WHEN the Spaniards set foot in Panay, they discovered that the natives were wearing fabrics of different colors and design. These were hablon, from the word “habol” meaning “to weave.” The early Panayanons had been very good at the craft, trading the handwoven cloth to Chinese and other merchants.

Habol was an emerging industry then as the cloth is exported both abroad and local markets. Centered mostly in Iloilo, there were also weaving in other provinces in Panay but in Aklan the weavers concentrated on the pineapple-derived cloth called “pinya.” By the latter half of the 19th century hablon was one of the major exports of Iloilo.

In 1855, the Spaniards opened the Iloilo port, which soon opened its doors to the world. Exports had reached new heights and among these were the hablon.

With the port opened to foreign commerce, merchants from all over converged in Iloilo to seek new products and to sell. Among them was Nicholas Looney who saw the promise of commerce in Iloilo. Mr. Looney was not only interested in Iloilo but set his eyes on the sugar produced by the nearby island of Negros.

Crossing over to the Negros, Mr. Looney saw the potential of the sugar industry and put his hand into the development of sugar. Offering loans to sugar planters, the industry flourished. Vast tract of land in Negros was cultivated to produce sugar. This brought migrant workers to work the sugar fields, among those that came were weavers.

More and more sugar was produced and shipped out of Negros into Iloilo port and to export markets abroad. The lucrative sugar market slowly eased out the textile as prime export product. The hablon industry went into a decline and only produced mostly patadyong for the local market.

The decline continued but in Negros, particularly in Bacolod in the 60s, hablon became the craze. “Teral,” the contraption for weaving hablon, was all over homes and factories. There were hablon for clothing, accessories and even tapestries. One just had to wear hablon. As craze went, hablon did not last and in a flash the taste for the cloth vanished. Terals were either kept in bodegas or given away.

But hablon never disappeared. In Panay, the weavers of Miagao continue producing hablon. Popular hablon products are the patadyong. In Negros there was an attempt to revive the art of weaving but sadly it was not fruitful.

Handwoven cloth can still be found in Negros, particularly at OISCA center in Bago City. It produces silk. The production of the threads is done by machines but the fabric is woven by hand.

I believe that hablon will not fade away; new threads and concepts will sustain the cloth into the future.