Tabungaw Hat-Maker

HOME ON A HILL. It was a steep drive up from Tangadan Tunnel to barrio San Quintin in Abra. The soil was soggy and roads were slippery from the days of rain. We hiked the muddy path, burdened by our city feet to meet the hat-maker, Teofilo Garcia at his home on a hill.

Apo Teofilo is a local farmer who is famous for crafting the katokong nga tabungaw, the Ilocano for elegant, rain and shine durable hats fashioned from native gourd.

HAT-MAKING TRADITIONS. Handmade head-gears, crafted from materials found in nature and used as practical accessories and protection from sun and rain have been perfected by our ancestral tribes centuries ago. To preserve the integrity of hat-making process, the craft was passed down from generations of hat-makers. The Maranaos and Bagobos were known for carving wooden helmets used for combat. The Maranao hat was topped with a silver turret while the Bagobos decorated theirs with geometric patterns. The Bontocs carved a bowl-shaped helmet with portruding anthropomorphic figures. They also weaved nito into a bachelor’s basket hat called the suklang. The Gaddangs weaved rattan to make a skull cap that was trimmed with colorful beads, pearls and metal while the Ilongots fashioned a head dress from animals they hunt like the hornbill.

The Tausugs and Yakans weaved thin strips of bamboo to make cone and dome-shaped hats with an inner cushioning of the same material, which was separately woven. The Tagalogs and Visayans have their versions of the popular salakot, finely woven from anahaw palm or fashioned from dried tortoise shell, trimmed with silver or gold. Of the same category is the Ilocano takurong nga tabungaw or gourd hat.

TAKURONG NGA TABUNGAW. Apo Teofilo learned making takurong, Ilocano for hat out of tabungaw or native gourd from his grandfather during his teens. The hat-making process begins from the planting of the seeds of the vegetable and knowing when it has grown into its right size for harvest, cutting in halves, drying and letting the ants eat the pulp to lining the edge with woven nito and weaving the built-in inner cushioning with alternating patterns using rattan and bamboo to make sure it snugs comfortably into the wearer’s head.

Apo Teofilo spent years to master the amazing engineering inside the hat. Today, it only takes a week or two for the seventy-seven year old craftsman to make one.

A STRONG KISS. Like most folk art, history of tabungaw making is difficult to trace. Artist’s illustrations show early freedom fighters like Diego Silang and member of the Katipunan wearing a tabungaw. Tabungaw making was popular among Ilocano household until interest in the craft grandually declined. Apo Teofilo revealed that in his younger years, the tabungaw hat was called by his fellow hat-makers and friends as strong kiss because it guaranteed the wearer to get one from a date.

Apo Teofilo is the known master for this craft. He leads hat-making workshops in Abra. In his hometown, high school students wore the tabungaw hat that they made on their graduation march in place of the Oxford cap. In 2012, Apo Teofilo received the National Living Treasure award. This award, equivalent to the Order of the National Artist is bestowed by the state to craftsmen or manlilikha ng bayan for preserving and promoting local traditions and craft-making for future generations.

EPILOGUE: NATIONAL LIVING TREASURE. Nowhere is hat-making was raised to the level of fine art as Apo Teofilo did. Before leaving, we bought a tabungaw hat that the National Living Treasure signed as a priceless strong kiss from Abra.

Published in: on September 15, 2018 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  


INTO THE VALLEY OF FOLK ARTISTS. Cocooned between the legendary Cordilleras and the vast coastal towns of the two Ilocoses is the province of Abra. A trip in this verdant mountain valley offers travelers the opportunity to explore remote and hidden mountain and river trails that are rich in natural wonders.

But our lure to Abra is having the chance to meet the guardians of folk art and local traditions; a farmer who keeps the traditional way of making hats out of a native vegetable, a tribal elder and storyteller in a village settlement with the aborigines of Ilocos, the fabled Tingguiansand a cross-generational community of abel weavers.

BEYOND TANGADAN TUNNEL. Our day of discovery began the moment we stepped out from the bus after an eight-hour ride right in front of a mountain that towers at the end of the national highway. One enters Abra via  Tangadan Tunnel. The 62-meter tunnel cuts directly through the mountain and it took two years to build in the 1930s. A monument to the Abrense heroine, Gabriela Silang guards this entrance to Abra.

Beyond the tunnel is a wide rugged landscape broken by mountain ranges and foothills. Behind the jagged mountain peaks, the clouds moved slow to reveal the verdant valleys. Green is the color of the forest and of the rice fields that are kept moist by the rain and the narrow rivers lacing through the ethereal terrain.

