Using interdisciplinary tools to study an age-old weaving tradition in the Philippines

In the Cordillera region, there is a rich tradition of weaving that goes back several centuries. Each of the different indigenous communities in the region possesses a unique weaving technique, with the resulting forms and patterns dictated by distinct religious, socio-political and artistic origins, functions and values. But with the absence of a new generation of weavers willing to learn the art, the Cordillera weaving tradition is dying. This is the reason that the interdisciplinary Cordillera Textiles Project (CordiTex) of UP set out to vigorously document and research on these unique textiles.

The project, led by Dr. Analyn Salvador-Amores of UP Baguio, provides more than a comprehensive database of anthropological information accessed from local narratives. By utilizing the tools of materials science, it also gives a quantitative assessment of the traditional scientific know-how employed in every step of the weaving process – from the selection of the raw materials to dyeing and curing. The project looks at these aspects to improve the technical characteristics of the Cordillera textile without compromising its age-old identity.

The research highlights as well the distinctive mathematical symmetries found in Cordilleran garments and blankets. With the textile pinilian, for example, weavers combine a continuous supplementary weft technique and a floating weft technique to create complex curvilinear designs of human figures, horses, constellations and many others (Figure 1). Figure 2a shows an example of a pinilian blanket with horse and skeiner motifs. The motifs are propagated throughout the blanket without any rotation or reflection but has translational symmetries in both directions. This blanket belongs to the symmetry group of type p l, a parallelogram lattice type.

Figure 1 (top and bottom). Two prominent figures in Itneg blankets. The pinilian is said to be the most difficult to weave technically. Photo credit: AV Salvador-Amores, 2016.


Figure 2a. A sample of a pinilian blanket with horse and skeiner motifs. Photo credit: Joven Paolo Angeles, 2016.

Figure 2b. A close-up of the horse design. Photo credit: Joven Paolo Angeles, 2016.

Pinilian designs such as the sinang-kabayo (horse), sinan-tao (human figure) and kinarkarayan (river) are exclusively made by the ethnolinguistic group of the Itneg in the Cordillera region. Pinilian blankets serve prestigious and ceremonial functions than utilitarian ones. During the wakes of important members of the group, they are put on display as a sign of wealth. They are also believed to offer protection for the spirits against malevolent beings. A pinilian blanket with a motif of a human form lying down and a horse standing has a special use, too. When the horse’s owner dies, the blanket is mounted on the horse and the animal is set loose to gallop around the neighboring village to announce the passing of its owner. Such design likewise makes reference to the god of agriculture, Indadaya, who is highly revered and invited to every ritual or feast of the Itneg, especially one that is related to agriculture. The pinilian, which is also used as a wrap-around skirt, men’s loincloth, woven shirt, headband or belt, is only one of the spectacular, large-scale textiles for which the Itneg group is known.

The Cordillera weaving tradition occupies a niche, one that is both cultural and functional. By employing research techniques from different disciplines, the project hopes to encourage greater appreciation for the creative artistry involved in traditional weaving, bring about product development, and rekindle interest in the craft among the youth of the Cordillera region.

(The project titled Anthropological, Mathematical Symmetry and Technical Characterization of Cordillera Textiles is funded by the Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs through the Emerging Interdisciplinary Research Program.)