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Don't Use A Funeral Cloth For A Sofa

And other lessons we could learn from the Likhang Habi Fair

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Photography: Courtesy of Habi

Do you think you are giving your client or friend—an unwitting, innocent homeowner—a heritage or Filipino history lesson by upholstering her sofa or sewing up pillows in a sacred tribal cloth?

You might want to think twice before doing this, as you might be using a precious, sacred fabric that would be considered disrespectful by the tribe who made it. Marlon Martin, founder of the Save The Ifugao Terraces Movement and the Ifugao Heritage School, says there is such a thing as “cultural appropriation,” an act which devalues an indigenous textile or craft when you treat the item with disrespect (like using funerary cloths or bulol liberally as décor), or if you gain an exorbitant profit from the item without the original crafter benefiting from it.


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“We see our sacred blankets being used as sofa covers, as tablecloths, [and] it’s offensive for us, and I’m sure other people will feel the same way because when they see their sacred fabrics being used in a different way,” Marlon explains in his talk at the media launch of the 2017 Likhang Habi Fair. “Our main advocacy is heritage conservation and one way to inform people of the appropriateness of the use of indigenous textiles is to educate them particularly in things like this.”

The Philippines has a wide variety of indigenous textile patterns, many of which can be used decoratively or for contemporary wear. Marlon offers a few ways to avoid cultural appropriation:

Ask the weaver or the seller about the background of the fabric.



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Before you have a raw tribal fabric stitched up into a pillow or table runner, ask the weaver or the seller first about its background, and what the patterns mean. This would help guide you on how to treat or use the fabric, and this act would show the weaver or seller that you have respect for it. “Now we find it really important that we need to connect with the outside world if we want to let them [the public] know how these textiles should be properly used,” says Marlon.

Have another pattern created.



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“I’m wondering why a lot of designers want to use our death blankets for their gowns and for their furniture covers…it’s not the only fabric that we have,” says Marlon, referring to the Ga’mong, the death blankets that are laid over the deceased. These blankets have patterns and motifs like human figures, animals, and huts that have specific meanings. “Some pieces of ikat…have bits and pieces of the elements of [the] death blanket, but it’s not one of our sacred textiles. You can use them, and you can always ask the weaver for something different.”

Read up. 



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Marlon says that there are only a few sacred fabrics, and identifying them is essential to avoiding cultural appropriation. The book Habi: A Guidebook to Philippine Textiles is a comprehensive tome that identifies and gives the background on all indigenous textiles, from north to south. The book will be available for sale at the upcoming Habi Fair.


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“All traditions all artisans, all crafts, is an adjustment to the environment. However, in this environment, because everything is becoming mechanical, people are still looking for natural things, and one of them is this kind of indigenous fabrics,” says Habi chair Maribel Ongpin.


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Homeowners and designers alike can learn more about our heritage textiles from the 7th Likhang Habi Fair, which will be held at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati City this week, from October 20 to 22, 2017. At this fair, one can purchase fine woven indigenous fabrics and materials, and the products mindfully made from them—and don’t forget to ask the seller about what you’re buying, as well.  


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NOTE: The woven products and textiles posted in this article were mindfully used, and will be sold at the Habi Fair. Check out Habi: The Philippine Textile Council, Inc. Facebook page for more information.

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