MANILA, Philippines—For the indigenous peoples of the Philippines, their carvings, accessories, delicacies, clothes and fabrics are more than just items for sale. They are also tangible expressions of the culture and traditions that they steadfastly hold on to even in these times of high technology when most everything can be done in an instant.
Some women leaders from indigenous groups, however, admit that these traditional arts and crafts are slowly fading away because of their dwindling economic value. They have the skill and the unique product line, but they seriously lack a market for them, thus discouraging the new generation of tribal men and women from learning these crafts from their elders.
This is a shame, according to Nilda Mangilay, a Subanen from Zamboanga del Sur, for there is great economic potential in these unique, traditional goods, if only the locals can find a way to bring them to a bigger market and do more than just sell beads, embroidered products, handwoven mats, bags, baskets and homemade food during annual town fiestas.
Mangilay, who visited the Inquirer recently along with other women IP leaders, says that the dream is to have a place in Metro Manila where all the indigenous people can showcase their goods, in the hope of getting more orders and augment the family income back home.
Indigenous peoples, says Lily Quindo, a B’laan from South Cotabato, are hard pressed to find more sources of income as they remain among the poorest in the Philippines. They are also faced with the possibility of losing their ancestral domain, while they suffer from lack of access to basic social services such as health and education.
Not all of them even get the benefits of the government’s conditional cash transfer program, which is supposed to help the poorest people in the Philippines. Deriving extra income from their products would thus go a long way in helping them out of poverty.
These IP women were among those who took part in “One Week, One Voice,” which was one of the activities lined up this month for the Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Campaign of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples and various partner organizations, with the theme “K-Pnay: Karapatan, Kapayapaan at Kasarinlan ng Katutubong Kababaihang Pilipino” or recognizing the role of IP women in defending and preserving IP rights and culture.” October is Indigenous Peoples Month.
Judith Marames, an Ibaloi from Baguio City, says indigenous people will need help in improving the design and finding a steady market, especially in Metro Manila where consumers appreciate the value of handmade and traditional arts and crafts.
“We are hoping to have our own place where all indigenous peoples can showcase their products. The potential income can help us fulfill our dreams, like putting all of our children to school and raising our standard of living,” says Conchita Bigong, an Alangan Mangyan from Mindoro.
The Ibaloi tribe, Marames says, can showcase its woodcarving and weaving skills to the market. The Subanen, meanwhile, are known for their beadwork and embroidery. Also, the Higaonon from Misamis Oriental can feature handwoven goods as well as preserved fruits, such as jackfruit and passion fruit, and calamansi juice. The Ata Bukidnon of Negros Occidental produce homeware from pandan leaves, such as placemats, while the Mangyan of Mindoro are known for its nito and rattan products as well as hibiscus (gumamela) juice, coffee and honey.
“Producing these goods is part of our culture,” says Higaonon Nena Undag in Filipino. “These are what we do in between the agricultural cycle, and we can improve on them if we could only have access to more raw materials or have better capitalization and marketing skills.”
What they need may not seem like much, but can actually change the lives of indigenous peoples for the better.