Saturday, August 6, 2011

Iloilo Embraces Eco-Chic Bayong Bags

Ilonggo bag designers with their personalized hand-painted bayongs, photo by Ryan Rey Genciana

Indigenous to our country's warm and wet climate, the buri tree has been flourishing on Philippine soil for centuries, long before the Spaniards found our shores. A buri palm tree, growing really huge produces flower once in its life. And after it produce a large number of small round fruits, it dies. Its leaves grow up to five meters long. From this tree, three types of fibers are obtained: buri, raffia, and buntal and are turned in a whole range of products, such as fans, hats, baskets, shoes, and bags, the most popular one is the Bayong.

hand-painted mermaid by Ilonggo artist Trina Ascalon,  photo by Ryan Rey Genciana
For those who are not familiar with a “Bayong”, it’s a type of is a hand-woven native mat bag made of buri palm leaves in the Visayan areas. Weaving buri in some parts of Tigbauan and Barotac Nuevo has been considered as an activity that maintains their cultural identification and community development undertakings. It shows the relationship of the weavers to their fellow weavers at the same time with the environment.

Before making the bayong, the buri palm leaves is cut and the center rib is removed. The two halves are separated then rolled in a coil, about one foot in diameter. Tied and held at the bottom of a pot by a rock. The coil is cooked by the boiling water, removing some of its color. The coil is then dried in the sun open and the leaves flattened with stick. They are drawn through a small bladed metal tool, which cut each leaf into four or five narrow strips and are bundled loosely and left to further bleached in the sun before being re-soaked in cold water for about 12 hours. The natural color has been almost completely faded. It gets woven then into a bag.

The most demanding part about making a bayong is not so much as the actual process of putting together the material to produce it, but more of generating the raw material needed to make our bayong uniquely Filipino.

hand-painted passport cases by Trina Ascalon, photo by Ryan Rey Genciana
Trina Ascalon, an Ilongga restaurateur and painter by heart started painting bayongs in December of last year. She gave it as gifts to her aunt when many started to notice it and started buying them. Presently, she and her partner Mario Gual are producing casually chic bayong bags with paintings creatively executed suitable for today’s fashionable women.

The bayong used as a market bag is now used as a fashion bag with distinctive designs and with raw materials that are eco-friendly. Thanks to Trina, these bayongs are increasing in popularity, invading mainstream and high fashion.

“Not only that we are promoting local products, but we are also proud that our products are made by Ilonggos. Turning these ordinary bayong into trendy and durable bags will open more opportunities for people in the countryside to boost their income”, Ascalon said. “It is also our response to the need of taking care of the environment by using this biodegradable material”, she adds. There are literally hundreds upon thousands of painted bag designs that you will find but you are assured that each one is produced exclusively only from on of the finest young artists in Iloilo City.

But perhaps the truly distinguishing factor of the bayong bag is that each piece is painstakingly and uniquely painted and embellished by hand which means that a lot of hard work is personally put into each bayong by the producers themselves. Their creative designs can raise the competitive level of bayong bags and will be used by people from the upper social classes.

Ascalon with her partner aim to export their product outside the country since many foreigners are in to indigenous products and surely, it will be a hit to them because this product is of good quality and have fashionable designs.

They already have sufficient supply of painted bayongs that they will be selling and promoting and the incoming 4th Indigenous Fashion Fiber Fair on August 26-28 at the Activity Center of SM City Iloilo was chosen as the launching point of these beautiful works of art. One of the fashion show segment of the event is to showcase one of the province’s highly regarded raw material, the buri or palm tree. The buri fashion show will feature new products using the tough but elegant material. Among the collections are teenage bags, summer bags, and the more lifestyle-oriented fashion bags. Models will be bringing out the bayong and will showcase them to the audience. Of course, the highlight of the buri bags is the visual composition, which incorporates lifestyle concepts to make more elegant designs.

There are more to come for local artists such as Ascalon who never contends herself with her achievements as she strive to do more for the buri industry, the buri farmers, and the country.

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