Philippine Ceramics Arts and Crafts Center (Tiwi, Albay)

After lunch and some special halo-halo at DJC Halo-Halo & Snack Inn, we again boarded our van for the short, 7-km. drive to the quiet, little coastal village of Putsan, touted as the birthplace of pottery in the Philippines.  The barangay is said to be rich in red clay and feldspar which are the basic materials in pottery making.

Philippine Ceramic Craft Arts (PhilCeramics)

Philippine Ceramics Arts and Crafts Center (PhilCeramics)

Here, we were to visit Philippine Ceramics Arts and Crafts Center (PhilCeramics), a state-of-the-art terra-cotta production center in the Bicol region which has been identified as a tourist destination by the Department of Tourism. The building, situated on a 1,500 square meter lot donated by the Barangay Council of Putsan to DTI-Albay, has a total floor area of 1,000 sq. m..

Clay being hand molded

Clay being hand molded

PhilCeramics introduced the modern technology of pottery making in Tiwi which is now the leading terracotta ceramic industry in Bicol Region. This project of Department of Trade and Industry, allocated P15.7 million under the General Appropriations Act of 1994, started operating in January 2001.

A pair of steady and trained hands working on the potter's wheel

A pair of steady and trained hands working on the potter’s wheel

The village then formed a cooperative, the Putsan Ceramics Manufacturers Association (PCMA), whose role was to process clay, through the PhilCeramics facility, and to sell them to the entrepreneurs.  PCMA now has 57 members from Brgys. Baybay, Bolo and Putsan. Three were able to put up their own display centers of their products. It now provides a sustainable livelihood through pottery making.

Various patterns being smoothly and uniformly carved out

Various patterns being smoothly and uniformly carved out

Many potters, though, not yet ready to adapt to the modern processes, still choose to abide by the traditional method of pottery.  Traditional potters dry clay and molded pots under the sun along the sides of road or in front of their houses, and use the conventional way of baking, burning piles of hay and chaff on their yards, with the molded items underneath.

Painting designs in warm and vibrant colors

Painting designs in warm and vibrant colors

Of the 80% of households in Putsan that were into pottery, 20%used the PhilCeramics service facility while 60% stuck to the traditional methods of production. However, the two groups have different markets and there never was a competition between the traditional and modern potters. The traditional potters produce pots and big jars while the modern potters invest on decorative items.  The peak season of the industry is from December to March.

Aromatherapy burners

Aromatherapy burners

Specifically, PhilCeramics is mandated to undertake research and development activities and serve as a training center that will hone the skills of the local producers, giving rise to new breed of TC entrepreneurs. Today, it has developed 25 new entrepreneurs in Putsan who are active users of the service facility.

Philceramics (23)

Stars and crescent moons carved into the jars

As a production center, it provides access to common state-of-the-art service facilities for clay processing, kiln firing, casting, use of spray booth, and electric throwing machines, thus enabling local producers to manufacture export quality products.. It is also a display center providing a space to interested local producers who wish to maintain an exhibit of their products. Through the transfer of appropriate technology, it also seeks to improve the quality of products.

Philceramics (9)

As a product development center, it conducts continuing product development activities in coordination with the PDDCP and other agencies. A training center, it provides a series of basic and advance skills training to potential and existing TC workers, producers and entrepreneurs. For trade development, it conducts trade seminars and forums, trade fair participation and market matching activities that enhance the marketability of the terracotta wares.

Philceramics (24)

Upon arrival, we observed the pottery making process within the factory.  The process begins with heaps of red clay being dug out.  The clay then undergoes a long, meticulous process to make them fine and ready for shaping.  Then, these chunks of red clay are ground, milled, sifted and pressed into finer lumps with a bit of water and white clay blended in the mixture. Three mixtures are used in making a pot – red clay (himulot na pula), black clay (himulot na itom) and feldspar (baras). Water is added to complete the formula. An average of 20 to 40 kilos of clay is produced daily.

Philceramics (25)

The processed clay is then distributed to the parahurma (the local term for potter) of Putsan for them to mold right inside their homes, making modern pottery a communal enterprise in the village.  Jars and pots are then hand-molded in delicate shapes, by men, on top of an electric-driven throwing machine.  A pair of steady and trained hands works on the potter’s wheel, molding clay into the shape of pots or jars.

Pots being dried under the sun

Pots being dried under the sun

Then creativity kicks in, with various patterns (butterflies, flowers, moon, stars, etc.) smoothly and uniformly carved out.  The molded and carved out jars and pots are then placed into petroleum gas-powered ovens and baked. Women paint the designs in warm and vibrant colors.  A tight watch is made over the oven as too much heat can also break the pots and jars.

Display center of finished products

Display center of finished products

Product prices vary depending on size and design but most do not exceed PhP500. The products made are mainly for local consumption since bringing them to Manila would be expensive due to the high cost of freight services from Albay. However, the local government is also extending financial help to the pottery industry with the long-term goal of penetrating the export market.

