Persisting the Weave

 

October 24, 2021

Euel Santos

74959936_10220713541492277_4229879390206427136_n.jpg
72425363_10220713542052291_5460618452311998464_n.jpg

The loom still with the unfinished inabel from yesterday is not going to weave itself. Charito is back to work on the loom until the day ends.

Charito Cariaga, a Paoay native of the Nagbacalan Barangay, is a local business owner of an inabel (a woven fabric native to the Ilocos Region) weaving cooperative. At 80 years old, she continues to keep inabel weaving alive through her proprietary role in the Nagbacalan Loomweavers Cooperative. 

She learned how to man the loom very early on. “I started weaving at an early age, about 7-8 years old, although our mom was a weaver, we didn't make weaving as our livelihood.” She and her siblings learned how to weave not to enter the inabel business, but to keep the native craft alive. They always had a loom prepared for them to learn and through practice, they picked abel (the craft of weaving inabel) up in no time.

 

“[Our mother] told us we should know how to value work.”

 

Inabel weaving and the virtue of this craft has stuck with Charito ever since. “I know how to weave. I know the parts of the loom and I know the process of weaving because I did a lot of weaving demonstration[s] when I was at UP Los Baños.”

How she got into the inabel business and Nagbacalan Loomweavers was a funny story, she recalls. “Well, the association, at first— it was an association at first— not a cooperative. [I was] volunteered by my late husband to be a leader for these ladies and gentlemen in our barangay.”  They had just got back from being abroad and there was talk of forming a weavers’ association in their barangay of Nagbacalan at a wake they attended. All the barangay officials had expressed interest in forming an association inspired by how Nagbacalan had a lot of generational weavers. They thought that this was a venture they could see themselves benefiting off of in the long run. With their talent and craft, they wanted to show everyone that the weavers of Nagbacalan had might and fight with their inabel.

Nobody wanted to lead the association, so her husband put her forward without her knowing. Much to her surprise, the weavers and the barangay officials arrived at their home to talk about starting an association. Her husband had much faith in her and her skills— he knew that she had what it takes to step up to the plate. And with every move she made, he was always on the sidelines cheering her on.

At first, she was hesitant to accept the position because she didn’t know where to source out the materials and she didn’t know how to start a business in that venture. Regardless, deep down, she felt like the stars were aligning.

 

She felt like she had to do this not only for her husband, but also for the weavers of Nagbacalan.

240431377_304746274787970_5679610190653358632_n.jpg
139054882_2970930036473348_1028839844684183296_n.jpg

She knew that she had some amazing weavers amongst her colleagues in Nagbacalan and that their skills are more than worth the shot; she said, “...kasi magaling silang lahat maghabi” (They all were tremendous weavers). It was a risk she was willing to take for the sake of inabel weaving and the Loomweavers of Nagbacalan. Soon, she headed the association of the 13 original weavers of Nagbacalan.

Nagbacalan Loomweavers, then-Association, now-Cooperative has grown into much more than a group of 13 weavers wanting to share what they’ve learned through their elders. With locally sourced raw materials from Baguio, they make various products such as pillowcases, blankets, and shawls. However, it’s not always easy creating the inabel (a woven fabric native to the Ilocos Region) to make products to sell. In a week’s work, each weaver can make 2-3 weaves. This goes to show that every thread weaved is handled with care. It has bore fruit in the lives of the members. Over the course of 15 years, from a humble group of 13 likeminded people, Nagbacalan Loomweavers, as a business, has grown into more than 30 weavers who are lucky enough to enjoy what they do for a living.

239881671_2026580184184959_5692671665984932898_n.jpg

Many odds were against them at first. They didn’t have all the materials but they had the determination to give it a try. They relied on their skills and knew that it was enough to move people. Carpe diem and let the wave run its course. Despite the hardship, they continue to live the craft that is abel. When asked why Charito persists, she answered

 

“With our [cooperative], I can see the children of the members going to school, going abroad for better jobs. I’m so proud that the lives of our weavers has [sic] improved. I feel so fulfilled and proud of our cooperative.”

 

This job, to them, is fulfilling in many ways. It helps them grow as individuals and as a group of people who share a common goal: to live inabel weaving. They are eager to share not only their inabel products but also inabel weaving.

Due to the nature of their business they tend to cater to tourists. With these inabel products, tourists get to bring home mementos from their journey to Paoay. Charito is thankful that the business gets its recognition from the local government and they are happy that they get the chance to spread their products globally through the tourists that visit them.

