MENTION weaving and Mindanao women will be among those top of mind.
There’s the T’nalak dreamweavers of the T’boli tribe in South Cotabato, the Dagmay weavers of the Mandayas in Davao Oriental, and the labur tiyahiran of the Tausugs, among several others.
But little has been told about this recently promoted intricate woven fabric from Maguindanao, the Inaul.
Inaul is the traditional woven cloth of the Maguindanaon. It is the Maguindanaoan word for "woven".
For years this cultural icon has been a "given" among Maguindanao women: they wear it, they weave it, and sell it as "malong". It was only in 2017 when the province of Maguindanao and the Department of Tourism in Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (DOT-Armm) decided to highlight the fabric that represents the province as one tapestry, thus the birth of Inaul Festival.
During the opening day of the Inaul Festival last February 8 in Buluan, Maguindanao, while visitors and the rest of the community were busy joining the festivities, dozens of Maguindanaoan women weavers in the province’s Women Center were weaving Maguindanao’s fabric of pride and heritage.
These women from 10 participating municipalities of Maguindanao were joining for the Kapaginaul weaving competition, one of the inaul-related events during the festival along with an inaul gown exhibit, search of the oldest inaul contest, and the Inaul Trade Expo.
“We are here to weave, like we always do,” master weaver Normina Collie, 52, shared even before being asked. She might have automatically understood, upon seeing me with my pen and camera that I’m a journalist wondering what the bunch of Maguindanaon women are doing.
Normina is a 7th generation weaver.
In her family alone, Inaul can be traced as far back as 1920s and discussing it would take two days of non-stop narration.
The “bara-bangsa” fabric is first woven and worn mostly by the Maguindanao women from the Royal Houses.
“Before, these aren’t for sale. The design of one Datu shall not be copied by another, they have their own unique designs that only their family can wear,” Normina said.
Speaking for the present time, she said that some designs made by the weavers from their dream or imaginations can now be replicated for as long as it is not similar to what the royal houses’ designs are.
There are some 20 known original designs of the fabric, these are the “binaludto” (rainbow), “makabimban” (stripes), “panigabi” (taro), “sinodengan”, “matampuhay-seko”, “kawang” and “sinukipan” and “binaludan” (wave-like).
It usually takes two to four days to make one length of inaul.
Opposite Normina's loom was Norhaya Gulang, a 40 years old weaver of Datu Piang town. She was with her aunt, Bia Abdullah, 59, also a weaver.
“I’ve been weaving for 10 years, I started late, I learned it from my parents and relatives like Aunt Bia,” Norhaya said in vernacular. She learned the art of inaul in just a month.
Weaving Inaul, she said, has become their source of livelihood as it offers a good income given the rising demand for the fabric in the market.
Today, the market price of a 2 meters x 4 meters inual malong is at P1,000 to P1,800 depending on the design. She said their capital for a one standard size of inaul is from P500 to P1,000 each for the raw materials. Aside from malong, Inaul can also be used for making a tubaw and shawl.
The needed raw material for this Maguindanaon fabric is a thread or what they call “tanor.”
Challenges in weaving
Weaving is not easy, Norhaya said.
“Kasi dahil sa detailed design, minsan napuputol ang mga sinulod (thread), pero pag natuto ka na talaga, kaya naman po,” she shared.
Master weaver Normina also shared that one of the problems the industry is facing that greatly affects the weavers is the excessive reselling of merchants who buy their products at very low prices.
“Kaming nagwe-weave nahihirap din po kami kasi halimbawa kung ang capital namin is P1,000 tapos kung ibenta namin konti lang yung tubo pero grabe makatubo yung nagbubuy and sell, yung mga businessmen. Hindi kami masyado nakakapatong kaya hindi umaangat ang buhay namin, pero okay lang naman kami kasi nakakaraos naman din,” she said.
For instance, Normina said, a P1,500 Inaul malong is being resold at over P2,000 earning the seller an immediate P500 profit per piece.
