Speech: Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Travelling Exhibition Opening

October 23, 2017

Speech of Senator Loren Legarda*

Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Travelling Exhibition Opening

23 October 2017 | Philippine Embassy in London

*Speech to be delivered on October 23, 2017 (4:00pm in London; 11:00pmin Manila)

Today, I am filled with pride as I welcome all of you to the opening of the first Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Travelling Exhibition.

It all started with a vision to have our own textile gallery in the Philippines, inspired by my travels to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia like Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, each having their own rich weaving heritage showcased in their museums.

I thought, there is so much to show the world about the indigenous artistry of Filipinos through traditional textiles and I have proven this with the numerous visits I had to various weaving communities around the Philippines. I even go to the remotest barangays if only to see the most skilled weaver of a town or province. No weaver has ever failed to amaze me yet. Their diligence, creativity and passion are truly remarkable.

When I met Director Jeremy Barns and Dr. Ana Labrador, I did not think twice and offered my proposal to establish a textile gallery in the Philippines. The plea did not fall on deaf ears. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the National Museum had a vast array of textile collection that was, sadly, kept in a storage room.

Finally, in 2012, we opened the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles at the National Museum, the country’s first permanent textile gallery. I could still remember how proud I was that day, the same feeling I have right now, like a mother seeing her child achieve a new feat.

The exhibition was then housed in two small rooms of the National Museum of Fine Arts; but its impact was immense that even Queen Sofia of Spain could not help but say that it was “the best of the best of the best.”

The gallery features the raw materials and looms used in weaving, the relevance of textiles in various communities, the different fabrics and styles of weaving, and various traditional textiles from ethno-linguistic communities, including the oldest existing textile in the Philippines, the Banton cloth.

Former Timor Leste President Jose Ramos-Horta, Japan First Lady Akie Abe, American-British entrepreneur Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, and Ermenegildo Zegna CEO Paolo Zegna were among the visitors of the gallery who were impressed with the artistry and craftsmanship of our Filipino weavers.

A year after its launch, the National Museum found a bigger place to house the gallery. The Hibla gallery was transferred to the National Museum of Anthropology and it was able to hold more textiles and looms and accommodate more visitors.

Many weekends, I would just walk in and observe the visitors. It is heartwarming to hear their comments and know that they find the gallery interesting and it enriches their knowledge about our weaving heritage and our culture as a whole.

But one gallery is not enough to hold our rich weaving culture and through the Lecture Series and Weaving Demonstrations on Philippine Textiles and Indigenous Knowledge, we are able to showcase the various weaving techniques of different weaving communities in the country. It is an opportunity for the public to interact with our weavers and appreciate the work and love they pour into every textile they weave.

Last July, the National Museum launched the first Hibla regional gallery, the Hibla Iloko at the National Museum Ilocos Regional Museum Complex in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Many more Hibla regional galleries will soon rise, and we hope that someday we will have not only galleries, but one whole Hibla Museum—a vision that I know we can bring into fruition. Because once, the Hibla gallery was a vision; but now it has travelled here to London. As the late Steve Jobs once said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”

I have talked a lot about the Hibla project, but what really is my purpose in all of these? Why do I keep on promoting our traditional textiles and supporting our weaving communities, aside from other cultural projects that I have initiated?

Beyond the intricate weaving technique and fine embellishments we find in these textiles, we discover cultural expressions and visions of our history that have endured the test of time.

The T’bolis of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, home of the late National Living Treasure Lang Dulay, uses the t’nalak—a woven cloth made of abaca and inspired by the weaver’s dream—during significant occasions like birth, marriage and death.

The Panay Bukidnon community in Calinog, Iloilo—home of another National Living Treasure, Federico Caballero—employs intricate handiwork and a unique dyeing system in the creation of their traditional wear. Embroiderers intricately work on their craft to emphasize the elaborate symbol pictography of the Panay Bukidnon, which is usually inspired by their natural surroundings.

In Banaue, Ifugao, the Lab Tie Dye Weavers Association of Lily Luglug continues to make textiles using the traditional ikat weaving technique, a tie dye resist process where the thread is dyed and tied before weaving. The process begins with the weaver visualizing the design, and then tying the threads accordingly. These are dyed, after which the ties are removed and woven. The design is revealed gradually as the weaver completes weaving the dyed threads.

In my home province of Antique, Mario Manzano shared how after his experience of working in Manila, he went back home in Bugasong, Antique only to find out that the tradition of weaving the patadyongwas waning. Through government support, he formed the Bagtason Loomweavers Association, which currently has 72 members skilled in using handlooms to produce fabric for patadyong, scarves, shawls, and other accessories like hats and bags.

These are only a few of hundreds of stories of our weavers. Our piña-seda weavers and embroiderers who are with us today also have their own stories—both challenges and successes—to share. And we could only hope that through these efforts, we can further enrich our weaving heritage.

Is it not astonishing to discover that despite technology, many of our weavers still choose traditional weaving processes? Is it not inspiring that these weavers remain faithful to their culture, have not turned their backs on their roots, and have fully embraced their tradition, which is an intangible wealth that they possess?

The task before us is to help our people value and continue our heritage. We must open doors of opportunities for weaving communities. We must promote greater support for cultural enterprises and creative industries of our indigenous peoples.

Let us make our people’s cultural identity a fundamental source of their socio-economic development. And let our common vision and values weave us together as we seek to empower those who have given meaning to our being Filipino.

The Hibla gallery, which has blossomed into many other initiatives, is not only an effort to celebrate indigenous artistry through textiles and provide more Filipinos the opportunity to discover priceless information about our heritage, but an attempt to bring the challenge of nurturing our weaving traditions into the national stage, to a wider audience.

As we open the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Travelling Exhibition, I invite you to take yourself in a journey, explore the similarity and diversity of our traditional textiles, and be fascinated with the traditional skills that gave fruit to such artistic creations.

Thank you.