Basket making is the first form of weaving, said Robert Lane owner of Silahis Arts and Artifacts Inc..
Man began to twist dried leaves together to form rope. By coiling or interlacing these fibers they eventually formed what we call baskets. Baskets by definition are lightweight containers used to hold or carry things many times its original weight. These are typically made from any interwoven strips and Philippine baskets are usually made from wood or plant fibers like pandan, rattan, nito and bamboo.
During the FITE Exhibit we were introduced to the many traditional types of baskets Bob collected over the years. This exquisite collection features various sizes and types of containers including plates, place mats, egg baskets, fruit baskets, rice containers, bags and even art pieces not commonly seen in our usual souvenir shops.
A collection of baskets normally does not capture my interest until I tried creating one for myself. Thirty minutes after Bob’s very casual show-and-tell we gathered in front of Sublito Tiblak, a native from Brook’s Point – Palawan who showed us how he made the basket they call Tingkop.
Tingkop is a rice storage featuring a container and a cover. It is ordinarily between 1 feet to 5 feet in height. They also make miniature ones around 3 to 4 inches in height because the big ones are just too big to be brought home as souvenirs.
Tingkop is made from interwoven strips of Busnig wood. The wood of this plant (or tree) is native to Palawan but is not a common material for other basket-making groups.
The collection ofTingkop he brought normally featured different patterns resembling stripes, plaid and twill patterns. These patterns are derived from plants or animals native in their area. It comes in natural ivory and brown colors. But I found the dyed black color very alluring.
I got to try out basket weaving during the interactive demo and it was a little tricky the first time since we had to not only interweave the strips but also create a twill pattern. Honestly it’s a bit confusing. One begins to understand why silence is an artisan’s companion since complete focus is required to complete a project.
Equally fascinating were the mats or banig created by Sariffa Dakula. Sariffa is from Kuimalarang, Zamboanga del Sur, which is around 8 hours bus ride from the city of Zamboanga. When she showed me photos of her works in her cellphone, my jaw dropped. Sariffa’s mats are very colorful and feature 3D geometric patterns in different colors. I couldn’t believe we have mats designed that way.
The following images are borrowed from Sariffa’s facebook album.
As Bob mentioned, we can only imagine the tremendous amount of time and creativity put into the planning the weaving of these baskets and mats. Unlike how the urbanized designers do their work, artisans do not sketch their ideas. They imagine and then execute. Both Sublito and Sariffa learned how to weave at a young age and have been weaving ever since. No wonder they craft such fine work. They are so good that they can probably weave even in their sleep.
The fact that they also gather and prepare their own raw materials make their work more magnificent. The leaves and barks of trees are the primary source of materials, even for dyeing. Baskets and mats are the first “eco-friendly products”. These crafts are considered ephemeral but depending on the fiber and its use, they could pretty much last for a lifetime.
After gathering leaves or barks, they are stripped and further refined and, if needed, dyed by the weaver. This is why one basket can take about 2 to 3 days to make. A mat with a simple pattern takes around a week to finish and months for very complicated ones.
Cloth, the very material fashion designers use today, was derived from these traditional crafts. The moment I learned this I appreciated baskets and mats even more.
Nowadays, these traditions appear to be just novelties. But they were once the way of life of our ancestors. After the experience I am all the more challenged to see where this new knowledge and skills bring me.
Until then I can only marvel at this experience. And for those who want to be marveled, drop by Metropolitan Museum to see some of the baskets and mats featured in their collections.
The FITE Exhibit runs from July 8 to September 12, 2015 at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Don’t miss it!