Admittedly, the business has had its fair share of problems when the global pandemic hit. Charito said it suffered a considerable amount. With the business relying on tourism for half of its profits, business massively slowed in 2020. Nevertheless, late last year, Nagbacalan Loomweavers has steadily rebuilt itself with opportunities popping up everywhere. They were able to get the support from the local government in featuring their handmade products on the Provincial Tourism page and this has helped them gain traction towards customers during the pandemic. Although the tourism aspect of their business slowed down, they maintain a stable pace of resellers and suki’s locally and internationally who continue to enjoy the products sent to them. Needless to say, Charito and the Nagbacalan Loomweavers remain unwavered during the pandemic.

Keeping a native craft of your locale, and relying on it for a living must be difficult. How does Charito do it? How does she honor the long-lived craft while still thinking of ways to innovate and grow your business? With Nagbacalan Loomweavers, Charito is able to give justice to the abel heritage with innovation to grow the business. Nagbacalan Loomweavers’s products integrate inabel with everyday household items. Thus, people from all over the world get to bring home a piece of a craft that’s been passed down from generation to generation.

240133502_283446073590726_2727793915936101376_n.jpg

In the midst of all the hard work, Charito manages to find the joys in being an important part of Nagbacalan Loomweavers: inabel weaving, and sharing the craft to people. Charito hopes to give glory to the forebears who passed abel to her and the Nagbacalan Loomweavers by persisting the weave. They hope to also pass down this native craft to the next generation of Nagbacalan Loomweavers. As long as she can, she wants to spread abel (the craft of weaving inabel) and hopefully, they experience the same joy that she has through the business and inabel weaving. She says, the youth of today, it seems, has some declined interest towards abel but she is hopeful that there are young people who are eager to learn and this keeps her always willing to persevere.

The Nagbacalan Loomweavers, to her, is not only a mere business, but it is also her pride and joy; it is the legacy that her dear late husband left them. She takes pride in the fact that their handmade crafts are showcased in such a massive scope. The painstaking work they put into the inabel products they put out has paid off greatly.  

With every thread weaved, the fulfilling thing about abel is that you get to see these beautiful patterns you create form before your eyes. As with life, each memory you weave into it, the more interesting and beautiful it becomes. A life well-lived is full of colorful threads and embellishments that, in the bigger picture, is somehow all well-matched to each other. You’re thankful if, at the end of it, when you take a glance, you get to appreciate what the piece has to offer.

The inabel that is life Charito has been weaving is still in the works but it sure has made something beautiful with all of what has been weaved.

241050249_200119318846583_5005359923608724834_n.jpg
 

Persisting the Weave

October 24, 2021

Euel Santos

Translated by Timy Uy Cana

74959936_10220713541492277_4229879390206427136_n.jpg
72425363_10220713542052291_5460618452311998464_n.jpg

Hindi lalahiin ng panghabi ang natitirang inabel mula kahapon kaya ito’y binalikan ni Charito hangga’t natapos ang araw. 

Si Charito Cariaga na taga-Nagbacalan Barangay, Paoay ay may-ari ng isang lokal na pagawaan ng inabel (isang uri ng hinabing tela na nagmumula sa Rehiyon ng Ilocos). Sa gulang na 80, patuloy pa rin niyang binubuhay ang panghahabi ng inabel sa pamamagitan ng Nagbacalan Loomweavers Cooperative.

Natuto siyang manghabi sa murang edad. "Maaga akong naghabi, 7-8 taong gulang. Bagaman manghahabi ang aking ina, hindi ito ang naging pangkabuhayan namin." Natuto si Charito at ang kanyang mga kapatid na manghabi hindi para makapagnegosyo kung hindi upang buhayin ang katutubong kasanayan. Palagi silang may panghabi na nakahanda para matuto at sa pamamagitan ng pag-ensayo, mabilis silang natutong mag-abel (ang kasanayan ng paghabi ng inabel).

 

"Sinabi [ni nanay] na kailangang panghalagahan ang aming trabaho."

 

Ang panghahabi ng inabel at ang bisa nito ay nanatili kay Charito mula noon. "Alam kong manghabi. Alam ko ang mga bahagi ng panghabi at ang proseso ng panghahabi sapagkat palagi kong pinapakita at tinuturo ito noong nasa UP Losbaños ako."

