Banana fabric from the Philippines

21/11/2017 14:25

The traditional technique of weaving using banana fibers in the Philippines is still going strong in today’s fashion world.

Cantanduanes Province, east of Manila, Southern Cotabato in Mindanao Region and the north of Luzon Island are largest banana-growing regions and banana exporters of the Philippines. The locals there have for centuries deployed banana fiber to weave extremely unique and striking costumes called T’nalak. This costume is characterized by its signature tricolors of white, black and red and decorative prints or embroideries of animals and the natural landscape in which tribal people of T’boli and Ifugao reside.

At the creative hands of local craftsmen, banana fibers result in finished costumes that not only demonstrate tribal identities but also display high fashion sense. T’boli people collect banana trunks, peel them off, dry and spin into weaving threads called musa textilis. To create these special threads, weavers must undertake a series of steps: separating fiber to make threads, connecting two threads together, hooking threads vertically on the loom, shaping decorative prints, tying threads to make patterns, weaving, dying, polishing the fabrics by rubbing oyster shell pieces on the surface and more.

A secret to secure the beauty of this banana fiber based clothing is the dying technique of ikat before threads are woven. Plastic strings, plant fibers or leaves are bunched all around these threads. In the dying, wrapped areas are not exposed to the hues. The bunching and dying process is repeated time after time with locations of knots changed and different hues used to create different areas of colors on the fabrics. Weavers who use multicolored threads as horizontal or vertical threads will yield mono ikat prints (vertical threaded ikat or horizontal threaded ikat), while who use both vertical and horizontal threads will yield duo ikat fabrics. Following the drying, a single thread may feature patchworks of indigo, red, yellow and black together, in a different cascade of shades. Weavers can also mingle colors in their unique and peculiar manner on the black surface of ethnic fabrics, also known as wavy decorative prints.

In T’boli folk culture, from the selection of banana fiber to the completion, women are not allowed to have sexual contact with men and T’boli men are also banished from touching woven fiber threads, or else the products may not be completed.
The practical functionality of these fiber threads lies in their resistance to any changes in weather, particularly humidity. A growing number of contemporary clients have swooned over banana fiber-based fashion. Since then, there have been numerous diverse fashion lines: skirts, blouses, overcoats jackets, headscarves and more, up to the style and preferences of each wearer. The fabric is deployed by Philippine tribes as offerings in their weddings. Previously, banana fiber fabric was also used for royal weddings. It represents vitality and harmony in love and marriage. A valuable spiritual and artistic item, banana fiber fabric has also been deployed for shrouds of Christ statues in Catholic churches.

The weaving techniques T’nalak of T’boli people were also applied by Bagobos, B’laan and Pulangiyen tribes. Here, a school was even set up to attract young students to learn, preserve and develop this traditional weaving treasure. Designers have also produced various designs woven out of banana fiber. From contestants in Miss Philippines pageants to fashion models to the ethnic minority craftspeople of the Philippines, many are highly proud of promoting their banana fabric clothes and accessories all over the world.

Story & Photos: Tran Tan Vinh

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