Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, consists of a large landmass and series of smaller islands that cascade across the Sulu Sea towards Malaysia. Its east coast and interior is home to a number of different indigenous people whose textile traditions share technical and material features, including the use of abaca fibre, ikat dying methods and the use of backstrap looms. Although technically similar, the textiles display patterns and motifs designed to meet social or spiritual functions specific to each community. In some cases motifs reflect a deep respect for local flora and fauna and are believed to act as conduits to the divine. Other textiles are designed as ceremonial gifts on occasions such as marriage, or are hung to designate spaces of spiritual importance.
Much of the west coast and archipelagic parts of Mindanao are home to Muslim communities who have strong links with early seafaring Sultanates that resisted Spanish imperialism. They share cultural and religious practises with neighbours in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia and are renowned for their architectural woodcarvings.
Over the centuries, international and local trade introduced new materials and modes of production. This led Mindanao’s artisans to abandon some materials and adopt others to create innovative textiles and crafts for exchange between the region’s diverse communities.
This type of textile is called 'panapisan' and was designed for use by both men and women as either a blanket or skirt. Its enclosed form lends itself to being wrapped around the waist for wear during the day and pulled up over the body for sleeping during the night. It is made on a backstrap loom from the fibres of the 'abaca' plant ('Musa textilis'), which is a species of banana plant native to the Philippines. Traditionally the stalks of the plants are cut and the layers are separated by rubbing them between the hands or feet until the individual fibres are exposed. The rough fibres are immersed in water for cleaning and softening and are later beaten and left to dry. Once completely dry, they are woven together to make yarn. Patterns with mythical resonance are produced by resist dye and warp ikat techniques. These can be divided into two main categories: anthropomorphic and reptilian motifs, and the hook or key-like shapes which surround other motifs.
abaca fibres; plain weave, warp ikat
117.0 x 150.0 cm
Gift of Dr John Yu and Dr George Soutter 2005