Inabel and binakol, the weaving traditions of the Ilocos, served as take-off points of discussion in a forum tackling the plight of weavers and craftsmen in Southeast Asia and China.
The three-day forum, spearheaded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), tackled issues about the economic and cultural implications of weaving in the region.
Delegates from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and China were present to showcase their respective weaving traditions.
The Philippine delegation consisted of weavers from Paoay, Sarrat, Pinili, Ifugao, Aklan and Basilan.
Jesus Peralta, anthropologist, former director of the National Museum and Don Carlos Palanca Literary Awards Hall of Famer, talked about the protection of intellectual property in the case of “intangible” cultural heritage.
In this case, intellectual property refers to the entitlement of an individual and/or a community to its cultural heritage. Intangible cultural heritage is defined by Peralta as “being continuously recreated by a community or an individual.”
“This definition posits the question of the ownership of intellectual rights,” said Peralta.
However, the major issue lies in traditional culture being in the public domain. “Can it be owned? Technically, any entity claim the culture of any segment of it be owned by any entity,” Peralta said in his presentation.
To maintain and develop intangible cultural heritage through individuals, Peralta added, a person’s legal status must be clearly defined through legislative action, a relevant law, right of attribution, and an organization.
Lastly, Peralta reiterated the difference between intangible cultural heritage and intellectual property rights.
“Intangible cultural heritage differs from intellectual because it developed throughout generations and continues to be used and evolves within the society it originated from,” Peralta said.
Wanwiwat Ketsawa, director of trade promotion and business development department of Support Arts and Crafts International Center of the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand, said Thailand held training programs for weavers.
“Aside from the traditional method of weaving, the weavers are taught creating natural dyes, quality control, mixing and matching the colors,” he said. “The weavers are also trained in weaving fabric through green materials and recycling materials.”
Ketsawa also took note of the problems of traditional Thai weaving amid global warming and an aging society.
Charito Cabulisan-Cariaga, one of the Philippine representatives and head of a weaving community in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, talked about the formation of Nagbacalan Loomweavers Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
The cooperative faced the challenge of the inabel weaving tradition facing extinction due to modernization and economic constraints. The town’s loom-weaving cooperative started with 13 female weavers and has now grown with 30 active members with a total asset of around P3 million, Cariaga said.
The Nagbacalan cooperative’s most notable achievement is having its loom-weaving products showcased in an exhibit by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions by a British consultant.
“The cooperative was very successful in reviving the inabel weaving tradition because it was one of the community’s primary livelihoods,” Cariaga said.
Noridah Johan, the delegate from Malaysian Handicraft Development Corp., discussed the history of traditional Malaysian weaving and the government’s attempts to make it more profitable.
The songket, similar to the Philippines’ inabel and binakol weaving, was given focus as an essential part of Malaysian weaving tradition.
Johan discussed the goal of the Malaysian weaving industry to innovate the handwoven songket by incorporating modern motifs. The ancient designs, she explained, drew from the daily life of Malaysians, sometimes based on native plants and animals.
She said the Malaysian government had agreed to set up the National Craft Institute to support the local weaving industry.
Chinese delegate Zhou Jiu of Zhejiang University of Science and Technology discussed the history of weaving in China, with focus on woven-silk fabric.
The woven-silk tradition is characterized by the intricate designs based on Chinese history. The three most notable Chinese brocades are shu, song and yun, said Zhou.
During the forum, the delegates assessed rules and regulations of each member country on weaving, including import and export regulations.
The forum arrived at the decision to establish a national-level weavers’ associations in each country; strengthen regional trade networks; and promote intellectual property rights.
The forum also resolved to raise public awareness on traditional weaving through awards and recognition of master weavers.
The delegates also visited the local weaving communities of Sarrat and Paoay in Ilocos Norte.
The three-day forum in Plaza del Norte in Ilocos Norte also featured an exhibit of select pieces of handwoven and loom-woven fabrics from various countries.