KABACAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 28 Aug) – Underneath a mango tree stands a wooden kiosk that serves as a weaving area for the Moro women in Bai Matabay Plang Village (BMPV).
Using dried strands of buri (Corypha Elata), these women manually weave bags and other accessories for wedding and other special occasions.
Buri is a large fan palm commonly found in tropical countries. Its leaves are sliced into strips, sundried and dyed.
Elma Guiambangan, a day-care teacher who serves as the leader of the women in the community, told MindaNews that she organized the women in the village to learn the craft of hand-weaving bags.
Though most of the women already know how to weave sleeping mats, Guiambangan said only six of them, including her daughter, know how to weave bags, pencil cases, pouches and other accessories.
There are 25 members of their group known as the Moro Women of BMPV. The village is located at the periphery of the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) campus.
“Most of the Muslim women already know how to weave because they learned it from their ancestors. But they mostly weave sleeping mats,” said Guiambangan, a mother of three.
One of the weavers, Fatima Taha, said that she used to work in someone else’s farm just to earn money. But when she learned how to weave bags, she stopped working in the farm.
Taha, 37 and a mother of eight, said she learned to weave sleeping mats from her grandmother.
Then, last year she learned to weave bags through the literacy program of the Moro People’s Core (MPCore).
Zaynab Ampatuan, executive director of MPCore, said the literacy program started in Barangay Pisan here.
She said the bag-weaving lessons were also first initiated in the same barangay, then they expanded to Barangay Kuyapon and to some communities in the town proper.
But for now, only the women from BMPV and Pisan are producing the buri-made bags, she added.
“It was one of our colleagues who already knew how to weave bags, she was the one who taught the women. Then Ma’am Elma is now the one in-charge of improvement,” Ampatuan said.
Guiambangan, who is also a volunteer literacy teacher for MPCore, said she has been encouraging other women to learn bag weaving so they don’t have to work hard in the farms.
“In a way, this is helping the women in our community. They don’t have to go to other places to earn money. But with this craft, they can just work at home and take care of their kids,” she added.
Guiambangan said she works half-day as a day-care teacher then the rest of the day with women weavers.
“I’m an education graduate but I did not take the licensure exam because I’m happy to teach the children, and I’m happy to spend my time with the women,” she said.
Small financial help
For now, Guiambangan said they are getting small financial help from MPCore, a people’s organization. She said the MPCore only relies on donations from different individuals and not from any funding agencies.
Guiambangan admitted that she too is shelling out her own money to buy raw materials. Part of her P4,000 monthly salary as day-care teacher goes to the materials for the crafts.
The buri leaves are bought in other villages here and in Pikit, she said. Some P500 worth of buri leaves can already make bags and accessories worth P10,000.
They are using ribbons as accents, but cost is very minimal, said Guiambangan, an Ilocana who is married to a Maguindanaon.
The women weavers, who can produce at three or more bags a day, usually earn a daily income of at least P150, she added.
“Of the total cost of a bag, we deduct the cost of materials, then 20 percent goes back to our women’s group, then the remaining 80 percent goes to the weaver,” Guiambangan said.
The 20 percent serves as seed money of the organization, she said. “So that if someone need medical assistance or in times of emergency, then we have something to give.”
The bags cost from P200 to P500 depending on the size and style, Guiambangan said.
Most of the orders, she said, are from the local market in Kabacan, from nearby towns, and their friends. “Sometimes we produce giveaways for weddings and other occasions,” she added.
“Since we have just started producing a much better quality of bags, we are slowly getting orders. For now, we have an average of 15 bags per month,” she disclosed.
When they started to weave bags last year, she admitted that the quality was not yet good enough. “But today, we can say that our products can now be sold outside of Kabacan. We are already exploring a possible market in Davao City.”