By Maya M. Padillo, Correspondent
DAVAO CITY — Sewing is a common skill among many of the women in Marawi City who found themselves displaced as the siege broke out in late May 2017.
After the initial shock, the women watched in horror and sadness as their hometown was turned into a war-torn city. And as they grappled with life in the evacuation centers, they sought to come to terms with the tragedy, and how they could muddle through their new reality.
Many turned to needlework, for their own needs and to make commercial items they could sell with the help from the government and other organizations.
But Asliyah Limbona, chairman of the Alliance Development for Women Empowerment, thought they needed to make something more meaningful, something that would keep them linked to their Maranao history and culture.
“We can just keep sewing, but then we should create something that will give us a moral lesson, something that will open our minds, so we started this Arkata Lawanen,” Ms. Limbona said in an interview in Davao City during an Ambassador Club Davao gathering where they showcased the Arkata Lawanen dolls.
Arkata Lawanen, or Arkat A Lawanen, is a Maranao princess in the Darangan epic.
“The Arkata Lawanen is not just a doll but a symbol of peace and that every Maranao woman is trying to help themselves. We cannot be a liability of the government forever. So we started this project,” she said.
Those involved in making the dolls are women from Marawi’s ground zero, the rubble-strewn area that was most devastated after five months of intense urban warfare between government troops and Islamic State-inspired local extremist groups.
“We should remember that in a Muslim community, every woman plays an important role for the transformation of society, wherein these Maranao women, they are peace-makers, they can stop rido (clan wars), stop political and family disputes, stop violence,” she said.
Ms. Limbona explained that in traditional Muslim dances, the princess is always a central figure — a beautiful, elaborately dressed, and joyful character. Then she gets abducted but is saved in the end by a warrior prince.
“Marawi City was abducted. And who will be these warriors (to save her)? Us, the Maranao women are the warriors because we will be empowering ourselves, we will establish a sustainable livelihood program that will help us gain back our dignity… what we are promoting is the rich culture and traditions of Maranao,” she said.
A focal point of the dolls is their miniature malong, the traditional tubular garment worn in different ways, and with symbolism on certain occasions.
The Alliance Development for Women Empowerment launched an Adopt-A-Doll program, which has so far sold 17 pieces, mostly through Ms. Limbona’s “few friends in Congress” at a price of P10,000 each.
The dolls are now on offer at P3,000 each to make them more affordable to more people.
At this point, Ms. Limbona said, the income is mainly used to pay for the women’s labor and to buy new materials to produce more dolls.
The immediate goal is to make 100 dolls, have them all sponsored, and put on show as a promotional campaign for eventually making it a sustainable business.
Among the investments they need to make to become more sustainable are buying industrial sewing machines capable of creating the intricate embroidery required by traditional malong designs.
Dr. Ma. Lourdes G. Monteverde, a former president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. and a member of the Ambassador Club Davao, invited them to put the dolls on display at the Davao City event. She has committed to continue helping them in promoting the dolls for both local and international markets.
Another member of the club, Antonio Ajero, said they will also assist the women in establishing themselves as a cooperative.
Ms. Limbona said, “Arkata Lawanen symbolizes peace after the Marawi siege, women empowerment and resiliency… The government has been helping us, but the thing is, we have to help ourselves.”