Ceramic key chains

Ceramic key chains

Products include elegant vases (PhP50-250), ash trays (PkP50-100), pencil holders (PhP35-60), miniature jars cut and holed to become candle holders (PhP50-65)and aromatherapy burners (PhP65-300), key-chains (PhP10), ref magnets (PhP35), candle holders, decorative wind-chimes featuring butterflies and flowers (PhP75) and lamp shades (PhP65-150).  Coffee mugs and tea cups are made-to-order.

Philceramics (49)

The ceramics from Tiwi, because of its improved quality and design, is now gradually being introduced to the world of fashion and interior design. Some ceramic-made accessories are now being fashioned into accents for bags, curtains and blinds. Ceramic accents that looked like cookies are used for wall frame products.

Horoscope key chains

Horoscope key chains

While we were in the facility, we met up and chatted with Japanese Ms. Yukiko Takiguchi, Ms. Chiaki Koyama and 27 year old Mr. Yuji Ueno.  Yukiko, who arrived in Albay early this year, was studying pottery making in the facility.  During her training, she learned the Bicolano dialect.  When we arrived, she was assisting Chiaki at molding a pot at the potter’s wheel, with Yuji, a volunteer by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), looking on.

Yukiko and Chiaki at the potters wheel

Yukiko and Chiaki at the potters wheel

Yuji, now working with Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO), also teaches students the concept of town watching, a popular activity on disaster education in Japan. Ueno is also bringing to Bicol the Iza! Kaeru Caravan, a famous Japanese fun-filled learning workshop and game on DRRM developed by PlusArts, a Japanese non-profit group, and the Japan Foundation.

PhilCeramics Arts and Crafts Center: Brgy. Putsan, Tiwi, 4513, Albay.

How to Get There: Tiwi is located 12 kms. from Tabaco City, 39 lms. from Legazpi City, and 538 kms. from Manila.  Brgy. Putsan is 2 kms. from the main road.

Natural Carpet Industries (Camalig, Albay)

Another cottage industry that Albay is famous for is their abaca handicraft and furniture manufacturing. Abaca (100% biodegradable and eco-friendly) and abaca-based products have been a consistent dollar earner for the Philippines, one of only two abaca producers in the world (the other is Ecuador).  At the top of the list of manufacturers is Natural Carpet Industries (NCI) in Camalig.  NCI is one of the big abaca processors that supply high‐end abaca products.

Felipe Noe M. Mapa, Jr.

Felipe Noe M. Mapa, Jr.

We dropped by NCI’s 7,300 sq. m. production area to observe the abaca product manufacturing process.  On arrival, we were welcomed by the 36 year old Camalig-born owner Mr. Felipe Noe Morin Napa Jr., Sumlang’s barangay captain and one of a pool of entrepreneurs and artists adept in creating innovative styles and designs that are in sync with global trends.

Rolls of carpets

Rolls of carpets

Abaca baskets

Abaca baskets

A stack of finished rattan chairs

A stack of finished rattan chairs

In 1995, Napa started his small handicraft business as Napa’s Handicraft, mortgaging almost all of the Napa family’s properties to set it up.  Manufacturing abaca rugs, rattan furniture and fixtures, it has survived tough competition from other handicraft producers, both here and abroad, paying its workers per piece of any hand-woven product they created.

Carpet weavers

Adding finishing touches to an abaca carpet

Now, NCI is debt-free, boasting of a complement of 120 skilled and experienced weavers and craftsmen.  They create world-class products largely to fill the demand of the export market, particularly in Australia, Canada, Middle East, Europe and China.  NCI has boosted Albay’s abaca industry and created more jobs in the province.  In 2014, Felipe received the Outstanding Albayano Award for Decorative Arts.

Basket maker at work

Basket maker at work

One of their major products is natural, eco-friendly abaca carpets which are available in so many styles and colors. Other products include abaca placemats, ottoman, carpets, sofa, beds, jelly lamps, blinds, baskets, mirror frames and, if you want, a coffin made from abaca. Like other manufacturers, they continue to produce diverse and unique products that have undergone meticulous research and conceptualization in order to ensure each product’s functionality and intricate designs.

Natural Carpet Industries (35)

Abaca strands being woven into a carpet

The manufacturing process begins with the fiber first being extracted from the trunk of the abaca (Musa textilis) plant. These are stripped by hand, dried, classified according to size, color and texture, and then segregated and stored in bales. Before weaving, each individual fiber is sorted out to ensure the consistency of the rug’s strength and superiority. The selected strands are then delicately and very carefully handwoven. From the cutting of a plant up to the start of weaving process takes about a month and a half. A 3 x 7-foot carpet takes one person a week to weave while bigger pieces can take about a month, using many different patterns.

Removing excess strands off a carpet

Removing excess strands off a carpet

Natural abaca fibers are twisted and woven by hand. I observed a woman demonstrating how to weave an exquisite, boldly textured 14” x 19” placemat. She first collected the pinuron (strands of abaca fiber) using the spinning wheel and then takes two separately collected pinurons and  alternately inserts the threads into the wooden handloom.

A handloom for weaving abaca

A handloom for weaving abaca

She then steps on the left break, inserts the first pinuron to the left side of the thread, then pounds it. Next, she steps on the right break, inserts the second pinuron to the right side of the thread, pounds it.

