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Finding Hope Through Filipino Weaving

Written by Sophia Bulalacao

“Wag ka mahiya na tawagin ang sarili niyo ang maging weaver. “ –  Renowned master weaver Connie Atijon mentioned in a casual interview with her about her success in the Philippine’s weaving industry.  The practice of weaving is an integral part of Philippine heritage. Each region, province, and indigenous community has their own weaving style and technique producing vibrant colours and intricate patterns that represent their beliefs and creativity. 

For master weaver Connie Atijon, weaving for her encompasses what her family has been passing on to her for generations to generations, the Ilonggo heritage, and an avenue for hope. The province of Iloilo was known to be the textile capital  of the Philippines. However, due to increasing accessibility to large commercial brands, Iloilo, the once textile capital remained low profile and subtle until recently. With the trends of supporting local businesses and wearing Filipiña clothing, Hablon and other Philippine textiles– the weaving practice and heritage of the Philippines started to revive once again.

Connie Atijon owes much of her success to weaving Hablon. She began weaving when she was only 8 years old. At that time, she would sneak into her grandmother’s Tiral (weaving loom used for making Hablon) and practice weaving on her own. To her, weaving Hablon became her source of income which eventually allowed her to be the breadwinner of the family. Thanks to weaving and the reviving Hablon industry, she was able to have all her children finish school. 

Moving forward, weaving as a source of livelihood became an option for the majority of her neighbors in their local community in Miag-ao. While Connie Atijon was able to establish her own social enterprise, she was able to hire her neighbors and train them to be weavers as well. This allowed Connie Atijon to create shared value in her community as she was able to share her success with her fellow Nanays and Tatays who strive to make ends meet for their family.

When she [Connie Atijon] was asked how Hablon weaving helped her community, she answered gleefully with her eyes full of hope: “Malaking tulong talaga maam ang paghahabi ng hablon. Sa paghahabi ng hablon, doon sila nakakuha ng allowance para sa anak nila. Malaking tulong talaga sa community [namin]. Para makatulong sa mga working mothers. Kung walang weaving dito sa Miag-ao, di ko maimagine ang mga nanay.” More than preserving Iloilo’s cultural heritage, weaving has allowed parents and other possible breadwinners in the family to stay in their hometown while earning sufficient income for their family.  Connie Atijon mentioned during the interview that she had one weaver who was supposed to work abroad in order to earn at least 8,000 PHP - 10,000 PHP monthly for her family. However, her decision changed when Ms. Connie presented her with an opportunity to be a weaver. She proudly mentions that the benefit of becoming weaver is having the luxury to work at home and watch your children and/or grandchildren grow up. This kind of privilege is what a lot of Filipino wish to receive as well.

In 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) announced that there are over 2.2 million Overseas Filipino Workers. With the lack of proper job opportunities, a lot of Filipinos decide to go abroad in the hopes of providing a better life for their families. Without a doubt, the opportunity cost that comes with this is being apart from your family and loved ones, not witnessing important events in your children’s lives and missing holidays that you wish you get to spend with them.  

Thankfully there are people like Connie Atijon who actively encourage weaving to be the norm in her community in order to combat brain drain and the pain of being away from your family to make ends meet. Her success in her weaving livelihood has allowed her to build generations of weavers. It is amazing and refreshing to see that even the men in her community are starting to weave. She has mentioned that her son and other men in the community are starting to learn how to weave which breaks the stereotype that weaving is usually or only made for women.  

When Miss Connie Atijon was asked what she loves about weaving the most, she excitedly answered how she is able to be creative through the patterns she designs. More so, she focuses on empowering her weavers to design and be as creative as they want.  To her, weaving is not only her main source of livelihood but also a creative outlet where her and her weavers can go to the depths of their imagination and have their creative visions put into work. 

The success of Ms. Connie Atijon has paved the way for greater opportunities of livelihood for our countrymen. The impact of her success pushed the art of weaving to be institutionalized in public schools where more members of the youth can join. Her success also led to breaking gender stereotypes associated with weaving, provided livelihood and combatted brain drain among her community members, actively preserving our country’s heritage, and above all empowering her fellow community members by showing that weaver is a dignified profession.

It is through Ms. Connie Atijon’s story that you are able to find hope through the weaves. To the readers of this article, I hope you develop a deeper sense of appreciation for our cultural weaves as they are made by the hands of people who are dignified and believe in preserving our country’s culture and heritage.