By Filemon G. Romero, Ph.D.
UNGUS MATATA, Tandubas: The Sama women of Tawi-Tawi and Sulu have always been recognized as excellent mat weavers as part of their cultural heritage. The art of mat weaving within the Sama Community has always been restricted to women. This includes the harvesting of the pandan leaves, shedding them into thin strips, boiling, including the pressing with a rounded log called the “entosan” to soften the pandan strips to make them soft and malleable, dying, and weaving then into the designs that are unique to the weavers’ imagination and craft since no two mats would be the same.
This cultural heritage has to be preserved and as declared by the UNESCO one approach is by recording it in its tangible form and conserve this in an archive. The second approach is to preserve it in its living form so that it can be taught and transmitted to the next generations through the establishment of School of Living Tradition (SLT). This approach sees to it that indigenous knowledge (IK) is transmitted to the young generation and encourage culture specialists to continue practicing their cultural endowment while mentoring and training younger people thereby ensuring that the next generations can take place in the future.
Since mat weaving is one of the rich cultural heritage of the Bangsamoro Women, its preservation is mandated by Section 24 of RA 11054 also known as the Bangsamoro Organic Law that created the Bangsamoro Commission for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. The municipality of Tandubas has gained the recognition as home of the Master Weaver and Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) for 2005, National Living Treasure for Mat Weaving and National Artist in Mat Weaving Hadja Amina Appi.
It is therefore proposed that the School of Living Tradition be re-established and revived in the municipality of Tandubas. Her recognition as the master mat weaver among the Sama indigenous community of Ungus Matata, Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi is well established. Her colorful mats with their complex geometric patterns showcased her precise sense of design, proportion and symmetry and sensitivity to color combination.
She was able to mentor her children and other women in Ungus Matata and transmitted her skill as master weaver of flamboyant mats with distinctive and intricate geometric arrangements and sensitivity to color combinations.
Her mats were sold as works of art and among the high profile personalities that were given with her mats as gifts include Ambassador Kristie Kenny of the Embassy of the United States to the Philippines who has framed her mat and placed it in her office in Washington. DC. Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala who said that her mat is an excellent work of art and that it is the best gift that he has received so far. The other personalities who consider her mats as their precious possession are Former Energy Secretary Vince Perez, former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of WWF and Lory Tan former President of WWF Philippines.
As of now, the women of this Sama indigenous community of Ungus Matata, Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi, who Hadji Amina Appi have mentored to be master weavers themselves with are still continuing her legacy of weaving mats following her techniques with their complex geometric patterns showcased the precise sense of design, proportion and symmetry and sensitivity to color.
This is primarily the livelihood program for women. However, pandan leaves as raw material for mat weaving are short of supply, the proposal would integrate pandan farming so that they would have sustainable source of raw materials for their mat weaving livelihood activity.
The Ungus Matata Women Mat Weavers Association have once again decided to work together to re-establish and revive the School of Loving Tradition for Mat Weaving in Tandubas. From the lessons that they have learned from their previous organization they have vowed to rise again y and inspired by their late master. They shall aim to be registered in any government recognizing agency and they will serve as the proponent of this project which will shall be submitted to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Bureau of Cultural Heritage of BARMM. They are working closely with the Local Chief Executive Mayor Rahima Sali of Tandubas Municipality in Tawi-Tawi.