by Jonquil Dun
Legend has it that the art of weaving patterns of the infamous Philippines textile called “Inaul” started and was popularized during the reign of Sultan Umping of Maguindanao in the late 1800s. It was during his reign when he initiated a contest among his four wives and that was to weave a cloth version of his treasure holder called “karanda”, which the pattern that won was named after. The contest winner was the youngest of the four wives. This account may be accurate or not, but the karanda pattern was surely born during this event.
Thereafter, many patterns have evolved such as Sikukaruwang, Lombayan, Biyaludan, and Sikuandune. Look closely at the fabric patterns from right to left respectively, these are some pattern variations called Sikuandune, Biyaludan, Karanda, Lombayan, and Sikukaruwang.
Inaul textiles are woven in the Muslim- majority region of Maguindanao hence becoming a symbol of their rich, royal culture. It is woven using silk and cotton threads which makes it easily recognized for its shiny, luminous characteristics. To note, other tribes in Mindanao such as the Mandaya, T’boli, Yakan, Manuvu, Bagobo, etc are all using abaca fibers derived from the abaca plant. Muslim weavers only use cotton and silk. And like most hand-woven fabrics, Inaul too shares the exclusivity of the weaver to its weave because one cannot delegate the unfinished pattern to another as it will not come out the same.
Inaul in the local Maguindanaoan language means “weave”, adopted from the “ikat” (which also means weave in the Bahasa language). Ikat is a weaving technique from the first settlers of Bahasa-speaking people of Indonesia. We have to keep in mind that there was two influx of migrants who settled in Mindanao. One was the Bahasa- speaking people from Indonesia and the other was the Amoi-speaking people from Taiwan. Today it is evident that these two proto-languages settled in the regions of Mindanao.
Although there are ikat techniques employed in the weaving process, Inaul stands out on its own. Not only of the distinct fine sheer luster of the silk and rayon looms the weavers use, but the patterns also have deep meanings. One of which is the “Lombayan”, for example; is a pattern denoting sadness and love. The pattern resembles a silhouette of a woman peering through a window awaiting her lover.
The colors used also gives significance to the Inaul as it embodies the status and characteristic of the wearer, such as that white is often associated with mourning or sadness, black is for dignity, green is for peace, and red symbolizes the Maguindanaon bravery. While the colors yellow and orange are reserved for royalties.
According to ARMM Deputy Speaker Sandra Sema, “Inaul is synonymous with Maguindanao (the old name of Mindanao). It is a fabric woven by a great race, a symbol of royalty of a great nation that once ruled Mindanao. Today, Inaul does not only represent the rulers of the sultanate of this magnificent land, but it also amplifies the greatness of the people”.
In 2017, Maguindanao officially held its first Inaul Festival to preserve its identity, by holding a fashion show showcasing designs of famous designers from Mindanao. The move has attracted designers from other parts of the Philippines to incorporate native and indigenous textiles such as Inaul in their clothing line. Today, Inaul textiles are not anymore rarely uttered because it is worn and commissioned by famous celebrities wearing outfits made by them.
The truth is, Inaul is not just an embodiment of the Mindanaoan people but of the Philippines as a whole. It signifies the strength of the culture and history of a great civilization, amidst cultural imperialism, it stands firm with pride, dignity, and identity.