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THE STORY BEHIND OUR MAAARIxANTHILL TEXTILES

A Personal Account by Samantha Roxas, Co-Founder

Passports… bug spray… meticulously color-coded itinerary… cameras… matching ponchos…

We were packing for our first trip to the Philippines as newly founded MAAARI to meet the indigenous community that weaves our textilesthe Daraghuyan Bukidnon Tribe. The co-founders of MAAARI and I live in different cities, so it was also the first time we’d get to work with with one another in person. It was a big deal to us.

We had been wanting a deeper connection to our roots and culture, and rather than learning about it in books and pictures, we wanted to live it and experience it. It’s one thing to say that MAAARI supports artisans and the livelihoods of our makers; it’s another to meet them,
get to know them, watch them make their crafts, and see how it affects their communities, environment, and families.

An opportunity was made possible through our partnership with ANTHILL Fabric Gallerya social enterprise based in Cebu that works with the indigenous communities in the Philippines, providing them technical support and financial empowerment. Together, we worked on a MAAARI x ANTHILL collection, and ANTHILL co-founder Anya Lim was so touched by our enthusiasm that she invited us to meet the community that made our goods.

The Philippines’ bombastic president, Rodrigo Duterte, had been newly elected, and there was instability throughout the country. The U.S. Department of State cautioned all U.S. Citizens to avoid nonessential travel to many parts of Mindanao and to exercise extreme caution due to terrorist threats, insurgent activities and kidnappings. We were warned about the pockets of rebel groups across the island, but we were assured that if we simply “blended in”, we’d be fine.
Welp, we are three mestiza-ish, tattooed, hair-dyed, sassy, hapa Filipina-Americans; so blending in wasn’t really an option.
Despite this (and despite our mom’s wishes) we were determined to go.

Fifteen-hour international flights from our respective cities and three-hour domestic flights later, we found ourselves in the heart of Malaybalay, Mindanao. There, we posted up in a little hotel off the main road. We had two tiny twin beds and three grown gals, so we conjoined the beds and shared the crack.

We woke before the sun came up and took a five-hour drive toward the Katanglad Mountains near the center of Mindanao. Then suddenly, there was a point where the road just... ended. We entered an area that was literally off the map. 


We took a deep breath, and proceeded to make an hour long trek through the forest and up the mountain. It was lush, seemingly untouched, and beautiful. There wasn’t a clear path, but we had guides from the community help show us the way.

A quarter of the way up, we arrived to the weavers’ compound, where the main looms were kept. The looms were giant, majestic pieces of machinery, with simple engineering capable of creating intricate patterns and withstanding large textile pieces. The looms were built by tribal men in the community and partially funded through efforts of ANTHILL Fabric Gallery.

 
Salome, the head weaver, lives next door. Her and her children came rushing out with shy smiles. After introductions, she gave us a demonstration of the weaving process and talked about the intricacies and challenges of using natural abaca (banana leaf) fibers and natural dyes. Some weaves can take weeks or even months to make.
She told us that weaving is not only a skill;
it’s a calling.
She said that the calling comes to tribal women in their dreams; where they also have visions of textile patterns and weaving techniques. To turn away from this calling is considered a curse. Tribal men farm and can do other crafts, but only women are weavers in the community.

After Duterte won the presidential election, many protests and rebellions broke out in the area. The women weavers had to take refuge away from the chaos until things died down. One of our prototypes they were working on burned in a fire during one of the protests, resulting in the women having to start over.

After taking a few stabs at the loom with Salome, we continued on our journey. A few streams, wild cattle, and farming enclaves later, we finally arrived at the Daraghuyan Bukidnon community center. We were quickly greeted by a swarm of friendly and excited community members, all dressed in the traditional tribal colors of red, white and black. We gave mano to the elders of the tribe, which is to place our foreheads on their hands to accept their blessing.



We met Bae Inatlawan, the ritualist and spiritual leader of the Daraghuyan Bukidnon tribe.
Inatlawan means “touched by the sun’s rays”.
It is rare that outsiders are able to meet Baeonly on special occasions does she attend gatherings. We were stunned by her presence. She is infinitely wise, poetic, thoughtful, and masterly. We learned that she lead, fought, and won Ancestral Domain of their tribal land, making it a permanent wilderness sanctuary. Their land can no longer be used by the agricultural industry, cannot be developed, and cannot be logged. Bae lead a summit of Mindanao Tribes in 2012 that worked to strengthen the tribe’s culture and the traditional government of forested mountains. The summit underlined the importance of preservation and  healthy traditional farms, while also being open to new and necessary technologies to help cope with the effects of climate change.
Her name must be prophetic, because to us, she’s the ultimate BAE.

Before we were able to enter their land, the community had to conduct a ceremony to bless us and our worldly belongings. We, along with about 25-35 tribal members, sat in a circle around Bae to take part in the ritual. We placed three coins on the ritual platform (a large piece of fabric with the Daraghuyan tribal colors) to represent the three of us: Ivy, Sam and Jeanette. This was our symbolic key to the community. We also placed a number of additional offerings on the platform: snacks from the town market, a guitar gifted by ANTHILL, Tanduay, cigarettes, and three live chickens—one to represent each of us.



Bae said a prayer while playing a gong and blessed our offerings. She slit the throats of the three chickens and drained their blood on our coins. We were told it was a necessary sacrifice to their gods, or the spirits  inhabiting their environment. Bae blessed the blood and took a feather from each chicken. She dipped the feathers in blood and painted it on our gadgets, our palms, and our foreheads.
It was spiritual, powerful, and cathartic.

The chickens were then cooked and a big meal was prepared for us. We ate, drank Tanduay and smoked cigarettes with the elders. We laughed and spoke through translation. We talked about how important it was for us to connect with our heritage and help preserve our cultural traditions, and that MAAARI is our vessel to accomplish this.



As we told our stories, we started to cry. This started a chain reaction; and one by one, community members began to cry too. They were heartened to know how much we valued their work and livelihoods. For the first time, we felt genuinely connected to our heritage -- part of a larger network of histories, communities and traditions. It gave “Filipino-American” a whole new meaning. To celebrate, the women and children performed traditional dances and welcomed us to join them. The men played the guitar gifted by ANTHILL and traditional handmade instruments.
The community center was vibrating with joy.

As the festivities wound down, it was time for the community to share their weaves. Bae rolled out beautiful woven mats, beaded jewelry and other abaca textiles. Anya from ANTHILL showed them MAAARI’s custom-colored fabric swatches. Salome and her weavers had been working on our textiles for months trying to get the right color. We wanted a color that we described as "apricot". They had never made a natural dye that color before, so they were excited to take on the challenge. These challenges help them evolve and incorporate their traditional textiles into the modern world.



Forging a connection between our textiles and the hands that made them was powerful. Yes, it’s a simple weave of fabric. Customers will use our MAAARI x ANTHILL pillows and buckets to brighten their homes, to hold fruit, magazines, towels, or plants.
But it’s more than that. It’s a connection to every Daraghuyan member in the community and a connection to the indigenous land that runs deep in Bukidnon.

Each abaca fiber was harvested, dried, and dyed by a member of the community. Each warp and weft was woven together on a loom by a woman weaver. Each of these individuals are heads of households and are raising children who will also work to preserve their indigenous culture and tradition. These weaves are a direct conduit to them and to our heritage.

We’re forever changed by our experience with the Daraghuyan Bukidnon Tribe and are eternally grateful for their blessings, their living legends, and their crafts.

Every weave has a story, and this was ours.



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