Ilocano Abel to Beat All Odds

Loom-weaving, to the Ilocano, has been a way of life, especially in those times before the war, when people had to spin cotton yarn out of the raw cotton plant to be able to weave a blanket or a meter of cloth to make a camisa-chino.

BY LYN V. RAMO
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 32, September 16-22, 2007

Loom-weaving, to the Ilocano, has been a way of life, especially in those times before the war, when people had to spin cotton yarn out of the raw cotton plant to be able to weave a blanket or a meter of cloth to make a camisa-chino.

A lot has changed in idyllic barangay Camanggaan in Vigan City, where there are no more cotton fields to bear the snow-white soft ball. Only a few households have maintained their looms. Either they have sold it to the more affluent weavers or they have thrown the rotting wood into the native charcoal stove.

“Ti panait ken ab-abelen idi ket magapo iti mula a kapas” (Thread and yarn for weaving cloth came from the cotton plant), 77-year-old Pedro Filarca of barangay San Jose told hopeful history writers among high school students during the Historia Oral.

The history-telling is part of the Heritage Cities Solidarity Week celebrations in Vigan City last week, Sept. 8-15.

Today, the cotton fields have become tobacco or rice fields, if not left idle with tall grasses growing, according to Filarca. He remembers using the stain from lomboy (black plum) to dye the cotton yarns and threads spun in those days right under the low huts, where farmers and weavers used to live in.

Almost all households were engaged in loom-weaving then, Filarca told an awed audience. At present, either the phenomena of out-migration due to people opting to become overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) or the unrewarding returns from loom-weaving has discouraged the Ilocano weavers from sustaining the industry.

Sustaining Ilocano inabel

Not in the case of Rowilda Panela, only child of Dominico and Milagros, from whom the Rowilda’s Loom-weaving got its name. Instead of selling the family heirloom looms, Dominico, now 54, instead bought his neighbors’ idle weaving machines and continued improving his skills on the trade.

Rowilda’s is a family-oriented home industry. It has eight weavers, which include Dominico, his wife Milagros Cadaoas-Panela, who came from Cauayan, Ilocos Sur, who usually sews the inabel into bags, table napkins, blankets, camisa-chino or small pouches, depending on the job orders. Rowilda, who obtained a degree in commerce, manages the marketing aspect.

“Capitalizing” on a skill acquired from his ancestors, Dominico started his own loom-weaving business in 1977. For lack of capital, however, he went abroad in 1979 to 1985 and upon his return in 1989, he revived the family business.

Dominico’s workforce continued upgrading their skills through a government-assisted training on dyeing in 1989, which gave Rowilda’s skills in the production of ikat.

The 1990 earthquake, however, displaced buyers in Baguio City that Dominico’s business experienced a lull for three to four months.

It did not discourage the Panela brood, though. Instead, Dominico persevered at improving his craft, experimenting on new designs and new products that still hit the market up to the present.

Dominico vividly recalled people going to Mangaldan town in Pangasinan to have their yarn and thread dyed with black plum they used to call locally as sagut. “Now all dyes are synthetic chemical-based,” he said.

When neighbors started moving to work abroad, Rowilda’s bought some of their loom adding more to his parents’ own textile weaving machine.

Government assistance

The Panelos obtained a micro-financing for small home industries from the city government in 1993 to augment the meager capitalization to keep the business moving. After repayment of the P25,000 ($539 at an exchange rate of $1-P46.30) loan, no other loan assistance was extended to Rowilda’s, according to Dominico.

Except for a training in dyeing, by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Dominico does not remember getting any technical assistance from any government agency.

“Daytoy marketing la unay ti kayat mi a maasistaran koma ti gobyerno” (We need government assistance in marketing), Panelo pointed out. He added that to survive the capitalization crises, he keeps on producing inabel so he could fill up all orders on time and gets paid in time when the supplier comes for his payment. Some times the yarn supplier had to collect but the goods are still in the stock pile.

Beating the odds

Rowilda’s has stopped joining trade fairs, especially since these usually charge around P35,000 ($755.94).

In hard times, it is Rowilda priority to pay the workers’ wages. Each worker is paid according to the volume of finished products they produce or on a piece-rate basis. They have free snacks but weavers usually go home for lunch, since they are all in the neighborhood. Milagros, Rowilda and Domicio do not collect salaries, as owners of the business venture.

Dominico said he had to be deeply involved in production because not even one of his workers, all related to him or his wife, knew how to manage the yarn. “Masapol siak ti agurnos no haan ket makulkol ket adu ti maperdi” (I have to do the spinning of the yarns, if not there’s too much tangles and a lot is wasted), he said.

Good raw materials make a lot of difference, Dominico said, aside from varied designs and new experiments in dyeing techniques. He gets his thread and yarn from a Manila-based yarn company, which allows a 45-day credit.

Deliveries are made through the public transport way-bill system. Orders are made through mobile or land phone, while payments are made through the banking facilities.

There are only two thriving loom-weavers’ shops in Camangaan, besides Rowilda’s: the other is Cristy’s, owned and managed by the Atenaja family, Dominico said. He did not mention whether there are other weavers in Vigan City.

Dominico also trains his young relatives the nitty-gritty business of loom-weaving. His 85-year-old mother still works, making the knowledge transfer so natural. Another elderly worker still tends a textile machine.

Rowilda’s products are on display in malls nationwide, aside from stores in the Marbay and Maharlika Livelihood Center in the Baguio market. Walk-in buyers, especially tourists also get their products in Vigan City outlets. Northern Dispatch / Posted by Bulatlat

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