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Rediscovering Lanuza’s Agsam: Surigao del Sur’s indigenous fashion statement

NOMADS LEN’S by: Erwin Mascarinas / Travel and Wildlife Photographer

Indigenous crafts and arts passed from one generation to the next has slowly become a rarity. Often most some of the cultural crafts of our Indigenous People (IP) have slowly vanished as the younger generation has become less and less interested on traditional works of arts, or in this case traditional fashion accessories.

This year during my trip to Surigao del Sur, I was able to rediscover a familiar cultural craft, an example of an IP practice being handed to a wider audince in the community.

3-years ago along the coastal town of Lanuza, a local indigenous product started to regain its due recognition as a fashion accessory not only among the locals and in other parts of the country but also abroad. Yet the uniqueness of this fashion brand is that it is made out of a plant; an indigenous fern known to IP’s as Nito or Agsam.

The Nito plant with the scientific name of Lygodium Circinnatum is a large fern locally known as Agsam and grows abundantly in the town of Lanuza and in other parts of Surigao del Sur. The Agsam strips from the ferns long stem is the material used for the making of the accessories, which the indigenous Mamanwa tribe had been using in weaving and crafting for several centuries.

From the traditional tribal hand and ankle bracelets and necklaces; the product has evolved in its designs to compete with the growing market and utilizes newly added stones and even gems to further enhance the beauty of the native craftsmanship.

The heart of the industry in Mindanao is in Caraga Region, along the coastal town of Lanuza in the village of Nurcia, where a private homegrown business helps sustain the livelihood of around 100 households. As well as giving extra income to other families from other barangays in Lanuza as well as neighboring towns, who brings their intricate hand woven products to Lanuza to be marketed and sold in bulk to other parts of the Philippines.

“I’ve never imagined the product and our small business will grow to be what it is today. We started here with a small cooperative back in 2000, after that the cooperative slowly died and then I realized take it on my own and had the product and business licensed in 2003. It was a very hard start and I’ve learned a lot from our experience,” said Norma R. De Lara, proprietor De Lara Agsam Novelties.

De Lara pointed out that the community and other women from nearby villages and towns are now earning from the woven product and have been a huge source of livelihood.

“The most popular and cheapest product would be the 4-line bracelet, which I bought from them with a total quota of 20,000 pieces a month paying around 120 thousand pesos. That’s just one of the products brought to my shop from different parts of Lanuza and Surigao del Sur by mothers who earn even in the comfort of their own homes. The other products which requires more details and designed are made here in the barangay with my neighbors,” she said.

Rosalyn Montero, a mother of four children expressed her appreciation from the product which she weaves.

“Agsam weaving had been a huge help to my family and me; I have sent my children to school because of it. It’s been essential in our daily expenses since my husband is just working as a labor in a construction. Earning an additional 200 to 300 pesos each day makes a lot of difference especially from a small fishing community that does not have a lot of alternative livelihood options for women,” said Montero who had been hand weaving the Agsam sheets since 2000.

Presently the product has reached other parts of the Philippines and had been showcased in fashion shows, trade fairs and orders had been coming as far as Italy and other parts of Asia.

For the community, the small enterprise has come a long way not only in helping families earn extra income but helped in bringing the cultural identity of the IP’s of Surigao del Sur to the rest of the country and hopefully to the world.

Women in Barangay Nurcia, Lanuza makes use of their free time in hand weaving.
Agsam fibers with one of the simplest single layer design for bracelets and necklaces made by the Indigenous Mamanwa women.
A traditional Agsam hand woven product with a modern designed necklace.
A traditional Agsam hand woven product with a modern designed necklace.
A blend of modern and traditional bracelet design.
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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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