Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Tiles Beneath You

St. Paul's Cathedral, Vigan
The beautiful flooring in several Filipino churches and homes caused me to look down and take notice. Sometimes they had contrasting patterns, while many others were quite unified. The stories that some of the tiles could tell; the faithful that shuffled their feet across the church floor, the wheels paths of childrens' toy trucks, or the pacing feet of revolutionaries.

I first took notice of similar ceramic flooring when in Malaysia, such as at the Perankan Mansion. I was accustomed to looking up, but now, such floor tiles encouraged me to also look beneath my feet.

Paoay Church

Mansion, now a museum in Vigan
Father Burtos Museum in Vigan

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Revealed Bricks and Star Skeletons

I love wandering through older parts of towns and admire the architecture. Although I appreciate the restoration work and other efforts at preservation, I admit that I am equally attracted to some of the crumbling or faded parts. The "story" of the building seems to be stronger and the overall effect, although a bit "gritty," often feels more authentic. 
Such was the case in Vigan, Philippines. In some places, the lime plaster on the 16th century buildings had begun to crumble away, revealing the narrow bricks - the same type I had seen being made in nearby San Nicolas. The shapes formed by some revealed bricks reminded me of continents; the contrasting texture was quite beautiful. 

Combine that with weathered and sometimes brightly-painted doors, and you have a great symphony of colors and textures. 

Hanging above several doors were some stars; perhaps they were decorations from many Christmases ago. Their skeletal framework contrasted particularly during the early morning light, whose tattered edges repeated the pocked markings on the lime-washed walls.   


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hanging out with a Living Legend

Knowing how eager my colleague and I were to visit the abel weaving studio, our Laoag hostesses patiently inquired en-route and willingly drove down narrow lanes until we arrived in the tiny town of Pinili. Even though it was early evening, the open-aire studio still was active. A framed poster indicated that we indeed were at the correct place. This was the weaving studio of Magdalena Gamayo, designated as a National Living Treasure. Through the tutelage of Magdalena, the complex, high-quality abel weaving techniques have been preserved for the next generation.

Amongst the weavers was a diminutive figure - none other than Magdalena Gamayo herself. Through the translation of our Laoag hostess, I learned that Magdalena, now aged 93, no longer weaves but still is teaching. She learned weaving from her aunt around the age of 16. Magdalena continued to refine her skills, learning new abel weaving techniques and even developing new designs. Her dedication to the craft, renowned quality, and passion for preserving the traditional abel technique prompted the national honor. What a treat to meet her.

Weaving designs of a high quality were seen at the different looms. A woman with grey hair demonstrated the abel weaving process. Magdalena explained that it may take five days to warp the loom. Both warping and weaving must be done precisely, as an error preventing the intended pattern to emerge might not be immediately noticeable. A skilled weaver could achieve about 2-3 yards in eight hours.


She also took a few spins for us on the humble-looking spinning wheel. I was surprised that such a rickety-looking contraption could work, but it did.
With the sun quickly disappearing, it was time to leave this little village and check into our hotel in Vigan. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Dakar Meets Madison

Looking at the women sitting in front of me, and I was harkened back to weddings or gatherings in Mali (see photo below). Nope, these boubou-clad women were attending the African Festival in Madison.  


Dancer and Drummer
Dancing and drumming at a Malian wedding
An easy walk from my condo, I first took a peek at the booths - some clothing, jewelry, bags, handicrafts, and face painting.  With plenty of higher-quality pieces from Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Tunisia already in my apartment, I wasn't even tempted. I did hit the one tent serving Senegalese food. I was happy to see Chicken Mafé, Senegalese variation of one of my favorite Malian dishes known as Tige Dege. To round it off, I had an ice-cold drink made from the hyssop plant.

Mafé meal at African Fest
While I enjoyed my chicken Mafé meal, I looked around me. Similar clothing as I had remembered, but the iPhones and iPads were not part of my West African memories. The "technology" that Malians carried around in 2000 mostly consisted of battery-operated radios. No selfies in sight then.
Of course with most any Wisconsin event, there was ice cream available (note that the neighborhood Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream was one of the sponsors).
As the sun went further down the horizon, the clouds began to glow in various colors. In the distance, the dome of the capitol was framed with warm colors. What a beautiful evening for a concert, celebrating the music and dance from diverse places of the African continent.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Landap Malong Cloth


While at the Manila Collectible shop near Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Manila, this cloth caught my eye.  According to the informative woman at the shop, this 50+ yr old piece (which I purchased) was hand-woven from Maranao with all natural dyes (tumeric for yellow, cikariro root for the purple) using the ikat weaving technique. When at the National Museum of the Filipino People, I saw the Landap Malong cloth amongst its textile display. From the descriptive label: "Malongs are of several types. One type landap (means 'pure'), consists of three panels of plain, solid colored cloth. Yellow panels are called binaning. The other colors for landap may be green (gadong)  and black (pangelemen). With the color yellow reserved for royalty, this particular malong is exclusively for the members of the Maranao royal family. Tapestry panels called langkit, woven using a specialized tapestry loom, join the solid colored panels. The langkit is what makes the landap type of malong unique among the tubular garments in the Philippines." 

More information on the designs



Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Piña Barong - You can Wear your Pineapple Too

I love pineapples. While visiting some museums in the Philippines, I came across a very sheer blouse that is woven from pineapple fibers. From the description: "The piña fabric for this Barong Tagalog (upper garment) is made in Kalibo, Aklan (one of the centers for piña production in the Visayas). Piña fabrics are woven from fibers processed from the pineapple of the 'Red Spanish' variety. The fabric is then embroidered in Luzon, either in Taal, Bantangas, or Lumban, Languna, hence the term 'Barong Tagalog' to refer to the type of embellishment that completes the fabric for wear (traditionally for men."
The Barong is considered the national dress of the Philippines. It is worn untucked and with an undershirt. Fewer places are weaving the variety made from pineapple fibers, which has made the lustrous cloth very expensive and highly prized. The embroidery style is known as calado. 


After watching a video on the delicate production process, I have even more appreciation for the final product.  It takes over an entire day to make just 1/4 of a yard. While a pure piña barong fabric costs well over $35 per yard, one that is blended with silk or other fibers will bring down the cost. Repackaging the piña cloth as high-end eco fashion has brought about a resurgence. The cloth is also being used for other purposes, such as tablecloths, fans, paper, handkerchiefs, and novelty items.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Brickmakers of San Nicolas

On our way to the weavers, our Laoag friends took us to the heritage town of San Nicolas. The area is known for its highly plastic Bantog clay, which is transformed into Banga clay pots, tiles, well braces, and bricks. A special type of molding, known locally as Damili, is utilized. This woman made one brick at a time, pounding the clay with a wooden paddle and then scraping off excess clay around a clamped metal mold.  

I like the interplay of light, shadow, and pattern made on these drying bricks.

All packaged up and ready to go!

We also watched a woman prepare some of the clay for pottery. Using just her hands, she mixed the raw clay with the sandy mixture, wedging and kneading it together on the small wooden board.