June 07, 2004
MARICRIS JAN TOBIAS
Bansalan, Davao del Sur – Practically, since she was born, *Salinta Monon had watched her mother’s nimble hands glide over the loom, weaving traditional Bagobo textiles. At 12, she presented herself to her mother, to be taught how to weave herself. Her ardent desire to excel in the art of her ancestors enable her to learn quickly. She developed a keen eye for the traditional designs, and now, at the age of 65, she can identify the design as well as the author of a woven piece just by a glance.
All her life she has woven continuously, through her marriage and six pregnancies, and even after her husband’s death 20 years ago. She and her sister are the only remaining Bagobo weavers in her community.
Her husband paid her parents a higher bride price because of her weaving skills. However, he left all the abaca gathering and stripping to her. Instead, he concentrated on their making small farm holdings productive. Life was such that she was obliged to help out in the farm, often putting her own work aside to make the planting got done and the harvest were brought in. When her husband died, she was left alone with a farm and six children, but she continued with her weaving, as a source of income as well as pride.
Salinta has built a solid reputation for the quality of her work and the intricacies of her designs. There is a continuing demand for her fabrics. She has reached the stage where she was is able to set her own price, but she admits to a nagging sense of being underpaid nevertheless, considering the the time she puts into her work. It takes her three to four months to finish a fabric 3.5 m x 42 cm in length, or one abaca tube skirt per month.
She used to wear the traditional hand-woven tube skirt of the Bagobo, of which the sinukla and the bandira were two of the most common types until the market began to be flooded with cheap machine-made fabrics. Now, she wears her traditional clothes only on special occasions. Of the many designs she wears, her favorite is thebinuwaya (crocodile), which is one of the hardest to make.
Today, she has her son to strip the abaca fibers for her Abaca was once plentiful in their area, but an unexpected scourge has devastated the wild abaca crops. Now, they are starting to domesticate their own plants to keep up with the steady demand for the fabric.
When she has work to finish, Salinta isolate herself from her family to ensure privacy and concentration in her art. At the moment, she does her weaving in her home, but she wants nothing better than to build a structure just for weaving, a place exclusively for the use of weavers. She looks forward to teaching young wives in her community the art of weaving for despite the increasing pressures of modern society, Bagobo women are still interested in learning the art.
Few women in the 1990s have the inclination, patience or perseverance to undergo the strict training and discipline to become a weaver. Salinta maintains a pragmatic attitude towards the fact that she and her younger sister may be the only Bagobo weavers left, the last links to a colorful tradition among their ancestors that had endured throughout the Spanish and American colonization periods, and survived with a certain vigor up to the late 1950s.
“If someone wants to learn, then I am willing to teach,” she says. “If there is none…,” she shrugs off the thought.
*Salinta Monon is a Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee.