FEATURE: Traditional weaving in Lanao Sur lives on

MARANTAO, Lanao del Sur (MindaNews / 17 Feb) – Rakimah Casidar, 43, sat cross-legged in front of the iroan (Meranaw loom) in her home in Ranaranao in this municipality. It was not a well-lit place ideal for intricate tasks such as weaving.

Rakimah Casidar saddles herself on her iroan, the Meranaw weaving loom with a makeshift support for her back, her spools of thread at her side for easy reach. (MindaNews photo by RIZ P. SUNIO)

There was no electricity in their place that afternoon and the sky was overcast. But because of a deadline to meet, she continues to move threads over another, then pushes them together using the strength of her arms and core using the surod, the iroan’s comb-like part.

She does this repeatedly after a week, or for rush orders, for three sleepless nights, to finish made-to-order blankets or furniture cover.

Rakimah, a pagaulen (weaver) also makes Meranaw landap, a malong (a tube-like wraparound); and langkit (strip of fabric), among others, embroidering them by hand.

Rakimah shared that her clan has been weaving for generations.

Langkit (strip of fabric with embroideries) and landap (Meranaw malong) that Rakimah Casidar made. MindaNews photo by RIZ P. SUNIO

“I thought about how I could make a living if one day, I lose my mother,” Rakimah shared. “This is why I asked her (mother) to teach me weaving every weekend.”

While weaving is part of the Meranaw culture, there was a time when its practice almost died when it no longer became a popular livelihood.

Preferring profitable, easier livelihood

Most Meranaws aspired to become corporate professionals, open businesses, get titles, and pursue other means to earn which are easier and more lucrative.

This caused ancient practices to become less preferred.

“Before the pandemic, there were barely any Meranaws who know how to weave. There are patterns and designs in Meranaw weaving that were forgotten and not passed down,” said Norkhalila Mae Mambuay, manager of the Babu Kwan, a traditional Moro-Asian restaurant.

Rakimah said even her siblings did not have any interest in the art. “They (siblings) found the arrangement of threads to create patterns confusing. One mistake in placing one thread over the other will ruin the entire pattern.”

Rakimah shows her ruined surod bitten by mice. The skill to make such tools has not been passed down yet to the younger generation. MindaNews photo by RIZ P. SUNIO

Rakimah had difficulty finding a job after she finished college. Thus, she decided to pursue weaving as a full-time business.

Out of her earnings from 1997 to 1999, she felt she had enough property already and so decided to stop weaving. This was also because of how tedious weaving is.

But in 2018, she had to weave again to sustain the needs of her children because her husband’s earnings from farming were not enough.

Rarity of equipment

Rakimah said she stopped weaving because weaving equipment was difficult to find and to replace ruined ones.

For example, the surod crafted by elders is made from the smoothest young bamboos. Its “teeth” must be cut very thinly and of equal lengths.

Rakimah said only the elders know how to make a surod. Furthermore, the skill to make other ancient weaving tools has not been passed down.

The surod is a bar of bamboo which is about a meter in length. It has very thin bristles almost as thin as the threads. The knowledge to make surods and some other weaving tools have not yet been passed down and can only be made by Meranaw traditional elders who reside in the municipalities of Bacolod Kalawi and Tugaya in Lanao del Sur. MindaNews photo by RIZ P. SUNIO

Rakimah said that before, she had difficulty looking for the threads she uses for her products. This was because the shop she used to buy threads from in Marawi’s Banggolo, the city’s shopping district, was lost during the siege by ISIS-inspired rebels in 2017.

Returning to weaving

When the Marawi Siege ravaged the center of economic activities in the city, weaving was introduced by government agencies and non-government organizations to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) for families to recover economically. Among those who helped out is the Maranao Collectibles, a cooperative that is helping Meranaw IDPs in selling their products.

“Culture is shared by generation to generation. It can be modified as expected,” said Sorhailah Latip Yusoph, director of the Mindanao State University Marawi Cultural Heritage Center. She added that even if some weaving patterns were not passed down, the weaving culture is still “very much alive.”

Cairon Dimasirang, 43, also a pagaulen, proudly said that the textiles she weaves are tougher than those in the market.

She vowed to continue the weaving tradition.

“I do not want to lose the practices that our ancestors did for so long,” she said.

More orders despite the pandemic

Rakimah, in an interview over mobile phone on Tuesday, said that she has mostly been receiving orders only from relatives, but her earnings from it have been good.

Rakimah Casidar saddles herself on her iroan, the Meranaw weaving loom with a backstrap. (MindaNews photo by RIZ P. SUNIO)

“I am thankful that despite the pandemic and that a lot of people have lost their jobs, I have been having more orders than before,” she revealed.

She said that her patrons had a hard time finding other weavers who would accept their orders, that is why she has been having too many requests.

Facebook helped, because she could now be easily found. (Riz P. Sunio / MindaNews)