visitors to witness traditional Tagoloanen weaving.
“Traditionally young people learned the weaving skill from their mothers and grandmothers at
home. While this is still happening, we think that having a place dedicated to group learning will further bind the commitment of the young generation to preserve, continue, and later, pass on the weaving practice to the coming generations,” said Eva, a women weaver.
“Designs and patterns are also traditionally passed on through the family line, from mother to
daughter and so on, which has led to specialty designs within families, but this is somehow limiting. Exposure to all through one central hub will widen the knowledge and creativity of young people whom we hope could preserve the weaving tradition and designs through the ages,” said Aileen, a mother, and a weaver.
In 2021, Lorie met then Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Steven J Robinson who was visiting Bukidnon on official travel. Having participated in the virtual training program by Australia and thereafter meeting the Australian Ambassador himself, she tried her luck by applying for a grant from the Direct Aid Program of the Australian Embassy in Manila.
The association’s application was approved in May 2022, and a groundbreaking ceremony for the heritage center was held in July 2022. The heritage center is targeted to be completed by first quarter of 2023.
Lorie was teary-eyed when she gave a message during the event, “We are very grateful to the Australian Embassy – this is a great help for the weavers to continue the mat weaving tradition of the Bukidnon-Tagoloanen tribe and pass it on to the young generation.”
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