|Maguindanao Women’s Co-op “Weaves Old with New” in Sarangani Province|
GENERAL SANTOS CITY—Maguindanao women clad in brilliantly-colored traditional skirts or malong and head-wraps or tandong, listened intently to Sergio Boero, an Italian specialist who helps producers to market ethnic crafts in the global market, as he explained the concept of “design management.”
“Those who take care of the numbers side of marketing and distribution have realized that they have to work more closely with the designers and manufacturers—people like yourselves,” he said, at the product packaging and marketing workshop organized for the weavers and other women entrepreneurs by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
“When marketing, focus on your culture. Enable the buyer to learn the back story of yourself and what you make,” said Boero, who was pleased to learn from Janaria Magangcong, head of the weavers’ association, that they already had their own website.
“My son is into IT and helped us set it up,” she said proudly.
Janaria’s initiation into the centuries-old craft of Maguindanao weaving began with a handloom brought over by an in-law from Cotabato City, many years ago.
“I didn’t really know how to weave at the time, but it seemed so interesting, I asked to be taught the techniques,” said Janaria, who lives in Malapatan, Sarangani Province. It would be a way of earning extra money for her family, she thought.
Her sister-in-law Antang Magangcong, on the other hand, came into weaving through the traditional path. “I learned how to weave from my mother, and she in turn, learned from her mother. It was part of our lives ever since I can remember.”
Other women in the small, rural community of Barangay Balungis followed their example, and eventually they formed the 25-member Balungis Weavers’ Association. Most of them are family members of former combatants of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The women had to take turns at using the few handlooms available, storing their handiwork as best they could in a small bamboo shed and in their cramped houses, and packing and repacking them for show to buyers.
Recently, however, the weavers were able to consolidate the manufacturing, storage and marketing of their products into one facility—the Balungis Trading Center built by USAID through its Growth with Equity in Mindanao (GEM) Program, in partnership with the municipal government of Malapatan and the provincial government of Sarangani.
The GEM Program is implemented under the oversight of the Mindanao Development Authority.
The weavers’ association will help operate the center, now owned by the municipality, and will be responsible for its day-to-day upkeep and the charging of user fees.
The association was also provided by USAID with six new handlooms, which will enable them to keep up with production schedules as orders come in.
“This means more income for us women and more money for food and our children’s school fees,” said Antang.
Barangay official Raop Harid, himself a former MNLF combatant, expressed appreciation for USAID’s assistance, which supports economic growth and demonstrates the continuing commitment of both the U.S. and Philippine governments to fostering peace in conflict-affected areas of Mindanao.
“This has also helped to recover a tradition that was almost lost to our community,” Harid said.
In addition to being a source of livelihood, the weaving has been an outlet for the women’s creativity, as they bridge the gap between the old ways and 21st-century buyers.
Janaira described the delight she felt in seeing intricate designs unfurl from her loom, and in combining unusual, nontraditional colors, at which she excels. Like all true artisans, she found herself experimenting with pattern and design.
“What sets the Balungis weavers apart is that they’re flexible and willing to innovate using indigenous techniques,” said Emil Englis, a Davao-based fashion designer and instructor who is working with the association members to develop new products for the modern consumer market, from table napkins to wallets and brooches.
“Abroad, handcrafted work stands out, but the weavers’ openness to new colors, patterns and concepts allows us to take production to a different level,” added Englis.
Published in M Magazine, June 20,2012