There’s more to the western part of Panay than Boracay. In fact, there are many interesting places in the provinces of Aklan, Antique and western Iloilo that just amazes without driving all the way to Caticlan. Ruins, churches, food and rowdy festivals are there waiting. Aklan is proud of its piña (pineapple) fiber. So much so that products derived from processing these fibers into fabrics is one, if not its top export industry: barong tagalog and baro’t saya, the Philippines national dress for men and women, worn by presidents and celebrities; bags and mats; shawls and other Filipiniana items that are prized by tourists and designers here and abroad.
Its a whole cottage industry that has given hope to idle wives and retirees and poor families that derive their income from preparing, weaving, making products from piña fibers. It’s even safe to say that in many towns in the province, there’s a community of weavers and craftsmen busily meeting an order.
Piña as well as abaca weaving has always been a tradition in Aklan even way back during the Spanish colonial era. In the 1970s, demand for products from piña fibers was realized and from that time, when Aklan started its own industry by having government agencies train Aklanons, to the present, it has fueled the local economy.
I was brought to the town of Lezo by Ms. Thamar Restar of Syndee’s Arts and Designs, a local producer and subcontractor for exporters who I contacted to acquaint me with the industry.
Ms. Restar herself, 54, retired, attests to the great help that piña has helped educate her children. She started in 1992 with three looms and weavers. In 2011, she already had 100 knotters, 10 weavers and 3 embroiderers who are employed in her place in Lezo. She also has 20 weavers who work at home.
The fiber comes from mature leaves of the pineapple of the red Spanish variety which is preferred as it lasts compared with the others. With a piece of broken china, the leaf is scraped of its surface until the fibers are left. These are then washed, cleaned and washed again to remove plant material. After which, are then dried.
Dried fibers are now spooled and eventually woven on looms to come up with the prized piña fabrics. Depending on the width, length, density as well as the kind of fabric, some are pure piña while others are mixed, weaving can be as short as 1 month to as long as 3 months.
Finished fabrics are the base for different products. Designers employ embroiders, usually working at home like Leonila de Ramos, right, to make their barong, gowns and casual dress designs. Leonila, a mother of three started doing embroidery work 16 years ago and has supported her family’s household expenses and childrens education.
Piña, Aklan’s well loved fiber. From its traditional use centuries ago to the present day’s design and export product has indeed come a long way.
My great thanx to Ms. Thamar Restar who helped in acquanting me with the piña fiber industry in Kalibo. Her firm also supplies wedding related products derived from the fiber.
Syndee’s Arts and Designs
Ibao, Lezo, Aklan
St. Micheal St. Kalibo, Aklan
*updated contact number & email, 22 April 2019