Studying the clothing textile and body ornaments, through its facets of composition, method, and types of production, use, and function, and consumption will aid in a better understanding of the wearer’s cultural identity.

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Donning clothing and ornaments, more than its practical use and as a mode of adornment, is also a tool to distinguish a wearer. It defines the cultural and social identity of a wearer to place individuals firmly in history and geography[1]. Studying the clothing textile and body ornaments, through its facets of composition, method, and types of production, use, and function, and consumption will aid in a better understanding of the wearer’s cultural identity. To establish this further, scoping of resources on textiles and personal ornaments and illustrative examples of current texts on communities previously collected by Nayong Pilipino Foundation are made to seek research evidence and within these contexts examine the artifacts.

Textile artifact functions as a vital part of the ongoing systems in society[2]. In the journal article by B. Lynne Milgram entitled Narratives of Action and Identity In Cloth: The Textiles of Highland Luzon, The Philippines, the relationship of the object and its creator and user describes how each component defines one another.  In interpreting the cultural context of an object one must go beyond examining the object’s physical qualities and also study its circulation and distribution.  Textiles are described here as representations of traditions, communication, its role in small-scale societies through circulation as a commodity, and as a metaphoric object in rituals of the Cordilleras. Furthermore, it delves into the complexities of production, such as the Ifugao’s weaving process involving deities.  In conclusion,  textiles in the Cordillera culture perform both roles of commodity and metaphor in social and economic relations. It represents the practices for which it is used, the social status of its users; in wealth and hierarchies, and a textile’s function as a non-verbal communication tool.  The article provides more information on how Cordillera textiles are produced and consumed therefore establishing the roles of creator, user, and object merging.  Additionally,  the article provides evidence on the other functions of textile objects: the act of donning oneself with a particular garment relays information to the members of the community and the ownership of a particular textile piece defines the social status of the wearer to mention a few.

Similarly, Sarah E. Carlson in her study of Ilongot Adornment had the same objective.  The article discusses how in the first half of the 20th century, personal adornment of indigenous people was often associated with beautification and expression of feelings only and leaving opportunities to explore the cultural, historical, and symbolic power personal adornment can represent.

Through the examination of artifacts, museum documentation, and ethnographic resources, the article explores the use of ornamentation in communication, trading alliances, kin relationship, and political partnership.  Particularly the use of ornamentation alongside a dominant practice: headhunting.  Headhunting is of great importance to the Ilongot social structure, individual reputation, and interactions. It is integral in an  Ilongot man’s life cycle for when they take their first head it symbolizes entering a new stage and is ready to assume the position of a mature member of Ilongot society. This is also expressed in the Ilongot’s elaborate ornaments, it indicated the maturity and manhood of their wearers and is often worn to batling ceremonies, covenants, rituals celebrations, and social visits. When a headhunting raid is completed, the whole community celebrates wearing their finest ornaments, therefore, displaying the prosperity and strength of the village as a whole. The article contains more in-depth examples of how adornments are used in various forms of community relations and identity.

The textile entry in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art provides an overview of the textile weaving traditions in the Philippines.  It defined textile weaving as the process of making cloth by interlacing parallel longitudinal threads, called the warp, and another series of lateral threads at right angles called the weft or woof [3]. Weaving was categorized into three techniques: decorative dyeing, decorative weaving,  and supplementary thread. Materials in use are plant producing fibers, dyes from vegetable substances, and the weaving loom for some communities. In discussing the decorative techniques, particular samples were mentioned such as Ikat textiles; dagmay and tnalak, tapis, patadyong, pis syabit, and  langkit–malong features.

One of the unique textile traditions in the Philippines is the use of abaca plants for threads. According to Dr. Norma Respicio in her Abaca Textile Weaving article in The 1998 Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan Folio, abaca (Musa Textilis L.) is from the banana plant family which grows in abundance in Eastern Mindanao[4].

There are varieties of the abaca in the country, however, a silky white inner fiber is best used to produce yarns. The stem of the abaca plant is harvested and stripped when it has matured. According to this article preparation and the weaving proper is mostly done by women and the men of the community usually take part in stripping the plant and polishing the woven textile by rubbing the rounded back of a shell on the textile.  Separation of fibers to strands; knotting strands end to end; the arrangement of warp yarns and loom; visualization and laying out of design; binding potions of the warp for resist dyeing; gathering organic dyes; and weaving proper are mostly done by women.

In Blaan Textile and Their Contexts by Dr. Cherubim Quizon, a complementing article for Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan Yabing Dulo, the key attributes of a Blaan abaca cloth was examined.  Blaan textiles in abaca may be classified by color, design, and by use. Three principal colors so integral to Southwestern Mindanao’s abaca-ikat nexus are seen on the Blaan women’s skirt[5] which are derived from natural dyes. The black color is from the leaf of the ebony tree, Knalum (Diospyros sp.); the red color is from the root of the Lagu tree (Morinda citrifolia), and white or ivory color of the undyed abaca thread. Some abaca weaving communities also use pigments in yellow it is derived from the roots of a wild ginger known as kunil/kunig/konel[6].

