BATO

Bato-bato sa langit, ‘pag tamaan huwag magalit.  If you throw a stone upwards to the sky, don’t get angry when it drops back down and hits you.   - Tagalog salawikain proverb         

Inch 39.

I reached a milestone today.  39 inches.

I pause and slowly begin to closely examine my takyed, the belt.

It’s the first time I’m measuring the length of my work.

I breathe. Moving as close as I can, my nose almost to the floor, I squint my eyes to see better. 

I run my fingers gently, being careful not to disturb any thread out of place.

Suddenly, I notice a weavingstone at 23 inches.  Then another at 18, 13, 12, and 4 inches. 

Yes, weavingstones.  Snapshots of unexpected colors in a wide ocean of color blocks. Spatial lapses in the weave. Loose edges.  Unravelings and revealings.

Bato, stone.  Isang bato, one stone.  In Tagalog, we say mabato or full of stones. One of my favorite games to play with the kids is “Bato, bato, pick!  Bato, papel, gunting?” Rock, paper, scissors? Bato!

I scream out loud, “Oh my gulay, how DID I miss that?”

Slow, deep warrior breaths.  HA!  HA!  HA!

Did my weaving lapses inadvertently mimic the significant milestones that changed my life?

At 4, first moved from Manila to Iloilo

At 12, actively moved with the peaceful People Power Revolution 

At 13, forced migration from Pilipinas to the USA

At 18, moved away from San Mateo to San Diego, and recovered my voice through the help of UCSD’s OASIS Summer Enrichment and Summer Bridge Programs

At 23, intentionally moved back from Boston to openly Come Out in San Francisco

At 39… 

This is healing art.  Healing my heart. Nourishing my soul.

I recently read that in some cultures, weavers purposely leave signatures into the weave in order to trap or ward off spirits.  The design imperfections create portals for spirits to enter and depart the textile.

Love. Light. Infinity.

Mabuhay!

Grace Villarin Dueñas

Photo notes (top to bottom):  39 inches and 4 inches, respectively.  Both photos taken on May 19th. 

BANGKA

A bowl is a vessel like a bangka canoe is a vessel

A bowl carries my love from my heart and my hands to your hands to your lips to your heart

Like a bangka carries our culture from our homeland to the diaspora and around again

I carve our ancient script baybayin onto the bowl to hold blessings all day and night buong araw at gabi

We carve our songs onto the bangka to carry our prayers through the waters

"A stone in the water, a woman in a canoe, a canoe in the water"

Our Tongva-Acjachemen sister sings us a canoe song she wrote in her Mother Language for the sacred Canoe Journey

The song reminds me of the game “tao, bangka, bagyo” that we like to play together

We weave our stories and prayers through our songs, our games, our canoes,

Babaylan indigenous healer, bangka canoe, bagyo storm,

Our heart, Our culture, Our love,

In honor of the Babae, the Divine Feminine, the Sacred Vessel,

We weave, we carve, we sail,

Mabuhay! 

Grace Villarin Dueñas

Photo notes (top to bottom):  First two photos were taken on Sun, May 12th Mother’s Day; 1.  Maquette of a bigiw which was originally carved by Alexis Canillo (Pomo/Bisayan), and now entrusted to me by Bangka Journey.  Shown here with the tools to measure the proportions before beginning to water and carve out the red cedar.  Since May, I’ve been watering the maquette and covering it in the same way that we’ve been taking care of the bangka;  2. Leng Leng carving a paddle next to the covered bankga, while L. Frank Manriquez (Tongva/Acjachemem) shares a song she wrote for the plank canoe that they are making in the California Canoe tradition; 3. BA, hand-thrown bowl with the assistance of my Teacher Larry Henderson.

BIYALIGA

Finally, I get to take my laga home.  I can’t wait to set-up the back-strap loom.

After my first one-on-one session with my Teacher, I started envisioning where I could attach the loom.  Suddenly, everything was a potential place to weave.  My Bucky-inspired designer’s mind was on the loose.

My favorite candidate was my mango wood coffee table. I was determined to use two clamps to hold up the dowel.  The truth is, I secretly harbored a desire to find any reason to procure metal industrial clamps. Unfortunately, I needed to have the proper angle and tension in order to weave. 

So I finally settled on using the double hinges in my mango wood armoire.  Two pretty pink cords that used to serve as handles for a shopping bag were re-imagined as loops to hang the sa-u-yan.  In the beginning, I would take the cords down after each weaving session.  After several times, I decided that it was more practical to just leave them up. 

