In Samar, Face Masks with Banig Case Takes Centerstage
Lance Paolo Lim | June 24, 2020
Amid the uncertainties that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the women weavers of Samar, a promising reassurance of brighter days ahead of them arises as the production of face masks with banig cases becomes a success.
The revival of the banig weaving industry in Basey, Samar a couple of years ago has paved the way for the quaint town in Eastern Visayas to reclaim the crowning glory of being tagged as the “Banig Capital of the Philippines.” LARA Samar, a local brand that specializes in the production of banig products, has harnessed game-changing ideas from various creative designers to reinvent the functionality of the popular handwoven craft for modern-day trendsetters. This, in turn, allowed Samar to keep up with the changing times by transforming banig into more than just the sleeping mat that Filipinos have known for centuries.
While it has become a challenge for the innovative minds behind LARA at first, it eventually put the popular woven handicraft made out of dried tikog leaves and buri strips into the spotlight once again — not to mention the boost in tourism activities in the Province of Samar. Apart from resuscitating the cultural heritage of Samareños, the banig industry in Samar has helped a lot of people, especially the women weavers of Basey, by providing job opportunities to these people who rely solely on the weaving industry as means of livelihood.
Then again, the COVID-19 crisis has brought upon the weavers a new challenge as quarantine measures forced them to temporarily halt the production of banig, bringing uncertainty amongst them due to the possibility of losing their jobs in the middle of the pandemic. As soon as the government eased lockdown restrictions, however, the women weavers of Samar went back to work with hopes of contributing something that would give the Philippines a helping hand amid the ongoing health crisis.
Nen Ramos, who works at the Samar Provincial Tourism Office, said local brand LARA Samar decided to produce face masks using Kalinga textile from Ifugao, neoprene, and cotton fabrics that come with protective cases made out of banig. According to Ramos, the revolutionary project aims to unite the cultures of Ifugao with that of Samar in one product. “Our facemask is made of Kalinga Textile from Ifugao, Neoprene & Cotton Fabrics. We didn’t pursue making the banig as mask because there might be issues on breathability however since Samar is known for its banig products, we decided to sell these facemasks with a banig case instead,” she stated.
A collaborative effort between the Provincial Tourism Office, a loop of creative designers, and the weavers of Samar, Ramos shared some of the project's goals that include not only to provide work for the women weavers of Samar but also to help aid the COVID situation in the country. The set, priced at 850 pesos, comes with two pieces of face masks and one banig case. Due to high demand, the products sold out in just a matter of days. But LARA reassured interested buyers that production still continues. “This project aspires to sustain the weaver’s livelihood amidst pandemic. Selling this will be of great help in both ways, helping COVID situation but at the same time providing work for our weavers,” Ramos said.
While the future remains uncertain, one thing is for sure: LARA will continue to find novel means to preserve the cultural heritage of banig that is treasured by Samareños. “We will continue to innovate and find ways on how LARA could help the weavers of Basey to sustain their livelihood and preserve this old century craft. We’re planning to strengthen our online platforms and hopefully venture into the international market,” Ramos said.