Early Visayan Textiles were hemp-based, intricately woven from the abaca plant—a small, inedible specie of banana. The fibers of the stalk were usually stripped off to make ropes but citizens used it to make fabrics as well. Its surface wasn’t soft but it was extremely durable and good for long-term use.
Sinamay, piña, and jusi fibers are iconic Visayan textiles. These were used for traditional formal garments such as the barong tagalog and terno. According to Jean Mallat, a French traveller who came to the Philippines in the 1840s, sinamay and pineapple fiber fabrics were world-renowned. They were exported to different parts of Asia, Europe, and America, and were very much praised.
The production of these fine textiles, however, was a long, complicated, and conscientious process. The painstaking method took a whole day to produce half an inch of fabric. The needed time, effort, and expense to generate good quality fabric became a negative factor in the industry’s growth in the future.
The major producer of native textiles, from the Spanish period until the 1900s, was Iloilo. It was sometimes referred to as the “Textile Capital of the Philippines” in the 19th century. Their products were exported to Manila and foreign countries. Iloilo produced the greatest amount of sinamay, jusi and piña fabric. It was the only textile industry that achieved mass production while Cebu and other islands only had cottage industries. The rise of textile industry spurred the place’s economic growth.
According to historian Alfred McCoy, the industry declined when cheap Manchester cotton arrived in the country. The county’s access to the global market accelerated the decline of the local textile industry, especially with the entry of fine quality and cheap cotton from Europe, Egypt, and the United States of America. Traditional native fabrics lost ground to imported ones, cutting demand, and consequently cultivation of cotton, eventually leading to the overall decline of the local textile industry.
Ironically, the opening of the Visayan ports of Cebu and Iloilo to the world trade was detrimental to the native textile industry because of the cheaper alternative material. Because the materials were so fine and expensive, it could not compete with the cheaper textiles from Europe.
Small, specialized cottage industries in the Visayas that produce textile using traditional methods still exist. In Cebu, for instance, there are weavers in Argao that produce and sell fabrics such as hablon. They also produce a wool type of cloth called kinarnero.
Casa Gorordo Museum will hold an exhibit of native textiles from Iloilo, Cebu, and Mindoro during the Gabii sa Kabilin (Night of Heritage) on May 31.
Gabii sa Kabilin on May 31 will open the doors of 34 destinations in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu, and Talisay from 6 p.m. to midnight to encourage visitors to understand and appreciate these destinations as venues for cultural understanding, fun, and dynamic learning.
For more information about Gabii sa Kabilin, please contact (032) 418-7234 loc. 703, or visit www.facebook.com/rafi.org.ph or follow @rafiorgph on Twitter. Tickets are now available at any of the participating museums and heritage sites. You may also reserve your tickets through this link: www.rafi.org.ph/event/2013-gsk-reserve. (by Susanah Lapa/RAFI intern)
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The Freeman and the Ramon Abotiiz Foundation Inc. are producing several features on Gabii sa Kabilin to create pride of heritage among Cebuanos and encourage them to visit their museums. For comments, email Hannah.Aranas@rafi.org.ph.