In Ilocos Norte, a 95-Year Old Master Weaver Keeps an Industry Alive
Choose Philippines | Mar 11, 2020
Story by Grace Alba
Like the inabel, a traditional handwoven fabric of the Ilocanos, Magdalena Gamayo, more popularly known as “Lola Magdalena” of Ilocos Norte, is a living symbol of firmness and consistency.
Tagged as a master weaver of Ilocano’s traditional fabric, 95-year-old Gamayo is a 2012 Manlilikha ng Bayan or National Living Treasures Awardee of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for her commendable skills in textile weaving. The award is the highest recognition given to traditional artisans, craftsmen, and folk artists who have displayed exemplary skills in artistry and devotion to their crafts. The NCCA also recognized Lola Magdalena for her exemplary contribution to the preservation of local inabel industry and her efforts towards the growth of the business.
A resident of Barangay Lumbaan-Bicbica in Pinili, Ilocos Norte, Lola Magdalena started weaving at the age of 15. She learned the art from her aunt Marciana Galinato who was also passionate about weaving, using their creations for personal use and not as a source of livelihood. “Nakikita ko lang sila na naga-abel at kahit hindi nila ako tinuruan, alam ko na,“ Gamayo shared. (I just observed them weaving. Even if they didn’t teach me, I already know it)
From their family to neighbors, inabel weaving has been a part of their lives until they stopped during World War II, when turmoil disrupted the lives of their community. Many years after the chaotic time with the Japanese, their love for weaving has slowly been brought back to life. Gamayo said that the rise of this legacy started when Dr. Norma Respicio of the University of the Philippines visited their place. Dr. Respicio encouraged the community to start an inabel weaving business and financially helped them establish it.
Today, Gamayo, together with her 11 active women weavers, use fine yarn made of cotton and weave it through a manual wooden loom machine called a pagablan. Aside from blankets, pillowcases, bedsheets, and bags, the handwoven fabrics with their colorful and artistic designs are also used for fashionable clothing for men and women. "Mahalaga ang paga-abel kasi marami rin talagang nagu-order,” Gamayo expressed. (Weaving is very important because many are really interested in getting or buying our product)
Erlinda Gampong, one of the longtime weavers of Gamayo, said that weaving is not just a source of income but is also a legacy that should be kept alive. Thus, through the help of the local government, Gampong and her co-weavers, under the guidance of Gamayo, regularly conduct training for inabel weaving in order to preserve the traditional craft. This, she believes, helps solidify connections to our Filipino cultural roots and cultivates a deeper appreciation for Philippine heritage. “Hinihikayat ko ang lahat na sana magka-interes para ito'y maipagpatuloy dahil yaman ito ng ating lahi," Gamayo said. (I am encouraging everyone to get interested in weaving so we can continue this cultural treasure)