Mat-maker, mat-maker, make me a mat

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MAT WEAVING, or pagbabanig, is a tradition that has been ignored for the past several years — long enough for an author to declare it a dying practice, if not dead.

Mat-maker, mat-maker, make me a mat

“We have a rich culture in pagbabanig, but unfortunately we take it for granted,” said Elmer I. Nocheseda, author of Rara: Art and Tradition of Mat Weaving in the Philippines.

He wrote Rara — also an old term for weaving — to discuss its importance and to focus on the mats as a tradition and as a material. Rara: Art and Tradition of Mat Weaving in the Philippines was officially launched on Nov. 30 at the Villa Monica Clubhouse in Pateros.

“It dies without anyone noticing [even if] it’s interesting, unique, and traditional. We Filipinos will not love anything that we do not understand, that’s why I want people to know. We only love things when we know about it, that’s why we don’t love our country because we don’t know it very well,” he said.

He said the art and tradition of mat weaving is vanishing because of the lack of materials and the loss of economic incentive. “When the Chinese mats came in, people were given a cheaper alternative,” Mr. Nocheseda said. “And these buyers don’t know that these traditional mats are difficult to make.”

He pointed out that a mat is the product of a tedious process. Weavers have to strip thinly the material used (in varieties of buri palm leaves, bamboo strips, tea grass, and rattan or yantok), burn resin to turn it into black or use achuete or annatto for coloring, and polish and clean the sides.

The artistic tradition, he added, is passed through tacit knowledge which cannot be taught in school and not by teachers. It is usually the mothers who teach their kids the craft, like learning a language. Some weavers like those in Antique and Tagaloan in Misamis Oriental would even have rituals and prayers for forgiveness from their guiding spirits called maulin-ulin.

“That is why some people call them ‘dreamweavers’ because mat-making requires deeper understanding. And how much do they get paid for it? The market would even haggle,” the author said.

Rara: Art and Tradition of Mat Weaving in the Philippines is priced at P500 and is available at the HABI The Philippine Textile Council office at Unit 4D Carmen Court 6080 Palma Street, Brgy. Poblacion, Makati City, and the National Museum of the Philippines in Ermita, Manila.