Newly painted baskets are placed under the sun to dry

Newly painted baskets are placed under the sun to dry

Natural Carpet Industries (NCI): Napa Bldg., Zone 5, Brgy. Sumlang, Camalig, 4502, Albay. Tel: (02) 738-9963.  Mobile number: (0917) 570-1830 and (0932) 811-1704. E-mail: napa_felipenoejr@yahoo.com.

Municipal Tourism, Culture and Arts Office: Camalig Tourism  and Pasalubong Center, Brgy. 2, Camalig, Albay.  Mobile number: (0927) 621-3315.  E-mail: camalig_tourism@yahoo.com.

Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office (PTCAO): Albay Tourism Bldg., Albay Astrodome Complex, Capt. F. Aquende Drive, 4500 Legaspi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 481-0250 and (052) 742-0242. E-mail: albaytourism@yahoo.com and albaytourism@gmail.com.

Cordillera World (Baguio City, Benguet)

Cordillera World

Cordillera World

Before we left the ever-popular Mines View Park, Melissa, Almira, Alber, Jandy and I visited the nearby Cordillera World, one of the newest attractions in the City of Pines located on the left side of the Mines View Tourism Office.

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

A pet project of Mr. Roland Cayat, this travel destination was opened last March 2011 through the help of some local investors and the support of the members of the Mines View Barangay Council.

Registration area and donation basket

Registration area and donation basket

A showcase of the rich heritage of the original mountain tribes of Northern Luzon, it is also an excellent vehicle to support a local advocacy and special program that helps out-of-school youths to go back to school or to finance and support their young families. There is no entrance fee but voluntary contributions from generous visitors to support the project are accepted.

Cordillera World (1)

Cordillera World (4)

We entered this second floor mini-museum/souvenir shop via a narrow wooden stairway whose risers feature salutations of “welcome” in five local dialects. Once inside, we had to register our names before taking photos. Do go around the displays, we walked on wooden sleepers laid on a gravel bed..

Cordillera World (2)

Cordillera World (11)

Here, we learned more about the lifestyle and culture of the highlands, seeing and sometimes touching ancient tools, clothing and accessories used by different tribes of the Cordilleras.

Cordillera World (7)

Cordillera World (8)

Visitors can even wear colorful, woven native costumes and feathery headdresses, as well as of being armed with hand-made bows, arrows and spears, and take photos as many times as they like.

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

At the center of the museum is a life-size replica of an Ifugao house decorated with animal skulls, woven tapestry and palay. From a viewing deck, we enjoyed the same spectacular view of the Cordillera mountains as seen from Mines View Park.  Beside it is their version of a “wishing well” (actually a pan filled with water).

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

A "wishing well"

A “wishing well”

Unique souvenirs sold here include Ifugao wine, CD that contains local Ifugao music to savour the culture even more, wood carvings and statues, pure honey, feathered headdresses and dream catchers that are hung around the place.

Cordillera World (10)

Cordillera World: Gibraltar Rd., Baguio City, Benguet.

Shoti Making at Badiauri Village (Sagarejo, Georgia)

We were now on our third and final day of our GNTA-sponsored Georgian Countryside Tour and Buddy, Pancho, Melissa, Riva and I, together with our Georgian guide Sopho, were to travel east again on a 112-km./2-hr. drive, via S5, to the town of Sighnaghi. Just about 75 kms. and a little over an hour out of Tblisi, we made a stopover at the village of Badiauri in the town of Sagarejo where we dropped by a bakery.  Here, we observed two elderly Georgian ladies making Georgian bread called puri (pronounced “poo-ree”), the Georgian table staple which is usually served with every meal.

Badiauri Village in Sagarejo

Badiauri Village in Sagarejo

The traditional and very popular puri, especially the long pointed bread called shotis puri, is traditionally baked in a deep, circular, beehive-shaped oven called a tone (pronounced “ton-AY”).  A tone (torne/turne in old Georgian), the Georgian version of the tandoor, is made with a mixture of special quartz sand, which is used in making glass, and a fireproof clay called chamuti.  When it dries, it fuses into a hard, fireproof surface. This mixture is spread on the outside of the tone and wrapped in linen.  The interior, on the other hand, is lined with fire proof bricks.  A tone usually lasts for 7-8 years before it will need to be replaced.

The traditional clay oven called a tone

The traditional clay oven called a tone

Most streets in Georgia have at least one traditional bakery and I have already observed one local bakery before when I was in Borjomi.  In earlier times, all bakers came from Racha Region of Western Georgia and they are generally acknowledged to be the best bakers in Georgia.

The individual balls of dough

The individual balls of dough

It takes time to learn how to make good bread which is made from just flour, water, yeast and salt. It also takes much physical strength to hand mix (25 kgs. at a time) and knead the dough but the two ladies were up to the task, taking lumps of dough, grasping them at two ends and stretching them across a kind of curved paddle covered in cloth.

