Magdalena Gamayo: The grandmother of ‘Abel Iloko’

March 11, 2014

At 88 years old, Magdalena Gamayo has more reasons to look forward and beyond than back. “Lola Magdalena” knows she has lost the strength of her youth all in this sleepy town of Pinili, Ilocos Norte.

But she is self-assured and fulfilled that in the stage of her life when most of one’s memories fail, her hands stay nimble and her craft stays alive.

Lola Magdalena is an “inabel” (Ilokano handwoven cloth) maker. She started to develop her skill in hand-weaving cloth at the age of 16 in the heat of World War II. Her aunt introduced her to this traditional art of weaving using a simple contraption. But to produce fabric of quality and beautiful design takes years of honing one’s skill through practice and patience.

“Patience is needed in this job, because abel-weaving is really hard,” says Lola Magdalena, who is practically self-taught in terms of creating patterns such as the “kusikos” (spiral forms similar to oranges), “inuritan” (geometric design), and the most challenging “sinan-sabong” (flowers).

In 2012, her persistence and passion for inabel-making paid off. The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) honored her as a National Living Treasure (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan).

Passing It On

Now, she spends her life honoring God for her talent by passing on her skills to the younger generation of weavers.

“I always pray to God to have more years to live because when I am gone, abel-weaving tradition might be lost,” she says teary-eyed. After a gaze at five middle- aged women in her home who she trains, she says: “I’m greatly confident that this tradition will continue.”

It is a small group she trains, composed of her cousin’s daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, and her neighbors, but Lola Magdalena knows there are more who wish to learn her methods and technique in abel-weaving so government support is important.

While she is gracious in giving lectures and personalized tutorials on the Iluko way of weaving at her home, Lola Magdalena underscores the need for patience and passion.

“Even if we only earn a small amount of money, the most important, is to showcase and preserve this rich culture of the Ilocanos,” she says.

Erlinda Gampong, 45, one of Gamayo’s students, agrees. “Following the complicated but attractive design is very, very challenging,” says Gampong. “Because just one mistake would result to a flawed design.”

To sustain the local loomweaving industry in Ilocos Norte, Governor Imee R. Marcos is bent in establishing an Abel Museum in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, where all the unique and original abel masterpieces will be exhibited.

The governor has been trying to revive and improve the Ilocano heritage crafts particularly the inabel through making it innovative and sellable such as the “Carry All Bag” a top-quality bag made of canvas and nylon-lining.

Last January 28, the governor handed over the P10,000 loans to 15 women loomweavers of Paoay for the purchase of raw materials for attractive inabel fabrics production.

Abel Iloko Exhibit

In Manila, one of the celebration of International Women’s Day also focused on the inabel with the launching of the “Abel Ilokana: Celebrating Women Weavers from Ilocos Sur, La Union, Ilocos Norte and Abra” at the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Gallery.

Speaking at the event she initiated in partnership with the National Museum, Senator Loren Legarda said the month-long exhibition of “Abel Iloko,” which includes lecture-demonstrations of the weaving tradition, is “a celebration of the strength of women and the enduring weaving culture in our country.”

“Among the tropical fabrics in the Philippines, the Abel of the Ilokanos is one of the famous pieces. Tradition has made it part of an Ilokano’s life—at childbirth, in marriage, and even in death. It is also as mundane as a blanket or a tablecloth or a purse. But behind every Abel is a great synergy of a weaver’s mind, heart and soul. Behind every cloth spun from threads of various origin and colors is a story of a weaver’s relationship with her loom. It is her craft, her passion, her life” says Legarda.

The Abel Ilokana exhibit and lecture-demonstration is open to the public from March 8-30, 2014 (Tuesdays to Sundays) at the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino Gallery, 4th Floor, Museum of the Filipino People, Manila.

Source: Manila Bulletin