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Ryan Fauli's Yagting Cultural Heritage Collections
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Banton Burial Cloth - The oldest warp ikat cloth in Southest Asia
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The article below appeared in The INQUIRER, Dec 7,1999

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Banton Burial Cloth

Material: Linen
Length:- 81 cm Width-21 cm
Date: 14th-15th centuries Provenance: Banton Island, Romblon

Click on the picture above to view a larger picture.


Northern Luzon Blankets are Works of Art

By Ambeth R. Ocampo

IT WOULD probably horrify interior decorators to know that the quaint ''primitive'' or ''folk'' designs that adorn a piece of Ifugao cloth--stylized human figures, lizards, snakes, etc.--are essential elements in the so-called ''death blanket.'' Next time you see an ethnic blanket on a sofa, bed, or wall try to imagine its original ritual purpose.

Handwoven cloth from Northern Luzon can easily be found in stalls at the so-called dry section of the Baguio City market. From the light Ilocano abel to dark traditional Ifugao blankets and even the blankets that play tricks on the eyes from Itneg looms in Abra, all these can be bought at reasonable prices from Baguio.

Used as wall hangings, bed covers and sometimes even tablecloth these blankets  provide color and drama in lowland Christian urban homes.

The oldest known piece of cloth in the Philippines is the Banton Burial cloth now in the National Museum. Found in a wooden coffin in Banton, Romblon, with blue and white ceramics, this piece of ikat-dyed abaca cloth made sometime in the 13th-14th centuries is the oldest known warp ikat textile in Southeast Asia.

Surely, there were other pieces of cloth much older than the Banton cloth, but these have not survived to our time. Or it may be awaiting discovery in some pre-colonial grave.

Ancient art

Cloth weaving in the Philippines is an ancient art and the long complicated process has been expertly summarized by art critic Alice Guillermo:

''Traditionally, the entire process of weaving cloth, for daily use or for ritual, has been the work of women. The production of a piece of cloth entails a number of stages. It begins with the cultivation of the plant--such as cotton, abaca, and pineapple--the fibers of which will be used for weaving. The fibers are extracted from the leaves of these plants and prepared by carding, twisting, spinning, and winding by means of a spindle into thread. Warp threads are carefully counted and measured before they are attached to the beam of the loom and weft threads are evenly wound into bobbins. Also part of the preliminaries is the gathering and preparing of natural dyes.

After the threads are soaked in dye and dried in the sun, weaving on a loom can begin. Weaving may follow decorative dyeing techniques, decorative weaving techniques or supplementary thread techniques...''

Of the Northern Luzon textiles still available today the most decorative are those made by the Itneg of Abra particularly the dinapat with stylized human figures and the famous binakael (meaning ''spherical''). They are pieces of op-art that confuse the sight. The binakael may be old but it actually looks like a piece of modern art antedating the work of the 1970s European artist Vasarely.

Unfortunately, some of the products of Itneg looms are mistaken for Ilocano work. Adding to the confusion is the fact that this ethnic community is known both as Itneg and Tinguian. The terms are used interchangeably but the Itnegs see themselves as Itnegs and the difference lies with outsiders who divide the group into Itnegs (from iti uneg meaning ''the interior'') those who live in the interior highlands while Tinguians are those who live closer to the lowland Christian

Ilocos and Abra. Tinguians are thus the more acculturated or modern Itnegs. Woven textile of blue, red, white and black--sometimes even yellow--gives shape to flowers, stars, horses (with or without riders), fish, etc. can still be found today copied from heirloom pieces. They are slowly disappearing from Itneg communities and transported to local and foreign antique collections.

Once a part of daily and ritual use, Itneg blankets are now considered works of art.

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