Shaping the dough into spindle shapes

Shaping the dough into spindle shapes

For at least 40 minutes, they let the dough stand for it to rise and the yeast to ferment. Then, they cut the mass of dough into individual “balls” of bread (each weighing about 600 gms.), place them in rows, dust them with flour (to prevent their sticking on the surface) and again let them stand for at least another hour.

Slapping the dough to the top side of the tone

Slapping the dough to the top side of the tone

Then, they roll the dough, making them spindle-shaped with a broad center portion and tapering ends. Once the tone reaches the desired heat, determined not by a thermometer but by testing the inside wall with loose flour, they then stick the paddle into the oven and skillfully slap the dough tightly against the inside wall of the tone sitting in the middle of the bakery.

The dough is baked for 10 minsutes

The dough is baked for 10 minsutes

In less than 10 minutes, they were done and they took out the baked bread without dropping it in the fire. The fresh shoti come out looking like canoes.  They were delicious, with crispy edges, a moist white center and a great aroma.

Freshly-baked shotis puri

Freshly-baked shotis puri

Ten 50-kg. bags of flour can make more than 1,400 loaves of bread. Nowadays, modern bread factories use electrically powered mixers for the dough when making traditional bread.

The author with the 2 lady bakers

The author with the 2 lady bakers

Georgia National Tourism Administration: 4, Sanapiro St, 0105, Tbilisi, Georgia. Tel: +995 32 43 69 99. E-mail: info@gnta.ge. Website:www.georgia.travelwww.gnta.ge.

Qatar Airways has daily flights from Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (Clark, Pampanga) to Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) with stopovers at Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar, 15 hrs.) and Heydar Aliyev International Airport (Baku, Azerbaijan, 1 hr.). Website: www.qatarairways.com.

Bohol Bee Farm (Dauis, Bohol)

Bohol Bee Farm

Bohol Bee Farm

After breakfast, a dip at the lagoon pool and an ocular inspection, with Rooms Division manager Mr. Leo P. Go,  of the resort’s Honeymoon Villas, it was now time to check out of  Panglao Bluewater Resort.  After thanking our gracious host, Mr. Pete Dacuycuy (who left for Manila ahead of us), we again boarded our airconditioned coach which was to bring us to the next town of Dauis.  Here, we were to have lunch at the homey and relaxing Bohol Bee Farm.

Potted herbs and vegetables

Potted herbs and vegetables

This self-sustaining, nature-themed and eco-friendly resort  is filled with rustic wooden furniture and a unique lush, green environment.  Alugbati vines grow on the trellises while the frontage is filled with small plots of various organic herbs (oregano, dill, fennel, basil, spearmint, pandan, magic rose, thyme, chives, lemon grass, peppermint, parsley, aloe vera, stevia, coriander, rosemary and tarragon) and vegetables (romaine lettuce, celery, eggplant, mustard, etc.), all used as ornamental plants and lining the walkways.

The cliff with the sun deck and swimming area below it

The cliff with the sun deck and swimming area below it

This agricultural haven, situated on top of a cliff that drops dramatically into the sea (the swimming area below it is accessible by a flight of wooden stairs), was once dedicated to bee cultivation but the bees perished and the farm was moved to Inabanga.

The 2wo-tiered swimming pool

The 2-tiered indoor swimming pool

The farm promotes healthy eating and we were here to sample a delicious and unique buffet lunch, which uses organically-grown vegetables, at its restaurant overlooking the sea.  On our way to the restaurant, we passed the resort’s lounge area and two-tiered, indoor swimming pool.

The restaurant

The restaurant

Too bad, resort owner and chef Victoria “Vicky” Wallace-Sandidge, a Bohol-born and New York-based nurse-turned-farmer, wasn’t around to entertain us.  Married to African- American Thomas Edward Wallace, she had two children (Mellanie and Abdul) with him but was widowed in 1988.  In 1991, she bought a 4.8-hectare property and established the Bee Farm two years later. Here, she promotes organic farming which doesn’t use expensive conventional fertilizers and harmful pesticides for the farm’s crops. Vicky sits as an active member of the Bohol Initiatives for Sustainable Agriculture and Development (BIFAD).

Organic garden salad

Organic garden salad. Notice the edible flowers? They say that any flower being sucked by bees is not poisonous and, therefore, is edible

Cabcab with pesto & green tomatoes

Cabcab with pesto & green tomatoes

We started our lunch buffet (reasonably priced at PhP600/pax), amidst the cool sea breeze and stunning ocean view, with glasses of fresh lemongrass juice; a very spicy, colorful and tasty organic garden salad (romaine lettuce, turnips, mustard greens and indigenous flowers topped with honey mustard dressing); an appetizer of light, crisp cabcab (mashed cassava pulp dried and deep fried into thin wafers or crackers) with a dip of pesto & green tomato; and a bowl of seafood soup.

Grilled fish

Grilled marlin

Honey-glazed chicken

Honey-glazed chicken

Spare ribs

Spare ribs

The main dishes consisted of grilled marlin, honey-glazed chicken and spare ribs plus seafood lasagna, organic red rice with camote, and squash bread with homemade spreads. Dessert was healthy and very delicious, homemade ube and malunggay (moringa) ice cream.