Nagunita niya ang nakatatawang kwento kung paano siya nakapasok sa negosyong inabel at sa Nagbacalan Loomweavers. “Noong una, iyung kapisanan-- ito ay isang kapisanan-- at hindi isang kooperatiba. Binoluntaryo ako ng aking asawa na ngayo’y pumanaw na para maging pinuno ng mga kababaihan at kalalakihan ng aming barangay.” Kababalik lang nila ng ibang bansa at pinag-usapan ang planong magbuo ng isang kapisanan ng paghahabi habang nasa isang lamay sa Nagbacalan. Naging interesado rin ang mga opisyal ng barangay na magbuo ng isang kapisanan dahil sa kabisahan ng mga tao sa Nagbacalan sa panghahabi. Ito ay kanilang mapapakinabangan at magagamit para sa kinabukasan. Gamit ang kanilang kakayahan at kasuwitikan, nais nilang maipakita sa nakararami na ang mga manghahabi sa Nagbacalan ay may lakas at dating sa panghahabi ng inabel.

Walang may gustong mamuno sa kapisanan kaya binoluntaryo siya ng kanyang asawa nang lingid sa kanyang kaalaman. Laking pagkagulat nalang nang dumating ang mga manghahabi at barangay opisyal sa kanilang tahanan upang pag-usapan ang  kapisanan na nais nilang simulain. Malaki ang tiwala ng kanyang asawa sa kanya at sa kanyang kahusayan-- alam niya na taglay ni Charito ang talento at kakayahan. Sa bawat galaw at desisyon, palagi siyang sinusuportahan ng kanyang asawa.

Noong una, nag-aalinlangan siyang tanggapin ang posisyon dahil hindi niya alam kung saan kukuha ng mga kagamitan at hindi niya alam kung paano magsimula ng negosyo na nakatuon sa paghahabi ng inabel. Subalit, sa kaibuturan ng kanyang puso, nakita niya ito bilang perpektong oportunidad.

240431377_304746274787970_5679610190653358632_n.jpg
139054882_2970930036473348_1028839844684183296_n.jpg
239881671_2026580184184959_5692671665984932898_n.jpg

Naramdaman niya na kinailangan niya itong gawin para sa kanyang asawa at para sa mga manghahabi ng Nagbacalan.

Alam niya na ang kanyang mga kasama sa Nagbacalan at mahuhusay at may posibilidad na lumago at maging matagumpay; ani niya, “...kasi magaling silang lahat manghabi.” Bagaman ito ay suntok sa buwan, ninais niya itong gawin para mabuhay ang panghahabi ng inabel at para sa mga Loomweavers ng Nagbacalan. Hindi nagtagal, nagtungo siya sa kapisanan ng 13 manghahabi ng Nagbacalan.

Ang Nagbacalan Loomweavers, na noon ay isang kapisanan, ay ngayon isang kooperatiba na lumago at humigit pa sa grupo ng 13 manghahabi na nais lamang magbahagi ng kanilang natamong kaalaman mula sa mas nakatatanda. Gamit ang mga lokal na materyales mula sa Baguio, gumagawa sila ng mga samu’t saring produkto tulad ng punda ng unan, kumot, at balabal. Gayunpaman, hindi palaging madali gumawa ng inabel (isang telang nagmumula sa Illocos Region) para sa mga ibebentang produkto. Sa isang linggo, 2-3 habi ang kayang gawin ng bawat manghahabi. Batay dito, masisilayan na pinagtutuunan ng pansin ang bawat habi. Ito ay nagbigay ng bunga sa buhay ng mga miyembro. Sa loob ng 15 taon, mula sa isang maliit na grupo ng 13 tao, mas lumaki na ang Nagbacalan Loomweavers, isang negosyo, na ngayo’y may higit 30 na manghahabi na biniyayaan ng sapat upang ipagpatuloy ang paghahabi.

Noong una, kulang ang kanilang kagamitan subalit nagsumikap pa rin sila. Umasa sila sa kanilang kakayahan at alam nila na sapat na ito para magustuahn ng nakararami. Pinagsamantalahan nila ang kasalukuyan at sinuntok nila ang buwan habang sumusunod sa agos ng hangin. Bagaman may mga balakid at paghihirap, patuloy pa rin nilang binuhay ang panghahabi ng abel. Kapag tinatanong kung bakit nagpapatuloy pa rin si Charito, sinasagot niya na

 

“Gamit ang [kooperatibo], nakikita ko ang anak ng mga miyembro na pumupunta sa paaralan, nakakatrabaho sa ibang bansa. Natutuwa ako na ang buhay ng mga manghahabi ay mas nagiging mabuti [sic].”

 

Para sa kanila, mas nagiging buo sa kanilang puso ang trabahong ito dahil nakatutulong ito para mas lumago bilang isang indibidwal at bilang isang grupo na may kaparehong adhikain: buhayin ang paghahabi ng inabel. Masigasig silang ibahagi ang mga kagamitan at kaalaman tungkol sa paghahabi ng inabel.

