by the Museo ng Nayong Pilipino Curatorial Team

Unthread explores the role of textiles and accessories in community life, concentrating on those that are worn for various occasions, rites of passage and liminalities, indicators of status, expressions of local creativity, place wisdom, and biocultural heritage.

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Unravelling the Museo ng Nayong Pilipino Project

by the Museo ng Nayong Pilipino Curatorial Team

During the launch of the project “Mapping Philippine Material Culture (In Overseas Collections ca. 1500-1950)” of the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) last January 15, 2021, curator Marian Pastor Roces lamented that there is no reference collection in the Philippines that presents a wide range of objects from specific communities.

“A number of key pieces that embody the most sublime levels of cultural expression in material form, by specific Philippine peoples is what is lost to the Philippines,” Pastor Roces observed.

A scholar can only examine a limited number of objects from institutions or private collectors who will give access. Otherwise, one will have to embark on a long-term research project following the trail blazed by scholars and examine Philippine material culture from museums abroad.

To cite a few from a long list, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago has an extensive collection of textiles from Northern Luzon and the museum programming includes participatory strategies. Aside from SOAS, there are quite a number of museums in Europe and the United States with collections of Philippine material culture. Other than these, one can make serendipitous discoveries in the treasure troves or abodes of private collectors. That Philippine material evidence of knowledge ends up among private collectors is tied to issues of public access and with this, “losses of measures of quality” within the terms of Philippine knowledge systems.

Pastor Roces, in more than one occasion, has emphasized that the Nayong Pilipino Foundation is an important small collection whose objects yet remain in the Philippines outside private collections but is in a “precarious state.” 

We couldn’t agree more with this statement.

Untangling the Nayong Pilipino Foundation Collection

As widely known among scholars, a bullish antique trade intensified in the 1960s to 1970s. We locate the creation of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation at this juncture, officially marked 1972 by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 37. Prior to this, the NPF was a private foundation of Imelda Marcos.

A park was designed by National Artist Ildefonso P. Santos, and here, the Museum of Philippine Traditional Culture was inaugurated under the auspices of the Presidential assistant on National Minorities or PANAMIN in 1971.

To date and according to the most recent inventory in 2019, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) has a collection of around 2,743 objects. These were previously housed in the Philippine Museum of Ethnology, which was part of the old Nayong Pilipino Park in Pasay. Following the expansion of the airport, the collection was transported to the new location with most of the artifacts going into storage in the Clark Development Corporation Compound. The textile collection was briefly put on display at the Nayong Pilipino Clark then returned to storage.

The current Museo ng Nayong Pilipino Project team has recently (only in 2020) started the rigorous process of reconciling all previous inventories, ranging from hard copies to spreadsheets. With the relative ease of lockdown restrictions, the team can now begin physically matching the in-house photographs with the artifacts on record. The team has also been making quite a number of exciting discoveries such as materials of value (e.g. ivory) that were previously undocumented, as well as body ornaments and textiles of value or “showpieces” are now missing. Detailed descriptions of such losses are thankfully embedded in the memory of scholars who have seen the collection in storage. The team has also been verifying reports of objects that were once in the Nayong Pilipino collection but are now in the hands of private collectors.

Our records indicate that an estimated 80% of the collection appears to have come from communities in Mindanao: Maranao, Manobo, Yakan, Subanen, Blaan, Maguindanao, Mandaya, Mansaka, Talaandig, Higaonon, Jama Mapun, Sama, and Tausug in the Sulu Archipelago. Other communities represented in the collection include Gaddang, Tinguian, Bontoc, Apayao, Ifugao, and Mangyan. However, the data in the current inventory needs further nuance as there is no information on the geographic origins of the object or source communities. The circumstances of acquisition is another data set we are investigating other than the names involved in the transfer of objects from one hand to another. 

The team has been conducting a series of interviews with curators and researchers who have previously worked with the collection in order to reconstruct the history of the collection and trace incidents that led to losses. Investigating how such losses occurred and who was accountable is in itself a herculean effort. This, on top of knowledge and creative outputs that must be published on a quarterly basis.

The investigative project is complicated by challenges such as the lack and near absence of documentary evidence, yet the team is optimistic that these may inform policy papers.

For 2021, the Museo ng Nayong Pilipino shall be a trans-media and multi-modal project, underscoring the role of the museum as a supporter, enabler, advocate, motivator, catalyst, learning hub, and convergence space. As a learning hub, the museum collection shall be housed in Plaza San Luis Intramuros and shall engage experts, scholars, practitioners, and creatives who will collaborate with the museum team. The process of taking stock of our assets shall be documented and shared with the public. In line with this, the museum shall support the museum community’s efforts to build a heritage valuation system to better protect our country’s assets.


