Date posted: August 22, 2023

The threads that bind: The story behind Zamboanga’s Yakan Fabrics

Weaving has always been a communal activity among the Yakan indigenous group, one of the indigenous groups in Zamboanga in Mindanao. Just as it had been among other weaving communities, Yakan women gather together to deftly create the memories of their mothers and grandmothers into a handsome textile.

Distinct for its vibrant colors and geometric patterns, figures depict life in their village as well as Islamic symbols.

Hand-loomed Yakan fabrics are used for making traditional garb such as the square head cover or belt referred to as Seputangan that is used by women; as the fitted, long-sleeved blouse called Badju Lapi embellished with gold, silver or bronze buttons; the fitted trousers called Sawal, which has vertical stripes as design. Interestingly, a Pinalantupan skirt is wrapped around the Sawal.

Besides their ancestors' narrative that comes in between the cloth, the modern Yakans also have a courageous and hopeful story to tell on their own. They were originally settled in Basilan where the tradition began. But because of the armed conflict in Mindanao, they had to evacuate and seek refuge in Mindanao City.

The Yakans may be known for their lightheartedness and resilience. Their survival as a tribe was hinged on their culture and past, which is a trait of the Yakans' great humanity. In Zamboanga City, a hub called the Yakan Weaving Village isn't just a venue for selling the handmade weaves but a place to engage and learn more about the people and the stories behind their creations.

Many have resettled in Basilan and brought back their weaving tradition. A hopeful testament to the preservation of their heritage.

Traditionally, the weaving material is made from pineapple and abaca fibers that were dyed using extracts from leaves, roots, and barks. Through the years, with the dearth in demand and quest for instant profit, chemical dyes to quickly churn out the woven items as tourist souvenirs became popular.

In past years, however, with the revived interest in handwoven Philippine fabrics, attempts to return to the authentic way of dying Yakan fabrics are returning.

The graphic patterns and the bold colors of Yakan fabrics cut across time that somehow conveys a timeless appeal. Whether in their authentic form or embellished, Yakan fabrics are finding their way as modern Filipiniana outfits, fashion accessories and as home decor.

In preserving the Yakan weaving tradition, efforts by the government, NGOs, and individual creative entrepreneurs have resulted in collaborations among the indigenous weavers. At the bi-annual Manila FAME, beautiful weaves by the Yakan Weaving Village are showcased in their beautiful glory.

Through the years, the export-driven show showcasing the Philippines' best has attracted Filipino designers to work with the versatile material.

Martha Rodriguez of Vesti whose handcrafted leather bags feature the weave. Maco Custodio has placed a cool spin to the fabric in his Yakan sneakers and backpack. Malingkat Weaves brings home the point in their elegant Yakan Seputangan cushion covers.

Lately, innovation of the fabric is palpable in its subdued colors. You can now see gray or neutral-toned table runners. But the geometric symbols—the spirit of the Yakan people's narrative—are strongly preserved.

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