Seafood lasagna

Seafood lasagna

Squash bread with homemade spreads

Squash bread with homemade spreads

After lunch, we proceeded to the Buzz Shop, their gift and souvenir shop up front which sells all sorts of organic products.  On sale are various vegetable breads and muffins (squash muffins, carrot muffins, camote bread, honeyed muffins, etc.); fruit and vegetable chips (cassava, banana, etc.); spreads (honey, mango, pesto, choco, etc.); a variety of teas, both in leaf and powdered form (including the very  popular honeyed ginger tea); black berry wine; native vinegar; kape mais (coffee made from roasted corn and wild berries); and dried cabcab.

An array of food products

An array of food products

They also sell wild honey from the farm; bee propolis, pure honeybee pollen, honeyed tableya, honeyed garlic; honeyed mustard salad dressing and honeyed hot sauce.   You can also buy soap (milk, papaya, lemongrass, etc.); buri and raffia woven products; beewax lip balm; virgin coconut oil; and honey or pollen-based shampoos and lotions.

Souvenir shop

Souvenir shop

We have already sampled the homemade ube and malunggay ice cream but we still visited the small Buzzz ice cream shop to check out their other very exotic offerings (PhP40 for 1 scoop and PhP80 for 2 scoops) – chocolate, durian, avocado, pandan, tomato, mango, guyabano, spicy ginger and buko (young coconut). Their ice cream is the star of their very unique and interesting halo-halo.

Buzzz Ice Cream

Buzzz Ice Cream

After our pasalubong shopping and prior to leaving, Mr. Ariel B. Logrono, a staff member of the farm took us on a 30-min. guided tour. He first gave us a lecture on different organic farming methods.  The resort practices vermiculture, mostly using their waste products mixed with animal manure for vermicompost.   After 6 months, it is then used as fertilizer.

Listening to Ariel's lecture on organic farming

Listening to Ariel’s lecture on organic farming

They  also practice the concept of companion planting, a form of polyculture wherein different crops are planted in close proximity to each other.  The theory is that these plants assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary for increasing crop productivity.

Companion planting.

Companion planting at work. Grasshoppers feeding on their favorite leaves but leaving the nearby herbs intact

We were also given a highly educational tour of the Crafts and Livelihood section of the resort, our guide demonstrating and giving inputs on the process involved in each activity. Here, the Bohol Bee Farm staff are encouraged to do livelihood activities such as raffia making, basket making and sewing,  enabling them to give a little back to the community.

Crafts and Livelihood Section

Crafts and Livelihood Section

Seasonal basket and raffia decors

Seasonal basket and raffia decors

At the center, we observed members of the cooperative operating looms and sewing machines as they turned raffia and buri palm leaves into fabric sheets, bags, place mats, purses, slippers, curtains, seasonal decors, table runners, tissue holders, hats and other merchandise.  The loom weavers made it look so easy, their shuttles zipping back and forth without hardly any effort. A 10-foot long sheet of raffia fabric usually takes 3 to 4 days to complete.

Observing loom weaving

Observing loom weaving

Bohol Bee Farm: Brgy. Dao, Dauis, Panglao Island, 6339 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 502 2288 and (038) 510-1821 to 22. Mobile number: (0917) 710-1062, (0939) 904-6796 and (0917) 304-1491.  E-mail: vickywallace@boholbeefarm.com.   Website: www.boholbeefarm.com.

The Mangyan Village of Talipanan (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental)

From the Puerto Galera Municipal Hall, we returned to our respective vans, with Ms. Aileen N. Bareng (Senior Tourism Operations Officer of Puerto Galera) plus Ms Susan E. Cruz (Tourism Operations Assistant) and Sienna May R. Manongsong, both of the Oriental Mindoro Provincial Tourism Office joining us, and were driven to the Iraya Mangyan Village at Sitio Talipanan.

Weaving hut

Weaving hut

The Mangyans, the indigenous people of Mindoro Island,  consists of 8 ethnic sub-groups, the Iraya being one of them.  This tribe used to prospered along the coastal areas until they were forced to move from their land and were treated as second class citizens, neglected and discriminated.

Iraya-Mangyan weavers at work

Iraya-Mangyan weavers at work

They never wore slippers, wore old and torn clothes, and could rarely afford to eat rice in a week, surviving by gathering lami (sweet potato). After a major battle between government forces and communist rebels in 1986, the indigenous families were forced to leave the mountain and squat in the lowlands. The foot of Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera alone is home to as many as 200 Iraya-Mangyan families.

Nito handicrafts on display at showroom

Nito handicrafts on display at the showroom

Nito jars

Nito jars

Since 1989, the Ayala Foundation, with the help of Ms. Beatriz “Bea” Zobel (wife of businessman and philanthropist Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala), has been implementing numerous projects covering education, livelihood development, housing management and health for these Iraya-Mangyans so that they may become more active participants in and productive members of their community yet be capable of managing its own affairs and activities without compromising its own culture.

