By FROILAN GALLARDO
Special Correspondent .
MALAYBALAY City — At the strike of dawn, around 80 Tagolwanen women in Barangay Can-ayan roused from their beds to make mattresses and baskets for the markets in Manila and the US.
They would work feverishly before the sun would rise over the mountains and before the sodsod grass, the main material for the mattresses and bags, would welt in humidity making it difficult to weave.
Each of the mattresses they make is distinct to the creative style of each of the weaver. Not one mattress is similar.
“Each one of us learned the art of weaving from our mothers. They too learned the art from our grandmothers,” 56-year-old Eileen Sumala said.
Sumala said the weaving of the banig, baskets, nets and containers is always part of the traditional art of the Bukidnon-Tagolwanen tribe.
“Weaving is always part of me and now I am teaching my daughter how to weave,” said Sumala who learned weaving from her mother when she was still 12-years-old.
Sumala said as she weaves each of the sodsod grasses into a banig, she would always think about the relationship of their tribe to nature.
She said the mountains land, stars and flowers designs they weave are part of the nature they have experienced.
Sumala said weaving has been a tradition of the Bukidnon-Tagolwanen tribe but was nearly forgotten when prices of the mats dropped to almost nothing.
“I used to walk seven kilometers to Malaybalay to sell my banigs and they only buy it cheap,” Sumala narrated.
She said city folks buy their banigs as low as P300 or worse exchange them for a couple of sardine cans.
Sumala said with no clear incentive, many of the Tagolwanen women stopped making banigs and baskets.
This was the situation that Lorielinda Bella Marte, a community organizer, found more than seven years ago.
Marte said she was impressed by the mattress that was given to her as a wedding gift that she went looking who weaved the beautiful banig.
“I found Nang Eileen to be the only Tagolwanen weaver left. The rest have stopped to practice the tradecraft,” Marte said.
Marte said she found from Sumala that the other weavers stopped because of low prices of their products.
She said she designed a scheme that buyers have to pay a high price for the products weaved by the Tagolwanen women.
“What the buyers do not understand is that each of the product are unique and each have individual imprints of the weaver,” Marte said.
Marte said she was able to convince the other weavers to go back working — from Sumala to now 80 weavers working.
She said the women have organized themselves into an association—Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association—to avail of government assistance.
Marte said the women have wisely use social media to reach out to potential clients.
“They now have a website, Facebook account and Instagram,” said Marte who now chairs the Tagolwanen Women Weavers Association.
Sumala said she is happy with how things turned out for them.
She said from her earnings, she was able to send a son to school. The boy graduated as a new teacher last March.