APO TEOFILO’S STRONG KISS. The soil was soggy from the days of rain in the barrio of San Quintin where we hiked the muddy path, burdened by our city feet to meet the hat-maker, Teofilo Garcia at his home on a hill. Apo Teofilo is a local farmer who is famous for the craft of making katokong nga tabungaw, the Ilocano for elegant, rain and shine durable hats fashioned from native gourd. He learned the process of carving the vegetable and weaving the inner cushioning out of rattan from his grandfather when he was a teen. In his younger years, the tabungaw hat was called by his fellow hat-makers and friends as strong kiss because it guaranteed the wearer to get one from a date.

Apo Teofilo is the known master for this craft. He leads hat-making workshops in Abra. In his hometown, high school students wore the tabungaw hat that they made on their graduation march in place of the Oxford cap. In 2012, Apo Teofilo received the National Living Treasure award. This award, equivalent to the Order of the National Artist is bestowed by the state to craftsmen or manlilikha ng bayan for preserving and promoting local traditions and craft-making for future generations. Before we left Apo Teofilo, we bought a tabungaw hat that the National Living Treasure signed as a priceless strong kiss from Abra.

PIDIGAN. We exited San Quintin and entered the historic town of Pidigan. This town was established by Spanish friars in 1832 with the Immaculate Concepcion as patroness. Our next stopover was the ruins of the old church in this town’s poblacion. The bricks and old stone dates to 1890 but an earlier structure used to stand on the ruins. The church-convent was described to be octagonal in form with three altars and a watchtower. Built in 1823, it functioned both as a place for worship and fortification against invading tribes.

During World War II, the Japanese enemy used school buildings and residential houses in Pidigan as their barracks. In 1945, Pidigan became the seat of Abra’s local government while the country was in transition after the war.

TINGGUIANS OF NAMARABAR. At the Tingguian village of Namarabar in the town of Peñarrubia, we were welcomed by tribal elder Norma Mina Agaid. Graceful in her sleeves of heirloom beads, a symbol of prestige equivalent to the tattoos worn by their mountain cousins in Kalinga, the folk history of the Tingguian culture and tradition echoes in Norma’s lively storytelling through her embroideries.

In 1959, Norma wanted to paint but she can’t so she embroidered on abel fabric the Am-Amma that visualizes the story of their ancestor gods and folk myths, the all-weather Tingguian warriors guarding the Tangadan Tunnel against the invading Ilocanos, the Abrense heroine Gabriela Silang, the ancient method of dyeing cloth using barks and plants, the goddess weaver, Pinaing who introduced through dreams the weaving patterns pinilian and binakol and the embroidery style called kinamay to the Tingguian women.

SIDE TRIP TO BUCAY. From Namarabar, we revved up on paved mountain road to reach our next stop. Bucay was the provincial capital of Abra when it became independent from Ilocos Sur in 1847. Its name is said to come from the medicinal plant makabuhay that the friars introduced to the natives who were then afflicted by malaria.

A historical landmark in this town is the ruins of the Casa Real of the provincial governor. Only the arched front entrance bearing the coat of arms of Leon and Castille remains of the original Spanish structure.

TAYUM CHURCH. From Bucay, we raced to Tayum. The town’s name was taken from an indigo-yielding plant that the Tingguians used for dyeing yarns of cotton threads. At its town center is a cluster of ancestral structures dating back to the Spanish period.

Tayum’s oldest monument is its church. Its Baroque façade distinctly decorated with finials shaped like burnay jars from Vigan and  the bell tower alongside dated 1571. Dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, the church was recognized as a National Cultural Treasure.

TAYUM HERITAGE TOWN. We walked around the poblacion to better see some heritage structures in Tayum. The Teodoro Brillantes House is the only heritage house in town to have a National Historical Institute marker. It’s supposed to be a museum but no one remembers when it last opened for viewing. A prominent feature of this American-era chalet is the brick work on the ground floor and the raised front porch with t-shaped staircase. There are no quarries in Abra so clay was baked to make bricks to encase the wooden posts and house frame.

The Flores House that was built in 1890 looks recently restored following the style of a bahay-na-bato that is distinct to Vigan with whitewashed stonework at the ground floor that is extended to the massive corner pillars on the upper floor. The Jose Cariño Sr. House has been left to the elements, but it is still possible to imagine the stateliness it once had through crumbling antique house.

GABRIELA SILANG MUSUEM OF FINE ARTS. Along Tayum’s Calle Real, the old royal road that links Abra’s former capital in Bucay to its present one in Bangued is the ancestral house of Don Nicolas Cariño.  It was in this house where his niece, Gabriela Cariño Silang took shelter after the assassination of her husband, Ilocano revolutionary Diego Silang in 1763.

