A few months ago, I visited Basey, which was one of the towns affected by Yolanda. It was there that I met the weavers (mostly mothers) who make the famous banig bags of Samar. John, who’s been working with them in the past months, wrote in an email:
Twenty years ago, Saob Cave in Basey, Samar, used to be home to hundreds of banig weavers, or paraglara in the local dialect. Locals told me that on most days, the weavers – mostly women – would crowd the whole length of the cave’s spacious cleft, and the walls would resonate with the sounds of laughter, loose gossip, and the rustling of dried grass under deft fingers.
As Mana Julita, a leader of the local weavers’ association, explains in Tagalog, ‘We weave in the cave because of the cool temperature. It keeps the tikog grass [the raw material for banig] soft and pliable.’ It also makes for pretty photograph for visitors.
Today, however, tourists would be lucky to see a dozen weavers inside Saob Cave at any one time. A keen observer would remark on how old most of them are, with calloused hands and hunched backs from having spent too many years bent over their unfinished mats on the floor.
‘It is very difficult work,’ says Mana Clarita, the 60-year old auditor of the weavers’ association. ‘It is painful. And it pays very little. But I’ve been able to send my kids to college because of it.’