Magdalena Gamayo: one of Philippine National Living Treasures

In 1992, the Philippine government, through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), shed light on the many cultural bearers of folk art through the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA). 

Also known as the National Living Treasure Awards, GAMABA recognizes Filipino artisans, “whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical excellence and have been passed on to and widely practiced by the present generation in his/her community with the same degree of technical and artistic competence.”

GAMABA is considered to be equal to the National Artist award. Since its inception, over 16 artisans have been conferred with the award, one of which is Magdalena Galinato Gamayo.

Based in Pinili, Ilocos Norte, Magdalena is a master weaver, who has dedicated her life to making inabel textiles and keeping the craft alive. Since being honored as a GAMABA awardee in 2012, Magdalena, who celebrated her 99th birthday last Aug. 13, is set to be the first National Living Treasure to reach 100 years old. Despite frail hands, weak eyesight, and old age, she continues to make the finest inabel textiles with a very high thread count and intricate designs that sometimes can take up to five colors.

Tapestries of Magdalena

Making an inabel fabric is a tedious process. It involves preparing the cotton threads, warping and braiding them, and feeding into the loom before the actual weaving begins.

Magdalena started to learn weaving inabel and spinning cotton threads at the age of 16 by watching her mother and aunts work the loom. “Hindi na ako nakatapos ng pag-aaral dahil itinuon ko na ang aking atensiyon sa paghahabi,” Magdalena said in an episode of the NCCA’s “Padayon.”

Through the years, the National Living Treasure has perfected traditional patterns of Binakol. One example is Kusikok, an optical illusion whirlwind pattern used to drive away evil spirits. There are also the Simanpadak ti Pusa (Footprint of a Cat) and the Sinampaid (a half Kusikos design). Her most intricate and most challenging pattern is the Inubon a Sabong or String of Flowers.

Magdalena is passing on her knowledge of the craft to younger relatives and new groups of Filipino weavers. Through her workshops held at the Gamaba Cultural Center in honor of Magdalena Gamayo, the Ilocano master weaver hopes that future generation will learn more about the art of weaving inabel textiles.

“Sana magkaroon ng interes ang mga kabataan na pag-aralan ang paghahabi at pumunta sila dito upang aking gabayan, kasama kayong nagtratrabaho dito upang matururan sila,” Magdalena said. “Dahil lahat ng ginagawa naman natin dito ay sigurado akong babalik sa atin. Para sa atin ang lahat ng ito.”

Where Northern and Southern talents meet

Magdalena’s master weaves were showcased in Davao City through the “Panaglaga Ti Lagda: Weave Transcending Time” fashion show and exhibition. Led by the NCCA, in collaboration with the City Government of Davao and SM Lanang Premier, the event featured the inabel fabrics reimagined into wearable art by Davao City’s emerging designers, Neil Patrick Jimlani and Mark Joseph Sayad, in accord with the respectful treatment of indigenous expressions.

“Panaglaga Ti Ladga: Weave Transcending Time” aims to bridge the knowledge of our indigenous weaving traditions and innovation as it significantly underscores the need to enhance the resilience of the ties that link traditions and modernity. It celebrates both Magdalena’s legacy as a cultural bearer and Davao City’s thriving fashion scene.

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