I proudly held my prized kattokong nga tabungaw, a traditional gourd hat that has been elusive for quite a number of years. For some time, I have been searching for this kind of native hat that I once saw exhibited at a house museum in Vigan. Is this still being made? Or if not, are there still old ones available? And for how much? These questions came to my mind many times.
And finally last month, while attending the Abrenian Kawayan Festival in Bangued, I got one. Not just from any other craftsman but a master of this difficult and demanding craft, from Teofilo Garcia himself, an awarded National Living Treasure (2012) for gourd hat making.
Teofilo Garcia, 74, has learned making the tabungaw from his grandfather when he was still 15 years old. Whenever he goes out, he often wears his tabungaw to the curiosity of other people who often ask then order from him. Over the years, he has mastered and innovated his craft to the point of being recognized nationally.
He mentioned that before, tabungaw makers were also present in several towns in the Ilocos, both Norte and Sur, but like most traditions, and the advent of cheaper, mass produced products, the craft of the tabungaw has silently waned until, possibly, Mr. Garcia is the last one.
First and foremost, he is a farmer who has eked a living planting rice and tobacco and has sent his five children to school. In between harvests, he plants upo where he sources out his tabungaw.
Its a tedious process. After harvesting, the upos are cut and the insides cleared. The upper part goes into the tabungaw making while the base he processes and sells as a shallow pan used to hold just anything, but especially in the kitchen or dining area.
Once dried, he cleans and varnishes the exterior, then prepares the interior lining which is made of rattan, bamboo and nito, a kind of vine with a dark color which is also used in basketry. These are woven. One tabungaw can be produced in seven days and one can last a lifetime if cared properly.
However, production is limited and dependent on the availability of the upo. He has no assistants and he does all the hats himself, around 100 yearly. Fortunately, with the citation, one of his deliverables is to make a curriculum in tabungaw making which he now teaches to five students from the public highschool in San Quintin, Abra, although, he’s very much open to teach other people who are interested to learn.
For a simple man, as he describes himself, all these things that have happened to him, especially when he was awarded the title, was, as he mentioned, overwhelming. He has been to other countries, talking and demonstrating his craft to curious and receptive audiences. He has met celebrities and high officials and his products given as gifts and souvenirs.
From a hard working farmer to a National Living Treasure, he continues to practice his craft and hopefully, continue the tradition with his new students.
Teofilo Garcia sells his tabungaws during provincial trade fairs like the one held every year in Bangued to commemorate the foundation day of Abra, 6-9 March. For the rest of the year, better to contact the LGU of San Quintin or DTI Bangued with telephone number +63 74 7528414.
Thnx to Vice Governor Chari Bersamin for inviting me in Bangued for the Abrenian Kawayan Festival and for making it possible for me to interview and photograph Mr. Garcia during the trade fair and at his residence in San Quintin, Abra.