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Weaving Passion: The Yakan Women of Basilan, Philippines

I will never look back at fabric the same way I did. Watching Evelinda masterfully weave through each piece of fiber in her meticulous hands… I realized, THIS ISN’T JUST AN ART. This is passion, creativity, and hard work. A labor for the love of culture and a fight to keep an ancient tradition alive.

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I will never look back at fabric the same way I did. Watching Evelinda masterfully weave through each piece of fiber in her meticulous hands… I realized, THIS ISN’T JUST AN ART. This is passion, creativity, and hard work. A labor for the love of culture and a fight to keep an ancient tradition alive.
My mission: to see an indigenous Filipino ethnolinguistic textile-weaving tribe, the Yakan.

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I was invited to Basilan by Evelinda Otong to see a group of women weaving in action. Evelinda herself is a fourth-generation Yakan weaver who have been weaving since her childhood.

She kicked off her curiosity for these remarkable techni-color geometric weaves as she snuck around when her aunts were away from their tapestry loom.

“I would weave when they’re not looking. And when they come back, well, their designs turned into messes,” Evelinda recalled her childhood years, giggling in between our discussion about her life as a Yakan, their tradition and culture.

I arrive in Basilan and behold, a group of women weaving and breathing life and artistry in threads and looms.

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Each woman focuses on a design, carefully threading the fiber to create a masterpiece of textile that is yet to be sold at a fraction for its true worth.

Intrigued, I get loss in artistry and creativity, yet the sight of a group of militaries just a few meters away from us reminded me why this art does not get the attention it deserves.

The political restlessness in Basilan has been around for years. People’s fear to conflict hinders them to visit the region and experience or see this culture-rich part of the Philippines.

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The Yakan’s designs are handcrafted in mathematical and artistic perfection. “If you missed a pattern, then you would have to undo the threads and start all over again, “ Evelinda explains to me.

These woven textiles are then produced to distinctively colorful clothes, purses and accessories which are then sent to the nearby city where the Yakans have a centralized display store.
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From organizing distaffs, to preparing the warp of a frame, to looming and up to the weaving process of carefully drawing each thread between dents -- the art of handweaving takes passion, creativity and most of all, hard work.

And I get to witness all of these right before my eyes. It takes mastery, mental skill and physical work (having to sit for hours) to perfect a design that would take quite a while to finish.

One 2-metre design could take a month to work on and the artist is only paid at a fraction of the art’s true value.

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Evelinda says they couldn’t really trace back the real origin or date when the art of weaving first came to their tribe. Some elders said this art has been around long before the Second World War.

But this craft has survived since.

Through conflicts and wars, and even when the economy shakes. It survived because after all this time, it is not a commodity. Handweaving is a part of the Yakan’s tradition, culture and identity.

“I want to instill this art to generations after us”, Evelinda says with perseverance.

Looking at the fabric crafted by these women, I could easily see the richness, colors and deep culture embedded in each pattern and design.

But just like anything else in life, some things don’t stay the same. Not everyone in the Yakan tribe weaves. With access to technology and modern lifestyle, it is a struggle to keep the interest of the new generation.

A quick math comes to mind.

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I calculated the market price of those mass-produced machine-made textile against the artistic, creative and expressive works of the Yakans. To no surprise, those pieces from the mainstream market are far pricey; with no artistic value or roots of tradition at all.

I would never look at a fabric the same way I did. Watching Evelinda masterfully weaved through each piece of fiber in her hand I realized, THIS ISN’T JUST ART. This is passion, creativity and hard work. A labor for the love of culture and a fight to keep an ancient tradition alive.

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