The Precedent of Cloth: Baskets and Mats (FITE Part 4 of 6)

Basket making is the first form of weaving, said Robert Lane ‎owner of Silahis Arts and Artifacts Inc..

Robert Lane casually lecturing.
Robert Lane casually lecturing.

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.

Fruit tray made of found twigs / branches
Fruit tray made of found twigs / branches
Tote bag
Tote bag
Woven bag
Woven bag
The perfectly symmetrical star patterns of an egg basket. Robert Lane's personal collection.
The perfectly symmetrical star patterns of an egg basket. Robert Lane’s personal collection.
Masao-sensei eagerly asks about the materials and techniques used for the baskets.
Masao-sensei eagerly asks about the materials and techniques used for the baskets.

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.

Happy Sublito with a variety of Tingkop baskets on his table
Happy Sublito with a variety of “Tingkop” baskets on his table

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.

Trying to weave
Trying to weave using busnig. The material is very fine and easy to handle, but the weave pattern is difficult to execute for first timers.
Ziggy who just happens to be along Roxas blvd. is my designer companion for today's interactive demo.
Ziggy, who just happens to be along Roxas Boulevard, is my designer companion for today’s interactive demo.
Sublito teaching us to weave
Sublito doing hands-on demonstration to one of Fite’s organizers

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 lovely lady on the right is Sariffa. And she did the fabulous mats shown below.
The lovely lady on the right is Sariffa. And she did the fabulous mats shown below.

The following images are borrowed from Sariffa’s facebook album.

Shariffa
Sariffa with researcher Elmer Gragera-Ibañez Hernandez-Nocheseda doing a weaving demo at the FITE Exhibit. Photo borrowed from Sariffa’s Facebook Album
shariffa_02
Sariffa with Anthropologist Anna Paini holding the finished mat. The pattern was designed using only her her tacit knowledge in mat weaving.
shariffa_03
Again with Anna Paini, Sariffa shows another mat design. The effect when colored fibers are interlaced creates a lighter or darker color when perceived from afar.

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.

basketry_06
Labin Tiblak, Sublito’s wife, splitting and stripping the bark of the “busnig” plant which will become the materials for the “Timpok” basket.  This photo was taken from a later event at the National Museum of Anthropology.

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.

basketry_01
This is the finished strips of busnig. Half of the strip is naturally dyed with black. The dye comes from the burnt sap of another indigenous plant found in Palawan.
basketry_04
The miniature “Tingkop” baskets are handwoven by the women since it is too small for men to make. This photo was also taken during the Palawan Mat and Basket Weaving Demonstration at a later event at the National Museum of Anthropology.
A less complicated mat pattern can be finished in a week if done without interruption. This mat is a work in progress by Celita Salunday, a Tagbanua from Palawan.  The material used for this mat are dried pandan leaves.  This photo is also taken during the demonstration at the National Museum of Anthropology.
A less complicated mat pattern can be finished in a week if done without interruption. This mat is a work in progress by Celita Salunday, a Tagbanua from Palawan. The material used for this mat are dried pandan leaves. This photo was also taken during the demonstration at the National Museum of Anthropology.

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!

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