April 29-May 04, 2023
On our first night in La Paz we settled in with amazing views of the hills beyond the Abra River. Our host, Amarte, was keen to hear about our project over some Basi Wine, and we shared our experience in Laoag and Vigan.
We told him that the Gabriela Carino-Silang Gallery was on our list to visit originally, despite being a personal collection containing items from many cultures outside of the Philippines. We couldn’t visit though because the contents were mostly destroyed in the 2022 earthquake, but he recommended that we get in touch with a local blogger, Dave (Silverbackbacker), who had moved to Abra from the UK, and knows the person who had inherited the collection. He allowed us to invite Dave for dinner the following night.
Amarte then decided that he’d put us in touch with his former college ‘Divine Word‘ (DW), as he’d remembered they have a small museum which features items similar to the ones we’re looking for.
The next day Amarte took us to the Lusuac cold springs before heading to Leila’s Loom Weaving. We discovered the Piningitan design almost straight away, which Leila informed us takes months to create, despite it appearing like one of the more basic designs.
She gave us the name of the various textiles, and told us that the scarf design (29806) was from the Manobo Tribe, slightly south of Abra, before showing us the production rooms and allowing us to take photos of her next to the equipment. There was nobody weaving when we entered because it was a Sunday, however there were so many amazing designs just halfway through production, and we could see how intricate and mathematical the process was. Her employees are all locals, so they tend to come and go as they please, picking up their designs and adding a little to where they left off. Before heading back out we thanked her, and bought a few small coin purses that were created from cut offs.
Later that night we met Dave the blogger, who informed us that it was quite hard to be granted a visit to the Divine Word museum, and that he’d tried three times already. We were lucky enough to have heard back from them though, so we prepared a letter to the president Father Gill. We were probably more likely to be allowed entrance due to having a commissioned project, which we’d outlined in our letter to the president. We also discovered later on that they’re trying to pursue their own initiatives of collaborating with external researchers and get involved with projects outside of their own establishment, which probably helped our case further.
We enjoyed some more Basi Wine with Amarte and Dave, watching the lightning strike over the hills. Dave also informed us about where we might find a pan flute, crafted by a musician who is renowned for his products and songs (Elmer Tadeo). It dawned on us though that the possibility of meeting him was slim, as we’d need our own transport to reach where he is, and also, there’s no mobile service in the town that he lives in. As Dave put it, it’s like you have to send a pigeon to arrange a meeting with him - in other words, it’s more a case of sending a messenger rather than contacting him directly.
Dave and Amarte also informed us that we’d struggle to find item 29816 (the three drinking vessels attached to each other) in a collection. They are usually kept individually, but may have been attached together for transportation either by the owners or by the collector, so they don’t often appear as a trio. While this type of vessel is still used today in rural communities and by their farmers, they are generally more of a disposable item, so we’d have better luck discovering discarded versions by searching in bushes rather than individual collections.
We were told that if we had time, we should try and visit Tayum church, which came into our conversation about the Tinguian tribe. The church was closed after the recent earthquake made it dangerous to enter, but interestingly enough, Dave told us that the Spanish built the churches with the addition of swirling sun symbols, so it would not only appeal to Tinguians, but would make them worship the church without fully acknowledging it. This is one example of how Tinguian beliefs were slowly warped out of the community, so that Christianity could become the dominant religion, where it has been now for over 500 years and has a large presence in Philippine politics and their national identity. We noted this as another form of decoy associated with colonial exchanges.
The next day we were given access to the DW Abraeniana Institute Museum, which in it’s own words, “is the foundation dedicated to the study, preservation and promotion of Abrenian culture, history, literature, language and the encouragement of indigenous liturgy, catechesis and theological reflection”.
Father Gill (the college president) and Dr Pambalan (Research Director of Abraeniana Institute) were both interested in our project. We waited roughly two hours before entering the Museum, and in the meantime, browsed some of the official Abraeniana Annual Journals which we later purchased as they contained some interesting chapters about the local Tinguian culture.
We were kindly given a tour of the museum, many of the items we were already accustomed to, having seen similar ones in various other museums, although there were noticeably more clay pots, labelled with various Chinese Dynasties. This led us to ask about how they’d obtained their collection.
