More often than not, when Sarangani is brought up in conversations, most would speak of Glan’s pristine white sand beaches and the Capitol in Alabel as Sarangani’s version of the White House. Excluding these two however, is another place just as awe-inspiring as the aforementioned. Approximately forty-five minutes away from General Santos City, stands the humble establishment of the Balungis Women’s Association.
In a generation where culture and tradition are slowly fading into the background, it’s a rarity to find young adults interested in tradition-inspired activities, much more engaged and engrossed in them. With all the techy gadgets sprouting out of tech-companies, things like weaving, pottery and wearing cultural clothes are left to the hands of our parents and grandparents. Isn’t it sad to have to acknowledge the possibility of the loss of these unequaled traditions – traditions that our forefathers have, for generation after generation, so passionately took care of?
But in a place where modernization hasn’t quiet dug its claws completely yet, it’s wonderful to see and know that our most prized prides of the past aren’t lost to us yet. In Balungis, Tuyan, Malapatan, Sarangani Province, a group of women amalgamated not only to give housewives the opportunity to earn money through some semblance of a livelihood but also to upkeep a tradition they’ve inherited from the grandmothers of their grandmothers.
This group of idealistic women refused to leave the treasures of our ancestors in the past and instead chose to bring these traditions to life through weaving threads of wonderful colors. The association was founded in 2009 by Maysalan Magangcong and only had four-thousand pesos as initial capital. From there, the women of Balungis – with the help of the local government – had been able to upsurge the state of the association tenfold. They produce malongs, shawls and scarfs of high quality personally made through a wooden equipment called ‘Tanunan’ controlled by the weaver’s hand and feet. At present, their tunics have reached places as far as London, Alaska and Japan. The Balungis Women’s Association has also received awards from the Department of Labor and Employment and has also been visited by celebrities like Robi Domingo and Robin Padilla.
“Dili lang man siya para sa mga Maguindanaons. Pwede ra man uapil ang biskan kinsa,” current officiating director Jana Ria Magangcong said when asked about the exclusivity of the guild. She also stressed the fact that training is free for those from around the place who are willing to learn. She said, “kung gusto sa mga bata diri makatuon, ginatudluan lang man namo sila ug libre.”
Their malongs and wrap-arounds are so intricately and meticulously made that it takes longer than a day or two to finish one material – machines for sure could finish hundreds of shawls in a day. But machines can’t produce the kind of quality a hand-woven product can. Another thing that is amazing is the fact that the weaver is given full freedom to do whatever design she wants. They do not follow a certain layout and only weaves whatever design comes to mind.
“Wala man mi’y design na ginasunod,” said 19-year old Mara Magangcong, daughter of Miss Jana Ria, during our little exchange. “Ga-habi lang mi unya kapag human na, munindot raman sad ang resulta. Dili man mi ginabawalan or ginalimita sa amuang ginahimo.”
Currently, the association has eighteen members and is still welcoming aspiring weavers. “Mas maayo nga mu-participate ang mga inahan diri kaysa magpungko ra sila sa ilahang balay sige’g tsismis. Maayo ning mag-weave kay matudlo nila sa ilahang mga anak,” said Miss Janaria Magangcong when asked about the significance of the Association. “Ang malong man gud magamit bisan asa – sa mga kasal, sa balay, pantulog.”
More than the desire to help their fellow women, the Association longs to be a sanctuary for the maintenance of their people’s weaving tradition. In a world where culture isn’t given much attention to anymore, they yearn for it to withstand. Through threading fibers one after the other, they wish to pass this tradition to the daughters of their daughters hoping for it to survive through the generations that will follow.
“Ako ug ang akong ate, si Enula, diri na nagdako ug gikadak-an na ang paghabi. Nakatuon ko kay gatan-aw tan-aw pud ko ug gapangutana sa akoang Mama,” Mara Magangcong said while telling us the story of how she started weaving. “Thirteen ko nagsugod ug ginahimo ko na ni hangtod karon since nag-undang man ko’g skwela. Gusto ko ipadayon ni ug ma-share pud sa uban kay nindot man jud ang weaving.”
Like the threads in a finished malong, may the passion to sustain the tradition from years ago be unyielding and continue on to the future.
by Bea Dominique Abe