Dr. Quizon’s article describes the length of the Blaan backstrap loom as an advantageous aspect. It averages about ninety-five centimeters along the length which enables them to produce significantly larger weaves with elaborate designs. These articles provide references for the materials used in weaving, specifically to the natural dyes, which can be cross-examined with other references (knalum spelled as kunalum/kinarum/kinalum in other references) and most importantly as a reference for the textile vocabulary which is key to understanding the complexities and intelligence in the production of textiles.

As for personal ornaments, it was defined in the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Arts as a common but diverse practice in two forms: permanent (tattooing) and the act of putting on of object often seen as adjuncts to dress, but are generally distinct[7]. In discussing its materials the article mentions two types: organic and inorganic. Organic materials are derived from plants: flowers, seeds, cotton fibers, bamboo, palms, vines, coconut shell, wood; and animals: shell, coral, pearl, tortoiseshell, bone, animal teeth, hornbill, ivory, human and horsehair, feathers. Shell ornaments which were said to be long-lasting as diamonds were sometimes fashioned into beads and are still being used in contemporary communities. Inorganic materials include stones which were used and developed as far as Philippine prehistory during the neolithic stage; glass usually in the forms of beads; metal in gold silver, brass,  copper, or bronze sourced from mines and pre-used metals; plastic; and ceramic.

The simplest forms of materials in ornaments as mentioned can come from plants and seeds that are polished and shaped. Shells were often strung together with other beads or carved to shape jewelry. Ivory has been among the most expensive materials used for ornamentation. According to Malcolm W. Mintz in Monograph 1: The Philippines at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century some ivory ornaments might not be pure and could contain trimmings of tortoiseshell, gold, or brass materials which were more readily available in the Philippines [8]particularly ornaments from the Bicol region.

Materials found in archeological sites unearthed polished stone tools, pottery pieces, shell and stone ornaments, bronze tools, glass beads and bracelets, and gold beads from the New Stone Age according to the article published by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts entitled The Appearance of Metal. The earliest metals in the form of ornamental beads appeared were in gold, bronze, brass, and copper. Evidence cannot account for these metals being mined during this period. However, metal crafting and casting traditions before the 15th century were present in Blaan and Tausug communities[9].  In the west side of Lake Lanao in Tugaya, brass and bronze are the main materials to produce ornamentations such as betel nut containers which has a distinct casting with the presence of wire-formed ornamentation that comes in loops, spirals, circles, curlicues, and running and interlocked scrolls that are often plant-like as vines and growing ferns[10]. The use of gold also exhibits mastery of Filipino metalsmiths in techniques such as filigree, granulation, and loop-in-loop technique. Apart from gold and brass, silver, copper, or bronze is also used in ornaments which may be sourced sometimes from coins or bullets[11].

Most of the sources found were artifact-based literature on the technology, processes, vernaculars,  techniques, and regional styles. The references supply definitions to terms that are often used and provide aid as the research progresses. Moreover, these resources give rise to multiple scales of analysis that can be explored especially in deepening the understanding of materials,  production, contexts,  and the complex relationship of man and object.

[1] Pravina Shukla, “The Study of Dress and Adornment As Social Positioning,” Material Culture Review 61, no. 1 (2005),

[2] B. Lynne Milgram, “Narratives Of Action And Identity In Cloth: The Textiles Of Highland Luzon, The Philippines,” Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings 578 (1992),

[3] Alice G. Guillermo. “Textile,” in  CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition, updated. Cecilia S. De La Paz (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 2020), accessed January 27, 2021,

[4] Norma A. Respicio. “Abaca Textile Weaving.” in The 1998 Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan Folio, 12-13. Manila: National Commission for Culture and the arts, 1998.

[5] Cherubim A. Quizon.  “B’laan Textiles and Their Contexts.” in The 2016 Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan Folio, 68-76. Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, 2017..

[6] Respicio, “Abaca Textile Weaving.”

[7] Rosalie Matilac, Jeannie Javelosa, and Marilyn R. Canta,. “Personal Ornaments,” in  CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 2020), accessed January 27, 2021,

[8] Malcom W. Mintz, “Jewellery and Body Ornamentation,” in  The Philippines at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century (The Australian National University, 2020),

[9] Abdulmari Imao, Alice G. Guillermo, and Monica Felicia P. Consing,. “Metalcraft,” in  CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art Digital Edition, updated. Sofia G. Guillermo and Cecilia S. De La Paz  (Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 2020), accessed January 27, 2021,

[10]Jesus T. Peralta, “Metal Casting with Wire Templates (Lanao del Sur),” in  Pinagmulan: Enumeration from the Philippine Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage (Manila: National Commission for Culture and the Arts and ICHCAP, 2012)

[11]Matilac, Javelosa, and Canta, “Personal Ornaments.”

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