“Aside from the money we used to buy raw materials, we put our effort into it. Our real capital here is yung mga katawan at ang pagod, sumasakit na ang ulo, batok, likod at mata naming just to weave,” the master weaver aid.
Inaul Festival Director Nulfarid “Datu Paul” Ampatuan in a separate interview believes the weavers deserve more given their products' cultural and labor value.
“With the materials used, the time element, and the painstaking labor of our weavers, I think we should sell it at a higher price, we should give higher value to this cultural fabric,” he said adding that they are currently fixing the pricing to make it beneficial to the weaver.
Given the focus and promotion earned by Inaul through the Inaul festival, the fabric was catapulted into the limelight resulting to the continued rising of demand for this cultural icon.
“Unlike before, malakas na talaga ang bentahan ng Inaul ngayon, nagkakaubusan po ng mga Inaul malong,” Normina said.
Maguindanao has some 300 women weavers creating Inaul and filling the massive demand.
Normina admitted that with the present demand, weavers can’t keep up with it.
“We really want to make Inaul for those interested, but how? It is not just a simple fabric that is why we are appealing to all the customers to give us ample time to make their Inaul,” she shared adding that more weavers are needed to meet the demand the industry is enjoying.
Envisioning that Inaul may go commercial in no time, Ampatuan underscored that they want to limit the creation of Inaul to weaving.
“We will definitely not go to commercial printing of Inaul designs, because if we do, it is like we lose the very soul of this fabric, we want to keep its authenticity,” he said.
From generation to generation
To produce more Inaul and to sustain the culture that is Inaul weaving, the government has trained women to learn the art.
“We have trained around 180 women last year. Our youngest trained weaver is 18 years old. We want to encourage more young weavers to learn Inaul so we can pass onto them the culture and appreciation for this Maguindanao heritage,” Ampatuan said.
Looming machines and rolls of threads were also given after the training.
Normina, who learned weaving since she was 12 years old said she is more than willing to teach the younger generation, a thing some of the elders failed to do in their time.
“I got this skill from my lola, I had this not because she was teaching me but because I learned from her by just watching. I thank her a lot for this is such a huge gift for me, more than inheriting a vast land. But maybe what went wrong before was that most of the elders kept this from the younger generation, wala kasi talagang lesson for us noon para matuto lang ng Inaul. That is why our call now is to spread this and let anyone know that those interested to learn are welcome to practice the art of weaving, we are willing to teach them,” she said.
Anyone can learn Inaul weaving even those who are not pure Maguindanaon. At present, Normina is teaching around 300 weavers in the province. The master weaver’s children are also into weaving.
Jawahir Abdullah, 20 years old, currently enrolled in the 12th grade of Gali L. Abpi College, Inc., is among the few young weavers in the province. She is juggling studies and weaving at the same time. Raised in a Inaul-making family, Jawahir learned weaving since she was still 13. She is the third child of her farmer father and mother weaver.
“Sobra po siyang nakakatulong sa pag aaral namin, wala pa po kasi nakatapos sa amin, wala din pong nag abroad so ito po yung kabuhayan naming. Sa aking pagiinaul ko kinukuha ang pambaon, pamasahe at pag-aaral ko,” she shared.
On weekdays she’s in school while weekdays she poured her time in weaving.
“I wanted to be a teacher someday but I still want to continue weaving as it became my habit. Aside from I’m earning from it, I also understand that this is our culture and I need to keep this alive,” the young weaver said.
Bia Abdullah who is weaving for 48 years now, despite opportunities to go abroad, chose to stay here and continue weaving.
“I choose to be here because I am bound and destined to stay here. I also want to put my labor in my country especially in my province. Also, Inaul weaving is a Halal work and that is important for me,” Bia said in Maguindanaon.
Inaul, a fabric of culture, peace and heritage has indeed weaved the diverse culture in the south and connected boundaries thereby creating one Maguindanao.