Karagumoy mats: a thriving industry for Albay villages


BACACAY, Albay — The main road from Cagraray Island port to the village of Cabasan in this town was beautifully lined with mats, the leaves still green, some with neon strips of yellow, pink and green. Like the Central Luzon highways lined with yellow corn or unhusked rice, the unpaved road here is like a long aisle adorned by colorful mats.

A visitor would think there was a red-carpet welcome like when journalists visited the place. Some passers-by just step on the mats, while most strove to step only on the little spaces in between mats. It was a very humid morning but soon dark clouds covered the sun after lunch; the women rushed to bring inside their house the drying mats and the raw leaves, some colored, and rolled into a cylindrical shape for easier handling.

Mat-weavers, mostly women and girls, are hoping that a fine weather would stay longer to let them gather and dry wild palm leaves that they would weave into mats.

Best in summer

With unusually long dry spell this year, business appears brisk for the local mat-weavers. “Our trade depends heavily on tourists coming to see the Mayon Volcano,” said Christine, 28 and a mother of two. She and most women and girls of Barangay Cabasan and neighboring Napao in Cagraray Island weave one or two mats a day depending on the house chores they could forego in favor of the weaving.

Finished banig laid to dry under the hot noon sun (Photo by Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists / Bulatlat.com

The majestic Mayon Volcano in Albay is the major tourist attraction in Bicol and whether it would be more visible to arriving visitors or not depends largely on the weather. “Of course during the rainy season, less tourists would arrive so we do not make brisk business,” said another mat-weaver. Besides, the raw material for mats has to be dried under the sun before this can be processed for weaving. The finished mat also needs at least a one-day drying before it can be brought to stall-owners in Tabaco, Albay.

Learning to weave early

Like Christine, Sheryl, her cousin, says she learned how to weave when she was a little girl. She made her first mat while still in grade school. She is now in her late 20’s and is starting to teach her eldest daughter the art of mat-weaving. Her own mother had taught her the craft. “Children learn by watching and later by doing it little by little,” she said.

According to the Cabasan women, they do weaving in between household chores. Because most of them are young mothers with two to five children each, they only attend to mat-weaving when the school-aged children are off to school and if the smaller ones are asleep.


Karagumoy, a palm grass resembling a pineapple plant, abound in the hills, not far from Barangay Cabasan. The supply of karagumoy comes from the forest also in Cagraray Island and they have to travel on foot to get their materials. Either they or their espouses or grown-up children gather the leaves, de-thorn and haul these home where they would then dry it for a day before running a heavy coconut trunk over it to soften it. Note the ingenuity of that gadget trunk.

It could be very tedious for a new-comer trying her hand at softening the dried karagumoy, pushing the round coconut log through the strips of karagumoy leaves some six to eight feet long. These would then be dyed by boiling the rolled leaves in water mixed with “Jobos,” a locally available coloring powder. The dyed materials would then be left to dry some more. After weaving, the mats would be spread out on the hot road before they are packed for their final destination: the Tabaco trading area near the port.

Making a living

One of the women would bring the mats to Tabaco once a week. She either gives the other women an average of P20 ($0.46) per mat or she buys the mats at a lesser price to allow for a modest markup.

This is socially acceptable in Cagraray Island because to go to Tabaco, one has to spend P30 ($0.70) for the trip, even more if one brings in more mats. A mat commands P45 to P80 ($1.05 to $1.86) per piece depending on the size, which is determined by its width measured based on the number of “feet.” In Tabaco, the price starts at P75 ($1.74).

In Manila’s Baclaran in Paranaque or Divisoria, the smallest mat goes for around P200 ($4.65). ??“There is 4.5, six or eight,” says Christine, demonstrating the measuring by walking down the width and length of a single mat, measuring almost five with her small feet foot as unit of measure. These represent the single, double and queen-size beds.

Christine sells 50 to 60 mats to Tabaco per week. When she has more time, she goes to Camalig town “because the price of banig is higher there.??The mountains and forests of Cagraray Island still abound with karagumoy and the women mat weavers are optimistic the supply for mat-weaving is far from dwindling.

As long as their environment remains friendly to the plant that gives them the raw materials for banig, Cagraray women and their daughters will have a sustainable livelihood. The stretch of the trek from Cabasan to Napua reveals sites of areas where the plant grows, showing a steady supply of karagumoy.

From time to time, meadows and roadsides are lined with the same bright green mats laced with neon green, yellow and pink. ??Boys carrying rolled mats on their heads emerge from a row of houses into the soft slopes and hills. All of a sudden, the idyllic rural scene comes alive with people who inspire for visitors from Manila a nostalgia for the banig.

Soon each of these Manila-bound women have folded banig on top of their heads while the women of Cagraray Island in Albay count their money without even going to the port area in Tabaco to sell their mats. If there is anyone who is happy and has a source of livelihood due to the heat of the sun, it is the Albay mat weavers. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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  1. How big is this mat in feet? Is it made of palm leaves? Can you weave a plain mats (no coloring)20feet x 8feet and 15feet x 8feet with 5mm thickness of banig?

    Thank you


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