Laga found it’s proper placement in my home.

I slowly roll-out my loom being very careful to keep every thread in place.  Starting with the sa-u-yan, then the second puuyan, and then the first puuyan.  I use the ipitan to anchor the sakyot making sure that it’s properly aligned. The gedchangan backstrap is well-adjusted to the nook of my back. Inserting the tubungan in between the two puuyan, I carefully balance my body to maintain proper alignment of the sakyot. Everything is set-up and I’m ready to go. 

I am one with my lagaLaga, I am.

I turn to pick up the biyaliga, but it’s nowhere to be found.

I am strapped in and immediately feel trapped.  I stretch my arms as far as I can, trying to see if maybe it’s hidden under the cloth I used to transport the loom.  Nope.

A desperate moment.  A sudden sense of panic.  A long deep breath.

Still strapped into the loom, I suddenly remembered how earlier in the afternoon, my Teacher explained that the biyaliga must be taken out before the loom is folded.  In my excitement to take home my loom, I inadvertedly left my biyaliga at my Teacher’s home.

Freeing myself from the loom, I pace back and forth for inspiration. 

Why don’t I have an old school metal ruler at home? I grab a wooden incense holder.  But for the life of me, I can’t remember the exact sharpness of the edge of the biyaliga.  I grab my jade arc-shaped Gua Sha, a Traditional Chinese Medicine self-massage tool that stimulates the lymphatic system.  Disaster averted? Or file under #EpicFail? 

Strapped back into the loom, I take a deep breath and pray before proceeding. 

The wooden incense holder’s edge is too thick.  Argh. 

The jade Gua Sha’s edge is perfect.  Except that it curves.  Waaa. 

Our ancestors were indigenius in designing a beautiful perfect tool like the biyaliga

Breathe.  I didn’t want to waste any moment being separated from my loom.  But at that moment I wished that I could go outside, salvage some wood and hand-carve a biyaliga.  Desperate times result in creative attempts requiring comedic relief. 

In a race against the last couple of hours before the sunset, I was determined to make it work.  If Tim Gunn was here, he would be proud.  Probably deeply concerned, but hopefully proud of my efforts.

The first pass with the incense holder was a disaster. The pakan was suspended in the middle of the sakyot, refusing to merge with the rest of the weft.  The sharpness of the Gua Sha made the weave tighter.  But then I discovered that it really tightens the weft after the second pass.  Once the cross-hatch is achieved, when you sudsod tap using the Gua Sha, it makes it look better.  I give it a chance.  And then come to the humble conclusion that it doesn’t look quite right since the pakan now angles to the left.

Saved by the setting sun.  Counting down to a reunion with my beautiful biyaliga

Several weeks later, reunited and it feels so good.  Balance restored.  And all is right in the world.

Just as every living creature in the circle of life has its purpose, so does every tool in laga weaving.

Mabuhay!

Grace Villarin Dueñas

Photo Notes (top to bottom):  Gedchangan back-strap, biyaliga, tubungan taken April 5; laga came home on May 7; biyaliga in action. 

 

SA-U-YAN

In Kalinga, weavers weave in community.  My Teacher explained that most weavers set-up their loom right outside their homes so that they are easily able to interact with their neighbors. 

I carpool with Leng Leng to weaving class.  It’s the first time I’m weaving with my Teacher and another Apprentice. We try to figure out where to set-up so that we can weave side-by-side.  Leng Leng takes the usual spot by the desk, while my Teacher sets-up my loom right next to it.  She takes my sa-u-yan, the longest dowel in the loom and tries to set-up using the bookcase.  The length of the bookcase is longer than the length of the usual spot.  It requires a longer sa-u-yan to anchor the loom. 

“Let’s exchange,” my Teacher says as she hands me Leng Leng’s sa-u-yan

“Okay,” I reply. 

With one swift graceful movement like a samurai adeptly drawing her sword, I rapidly pull out the sa-u-yan from my carefully rolled together loom, and then gently present it to my Teacher, the Master Weaver.

“How did you do that?” she asks.

I pause to reflect on her question.

“Oh my gulay!  What DID I just do?”

Halakhakan. We all burst into boisterous laughter.  Simultaneous giggles.

Without a moment to contemplate the potential gravity of my actions, we were in stitches.

