LISBON 16 January 2020 –– The Lisbon-based Fundaçao Ricardo Espirito Santo Silva Museum (FRESS), in cooperation with the Philippine Embassy in Lisbon, launched the exhibit, “BANIG: A Living Tradition of Mat Weaving for Over 500 Years” on 21 November 2019. The exhibit, which concluded on 06 January 2020, featured 32 pieces of handwoven banigs, all made in Basey, Samar.
The exhibit forms part of the cultural and economic diplomacy initiatives of the Philippine Embassy in Lisbon, to raise awareness about the Philippines in Portugal. The BANIG exhibit focused on the particular mat weaving and mat embroidery traditions from Basey, Samar, using sedge grass or “tikog”, both in its natural and dyed variations.
In her opening remarks, Executive Administrator of FRESS Conceiçao Amaral expressed her appreciation to the Philippine Embassy for choosing FRESS as the venue for the BANIG exhibition and hoped that the exhibit would be the start of many shared activities with the Philippines.
On her part, Philippine Ambassador to Portugal Celia Anna M. Feria thanked FRESS for the opportunity to be able to bring to the “heart of the Alfama district in Lisbon” the BANIG exhibit. In her remarks, Ambassador Feria expressed how “our humble banigs are now displayed beside the exquisite walls covered with blue and white Portuguese azulejos, gold gilded furniture and light fixtures, bright glass mirrors, and beautiful inlaid wood furnishings of centuries past. “Side by side our traditions are on display in the grand halls of this historic building. No longer is the banig a humble floor mat, it now proudly hangs for all to admire”, Ambassador Feria added.
The exhibit guests were treated also to a banig embroidery demonstration by Basey based fourth-generation artisan Eva Marie Adona-Yu who explained and showed the intricate details in the making of the banig. The exhibit’s curator Albert Avellana created curtains of banig that embraced every corner of the room, grouping them by themes and highlighting the unique pieces on their own.
Mr. Elmer Nocheseda, historian and author of several books on Philippine culture and history including the book Rara: Art and Tradition of Mat Weaving in the Philippines, gave a historical overview of the Philippine banig, providing historical accounts from Italian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta’s 1525 manuscript Primo Viaggio Intorno al Mondo. In it, he says Pigafetta was able to record Magellan’s various encounters with the people of the islands together, including their experiences with the ubiquitous woven mats made of leaves, the banig. Pigafetta’s manuscript goes on to describe how the explorer “ate, slept, and was received on woven bamboo and palm mats by high-ranking personalities, such as island chieftains, princes, and princesses”.
After 500 years, the banig has come full circle with this exhibition in Lisbon. The pieces aptly present the rich weaving and embroidery tradition of the women of Basey, as well the role that the “humble” banig played in Philippine culture throughout the centuries. Using the “tikog” grass, the women of Basey are now weaving a variety of colorful mats, transforming them into a variety of items with aesthetic and utilitarian value, such as wall decors, room dividers, table mats, throw pillows, furniture matting, fashion accessories, and bags.
The Basey banigs are also an embodiment of the resilience of the women of Basey who continue their weaving tradition despite the various challenges to their community and themselves brought on over the years, and most recently by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. Basey was among the six localities hardest hit by this devastating typhoon, bringing destruction to the community and its surroundings. Yet, in the face of the tragedy, the strong-willed women of Basey remained determined to reconstruct their homes and their lives by weaving the banig. Today, the Basey banigs are known all over the Philippines, and the world, for their colorful and resilient banig products.