The buri continues to be one of the most widely utilized palm plants in the Philippines, owing likely to the numerous products that it can provide for people.
When Pottery Barn, an international furniture shop, features a winnowing tray as a centerpiece, (yes, that bilâo which costs a whopping 15,000 pesos) it shows how local materials are seen as resourceful organic art in other parts of the world. Imagine how something utilitarian in the lives of the Filipinos can be treated as art, hung on the wall, and displayed to be admired.
But that is precisely what is happening, now that their use has relatively dwindled in our everyday lives. How often do the people who buy their rice in the giant supermarkets actually use the bilâo? When was the last time we’ve actually used one? Do we even have the skills to make these baskets?
In many ways, these organic materials have become a craft that showcases a cultural practice long past (just a friendly reminder that the 1980s was 40 years ago!). These wickers are still around, woven by master craftspeople whose knowledge and skills are being replaced by other common materials, primarily plastics. In this case, what was once an essential skill to survive has changed to become marketable artistic products. And like any craftspeople, basic knowledge of their materials—in this case, their environment and the plants they bear—is fundamental to their knowledge. Like anything that takes time, plants and people are entwined to produce skills and knowledge that is passed down through generations.
The buri or buli (Corypha Elata) is a palm plant that can be found throughout several Southeast Asian countries (Corypha sp.) and also in the Philippines. The buri can grow even in the harshest conditions. It is best found near the coast although it may also be found at the midland. These plants seem to thrive in any conditions, as they can live up to 30 years and may grow up to 20 meters high. Because of this, this palm is often mistaken for a tree. When the palm tree is mature, it will release a single fruit, signifying that it may soon pass away. Birds and bats play a big role in their scatter, perhaps answering the question of how they would grow on top of trees, through-holes on rocks, and others.
Despite the help that birds and bats may offer in propagating the seeds, the buri palm is mostly associated with human activities. This means that it is assured that if there is buri, then humans may be nearby. This makes humans the best propagator of seeds! So far, it is difficult to find the buri palm within the rainforest, and it is recorded as being present within or nearby human settlements.
The buri plant has various uses for many communities. The trunk-like part of the buri plant can yield sago, a staple food of many Filipinos. A more mature plant will yield the fermented drink which many may know as tubâ. Perhaps it’s the fibrous leaves that are the most iconic part of the plant. Their wide span makes these significant to religious practices when the palm is harvested and used in the celebration of Palm Sunday where the buri palm is decorated and waved in churches. The sticks can be stripped and processed to make a sturdy stick broom or the walis ting-ting. The Hanunoo Mangyan also use these dried leaves as roofs for their houses.
The baskets that the buri produces are numerous, and many communities use this alongside other plants, one of which is the nitu vine (Lygoderm sp). There are two types of buri, identified only by their petiole color. The lupisan is widely used alongside the dark nitu to give them a starking contrast. However, there is also a red variety of the buri, which may also be used for basket weaving. Novellino observed that the Hanunoo Mangyan widely used this for their baskets.
The fibers that this palm plant yields are durable and are waterproof, which is perhaps the reason for making it a popular choice for many basket weavers. These can help keep the materials stored inside the buri basket dry. For the Kalinga, the buri leaves are commonly used for weaving mats, which are used as sleeping rolls., This is quite different from the lowlanders of Cordillera who would much prefer the wider Pandanus or pandan leaves for their mat. This technological choice may be due to the availability of the type of plants found within their immediate surroundings.
The buri continues to be one of the most widely utilized palm plants in the Philippines, owing likely to the numerous products that it can provide for people. This symbiotic relationship allows the plant to thrive under several circumstances, and it is this hardy trait of the fibrous longer palm leaves that may have attracted the basket weavers to utilize these for making organic storages made of buri.
Knowing the hundreds of varieties of baskets throughout the Philippines helps us appreciate the skills and scientific knowledge of the people, honed primarily by their observation and practice. Aside from being tradespeople dedicated to their craft, they are true scientists by weaving information on flora and applying them to an end product. This skill is particularly honed by continuous practice and experience perfected with the help of generational knowledge passed down through centuries. Baskets produced by these experts show how they critically entwine the discipline of understanding plant anatomy and characteristics to produce beautiful and soothing art. Basket art not only deserves to be placed on a wall to be admired, but art that is used and relevant to our culture, identity, and daily lives.
“The Buri Palm and Its Crafts.” Our 7107 Islands. Last modified March 30, 2017. https://www.our7107islands.com/the-buri-palm-and-its-crafts/.
Cauton, Charito P., Ciriaco D. Espino, and Virmila B. Alvarez. Handbook on Pretreatment and Dyeing of Indigenous Plant Materials for World Class Products. Manila: Philippine Textile Research Institute, Department of Science and Technology, and Bayer Phils., Inc., 2004.
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