Neat row of Mangyan houses

A neat row of Mangyan houses

In 1990, the Jaime and Bea bought a piece of the property for them and, in 2007, the couple acquired the rest of land and started developing the Mangyan Village, complete with power and water supplies.  Through their effort to bring the Mangyans to the mainstream of Philippine society through education, the village has produced a number of successful graduates (licensed teachers, community workers, ec.) who are now doing their part in helping their fellow Iraya-Mangyans.

Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan ladies exploring village

Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan ladies exploring the village

At the village, Oriental Mindoro Cruise Drive Caravan participants were welcomed by Mr. Fabian “Pabling” de Jesus, the 53 year old Batangueño right hand man of the Ayalas in Mindoro, who is at the helm of this project.  We met him at a large pavilion, at the center of the village, were about 52 Iraya-Mangyan, mostly women and wearing their uniform yellow shirts, were busy weaving strands of nito (Lygodium circinatum), a richly colored tropical vine of the fern family, into beautiful but functional baskets, plates with intricate designs, beer bottle holders, place mats, laundry baskets, jars and storage boxes. Mangyans are  expert basket weavers. At the very least, each Mangyan earns around PhP60-P70 in a day. In 2013, the Mangyan Village received 1,879 visitors who availed of these locally produced handicrafts.

An Iraya=Mangyan family in their new home

An Iraya-Mangyan family in their new home (photo: Ms. Sheena Ferrer)

The finished nito products are displayed at the adjoining showroom. The products are also brought to Makati City where the Ayalas opened two stores. The Mangyan workers receive shares from the sales and 4 kilos of rice every week. The Foundation also provides livelihood training in dressmaking, beading, masonry, electrical wiring and agriculture, among others.

Author crossing bamboo bridge (photo: Sheena Ferrer)

Author crossing bamboo bridge (photo: Ms. Sheena Ferrer)

When we visited this 4.2-hectare community located 9 kms. from the town proper, they already had a 4-classroom public elementary school (which accommodates grades 1 to 6 students), a medical facility managed by Indian nuns, common comfort rooms and 69 nice 36 sq. m. 2-bedroom houses complete with electricity, beds, furniture and kitchen and eating utensils.  Priority was given to the community elders.  Each house was estimated to have cost PhP150,000 which includes labor and materials. According to Mr. de Jesus, they are looking at building about 300 of these houses.

Iraya-Mangyan children

Iraya-Mangyan children (photo: Ms. Sheena Ferrer)

Mangyan Village: Sitio Talipanan, Brgy. Aninuan, Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental.

Automobile Association Philippines (AAP): 28 EDSA, Greenhills, San Juan City.  Tel: (632) 655-5889.  Fax: (632) 655-1878.  E-mail: info@aap.org.ph. Website: www.aap.org.ph.

AAP Travel: G/F, Sea Tower Bldg., 2332 Roxas Blvd. cor. Arnaiz Ave., Pasay City. Tel: (632) 551-0025.  Fax: (632) 551-0014. E-mail: info@aaptravel.com.  Website: www.aaptravel.com.ph.

The Banig Weavers of Libertad (Antique)

From Mayor Raymundo’s house, we moved on to the town proper where we were to watch a demonstration on how banig mats are made. The brown, handwoven banig mats, made of drift bariw leaves, are commonly used as beds in bamboo floored houses where its cooling effect to the body makes old-fashioned folks choose it over modern mattresses. Others use it to cover their wooden beds or even the cushioned ones in their sleeping quarters.

Banig products

Banig products

A woman's terno made with banig

A woman’s terno made with banig

The versatile bariw (Pandanus copelandii) plant, indigenous to this mountain and coastal town, is a close relative of pandan plant that some Filipinos use to make their cooked rice more fragrant.  Its longer blades contain durable fibers that can be extracted by pounding and scraping.  The banig is the main product of the municipality and the importance of banig (bariw) weaving as a major means of livelihood of the Libertadnons is celebrated during the Banigan Festival held from March 14 to 16.

Beating dried bariw leaves with a wooden club (pagpalpag)

Beating dried bariw leaves with a wooden club (pagpalpag)

The leaves are tightly rolled (paglikid)

The dried bariw leaves are tightly rolled (paglikid)

It seems that the whole town was present at the plaza when we arrived.  On display were various export-quality products produced from banig including place mats, hats, coasters, bags, purses and other home accessories plus, uniquely, a woman’s terno.  All these products are sought by local and foreign markets because of their unique and complex designs.

Unwinding to straighten the spiraled bariw leaves (pagbuntay)

Unwinding to straighten the spiraled bariw leaves (pagbuntay)

Shredding of bariw leaves (pagkulhad)

Shredding of bariw leaves (pagkulhad)

Prior to the demonstration, the extracted fibers were first sun or air-dried (pagbulad) to give it a shiny brown tone as well as to strengthen it, then the leaves are beaten with a wooden club (sampok) against a flat stone until they become soft and pliable (pagpalpag).  Next, it is tightly rolled one after the other, in a round form, to sustain its softness and elasticity (paglikid), then unwound to straighten the spiraled bariw leaves (pagbuntay).