For our opening salvo, fifteen out of 481 objects categorized as “textiles and garments” and fifteen out of 932 categorized as “personal ornaments” were selected by the team. The array of images will be presented to the public to seek their participation in the identification and generate knowledge on the rich textile-making traditions of the Philippines.

The “virtual exhibit” explores the role of textiles and accessories in community life, concentrating on those that are worn for various occasions, rites of passage and liminalities, indicators of status, expressions of local creativity, place wisdom, and biocultural heritage.

Selections were made to achieve a wide range of acquisitions across the archipelago as described in the holdings of Nayong Pilipino. The collection features various processes of converting fiber into wearable cloth, from weaving, dyeing, embroidery, stitching, and applique, among others. Meanwhile, the selection of ornaments features the preferred materials for ornamenting the body and processes.

A “virtual exhibition” of textiles and body ornaments also features the color palette and motifs preferred by ethnolinguistic groups according to their lifeworld and their negotiations with divinities and ancestors.

We titled our first digital project “unthread” for many reasons.

To unthread is to unravel, to draw out, to disentangle, or to make one’s way through a labyrinth. The title bears strong reference to textiles woven or spun and personal ornaments with components bound by a strand. On the other hand, this act of unthreading is a small but meaningful gesture that refers to the Collections Research and Programming thrust of the Museo ng Nayong Pilipino Project.

The museum shall also provide a platform for documenting and sharing Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), so that we may contribute to the wider multi-sectoral project of resocializing objects taken from their original source communities.

Embedding Nayong Pilipino in Research-based Advocacies

The advocacy to document and promote textiles is one we share with organizations who see as its mission the preservation, promotion, research, education, and public communication not only on textiles and body ornaments but their raw materials as well.

This advocacy is synergized with other programs of the NPF such as the Research Institute. Last 2020, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation co-organized a research summit called “Mga Hibla ng Pamana” with HABI the Philippine Textile Council. Among those invited as resource persons were Professor Emeritus Norma Respicio from the University of the Philippines, Dr. Joerelyn Concepcion from the Cebu Technological University, Marlon Martin from the Ifugao Nation and the Save the Terraces Rice Movement or SITMO, Rosal Lim of Rurungan sa Tubod Foundation, Michael Claparols of Creative Definitions, Lenora Luisa Cabili of Filipinna, Salika Maguindanao of Maranao Collectibles. Industry players such as Kylie Misa of WVN Home Textiles, Maco Custodio of DTI Regional Crafts Program, and Ana Lagon of BAYO Foundation also shared the wealth of their experience. Cultural workers such as Nestor Horfilla also joined the conversation along with members of HABI such as Adelaida Lim and the organization’s president, Maribel Ongpin.

Prior to this, the NPF Heritage Space Program hosted “Umpukan sa Nayon,” a focus group discussion that included Anya Lim from the Cebu-based Anthill Fabric. She was joined by leaders of community-based enterprises that focus on Philippine material culture.

Initiatives that seek to document and digitize designs of indigenous textiles and invigorate the transmission of intangible cultural heritage deserve mention.

The Cordillera Textiles Project or CordiTex is led by Professor Analyn Salvador-Amores from the University of the Philippines, Baguio. The project counts among contemporary efforts to document extant textiles that can no longer be woven due to the demise of master weavers in local communities. The multidisciplinary project counts research along anthropological, artistic, economical, mathematical, and technological lines.

The support of agencies like the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI), the textile research and development arm of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority are all crucial in providing opportunities to develop and source raw materials needed in the supply chain.

The PTRI has an  Innovation Center for Yarns and Textiles (ICYT) in Bicutan, Taguig targeted more towards addressing the needs of micro, small, to medium-sized enterprises and students. One of the flagship programs is called TELA: Textiles Empowering Lives Anew for the benefit of MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprises) and communities.

There is a resurgence of efforts to do research on and produce raw materials. Among these is the Cotton Development Program initiated by the Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority, while the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Textile Research Institute. Together with the Iloilo Science and Technology University, they are building a P41.6-million Regional Yarn Production and Innovation Center.

The recent influx of mass-produced weaves with designs copied by foreign manufacturers from Philippine weaving communities leaves cause for worry. Unless government agencies are quick to act and subdue this attack on livelihood and Intangible Cultural Heritage, there may be difficulty in sustaining communities and the social energies currently constellating around textiles and personal ornaments.

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