A work in progress, rooms in this ancestral house are being converted into exhibition spaces for the museum dedicated to the Abrense heroine. The Gabriela Silang Museum of Fine Arts’ collection includes 5000 paintings and unnumbered European and Orientalia objects d’ art amassed by Ambassador Rosario Cariño from around the world.

BRUNCH IN BANGUED. We arrived in Abra’s provincial capital just before lunch time. Here, again was an epitome of Philippine town life, a neat rural community of relaxed people, ancestral structures, storied churches and hearty comfort meals. The ancestral house of Senate President Quintin Parades is a historical landmark that serves as a shrine to the late statesman. Then there is San Lorenzo Church that serves as an unofficial shrine to a certain Rosa Balitoc who unearthed gold from her yard that she donated to have this this church built at the town cemetery.

For brunch, we were treated with sinful servings of bagnet, pakbet and dinakdakan. Dinakdakan is a smokey-flavored pork dish dressed in vinegar and pig’s brains mixture.  We had a brief stopover right in the middle of Abra River through the lengthy Calaba Bridge on our way to La Paz.

ABEL LOOMS OF LA PAZ. Late in the afternoon we were introduced to a community of abel weavers in the town of La Paz. Abel is Ilocano verb for weave while inabel is a noun for woven fabric. This handwoven fabric is colorful and can last for centuries as heirloom pieces in forms of clothing, blankets and decorative accessories.

In Barangay Bulbulala, several box-type looms are arranged in a huge room like an assembly line. Women sat on each wooden loom with fixed concentration while they alternately pass the shuttle back and forth with their dexterous hands across an expanse of colored yards before them and push the pedal with their feet. Weaving abel is a skill passed down from one generation to the next and takes years to master. At one loom sat a girl in her preteens. Her fingers moved with same agility around the warp and weft of her unfinished cloth much like the master abel weavers before her.

EPILOGUE: A TIMELESS CONTINUUM. In Abra, pilgrims are welcomed with opened arms like long lost relatives. In this valley of folk artists, we are reminded by Apo Teofilo’s takurong nga tabungaw, Nana Norma’s Am-Amma, and the handmade abel fabrics of La Paz that we are all  part of the warp, weft and weave in a timeless continuum of Philippine life and culture. We belong to a single tribe.

Published in: on July 23, 2018 at 10:27 am  Comments (2)  

Nune Alvarado

SAGAY HANGOVER. When a beam of sunlight entered my half-opened eyes, it felt like there was scrambled eggs cooking out my brain. I shut my eyes tight while I lay in bed regretting why I had too much of those happy Red Horses. I looked out into the window where the whipping wind touching my face and the view of the endless blue sea made my distressing hangover more bearable. From a room next to mine, I heard familiar singing from one of my drinking buddies last night. It was Noy Pillora of the popular 1970s folk rock band, Asin.

I gingerly walked my way into the remote beach where I found the host of last night’s drinking session, artist Nune Alvarado. There he sat on gray sand from across his art studio painting not on a mural-sized canvas or sketchpad but on smooth round pebbles that he gathered from the beach.

ATALYER ALVARADO. Nune’s studio is a hand-hewn, hand-woven, hand-painted art fortress that towered as a huge art installation in a neighborhood of beach resorts at the Old Sagay town of Sagay City in Negros Occidental. Built from repurpose wood, bamboo and painted with loud tropical hues, sea breeze would sweep through the slatted bamboo walls and flooring.

Atalyer Alvarado is like a cocoon that the famous Negros artist calls home and a respite to his friends who stays a day or two in this two-bedroom rustic structure.

ART OF ALVARADO. In the 1970s, Nune became an outstanding artist of protest art. This art movement can be traced to the period beginning with the institution of the Martial Law to post-EDSA People Power Revolution as part of a bigger art movement: Social Realism. During that period, the country was tormented by extremes of social injustices, corruption, and poverty.

These painful social scenarios have inspired and angered artists like Nune to draw and paint his iconic human forms with veiny arms and legs almost like cadavers alluding hunger and hard labor along with reoccurring symbol-laden creatures like serpents, insects and birds with spiky thorns and dagger-sharp edges in folksy tropical colors. Although not clear but his color choices and human forms may have been influenced by the Angry Christ mural of Alfonso Ossorio in Victorias.

LOOKING BACK AT ALBARAKO CAFE. To sit down with Nune over breakfast and meals at Café Albarako was to listen to his stories from his humble beginnings to the events that led to his incarceration during Martial Law.

