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Art and science of natural dying revives T’boli ancient craft

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Fusing the ancient craft of natural dyeing with modern, efficient and cost-effective natural dye application technologies, the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI – DOST) helped enhance the T’bolis cultural heritage the tinalak. The revival of their ancient craft of natural dyeing is now through anchored on a more scientific and modernized process. The PTRI training on natural dye extraction and application provided the T’boli weavers and dyers the knowledge and skill to further improve their craft. As a result, the weavers were able to further experiment, discover and innovates their ancient craft of weaving tinalak. “Through these technology interventions, we can see how science and technology can boost and nurture the rich cultural traditions of our indigenous people as well as contribute to the improvement of their lives and yet, still remain true to their traditions,” explained PTRI Director Carlos C. Tomboc. He added that the application of science to their process enables their crafts to stand the test of time and carry on forever.

 

The tinalak is a sacred fabric woven from the tensile abaca fibers and is unique to the T’boli tribe of Southern Mindanao. It is a totem reflecting the ingenuity and exquisite craftsmanship of the T’boli women and an insignia of their individuality outpoured in an intricately patterned fabric exuding the yearnings of their souls, their struggles and, more importantly, their dreams as revealed to them by the spirits. The tinalak emerges as a primary commercial commodity of the T’boli tribe along with the effective promotion of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, with its lush rainforest, majestic lake and cultural bounty, as one of the country’s top ecotourism destinations,

 

The T’boli, like other prolific weavers and cultural craftspeople in the country, are in a predicament whether to forego their traditional processes in order to realize a higher yield or to sacrifice the badly needed extra income to still uphold tradition. Coping with the demands of their growing clientele and the widened application and commercialization of the tinalak, some of the T’boli weavers turned to synthetic dyes to hasten the process and went into mass production of the fabric. This resulted in poor quality outputs on top of health and environmental hazards brought about by the chemicals from the improper use and disposal of synthetic dyes.

 

Driven by its pursuit to revive the local textile industry and challenged by the T’boli’s predicament, PTRI assessed the practices of the Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc. (LASIWWAI) that revealed their lack of systematic dyeing procedure often compromising the quality of the dyed materials and decreasing their productivity. To help resolve this, PTRI provided LASIWWAI members with a training course on natural dyeing involving a more systematic, standardized and scientific approach in dyeing abaca fibers akin to their age old tradition of dyeing using plant dye sources. Experts from the Institute introduced the fiber pre-treatment as part of the scientific process of natural dyeing to the T’boli women. Fiber pre-treatment is a crucial step of cleansing the abaca fiber, rendering it white in appearance and improving its capacity to absorb dyes and colorants. The participants were delighted to see the luster effect and the whiteness of the abaca fibers resulting from the pre-treatment process of scouring and bleaching which eliminates waxes, dirt, gums and other impurities that interfere with the even and effective application of natural dyes. This method permits the use of light and pastel dye colors to be incorporated to the abaca fibers.

 

They were also primed in the technique of mordanting the abaca fibers. Mordanting the fibers for a stronger bite of the dyes also increases its colorfastness and decreases the time spent about a hundredfold. The weavers were taught other sources of natural dyes and were also trained on a more cost-effective and standardized extraction and application of natural dyes from plant sources such as achuete, sibukao, yellow ginger, talisay, mahogany and loco roots to produce the color orange, fuchsia, yellow, black, brown and red, respectively. The traditional dyeing process can stretch on for weeks, whereas with the aid of this new PTRI technology, dyeing is cut short to a few hours.

 

In the past, the weavers were not consciously taking into account the measurement of chemicals, water and accuracy of parameters in dyeing. Through the training they were able to realize the importance of weighing their abaca fibers, dye sources, and chemicals prior to dyeing to ensure reproducibility and to maximize the use of scouring and bleaching solutions. Still not content with the abundance of natural dye sources in Lake Sebu, the T’bolis have now learned to cultivate dye yielding plants to ensure abundant and sustainable supply. The men are also slowly getting involved in the cultivation and stripping of abaca.

 

“PTRI’s natural dye technology provides the perfect solution offering the eco-friendly dyes and colors while enhancing productivity thru shortened, more accurate and efficient dyeing techniques,” explained PTRI scientist Julius Leaño. This technology intervention of PTRI lessened LASIWWAI dyers’ exposure to health hazards and provided additional value to the tinalak fibers. Also, the natural dyes are environment friendly and do not pose any threat especially to the life-sustaining rivers of the Lemkwa Village.

 

 “The wide array of colors now available to the weavers as well as the technology available to them enables them to use other potential dye sources indigenous to their region,” remarked Julius Leaño. Through the efforts of the Non-Timber Forest Products – Task Force (NTFP-TF), a collaborative network of Philippine grassroots-based non-government organizations and peoples organizations addressing the livelihood needs of upland forest peoples, and linkages with PTRI and DOST Region IX, various products of  LASIWWAI are now being exported in various countries all over the world.  Joy Camille A. Baldo and Jona M. Bernal, S&T Media Service

 

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