As a means to consult communities on how to better create policies and programs that support and sustain local enterprises, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) held an Umpukan last June 27 via Zoom, inviting representatives of community-based creative businesses including creators, local government creative council members, as well as anthropologists.
Titled “Umpukan sa Nayon: Daloy, Kaalaman, Pananatili” and facilitated by creative entrepreneur Kathleen Palasi, the discussion revolved around the concerns of local enterprises and their situation before, during, and after the pandemic. Fair compensation was also touched upon, as the speakers discussed what it means and how to ensure that local artisans and creators are well compensated and correctly credited.
Opening the conversation by checking up on everyone, Palasi gave an opportunity for each participant to discuss the current situation of their local business. All were in agreement that most of their artisanal and traditional crafts enterprises relied heavily on tourism as a way to move products. However, ever since the community quarantine began, business was halted and the flow of their income was interrupted.
“We are thankful lang na yung spirit talaga ng resilience ng mga indigenous communities ay malakas. Kasi para siyang automatic e. When sales are very low, walang masyadong bumibili, automatic talaga silang bumalik sa farming. Which is traditionally what they have been doing,” explained Karl Lozano, co-founder of Sesotunawa. “So food security is answered.”
ANTHILL Fabric Gallery founder Anya Lim shared that in Cebu, the women weavers instantly became the breadwinners of their families when their husbands lost their jobs. “Karaniwan sa mga asawa nila ay either construction workers, pintor—yung mga contractual lang po na trabaho,” explained Lim. There was a sudden burden to provide for the entire family and Lim noted how this did not only present a financial problem but also a psychological one. “May pressure po. May panic at anxiety pa.”
For the City of Baguio, they had to change their approach to promoting their city. Baguio Creative City Council Action Officer Ferdinand Balanag explained that rather than capitalizing on the city’s commercialism, they chose to focus on its qualities. Rebranding Baguio into a creative, safe, and disciplined city, they are taking small steps into once again developing their tourism.
In response to the lack of income of their local artists, Balanag shared that they immediately launched a fundraising campaign to aid the creators called Good Acts or Good Artists Craftspeople and Tourism Support (ACTS).
However, local communities cannot simply keep on relying on monetary support and donations. Palasi then asked that aside from health and financial issues, what other problems did this pandemic unearth and what type of support systems are needed to properly provide long term solutions for them.
Sesotunawa co-founder and brass caster Joel Blunto opened up on the locals’ lack of opportunity to receive proper training in marketing and business. “Kailangan siguro natin i-nuance ‘yon,” said Lozano. “Sino ba ang may hawak sa storytelling. Sino ba ang may access sa kwentuhan? Sila ba or ‘yong mga taong nakapag aral, may mga negosyo, ‘yong may kapital, ‘yong mga ganoon?”
Both Sesotunawa founders stressed on how most of the people in charge of the selling and marketing of these crafts are businessmen who are not part of the community. Often there might be inaccuracies in the storytelling passed down to outsiders when commodities are sold—not to mention payment cuts—who gets paid how much and what for. They explained how Sesotunawa was founded to address some of these issues, focusing on capacity building for indigenous people.
“Klaro sa amin na if there is an enterprise na nagbebenta ng mga gawa ng katutubo it has to be owned and managed by the katutubo themselves. Kasi that’s the only way that they can ensure na ‘yong interests nila ‘yong nase-serve, hindi yung interests ng iba,” Lozano continued.
Recently they have also partnered with ANTHILL Fabric Gallery in order to establish an E-Commerce platform for their business. Lim pointed out how the issues discussed by the Sesotunawa founders are preexisting problems magnified by the pandemic. She focused on value, discussing how there is a preconceived notion that indigenous creations have very little value.
“So when Kuya Joel (Blunto) presents his craft to consumers and the consumer already has a preconceived notion that, you know it’s Filipino and I’m buying it from a barong-barong, it’s meant to be cheap, Kuya Joel already feels ‘Ah. Okay, ‘yon lang pala ang halaga ng ginagawa ko,’” Lim explained.
This kind of mindset might be amplified during the pandemic as there is a greater need to immediately sell their inventory and earn money, selling their products at an undervalued price because they are desperate. Lim further highlighted that training and education is the support most needed by local communities in order to recognize the cultural value of their works and to understand how to properly cost their products.
Lorielinda R. Marte, chair of Tagolwanen Women Weavers in Bukidnon, shared the same experiences. However, aside from assigning value to creations, her organization also focuses on safeguarding and preserving traditions. She recounted how most of the time, designers from the city insist that the weavers use certain patterns or even take ownership of tribal designs without crediting the weavers.
“So isa sa mga ginagawa namin ay kumuha kami ng IPO. Nag-register kami sa Intellectual Property Office para ma-safeguard at makagawa ng sariling brand ang Tagolwanen,” she explained.
Aside from these, the issue of cultural appropriation was also discussed. Coordinator Marlon Martin of SITMO Kiangan, Ifugao stressed that this problem has always been experienced by indigenous communities. Because of this, he has been pushing for ways on how to remedy this internally. He emphasized how as the ones selling these products outside the community, locals have a responsibility to educate the consumers.
“Hindi rin kasalanan naman ng fashion designer—ng taga-Maynila—kung hindi niya alam kung saan niya gagamitin itong mga traditional na mga hinabi natin. Kasi hindi rin naman yan itinuturo sa mga eskwelahan. So obligasyon din natin na turuan sila kung paano nile dapat gamitin ‘yon.”
He also noted how, for the sake of keeping tradition, creators have resorted to limiting themselves in their artistry. Martin suggested why not create products with non-traditional designs, designs that are not sacred to the community, designs on fabrics that are alright to be used as gowns or shoes or bedsheets without offending the community’s elders.
“Sa cultural conservation kasi essential na i-factor in mo yung mga pagbabago, yung changes doon sa inyong initiative (…) Kasi conservation is not about sticking to the past. It’s actually about moving forward,” Martin clarified.
In response to this, Lozano put emphasis on power dynamics. Agreeing that it is the responsibility of both parties to engage in dialogue, he also raised that isn’t it the moral obligation of the consumer—the one who is more knowledgeable on marketing and capitalist structures—to get information on the products they are buying. According to him, local artisans will continue to sell their works as long as there is demand because they need to earn in order to survive. Which then opened up another question of how did these people end up becoming this desperate for income, how was this condition formed?
This is also why they are advocating for the inclusion of the local community representatives when it comes to government consultations. From this, Balanag mentioned that in Baguio, before projects and programs are launched, they conduct mapping and the creation of directories for artists and craftspeople in order to identify them and their needs specifically.
Closing off the discussion was NPF Deputy Executive Director for Operations Dr. Laya Baquiren-Gonzales who acknowledged the learning points gathered during the conversation and pointed out the need for a shift in dynamics—treating indigenous communities as valued resource speakers instead of simple informants.
Umpukan sa Nayon is a multi-sectoral consultation session held by NPF as part of its mandate (P.D. 37, 1972) to engage the public for consultation and to enliven conversations