Michelle de Guzman | April 2008
A Silliman University Divinity School teacher’s initiative 13 years ago spawned a source of livelihood for 365 people today.
In 1995, the late Dr. Elena Maquiso first organized a cooperative called Hiniusang Katawan sa Bantayan (HIKABAN), which specializes in abaca and piña cloth weaving.
Originally meant to simply teach more locals native weaving skills, HIKABAN became a business and tourist attraction as the only piña cloth maker in the province of Negros Oriental.
Manager Enriquita Alcaide related, “Dr. Maquiso got donations from friends abroad and had this building in Barangay Bantayan constructed. Then a French and German who wanted to help the depressed families in the area gave us funding from Luxembourg.”
She said that a pilot farm for pineapples was operated for two years in Barangay Banilad and they bought the technology from Aklan.
However, Alcaide, who has been with HIKABAN from the start as a volunteer bookkeeper, added that since the manufacturing of piña cloth is very intricate, the cooperative board decided that while they will still produce piña cloth, they will now focus more on abaca because they profit from it quicker.
“Kuti man gud kaayo ang piña. Our original piña workers who were asked to help with abaca manufacturing when it was in demand didn’t want to go back anymore,” she said.
While chased by Manila exporters, designers and socialites, the piña cloth requires 45 people to knot for every one weaver. For every three meters, which is the usual requirement for barongs, one would have to spend almost Php 2,000 for the cloth alone.
Alcaide commented, “Daghan ra gihapon mopalit. Piña cloth is world-class, it is lig-on (has heightened tensile strength), and it has an inherent luster. People all over the world can say that it is a really unique indigenous fiber.”
“I heard the Japanese tried to mechanize the craft of piña cloth, but they failed. Maybe it is not meant for machines. It is for people so they could do it by hand and earn from it,” she added.
She also said that foreigners like Philippine products because they are not synthetic, perhaps referring to the extremely long process that goes with the production of one beautiful gown made of piña cloth.
It all starts with native red Spanish pineapples planted one foot apart. After 16 months, the lower 15 leaves are harvested and pineapple fibers extracted. Broken porcelain is then used to scrape it clean to obtain the coarse fiber, which is washed in flowing water, preferably in streams and rivers.
After it is beaten again to loosen the fibers, it is air dried in the shade. It is then cleaned, knotted, mapped out and dressed on the loom, before the weaving starts. That only produces half a meter per day. And this time period does not include the embroidery.
This is why Alcaide could say with conviction that wearing piña cloth, during weddings most especially, is a status symbol. Not everybody can afford it, and one can only imagine the effort exerted by people in Bantayan and adjacent barangays just to make it.
To strengthen the piña cloth industry (Alcaide said there is none yet since they are the only ones producing it in Negros), HIKABAN plans to enter into a collaborative enterprise with the municipality of Dauin in the near future.
“This is really a home industry. We get to augment the income, and sometimes even provide income, for a lot of families here. We also share the craft of abaca production to Koreans from the Gandhi Village School who want to experience Philippine culture,” she said.
No matter how much they have branched out and discovered which works best for their members, one can truly say that their small cooperative, which has already been featured in the Lifestyle Options 2003 National Trade Fair and Ato ni Day! Aton ni To! Masskara Festival Trade Fair, among others, has gone a long way.
With the support of the barangay, city and province, and despite some delays in funding for their materials, it is a given that HIKABAN and its hardworking members will weather the years to come.