Banig: A Weave of Cultural Significance

MANILA, Philippines - Banig or brown mat is a traditional hand-woven mat commonly used for sleeping. Banig weaving is a genuine treasure handed down as a tradition or a trade from one generation to another as it is widely practiced in the country. Its ingenuity is very much employed in its creation and the designs may vary from the practices of those from other regions.

In the northernmost part of Antique Province, 146 kilometers away from the capital town San Jose de Buenavista is the quiet and rustic town of Libertad. The municipality is a mountain and coastal town that is abundantly surrounded by the bariw plant (Pandanus Copelandii: Pandaceae family) which is a versatile material in mat weaving.

The town of Libertad has pioneered in banig weaving which has become one of the main sources of livelihood of the townsfolk. The banig produced in this town is being sought in the local and foreign markets because of its unique and intricate weave.

The art and beauty of banig weaving lie in the intricacy of folding over the strips of the material that will yield a wonderful design of interlace folds and entails a sequential order of steps to create geometric patterns and rhythm.

An arduous and very tedious process, banig weaving is some sort of a spell implied with hard work, determination and patience from the manugbanig (a person who weaves banig). They simply cut the bariw leaves using sanggot (an arc-shaped cutting tool) and a long slender bamboo pole to reach the leaves of high-grown bariw plant, the process locally known as the pagsasa.

The paghapnig (bundling) and pagriras (stripping off) are the next steps in the pre-weaving preparations. They gather and bundle the slashed leaves for stripping off thorns along the edges and into the middle ridge. By removing the ridge, the leaf is divided into two. Each leaf is piled separately until the bundle is stripped off with thorns. The leaves will be tightly tied up in bundle so that each piece will not curl up as it dries.

The Pagbulad or sun or air drying phase follows. Sun drying of bariw leaves under direct sunlight gives it a shiny brown tone and strengthens the fiber. Air-dried leaves are durable compared to the sun-dried one. Air-dried leaves create blackish spots or molds that destroy the natural luster of brown mats; however, the molds fall off easily during weaving.

The pagpalpag or the hammering phase is gradually done by beating the bariw leaves against a flat stone until they become soft and pliable with the use of a wooden club known as sampok. In some cases, bariw leaves are softened with an improvised roller log made of tree or coconut trunk that works like a rolling pin.

Paglikid is a process of keeping the softness of the bariw leaves and prevents the leaf strips from becoming stiff and crisp. The leaf is rolled one after the other in a round form; tightly rolling the leaf sustains its softness and elasticity. The unwinding of the linikid to straighten the spiraled bariw leaves is called pagbuntay.

Then follows the pagkulhad or the shredding of bariw leaves into a desired strand through the kurulhadan or splicer; a wooden-based shredder. Pagkyupis is the preparatory process to the weaving proper. Generally, bariw strands are folded into halves. Every kyupis consists of four strands, folded together in pairs; horizontally and vertically, with the glossy brown color in the outer surface.

Taytay is the framework of the entire mat. During this step, the size and the length of the mat is already assured. The width dimensions will be determined by weaving at the sides forward, making the edge-line on both sides of the mat known as sapay. Hurip is the folding of the remaining strands on the sides or edge-line to keep the weave tightly locked in place. The process also refers to the repairing of worn-out and damaged mat during weaving or due to continued use.

Gutab is the final stage in mat weaving. It is done by eliminating and cutting unwanted strands in the mat, including the excess strands after the hurip has been done.

Banig products has since gained importance prompting local officials and Libertadnons to establish the Banigan Festival to promote banig (bariw brown mats) and sub-products of banig as their One-town-One Product (OTOP). The festival also aims to encourage the banig weavers that the banig they produced could possibly turn into a highly valuable item that can be known not only in the province but also in the international market.

The Banigan festival is very popular for its banig weaving demonstration to visitors and tourists. Varieties of hats, bags, slippers and gowns made of banig are also exhibited during the festival. The celebration is also a tribute to the town's mat weavers who have preserved the priceless tradition of their forefathers. The Banigan festival is celebrated annually during the second week of March.

Thus, this traditional craft remains viable and continues to flourish in the wider market, but its sustainability depends on the willingness of the skillful young generation to keep alive the tradition that is the stamp of the real Antiqueno's ingenuity, diligence and dexterity.