I was left speechless, confused, perplexed, intrigued and in awe.  All at the same time.  Slightly nervous about what I may discover next…I held my breath in prayer.  Then, I was extremely grateful for every thread was still in its proper place. 

We take a collective sigh of relief.

I am still mostly bewildered.  Yet still very amused. 

More spontaneous eruptions of laughter and giggles.  Sobrang halakhakan to da max.

Here in Ohlone territory at Turtle Island, we weave and laugh in community too.

I still chuckle out loud to myself whenever I recall that moment of hearing my Teacher say “How did you do that?”

Mabuhay! 

Grace Villarin Dueñas

Photo Notes (top to bottom): Weaving together at the same time requires a very long shared sa-u-yan, compared to the length of the sa-u-yan when weaving by oneself.

KULAY

I see traditional Kalinga weaving colors everywhere.

It’s the day before weaving class, and I’m so eagerly anticipating my graduation.  Graduation!  Excited to be given formal permission by my Teacher to take home my back-strap loom.   

I eat my lunch at my usual spot on the grass, underneath the very edge of the shadow of an oak tree.  Enjoying the best of both worlds, sunlight and sunshade, I happily throw my winter coat on the freshly cut bright green grass. 

Lo and behold, a welcome companion the higad caterpillar wearing black, red, and yellow stripes with tufts of fluffy white.  Mga kulay ng higad, the colors of the caterpillar.

In laga, the colors weave traditional imagery and sacred healing.

Black as the fertile land.

Red for the bravery of the Kalinga people.

Yellow as the precious sand.

White for the fragrant flowers of the coffee trees.

Green as the hand-carved terraced mountains.

Magagandang kulay ng lupa, mga tao, buhangin, mga bulaklak at mga bundok.  Enchanting colors of the land, people, sand, flowers and mountains.

Mabuhay! 

Grace Villarin Dueñas

PITIPIT

The laga weaving process usually starts with pitipit or spooling the yarn.

In the United States, we don’t have access to the traditional yarn that they use in Kalinga.  Instead, we purchase commercial sewing cotton thread, and then combine two spools together to simulate the thickness of the yarn traditionally used in laga.  The two-ply thread, the warp or the longitudinal threads, is then used to create the framework of the piece, the sakyot.  We also combine two of the two-ply pieces to create a four-ply thread, the pakan, the weft or the lateral threads that we use to go back and forth to fill the sakyot. 

Laga is traditionally only taught to women.  A gift from the Divine Feminine and passed on from grand-mother to mother to daughter to grand-daughter.  My Teacher Jenny Bawer Young learned from her aunt Alice Dumatog who had learned from my Teacher’s maternal grandmother Mambot Cusay.   

Recently, I went to visit my twin six-year old nephews.  One afternoon, while they were busy playing with their legos, I found a quiet corner in their room and sat on the floor in order to pitipit.

The kambal, the twins are very curious and inquisitive.  And I cherish every opportunity to learn from them.  I love being their Ninang, their godmother.  Needless to say, I couldn’t say no when they asked to help with the pitipit. 

Eager to participate, they each took one end of the spool.  Grateful that I didn’t have to worry about the spools rolling away, I pitipit-ed as fast as I could while basking in pride at this teachable moment of cultural sharing. 

I shared the story how my Teacher explained that the only time that laga isn’t allowed in their village is when there is a tribal war.  The Kalinga believe that laga drains the energy of the warriors.  Awesome Divine Feminine Power!

I look up.

Where are the Kambal?  Each with a spool.                                       

Slowly moving backwards.  Further and further.                                     

Now moving in different rhythms.  Slower and faster.                             

Now moving in opposite directions.  To the east and to the west.       

Ninang – 0, Kambal – 1.

In weaving, as in life, every moment counts. 

Mabuhay! 

Grace Villarin Dueñas

LAGA

A soothing cadence lingers as the biyaliga glides through the sakyot

Higpitan, sudsud, luwagan, sudsud, higpitan, sudsud, luwagan, sudsud. 

The rhythm stains my fingers, leaving signatures dito at doon here and there diri kag dira.                                                              

Higpitan, sudsud, luwagan, sudsud, higpitan, sudsud, luwagan, sudsud. Tighten, tap tap, loosen, tap tap, tighten, tap tap, loosen, tap tap.  Higpitan, sudsud, luwagan, sudsud, higpitan, sudsud, luwagan, sudsud.

