Piña, the Royal Fabric
By Betsy Gazo
Saturday, June 8, 2013
ANNA India dela Cruz-Legaspi’s journey into piña weaving started the moment when “my grandmother (Presca Menez Aguirre) gave me the last 10 meters of piña cloth she herself made. It was a symbolic gesture for me to continue the weaving tradition.”
That moment had so profoundly touched her heart that, to this day, she tears up whenever she remembers that gesture that changed her life as a visual artist.
India had trained to do Oriental painting, taking up both classical and contemporary Chinese painting. She transferred this art form from canvas to piña. These artistic endeavors led her to weaving the fabled cloth of the Aklanons, and brought her and the piña to other parts of the world.
Paris, Bhopal (India), Canada, Seoul, London, Osaka, Bangkok, Surin (Thailand), Laos, and Kuala Lumpur have witnessed the proud unfurling and display of piña cloth on their shores.
Aklan is the major and oldest manufacturer of piña. In fact, the piña cloth is also called Kalibo or, as spelled hispanically, calivo.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, weaving this fine fabric flourished and by the 18th century, Kalibo was acknowledged as the center of the piña weaving industry. So highly prized was piña that it was given as gifts to kings and other royalty of Europe or used to pay royal tribute or poll tax in 1571. It is said that if one visits the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, one can see the piña handkerchief that was presented to Queen Alexandra as a wedding gift in 1862.
India established Heritage Arts and Crafts in 1988 with one weaver. Now, she has 250 weavers. When she started, she worked with an initial capital of P20,000.00. By 1999, capital rose to P8.9M. The piña cloth industry had truly made a renaissance.
Even before colonization, natives of the island “wore woven clothes made of beaten barks of trees, abaca, and even clothes made of cotton and silk.” When piña came into being, it was traded during pre-hispanic times.
Why is piña cloth so precious? Production processes are all done by hand using simple tools and handlooms. First the leaves of the Red Spanish variety (bromelia pigna) are harvested. Thorns are removed. Fiber is extracted using the blunt edge of a ceramic plate shard; the first coarse layer is called bastos while the second finer layer is the liniwan (from liwan, again) which is achieved by scraping the leaf with a coconut shell.
The extraction process is the pagkigue. The fibers are washed with soap and scraped farther to whiten them. The fibers are sun dried. The pagpisi is where bunches of fibers are combed. Then comes the tedious process of pagsug-ot or knotting of individual fibers from end to end in order to make a long thread.
In pagtalinyas, some threads are reeled into spools to prepare for the pagsab-ong or warping. Weaving or paghaboe is the final process. Optional processes are pili or suksuk, an inlaid design done during weaving, and the rengue, a 3-pedal latticework unique to Kalibo.
The tediousness of producing piña cloth may be the reason why the industry declined in the 70’s and 80’s until it was down to five weavers.
To produce pure piña, only ¼ meter of the cloth can be woven per day.
Fabric can cost as much as P1,100 per yard. Yet, if one realizes the intricacies and skills involved in producing Piña, he or she will not think twice about paying up. As one observer remarked, “Mahuya ka mag-ayo” meaning, one will be embarrassed to haggle.
It was only in the last 20 years that the piña weaving industry saw a revival. The revival also affected other age-old loom weaving industries, including abaca and raffia.
As of 2007, 9,774 workers were involved in these industries, broken down into 2,757 farmers, 988 scrapers, 2901 knotters, 2,829 weavers/warpers, 38 embroiderers, 149 sewers, handpainters, craft workers, pressers, finishers and twiners. 112 belong to management and marketing staffs.
The high price of piña can be translated into its durability. Treat piña like an ordinary fabric, said India. Just whisk the cloth in soap and water, for it does not absorb dirt easily. Piña cloth is durable despite its delicate looks. It improves in quality after each washing. Just don’t wring it before air-drying. Iron while damp.
The fabric that looks delicate is actually hardy. Its fineness belies its durability. This light, sheer gossamer-like magical cloth is our country’s pride. From the pineapple leaves to fabric fit for royalty, the piña cloth is worth its weight in gold.