Born on May 5, 1950 in a farming community at Pabrika, Sagay City, he quit farm life at age 18 and took up advertising at La Consolacion College in Bacolod City and later painting at University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. During the Martial Law years, he participated in protest rallies where he applied sarcasm and mockery in banners and effigies to criticize the excesses and abuses of the Marcos government.

ART-MAKING BY THE BEACH. At his art studio in Sagay, Nune begins and ends his day making art. He could be sitting by the beach painting on smooth rocks or together with his son Nuklar decorating the bamboo posts of Albarako Café and boats with loud tropical colors or drawing his spiky creatures and sharply jagged edged human figures on homemade paper that his wife, Sally made from recycled newspaper.

EPILOGUE: SOCIAL REALISM IS TIMELESS. Nune laments on how history is repeating because Filipinos forget the lessons of history, the injustices and political corruption of the past. If we think about it, we need intrepid social realists like Nune. We need them today.

Published in: on July 3, 2018 at 3:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Three Generations of Joey Cobcobo

EVOLVING ART. The art of Joey Cobcobo is among the few in the contemporary art scene that is consistently experimental, evolving, and divergent. Its unfailing trademark is to go off tangent from the sought-after styles and predictable themes that are common in the art market. It is his passion for self-discovery that draws his curious followers and the serious collectors of art to stay and focus on the evolution and versatility of his art.

His manner of presentation has thrived since he emerged in the art scene with his first generation of representational art that drew inspiration from his Ifugao and Ilocano roots and Christian upbringing. In Lola 101 part 1, 2, 3 and 4, he applied monotype printmaking techniques to capture the essence of grandmotherhood on leaves, flowers and stems and printed them on shifu crocheted handwoven paper fabrics. These second generation of works were exhibited in Avellana Art Gallery, Ortigas Library, and BenCab Museum.

ENTER THIRD GENERATION. The art installation in Propaganda at the Lopez Museum in 2015 marks the beginning of the third generation of his works where the materials he used were sourced and reflective of his Mandaluyong neighborhood, right in the very place he first saw light.

This multisensory and interactive experience—from the eye-catching wooden ladders that pierced through the ceiling to the pre-etched wooden clogs (bakya) used as stamps that encouraged viewers to walk into a map of Mandaluyong spread out on the floor to impress and rethink their social responsibility—is meant to communicate Joey’s message to a vast and diverse audience.

SHOW AT ART VERITE’. In this day and age of pluralism in art, Joey’s secret sauce is in the selection and mix of media and techniques that he has mastered from previous generations of art-making. He chooses what will best deliver his message, something that goes beyond superficial aesthetics that earned him CCP’s Thirteen Artists Award. Traditional mediums from his first and second generations of work—oil on canvas and woodcut serial prints—are coveted pieces, but for this recent body of work, Joey revisits, reinvent, and reveals.

For this exhibit, Joey gathered unfinished works from eight years ago. He mixed and applied a spontaneous flow of colors and layers upon layers of paint to achieve a sense of historical finality from his earlier works. The result is a 29-piece ensemble of dynamic paintings that are full of surface texture, heavy layers of paint and reconstructions of selected prioritized memories and effectuate imagination.  From the titles alone, the viewer can pick up playful, suggestive, and nostalgic themes like Armas on Plexiglass, Ginumburza, Ratbow (When syllables are read in reverse it is pronounce as?), and Bawal ang Sweet.

BAAZOOKAA. All pieces went through introspection and retouching in Joey’s three-story home-studio, located right in the middle of a busy marketplace in Mandaluyong City. His home-studio has designated spaces for people-watching, creating art, and a computer shop business where he grabs ideas for his drawings, painting, and carvings for his printmaking plates. His finished product is a demonstration of how the process of art-making is affected by the environment.

Baazookaa, inspired by the bubblegum brand, is a catch-all word that fuses together all of the pieces for the exhibit. It recaps the dynamic styles, themes, and techniques that Joey has intrepidly explored to come up with three generations of art.

EPILOGUE: MONOGRAPH. A week ago at around past midnight, I suddenly sneaked out from a drinking session and traveled to Joey’s home-studio so I can learn about each piece for his upcoming exhibit and have this text for the exhibit catalog ready before the show.  Text in this blog will be published in the exhibit catalog and an excerpt from it for the press release for the show.

