Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pina Cloth in Kalibo, Aklan

Known as the Queen of Philippine Fabrics, Pina Cloth is one of the legacies left to us by the Spaniards during their occupation of our country. This was the prime material used in making barong tagalogs and saya in the days of our ancestors. Back then, going to mass, parties and just dressing up means donning pineapple fabrics. Making Pina Cloth is a painstakingly long process, sometimes takes months before it transforms into a wearable outfit. Since the barong and saya are "National Costumes," each barong and saya made of pina cloth are National Treasures of the Filipino Culture. Pina Cloth is very soft and luxurious despite its appearance, durable and can stand the test of time.

One of the famous pina cloth makers in Aklan is the Dela Cruz House of Pina at New Busuang, Aklan. Getting there isn't a problem, as all tricycle drivers (tricycle is the primary mode of transportation in Kalibo) know where it is. Upon entering, there was a terrace where a few people were busy weaving some handicrafts and an old woman on a wheelchair, watching. Later, I was informed that the old lady was the Matriarch of the Dela Cruz family, Nanay Susima. She was one of the most skilled weavers during her time and her works has been highly regarded. Up to this day, she continues to promote the traditional ways in weaving pina cloth.

One of the early works of Nanay Susima
One of the members of the Dela Cruz family was kind enough to share some details about the family trade. Aklan has been the center of pina cloth weaving since colonial times, and as tradition dictates, every weaver passes down the skill to the next generation to ensure its survival. There is a certain type of pineapple that is used to make the finest quality of pina cloth, the one introduced by the Spaniards centuries ago, and this is still the variant being used to this day.

Similar to the extraction of fiber from abaca, the same process is done on the leaves of pineapple after which it is spun into threads and fed to a traditional loom and weaved by hand. This is where the processing take its time, sometimes even months to finish a yard of cloth. Nowadays, many pina cloth makers take advantage of technology, mechanizing the whole process and creating cheaper fabrics from pineapples. Still, there are a few that stick to tradition and do the whole thing by hand, just like the Dela Cruz family. To further beautify the traditional fabrics, designs were embroidered by experts in Southern Luzon.

All in all, a barong or saya will definitely cost more if its pure pinya, embroidered and all made by hand. Certainly, the consumers of these are rare nowadays, as many prefer cheap and affordable alternatives. The premium here is not just wearing the culture of the Philippines, but the contribution to preserving the way of life of pineapple farmers, weavers, embroiders and others who had dedicated themselves in producing handmade pinya outfits that make a Filipino stand out from the rest of the world. It would be great to tell other people that the barong you wear was handmade and delicately constructed. It would be fulfilling to know that by wearing it, you keep tradition and culture alive, and contribute in propagating it. 

As proof of Pina Cloth's durability, this is over 100 years old.
If you have the resources, get a handmade barong or saya made of pure pinya. "Gagastos ka din naman, eh di lubus-lubusin mo na." Here is the website of Dela Cruz House of Pina