By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Salika Maguindanao, a Moro woman, wife, and mother, has known how to weave their traditional heirloom langkit pieces for so long as she can remember. As a then highschooler, she remembers sitting next to her mother, who patiently taught her how every strand and knot can make beautiful pieces.
“If you know how to weave, you will never go hungry,” was her mother’s mantra. Little did she know it would prove to be true.
In 2017, Salika was among the Moro people who were forcibly evacuated when the Marawi Siege broke out. The five-month-long siege displaced 370,000 residents, and killed more than a thousand government and rebel troops, and civilians.
The Asian Development Bank pegged the total damages and losses at $348 million. With the city’s stagnant economic progress before the siege, the ADB said it “does not have sufficient resources to overcome” the losses and that “recovery will be slow and modest without substantial assistance.”
While their reality seemed gloomy at the evacuation site, it was also where Salika co-founded the Maranao Collectible Service Cooperative, which has helped them preserve their tradition and provide a livelihood to those who lost their homes and livelihood to the Marawi Siege. As of now, there are about 80 artisans, mostly women, who are part of the cooperative.
Preserving their culture
Salika said that it is imperative for her and her family to preserve their culture and way of life, as their homes and livelihood turned to rubble during the Marawi Siege.
Weaving, she said, was a gift that her mother Dida imparted to her and her four siblings. This is especially after the passing of her Sultan father when she was only in sixth grade. It was then that her mother took matters into her own hands – literally and figuratively – to ensure that there would be food on their table and that she would be able to send them to school.
“I became closer to my mother. We would chat while weaving, and she would tell me of her days as a young Moro woman. It became our bonding,” she told Bulatlat via Zoom interview.
Whenever there are officials from the government’s trade department visiting their home, the loquacious and young Salika would often be asked to talk to their visitors as she was fluent in both English and Tagalog.
Even after her marriage and while also helping her husband’s printing business, Salika continued to weave, though not full-time. This got her and her mother an invitation from the Office of Sen. Loren Legarda to demonstrate how the weaving was done at the National Museum in Manila before the Marawi Siege.
Their langkit pieces, said Salika, have no ready patterns. “Weavers are also artists. We do not have a warp with a pattern on it, unlike other tribes. We manually weave the thread to come up with the design. The design is right there in the heads of the weavers.”
During the Marawi Siege, Salika initially thought that they can return to their homes a day or two after the violence broke. But the days turned to weeks, months, and years, and yet their lives have yet to return to normal. Her family lost their home and their income as their printing business was destroyed.
“Our house has become untraceable. You can only assume that the land where our house used to stand because of the remaining landmarks,” said Salika, adding that their belongings were nowhere to be found when they eventually returned months later.
They then stayed with their relatives at the outskirts of Marawi. For days, they had to move from one hotel room to another house of their relatives in nearby cities. Eventually, their money ran out and the houses of our relatives are already full and could no longer accommodate them.
Salika said she repeatedly asked herself how she can put food on their table.
“We are not employees. We do not have monthly salaries. We all relied on the daily sales (of our printing shop). While I have a sibling working abroad, we cannot forever rely on him. I just lifted everything to God, and asked him what lesson she was trying to teach me,” she said.
This, she said, was when she realized that God was pointing her toward weaving.
She remembered a fabric they left behind. While they were no longer able to retrieve it, they still decided to finish the order. This, she said, inspired her to form the cooperative.
With a cooperative, weavers are able to sell their fabric at a more reasonable price. From being paid around a dollar for every four meters of fabric, Salika said she sells the langkit at P50 per meter, depending on how intricate the design is.
This, she said, has helped mothers like her bring extra income to their families.
Among the women weavers that Salika has met is Norolain Saripada.
Like Salika, she also learned how to weave as a young girl. Her family was also among those displaced by the Marawi Siege, where her husband also lost his livelihood as a tricycle driver. Through the cooperative, Noralain has become her family’s breadwinner.
“I heard of Salika and what she was doing for weavers like me. We looked for her,” she told Bulatlat.
Opportunities and challenges
Salika said she used to think that “social enterprise” is only meant for the rich. But through the several training that introduced her to this concept, she began to see how can they apply the business setup.
In one of the training she attended, Salika won a P100,000-grant, which she used as capital. It helped that she was able to secure several clients, including 1,000 pieces of medal lanyard for a sporting event.
“The bulk order was overwhelming. Upon seeing the thread for the lanyards, I told myself that it was a guaranteed sales. But our members were not able to finish as their women weavers would often say that they were distracted by the need to clean the house and doing the dishes,” she said, adding that at times, they had to “leave their homes to line up for aid.”
Salika then sought the help of other weavers from neighboring provinces, allowing her to finish the orders. After that, more orders came in.
Part of getting clients is attending events – from Metro Manila to the United States – where she is invited to demonstrate how these heirloom langkit pieces are woven.
In 2020, Salika was part of the “Women Together for a Better Normal” of the Deepening Impact of Women Activators (DIWA), of program of non-profit organization Ashoka. This was a weekly, three-month online summit for 40 Women Social Entrepreneurs (WSEs) that provided them the opportunity to build their skills, hone their empathy and leadership, and form a community of support.
This program, which was funded in collaboration with the S&P Global Foundation and the Deutsche Bank, aimed to recognize the growing needs of social entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Salika’s husband, who also weaves for the Collectibles, on the other hand, has also created a “boat-like” seat that helped weavers sit comfortably. It also allowed them to stretch the thread as they weave, resulting in better fabric.
With the pandemic at hand, getting clients has become even more challenging. But Salika said she continues to persevere.
“The weaving industry holds a very big opportunity. There are still gaps and we still need to study it. Stil, I have always pointed out that weavers are also cultural bearers,” she told Bulatlat.
Salika said that when Maranao Collectible opened, they decided to increase the price point of their langkit pieces.
“Many weavers have stopped before because they know that it brings too little money. We have to address that because this will discourage the weavers. We leave it to the buyers if they still want to order. We explain to them that these are handicrafts and not mass-produced,” she said.
They are now able to produce 200 to 500 meters of fabric in a week, and have clientele from many parts of the country. They have also forged partnerships with distributors.
For now, Salika said they continue to improve their work, including their branding, to make the cooperative even more sustainable. This through the help of several non-government agencies. But there is no better way to make their cooperative sustainable but to ensure that the traditional knowledge of weaving their heirloom pieces is passed on to the new generation of young Moro men and women.
This includes her 12-year-old daughter, whom Salika also teaches.
But not everyone in their community is keen on teaching young ones the art of weaving their heirloom pieces, with some saying, “why do so when it only offers too little for their family?” As such, Salika said this is her inspiration to help uplift the weaving industry in their community.
She said that the government, for one, can help. Instead of providing “dole outs,” which, she said, can be a source of corruption, weavers like her prefer that the government procure their fabrics, which can be used for sablay, lanyards, and uniforms.
Salika said that while there is bidding process as provided by the law, the sad reality is that small social enterprises cannot bid against those that are either backed or favored by local government officials. “If you miss one requirement, you are already disqualified.”
This report is part of the DIWA Media Fellowship.