The bariw strands are folded into halves (pagkyupis)

The bariw strands are folded into halves (pagkyupis)

The actual weaving begins ....

The actual weaving begins ….

Prior to the arduous and very tedious process of weaving by the manugbanig, the dried bariw leaves are shredded through a wooden-based kurulhadan (splicer or shredder) to form long twines of different thicknesses (pagkulhad). Then, the bariw strands are folded into halves (pagkyupis).  After that, the four strands are folded together in pairs; horizontally and vertically, with the glossy brown color in the outer surface.

The finished banig mat

The finished banig mat

Media with the banig weavers

Media with the banig weavers

Then, the weaving begins with the taytay, the framework of the entire mat. During this stage, the size and the length of the mat is already assured while the dimensions of the width are determined by weaving with the sides forward.  Then, edge-lines (sapay) are made on both sides of the mat, followed by the folding (hurip) of the remaining strands on the sides (or edge-line) to keep the weave tightly locked in place. Finally, unwanted and excess strands in the mat are cut (gutab).

How To Get There: Libertad is located 143 kms. (a 4-hr. drive) from San Jose de Buenavista and 77 (a 1.5-hr. drive) kms. from Kalibo (Aklan).

The Butong-Butong and Bandi of Laua-an (Antique)

UFrom Tibiao, we were next driven 18.5 kms. (a 30 min. ride), past Barbaza, to the town of Laua-an, the muscovado sugar capital of Antique. Here, we were dropped off at a gym where we, as well as the students of UP Visayas (Miag-ao, Iloilo), were to observe a demonstration, sponsored by Benz Bandi  (owner: Mr. Melben “Benz” Bandiola), of the making of famous specialty delicacies bandi (peanut brittle) and butong-butong (muscovado candy). Bandi, called panutsa in Luzon, is made with whole peanuts covered in muscovado sugar.

The melted muscovado sugar is allowed to simmer

The melted muscovado sugar is allowed to simmer

The muscovado making industry has declined through the years when the white variety was introduced but now there is an ever-growing demand, since people now prefer to have an alternative supply aside from the white variety.  With the increase in popularity of organic products, many coffee lovers also prefer this kind of sugar, instead of the white variety, because it enhances the coffee’s taste.

The sugary syrup is poured in banana stalks

The sugary syrup is poured into banana stalks

The traditional process in making muscovado is more natural and less processed.  First, the sugar cane juice is filtered to remove any impurities.  The part that is already thick is then turned into its grainy form using the traditional brick oven.  Today, Laua-an just can’t keep up with the demand in the market.

The hot, melted muscovado sugar is then pulled

The hot, melted muscovado sugar is then pulled

When we arrived, the ingredients (muscovado sugar, kalamansi, peanuts, etc.) as well as the kawa (cauldron) where already made ready for the demonstration.  In making butong-butong (called tira-tira in Luzon), muscovado sugar is melted in the kawa and whole kalamansi (Philippine lemon), with the rind included, is added into the mix.

Peanuts being poured into the mixture

Peanuts being poured into the mixture

After a short cooking time, the kalamansi is removed from the mix and the crystallized muscovado syrup is poured into banana tree stalks and allowed to cool down for a few minutes.

The peanuts and melted muscovado are mixed

The peanuts and melted muscovado are mixed

The hot, melted muscovado sugar is then pulled (butong is a Hiligaynon or Kinaray-a word meaning “to pull”) until it becomes whitish in color and then hardens to create a solid, soft and chewy candy.  It is sometimes stretch to create different designs.

The muscovado and peanut mix is poured on sawali mats

The muscovado and peanut mix is poured on sawali mats

The process in making bandi is almost the same, with peanuts added into the mix.  The mixture, when ready, is poured in sawali mats, spread out and allowed to harden. To compliment the flavor of the bandi, it is topped with roasted lunga or sesame seeds.

Roasted sesame seeds are then sprinkled

After spreading, roasted sesame seeds are then sprinkled

How To Get There: Laua-an is located 55.1 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista., 12.6 kms. from Tibiao and 12.4 kms. from Bugasong.

Tibiao Bakery (Antique)

After lunch, we all proceeded to Tibiao Bakery, the first bakeshop in the town and one of the more popular bakeries on Panay Island, where we were to sample their baked specialties.

Tibiao Bakery

Tibiao Bakery

Early on, we’ve previously sampled their popular and crunchy biscocho (from the Latin phrase bis coctus meaning “twice baked”), topped with butter and sugar, and asado rolls the day before.  Upon arrival at the bakery, I tried out their mongo ensaymada (also comes in ube flavor) and teren-teren, another Tibiao Bakery bestseller with a sweet filling, so named because it resembles a “train.”

An array of specialty breads

An array of specialty breads

Aside from the above mentioned delicacies, the bakery is well known for its other Filipino specialty breads such as pan de sal,  pan de coco, macapuno buns, raisin bread, pineapple rolls, mongo rolls, mongo loaf, Pullman loaf, rainbow bread, ugoy-ugoy (a layered, flaky biscuit with granulated sugar as topping), paborita biscuitsprincipe, whole wheat bread, among others, as well as otap (oval-shaped puff pastry), cakes, cheese cupcake, biscuits, mamon, cookies and sweets.  They also offer short orders such as siopao, hamburgers, pancit molo and spaghetti.

