In the presence of National Living Treasure Apuh Ambalang Ausalin

Yakans use fibers extracted from the leaves, barks and roots of abaca, coconut and pineapple plants. They dye the fibers in different colors to produce intricate designs.

A fter a day’s journey by ferry ship from Zamboanga to Basilan, I found Basilan different from our perception.

For one, there was no need for military escorts to follow us around. Gone are the days when you needed one. “Contrary to what you may have read in the headlines many years ago, you can safely explore every part of Basilan,” Lamitan City Mayor Rose Furigay told us later in the day.

There was excitement as we explored the 74th province on our list. We were honored by the presence of a Yakan master weaver, Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or National Living Treasure awardee Apuh Ambalang Ausalin.

Yakan traditional weaving

“Life is a loom, weaving illusion,” wrote poet Vachel Lindsay. In Mindanao, a diverse collection of weaving art across the region abounds with

dream-like patterns and fascinating backstories.

Apuh Ambaleng Ausalin. Inset: Gamaba Weaving Center.

Anecdotes encompassing historical origins and local legends are at the root of these various textile creations: Dreamweavers’ T’nalak of South Cotabato, Langkit of Maranao, Dagmay of the Mandayas, Habul Tiyahian of the Tausugs, Inabal of Davao del Sur’s Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe, Inaul of Maguindanao. Basilan boasts the traditional hand loomed tennun of the Yakans.

The word “tennun,” which means “woven cloth,” is traditionally used in the creation of a Yakan dress. A testament to the skills of Yakan weavers passed from generation to generation, these creations are often mistakenly described as embroidered.

Yakan hand-loomed fabrics are known for its use of geometric patterns with matching vibrant and contrasting colors. Similar to other traditional woven creations from Mindanao, each cloth’s design references a particular cultural and historical narrative.

Traditionally, the Yakans use fibers extracted from the leaves, barks and roots of abaca, coconut and pineapple plants. They dye the fibers in different colors to produce intricate designs.

Originally, the Yakans only made dresses adorned with various designs that include the seputangan, which is said to be the most complicated to weave and is usually worn by women around their waist.

Other designs include the rainbow-inspired palipattang, the python-stirred buga-sama and the sinalu’an.

Eventually, the Yakans expanded their indigenous art creations by weaving other items such as table runners, wall decor, bags and purses.

Basilan Yakan weaver.

They also introduced new designs such as the dawen-dawen which was patterned after a vine, the diamond-shaped kabang buddi and a few others inspired by everyday subjects.

It takes between two weeks to a whole month to finish a two-meter cloth. Best to remember this so as not to haggle when buying a woven item next time — whether it’s Yakan, the inaul, the or any other hand-loomed cloth.

Meeting Apuh Ambalang

Awarded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts with the National Living Treasure award in 2016, Apuh Ambalang, as fondly addressed by her weaving students, is a renowned master weaver from the city of Lamitan in Basilan.

Known for her mastery of Yakan weaving’s two most difficult designs; the sinalu’an and the seputangan, Apuh first learned the craft from her mother who was the original master weaver of Basilan.

Our small group of travel writers, vloggers and members of the Tourism Promotions Board and Department of Tourism Region 9 met Apuh Ambalang Ausalin at the GAMABA Weaving Center in Lamitan City. This is where Apuh teaches a new generation of magtetenun (weavers) to keep the Yakan tradition of tennun creation alive.

photographs by Marky Ramone Go for the daily tribune

Seated beside her loom attached with an unfinished cloth, Apuh Ambalang welcomes us with sparkling eyes, her face stretching a little by the smile covered by her woven protective mask.

Because of pandemic safety protocols, interaction was kept to a minimum. And as a chorus of hushed admiration filled the small room wowed by the tennun creations displayed around, we picked up a random tennun and silently expressed my amazement at its design.

One of the women weavers told me in Filipino, “That costs P20,000. That design is unique, and it was woven by Apuh Ambalang’s mother.”

I looked at the tennun I was holding and realized even such a price, it remains undervalued considering the craftmanship, artistry and traditional methods of weaving that went into its creation.

The Yakan weaving art form has been unappreciated and unknown to most people for a long time. It’s high time we all helped invigorate interest in their creations. By doing so, we not only help them sustain their living tradition, we also honor the legacy of Apuh Ambalang Ausalin.

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