Learning the language of laga, the Kalinga back-strap loom weaving is fun.

For my first one-on-one session with my Teacher, we spend three hours setting-up the loom, and then an hour weaving together. 

My Teacher explained that in Kalinga, the children learn by helping the Master Weaver set-up the loom.  The Master Weaver would space out the first puuyan, the tubungan, the second puuyan, and then the sa-u-yan

Then, as my Teacher the Master Weaver stood by the first puuyan, she took the first color and adeptly gela-i wound the yarn through the first puuyan, then the tubungan, and then the second puuyan, and lastly to the sa-u-yan.

Taas, baba, ilalim ikot palabas, taas ikot paloob.  Ibalik sa simula.  Above, below, under turn toward the outside, over turn toward the inside.  Back to the beginning. Baba, taas, ilalim ikot palabas, taas ikot paloob.  Ibalik sa simula.   

Just like the children, I stood on the other end by the sa-u-yan where I carefully handed the yarn back and forth to the Master Weaver until setting up the sakyot was done.

In Kalinga, the children are usually given the left-over yarn, so that the first project that they learn to weave is usually a very colorful headband.  For us, we will learn how to weave a takyed, a belt.

Mabuhay!

Grace Villarin Dueñas

Photo Notes:  Photo taken on April 5th after my first hour of weaving.  

KAPWA

My interest in learning the indigenous traditional arts was strongly influenced by various artisans from my ancestral provinces.  Growing up in Pilipinas, I was in awe of the woodcarvers, paper maché sculptors and painters from Laguna in Southern Tagalog where my Mama’s side the Consul Villarin are from; and the potters, embroiderers and weavers from Iloilo in Western Visayas where my dad’s Mama’s side the Oquindo Gerochi are from. 

As long as I can remember, I was taught to be proud of my roots, to honor the talented artist, to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the craft made by hand, and to respect the generous Source of the wood, the clay, and the textile. 

It is a blessing and an honor to be an apprentice for Jenny Bawer Young, Master Weaver in the indigenous traditional art of laga back-strap loom weaving from the Kalinga in Pilipinas.  I am very grateful to Leny Strobel and the Center for Babaylan Studies for connecting me to Holly Calica.  Indeed, I am very lucky to be part of the Laga California Circle.   

Learning laga weaving from Jenny Bawer Young is pakikipag-kapwa, our shared identity in praxis.  Even though I am learning a tradition that isn’t directly from my ancestral roots, I am learning so much about our shared core cultural values.  As I learn more about my kapwa Kalinga, the more I learn about my “shared self.”

My favorite part of weaving is communing in our circle.  Every kuwentuhan talk story is a gift.  Together, we weave our dreams, visions, and prayers.  And as we each wind thread into a ball, we create an endless circle to preserve and sustain our beautiful cultures together.

Mabuhay!

Grace Villarin Dueñas

Photo Notes (top to bottom):  Started on February 27, top photo taken on March 2, completed on April 4.

BUKO 

In Tagalog, buko is the fresh seed and fruit of the coconut palm.  The fresher the fruit, the sweeter the juice, the silkier the meat.  A delicious nutritious meal. 

A native plant of Pilipinas, the niyog coconut palm, the “Tree of Life,”   generously provides resources for our healthy well-being and daily living.  Food, drink, oil, medicine, fiber, thatch, timber, fuel, tools, canoe building, weaving, baskets, hats, mats, art materials, poetic inspiration, ceremony, coastal stabilization, windbreak.

Buko evokes fond memories of a beloved Inang Bayan, Mother Land.     A welcome treat especially on a blazing hot humid tropical summer day. A nourishing refreshment after a whole day of playing at the beach, communing with Inang Dagat, Mother Ocean.  Community. Festivals. Gatherings. Celebrations.

In the diaspora, the buko is a sacred seed that reminds us how to thrive. 

Inang Kalikasan, Mother Nature provides us with all of the medicine to heal ourselves.  Our indigenous knowledge, beliefs, practices and rituals are carried within these seeds.  Like healing seeds, our indigenous cultures contain ancient wisdom on how to live grounded balanced fruitful lives. 

When we nurture our sacred seeds, we nurture our indigenous souls.

In harmony with the sacred directions BaTaHaLaNaWaKa                                                 

Para sa Araw ng Kalayaan, in Love & Freedom

Mabuhay! 

Grace Villarin Dueñas