Pandemic threatens revival of Bagobo Klata culture

DAVAO. Tangkulo done in Bobod. (Photo by Ace Perez)
DAVAO. Tangkulo done in Bobod. (Photo by Ace Perez)

(Last of two parts)

Editor’s note: The first part, “Lost and found Talanaw’wo” was published in September 2019

EFFORTS of the El'lom Association, composed of Bagobo Klata women, to revive their fading culture of weaving and bag making were disrupted by a bigger foe – the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

A few months ago, the tribe celebrated a feat after they finally found their last authentic weaver or Talanaw’wo – Apo Rita Agon.

Bagobo Klata youth leader and entrepreneur Kessia Tar had made a commitment that when they find an authentic weaver, she’ll push for the revival of their tribe’s unique yet dying culture of weaving by involving the women, old and young, in their community.

Apart from weaving Nawwó, an intricate Klata textile, the tribe’s women also started to recreate their cultural bag dubbed as Sonning.

Sonning is a detailed and sophisticated bag used mostly by Bagobo Klata men decades ago. It was believed that it’s an integral part of their "kasuotan" as no one leaves their houses without it.

In the process of reviving the product, makers have discovered that their tribe was into embroidery. For Tar, seeing her fellow Klatas remaking a product that their tribe has stopped producing for quite some time is fulfilling. Interest in making Sonning has been revived.

But an unexpected crisis erupted. The cultural revival was threatened.

“A few months ago, we started researching and started the bag making. When our hopes were high in reviving a part of our identity and giving livelihood to the community, Covid-19 happened,” Tar said.

The young tribe leader said the pandemic halted their production, which led to another wave of discouragement of the tribe’s women.

The El’lom Association only managed to finish a bag. Creating one isn’t easy.

In making the first-ever revived Sonning, three to four individuals were involved. These are the talanawwó (textile weaver), talatutuk (bead panel maker), and talatobbí (the sewer). It will take 15 to 20 days to make the item, given that the nawwó is pre-woven.

Sonning up for bidding

The pandemic has put the world on a standstill. Most establishments are closed, many lost their jobs – some of them are husbands of these Klata women.

Tar said most women of their tribe are housewives and given that their small livelihood activities in the association were suspended, women are left to rely financially on their partners who were also jobless for a moment.

“Kasagaran sa ilang bana kay construction workers, nag no work, no pay pud baya sila tungod sa Covid-19. Nagpait gyud (most of their husbands work in construction where operations were also suspended due to Covid-19. They were really struggling),” she said.

With this, Tar has initiated a bidding campaign to help her fellow Klatas. They decided to put their first-ever revived Sonning on bidding that started from June 4 to June 6 to support her community amid the crisis.

The bidding price started at P3,000 -- a cheap price for a tediously-made traditional product.

“I wanted to show to them that there is hope and they can earn money through our native products,” she said.

Unfortunately, only a handful participated in the bidding. The artisans felt people didn’t appreciate their work enough.

But Tar underscored that they are grateful to those who participated as it helped their community in these trying times.

The bag was sold to fashion creative director-entrepreneur Wilson Limon at P5,000.

“My first encounter with Bagobo Klata was last March, we visited the community with DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) to assess the products that they make in preparation for our product development session. I’ve seen the tedious process behind the Sonning bag, it’s not the typical bag that you see from the other ethnolinguistic communities. They have their own style and pattern, that’s why I’m getting interested,” he said in a separate interview.

He added he will keep the bag in his collections.


Even before the pandemic, Tar admitted that they already experienced difficulty in marketing their native products as the majority still don’t appreciate the level of authenticity and hard work put in every product made.

She said the Klata women easily get discouraged as the income generated from the products doesn’t always justify the level of work they poured to it.

“Ma-discourage sila every time dili ma-appreciate sa mga tao ang products and magreklamo sa pricing. Kapoy kaayo ang process sa among products tapos i-question pa sa uban ngano mahal (they get discouraged every time their works are left unappreciated and the pricing of the product is questioned),” Tar said.

To augment her tribe members’ income, Tar said they are selling facemasks and planning to make military supplies like uniforms, hammocks, and ponchos as these products are in demand in the market.

Another up for bidding

She also shared that Apo Rita herself is making another Bagobo Klata native product, Bobod, which will be up for bidding once done. Bobod is a term for Bagobo Klata’s tie-dye ways.

“I hope this time more will participate. Actually, I asked for a sign. If many will join the bid, maybe we shall continue making more cultural products but if there’s none, maybe we’ll shift to making other products for now,” she said.

The start of the bidding has yet to be announced.

Reviving their long-lost pieces of culture is already a hard task but with the pandemic threatening the country, the task becomes more challenging.


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