The artefacts were given mostly by the priest who’d set up the collection initially, and contained some donations. We also discovered that some of the items were local family heirlooms, sold to the priest at times when the families were struggling financially, and interestingly enough, also exchanged at times, in return for excess to education.
Father Gill also explained that we can’t take photos of the collection, out of respect to the original owners of the artefacts, and those featured in the photographs. There are discussions of whether or not they can one day get permission to make the collection digital, published online to increase accessibility. This would be a lengthy process, so as of today the collection is only accessible to DW students. We feel their approach is responsible, and we respect their decision to impose this rule - we were very lucky to have been given access physically and hope they can eventually open their archives beyond the walls of DW College.
On our final day in Abra, Dave had kindly arranged for us to meet a local filmmaker and actor, Dexter Macaraeg, who creates short films aimed at sharing and preserving Tinguian culture and traditions. Dexter was keen to help us with our research and enjoyed hearing about the project. We mentioned that the artefacts were obtained through exchange with a Dutch museum, and were surprised when he asked us whether it was a Leiden Museum who had been involved. We later discovered that Dexter was aware of the Leiden Museum after researching traditional Tinguian designs during a personal dressmaking project he’d undertaken. It was very coincidental that the main book he’d used for inspiration and research (Embroidered Multiples) was created by the Leiden Museum, containing solely Filipino garments from their collection, which were, as he put it, “looted”. We don’t know the method of which the garments were obtained by Leiden, but it’s clear that Dexter feels that they were somewhat stolen. Whether he means literally or symbolically was not discussed, but the sentiment was not positive.
As an advocate for the traditional attire, Dexter was enthusiastic about the textiles within the collection, when showing him our PDF containing the items from RJMs exchange. He told us that we might find more information about the Manobo scarf by visiting Joy, a local seller of traditional clothing at Achilles 25, so he contacted her to arrange a visit to the store.
Joy’s shop contained many handmade items like jewellery and other accessories, along with items of clothing - some of which she’d sourced from Leila’s Loom Weaving. Joy, like Dexter, was very interested in our project, and wanted to help in any way she could. After we had some photos with her, Dexter found a lot of enjoyment in dressing Mica in everything from the Piningitan to a bamboo hat, and I discovered a feather headdress near the front of the store, similar to item 29811.
Joy, passionate about helping us, recognised the design we were looking for and confirmed for us that it originates South of Abra in Manabo. Dave and Dexter were eager to take us there the following day, but our schedule didn’t permit unfortunately. Interestingly enough though, Joy actually had a photograph of herself wearing the same garment with the Manobo pattern featured in RJM’s collection, and allowed us to take a photo of her screen, as a way of collecting a digital duplicate of Item 29806.
We then went to lunch with Joy, David and Dexter, where we shared a large amount of local dishes, and Dexter told us more about his film projects and community engagement. After having the day to reflect on our project, he started to share a story about a recent visit to a celebration held by one of the local indigenous groups. When telling us about their talent show and performances, he expressed both humour and frustration about young members of the group singing a popular Disney song from the movie Frozen:
“I asked them to do one of their (traditional) songs instead, not something from Disney. Something cultural, that’s who they are… and that’s their talent… and that’s decolonization”.
It was great to hear Dexter’s point of view, and his opinion on how he ensured his own collection of experiences were decolonised. As I understand, he hadn’t requested a traditional song simply for his own listening pleasure, but to also enforce the need for youth within indigenous tribes to carry their traditions forward into future decades - a message featured in one of his films named Am-Amma. Dexter explained that Am-Amma tells more than the story of a traditional cloth design, and further symbolises the need for the indigenous children to continue to discover and hold onto the history of their tribes through the messages woven into their textile heirlooms. It would be interesting to meet more filmmakers, and learn how the Filipino cinema industry has been colonised. As I realise, to this day, they only ever play American blockbusters or similar-styled British movies on the long journey coaches, both new and old Hollywood classics.
Just before leaving Abra, we decided to give one item from our collection to Amarte, because despite being our host, he provided a lot of great advice, put us in touch with Dave and Abraeniana at DV, recognised the design of the textile item we later found at the loom weaving shop and overall was a great help and advocate of our project.