Dahil sa uri ng kanilang negosyo, maraming turista ang interesado. Sa pamamagitan ng mga produktong gawa sa inabel, nakauuwi ng mga pasalubong galing sa Paoay ang mga turista. Nagpapasalamat si Charito na kinikilala ng lokal na gobyerno ang negosryo at masaya sila sa pagkakataong maibahagi ang kanilang produkto sa mundo sa pamamagitan ng mga turistang dumadalo. 

Hindi maipagkakaila na maraming balakid at problemang kinakaharap ang negosyo buhat ng pandemya. Sabi ni Charito na maraming nawalang pera. Mas bumagal at humina ang negosyo noong 2020 dahil kalahati ng kanilang kita ay nakasalalay sa turismo. Gayunpaman, sa nakaraang taon, unti-unting nakabangon ang Nagbacalan Loomweavers at  nakahanap ng iba’t ibang oportunidad. Nakakuha rin sila ng suporta mula sa lokal na gobyerno, kung saan ipinost ang kanilang produkto na gawa sa kamay sa Provincial Tourism page. Nakatulong itong sa pag-ahon ng kanilang negosyo sa gitna ng pandemya. Bagaman humina ang turismo at naapektuhan ang kanilang negosyo, mayroong mga resellers at suking lokal at pandaigdian na nasisiyahan sa mga produktong ipinadadala sa kanila. Si Charito at and Nagbacalan Loomweavers ay patuloy pa rin ang pagpupunyagi sa gitna ng isang pandemya.

240133502_283446073590726_2727793915936101376_n.jpg

Ang pagbubuhay sa isang katutubong kasaysayan at ang pagsalalay dito bilang pang hanapbuhay ay mahirap. Paano ba ito nagagawa ni Charito? Paano niya naipagpapatuloy ang sining na ito habang iniisip ang iba’t ibang pamamaraan upang palaguin ang negosyo? Kasama ang mga Nagbacalan Loomweavers, nakakapagbigay ng hustisya si Charito sa sining na ito at nakakapag-isip rin sila ng iba’t ibang pamamaraan upang mas umunlad ang kanilang negosyo. Pinagsasama ang produkto ng Nagbacalan Loomweavers sa mga pangkaraniwang kagamitan sa bahay. Dahil dito, maraming tao mula sa buong mundo ang nakakapag-uwi ng mga inabel na siyang naipasa mula sa sinaunang henerasyon.

Sa gitna ng lahat ng pagpupursigi, nasisiyahan pa rin si Charito sa kabila ng kanyang malaking responsibilidad sa Nagbacalan Loomweavers: paghahabi ng inabel at ang pagtuturo nito sa ibang mga tao. Nais ni Charito na makilala ang mga mas sinaunang kapamilya na nagturo ng inabel sa kanya at sa mga Nagbacalan Loomweavers sa pamamagitan ng paghahabi. Hangga’t kaya niya, nais niyang ipamahagi ang pag-aabel (ang kasanayan ng paghahabi ng inabel). Nawa’y kagiliwan rin ito ng iba sa pamamagitan ng pagsuporta sa kanyang negosyo at paghahabi. Ani niya na mas nababawasan ang interes ng kabataan ngayon na maghabi ng inabel subalit umaasa pa rin siya na may mga nakababata na nais mag-aral at matutuo kaya nagpapatuloy pa rin siya.

241050249_200119318846583_5005359923608724834_n.jpg

Para sa kanya, ang Nagbacalan Loomweavers ay higit pa sa isang negosyo lamang, kundi ito rin ay kanyang pinagmamalaki ay kinatutuwaan; ito ay ipinaman ng kanyang asawa na pumanaw na. Ipinakmamalaki niya na ang kanyang mga produkto ay napupuri ng marami. Lahat ng pagpupunyagi na nilaan at binuhos nila sa paggawa ng produktong inabel ay nagbunga ng mabuting kinalabasan. 

Sa bawat sinulid na hinabi, isang gantimpala ang masilayan ang magagandang disenyo sa harapan mo. Tulad ng buhay, mas nagiging kawili-wili at makulay ang buhay kapag nadadagdagan ito ng mga alalaala. Ang isang sulit na buhay ay punong-puno ng makukulay na inabel at dekorasyong pampaganda at ang bawat sinulid ay may kaugnayan. Sa huli, lubos ang magiging buo ang puso mo at aapaw ang pagpapasalamat at pagpuri kung nasulyapan mo ang kagandahan ng inabel.