Preserving the Colors of my Skirt: Laga, Backstrap Weaving of the Kalinga of the Philippines


ACTA - Posted on 10 March 2013

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In the Northern Philippines on the island of Luzon in the Cordillera administrative sector is a region referred to as Kalinga, where the cultural group with the same name, Kalinga, reside. The Kalinga are an indigenous group that has resisted various colonizing efforts by Spanish, Japanese, and US forces throughout the ages, thus maintaining social, political, and cultural ways of knowing specific to them. As recent as the early 1980's, the Kalinga people demonstrated unwavering spirit when they defeated the globalization efforts of the World Bank-funded Chico Dam project, which was supported by the Marcos dictatorship. The protest around this project not only solidified the Kalinga as resilient, but illuminated their investment in their way of life.

In addition to being known as warriors, tribal militants, and historically headhunters, the Kalinga also have preserved various forms of music, dance, artisan work, and many other cultural expressions. ACTA is fortunate to contribute to the maintenance of the form, Laga, the backstrap loom weaving that is utilized to fashion blankets, celebratory regalia and clothing items, by supporting master artist Jenny Bawer Young through its Apprenticeship Program. It is most likely that Bawer Young is the only Kalinga weaver in California and possibly in the United States. 

Bawer Young worked with apprentice Holly Calica, whose family is from the same island of Luzon but from different cultural groups and locations—her father came from the Ilocano group and her mother Pagasinan. Calica met Bawer Young through the Bay Area Filipino dance community, and upon learning that she was a master weaver, Calica knew they were brought together for a reason. Since any style of Filipino weaving is rare to find, she felt that it was important that Bawer Young continue to practice the form and teach. Calica hopes through learning this form, one day she will also find an opportunity to learn the weaving practices of her parent’s cultural group.

Together they illuminate a passion to keep this practice vibrant. The goal for the apprenticeship was for Calica to weave her own skirt and regalia, which will be used to perform the dances of Kalinga. Bawer Young explains the regalia, specifically the skirt, maintains historical meaning in the use of the traditional colors red, that signifies the bravery of the Kalinga people; black, the soil/land; white, the flowers of the coffee trees; yellow, the sand; and green, the mountain side. The sea shells that adorn the skirt also index special (precious) materials bartered with people of the coast (from where Calica’s family is from) for items such as coffee and rice that are produced by the Kalinga. Bawer Young also explains that in the Philippines outside influence still trickle into the culture, as apparent with traditional dance groups that are now wearing short skirts (similar to mini-skirts) in place of the skirt lengths that reach below the knee. Being in the United States, Bawer Young can resist such types of influences and work on preserving the knowledge of her family and affirming this knowledge by sharing with Calica and others in the East Bay area of California.

Please see Holly Calica’s Apprenticeship Blog for much more information on Kalinga, Laga, and Filipino culture in the Philippines and the United States. 

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Preserving the Colors of My Skirt

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Holly Calica weaves on a Kalinga Laga backstrap loom.

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Jenny Bawer Young adjusts the thread on the middle piece of the backstrap loom for Holly Calica.

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Jenny Bawer Young adjusts the thread on the middle piece of the backstrap loom for Holly Calica.

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Jenny Bawer Young and Holly Calica refer back to a photo that was saved on Calica's phone.

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Closer look at the embroidery and shell work added to the woven skirt of the Kalinga from the Philippines.

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Closer look at the embroidery and shell work added to the woven skirt of the Kalinga from the Philippines.

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Holly Calica passes thread through strands of threads to create a weave.

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Holly Calica practices the Kaliga Laga, weaving on the backstrap loom.

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A back perspective of the backstrap loom.

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A finished woven skirt for a woman's regalia of the Kalinga from Northern Philippines.

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A frontal perspective of the backstrap loom.

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Adjusting the thread on the middle piece of the backstrap loom.