Baazookaa will run from May 5 to 17, 2018 at Art Verite’ Gallery in 2f Shop at Serendra Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City. For inquiries contact Art Verite’ Gallery at +632 9151982 / +63 9273296273/ / /

Published in: on April 29, 2018 at 1:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Cultural Tour of Metro Manila

FESTIVAL DAY.  An hour before sunrise, the palengke in Cubao and Divisoria begins to swell with early shoppers. The prayerful flocks inside the churches of Quiapo, Baclaran, and in the Sta. Clara Monastery in Quezon City. The rising sun lights up the preserved ruins of Intramuros and the elaborate façade of the Metropolitan Theater and the National Museum. In EDSA and Makati City, there is a choking traffic from the morning and afternoon rush hour and anarchy rules on the streets where sidewalk and roving vendors offer a wide-variety of street food from boiled and skewered bananas to santol and green mangoes with bagoong. There is a festival in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

From morning to sundown, Metro Manila is exploding with so many flavors and things artistic and cultural to experience so we asked artists, writers, and fellow travelers to provide us with a personalized cultural guide to our beloved national capital.

MANILA IN 24 HOURS. Famous for his contemporary rebulto on wood, Thirteen Artists Awardee and serial creative Riel Hilario provides this itinerary:

My 24 hours would start mid-morning at 10 AM. Breakfast in Intramuros area. San Agustin Church and its Museum, then its the Masters Hall at the National Museum. Lunch at the esteros of Binondo. Head out to Makati to the Pasong Tamo galleries. On to Ayala Museum and merienda at M Cafe. An easy walkabout in BGC. Head south to Conrad Hotel for some drinks. Sunset watching at the Bay. Perhaps a gala show at the CCP. So end the night there or back in Makati. Next morning, breakfast in Greenhills. Some galleries in the area. Exit Manila before lunchtime.

MANILA’S MERRY MIXES. Food historian and award-winning writer, Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria shares:

Sample folk food. Some names may sound Spanish or Mexican but the dishes have a Filipino heart and soul: tamales made with coconut milk; adobo cooked in palm or sugarcane vinegar; sourish and brothy sinigang; the savory, boiled, meal-in-a-pot pochero with native banana, cabbages, sweet potatoes and a flavor-layered eggplant relish; kare-kare oxtail stew with subtleties from peanut and annato. Don’t pass up a morning cup of thick chocolateh served with a sopas ranging from budbud or suman (finger shaped rice or millet with coconut milk and wrapped in palm or banana leaves), buttery ensaymada, or biscuits baked in a wood-fired oven. And don’t miss afternoon merienda with its array of baked goods ranging from street breads to fancy egg yolk-rich yema puddings.  Halo-halo, mix mix, a symphony of syrupy fruits, beans, custard and ice cream to which have been added textural punctuations like pounded and puffed rice called pinipig. Philippine rum and brandy are internationally acclaimed. Liqueurs from island citruses dayap, dalandan, and kalamansi and tuba wine from coconut palm stamp island happiness on the tastebuds forever.

A DOSE OF CULTURE. Staunch heritage advocate and the man behind FEU’s vibrant student concert performances, Martin Lopez recommends:

Start and end your day at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Build up your appetite by following the joggers around the CCP including up and down the main driveway. Cool off and have breakfast at Pancake House in Harbour Square across the CCP Little Theater. Return to the CCP to see what is on exhibit. Then, cross Roxas Boulevard and head to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and spend a couple hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. You can have lunch there. If you can still take in one more museum, spend the afternoon in the National Museum of Anthropology or the National Gallery of Art. Alternatively, you can spend your afternoon walking the cobble stoned streets of Intramuros. Catch the sunset from the roof deck of the Bay Leaf Hotel. You can have cocktails and dinner there. Finally, return to the CCP for a performance in one of its halls.

MANILA I’M COMING HOME. Artist, writer and editor of the iconic 10-volume Filipino Heritage, Alfredo Roces regularly flies from Sydney to Manila to attend art shows and meet fellow artists shares: 

Last time I was in Manila we did a quick tour of museums. As we were in Urdaneta Village we started with Ayala, then the CCP, then the Met and then the National Museum. That was interesting. I would say try to add Intramuros, Fort Santiago-San Agustin Church. Catch some current events. We saw the Artfair and an art auction. Divisoria is interesting.

EPILOGUE: MANILA SUNSET. So there, a personalized cultural guide to Metro Manila from our country’s art and culture authorities. So find some time to explore our national capital until sundown and watch how the tropical sun paints the city with that unrivaled incandescent golden glow that makes us sing:

Hinahanap hanap kita Manila
Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga
Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan
Mga babae mong naggagandahan
Take me back in your arms Manila
And promise me you’ll never let go
Promise me you’ll never let go
Manila, Manila
Miss you like hell, Manila
No place in the world like Manila
(Manila by Hotdogs)

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 6:55 pm  Comments (1)