Ensaymada mongo

Ensaymada mongo

This bakery was started by Manuel B. Lim, Sr. (mayor of Tibiao from 1991 to 2000) together with his wife, the former Anita J. Mandolado of Bugasong, as a neighborhood bakeshop on August 16, 1953 with a capital of around 20,000 pesos. Even after 6 decades of operation, they still use the same methods and equipment in baking bread as well as the old pugon, which is fired with wood, built on June 5, 1955.

Chesse pan de sal and mongo rolls

Chesse pan de sal and mongo rolls

Now a proud export of the town, , it is now one of the largest and most popular companies in the whole Panay Island.  Their good and tasty breads has spawned numerous branches in the northern towns of Antique and the provinces of Aklan, Capiz and Iloilo.  In Iloilo City, a branch was started Manuel’s sons Vicente and Stephen in 1982.  Now it has around 10 branches  and it also supplies breads and baked goods to a lot of fast food chains such as Jollibee, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken, to name a few , plus it’s main locator inside SM groceries around Iloilo.

Raisin bread and whole wheat bread

Raisin bread and whole wheat bread

There’s even a branch established by Sonny and Nieva Lim in Wellington, New Zealand (Tibiao Caterers/Capital Bakery).  Eventually in 1989, the business was converted from a sole proprietorship to a corporation.

Our media group

Our media group

Tibiao Bakery: Bandoja St., Poblacion, Tibiao, Antique.

Tibiao Caterers/Capital Bakery: 5 Jasmine Grove, Maungaraki, Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand,Tel: 04-5891099. Mobile number (0274)495037. E-mail tibiao@xtra.co.nz.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).

Pottery and Brick Making at Bandoja (Tibiao, Antique)

After our lambaklag fishing expedition, we were all driven, within 15 mins., from Brgy. Malabor to Brgy. Bandoja, this time to try our hand at pottery and brick making.  Bandoja is known for their earthen products made famous by the quality and durability of its bricks and the pottery that comes from a wide variety shapes and decorative techniques.  The barangay is blessed with 450,000 metric tons of clay reserves, making it an ideal location for this cottage industry.

The brick and pottery making facility

The brick and pottery making facility

In the past, the pottery designs used were usually geometric, with stylized nature motif.  Later, however, it became more functional. Their finished products include terracotta bricks, huge and complex ornamental jars, mini cooking sets, flower pots, mini clay slippers and others.

The raw clay

The raw clay

Students of UP Visayas (Miag-ao, Iloilo), on a field trip, where invited to try their hand in pottery. Pottery, though fun, doesn’t look as easy as the process seen in the movie Ghost.  In fact, it takes a lot of patience to mold the wet clay and learn the basics of the potter’s wheel much less create a decent looking vase, jar or pot.

Clay molded into rotational symmetry

Clay molded into rotational symmetry

The potter’s wheels, some improvised from bicycle rims, were all turned by hand. As the wheel is rotated, the solid ball of soft clay is pressed, squeezed and pulled gently upwards and outwards into a hollow shape.

A native potter at work

A native potter at work

In brick making, the raw clay is mixed with 25-30% sand to reduce shrinkage, then grounded and mixed with water to produce the desired consistency. It is then pressed into steel molds (also referred to as forming) to form the clay into its final shape.

Clay being pressed in steel molds

Clay being pressed in steel molds

In pottery making, the clay is first kneaded to ensure an even moisture content throughout the body.  The next step, called centering the clay, is the most important skill to master before the next step.  Here, the rough ball of clay is pressed downward and inward into perfect rotational symmetry.

The students try their hand at pottery making

The students try their hand at pottery making

The next steps are “opening” (making ac hollow into the center of the solid ball of clay), “flooring” (creating a flat or rounded bottom inside the pot), “throwing” or “pulling” (the walls are drawn up and shaped to an even thickness), and “trimming” or “turning” (refining the shape or to creating a foot through removal of the excess clay).

The drying kilns

The drying kilns

Of course, the student’s pottery and brick creations wouldn’t be complete without “firing” in a kiln to remove all the water in the clay to harden, increase their strength and set the clay.  Only then does it become pottery or bricks.

A stack of finished bricks

A stack of finished bricks

A row of finished pottery

A row of finished pottery

Instead of wood or charcoal, the kiln uses cheaper rice husks for fuel which reduces air pollution and improves the quality of the products.   Firing would take some time but, since the students etched their names on their creations, the finished products would be delivered to them on a later date.

Our media group

Our media group

Katahum Tours: Tibiao, Antique.  Mobile numbers: (0919) 813-9893 and (0917) 631-5777. E-mail: flord@tibiaofishspa.com. Website: www.katahum.com.

How To Get There: Tibiao is located 73 kms. from San Jose de Buenavista, 12.6 kms. from Barbaza, 17 kms. from Culasi and 89 kms. from Brgy. Caticlan (Malay, Aklan).