BASEY, Samar — The sweltering heat was starting to fade, sea breeze bringing in cold air and the sun was starting to set when Lisa brought out a bundle of neatly rolled-up mat that she’s trying to finish.
“This is my quarantine life. I am trying to make new designs which I hope the clients will like,” the 36-year-old mother said as she put straws of different colors to a circular mat to create what looks like a floral design. “This one is for a sala centerpiece ordered by a client in Manila.”
Lisa said banig-weaving in Basey town has been fast evolving in the last five years, artisans have gone beyond weaving to create a sleeping mat but is now also creating a diverse product for a rapidly growing diverse market.
Last Monday, the first batch of bags made of woven mats from Basey was shipped to Geneva, Switzerland for display in branches of Viverra, a leading coffee shop in that city.
The shipment, consisting of 32 bags and six wall decors, is the initial order of the first European firm that tied up with LARA, a brand developed by the Samar provincial government for its banig-made products.
“We are very proud that our products are now starting to be noticed abroad,” says Lisa. “Just imagine how many jobs it will create here if we make it big abroad.”
“This will help the weavers of Basey, it will help them sustain their livelihood and having an international exposure will allow the brand to expand networks and awareness,” said Nen Ramos, project-in-charge of LARA. “Hopefully, more sales.”
LARA is a brainchild of former Samar governor and Rep. Sharee Ann Tan. The idea was to reinvent banig from a lowly sleeping mat into stylish pieces that attract a wider market.
Over the years, innovative pieces in the form of bags, shoes, accessories and home decors have become part of LARA’s growing array of banig-made products. Lara means weaving in Waray dialect.
The Samar provincial government gathered the four biggest banig houses of Basey and challenged them to create designs that could compete in the high-end, global arena which local weavers took seriously.
The local weavers formed an association called Basey Association for Native Industry Growth or BANIG that tied up with LARA.
BANIG supplies the banig while LARA develops it into finished products.
Banig weaving is a centuries-old craft of Basey that started even before the Spaniards came to the country. The artistry and skills involved in banig weaving has been passed down for generations.
Banig is made of tikog, a wild grass that grows abundant in swampy areas and rice paddies in the town.
Weaving is normally done during sunset to keep the straw strong as heat makes it brittle. Some weavers do their weaving inside caves when temperature is colder especially during summer.
“Despite the global pandemic, we are grateful to still be able to provide livelihood to our weaving communities in Basey. All proceeds will go to the BANIG,” Ramos said of their new European market in Geneva.
Lisa said the coronavirus pandemic greatly affected the livelihood of banig weavers as there was hardly an order from their usual buyers. But this did not dampen her enthusiasm to create more products with new designs.
“This is the most perfect time to weave more and develop more designs when you have more time to stay at home to avoid getting the disease,” she said.
“What we are experiencing now is just a temporary setback. After this pandemic, I have already made many products to sell that I know my clients will like,” she added.