Maranao Arts and Crafts | Lanao del Sur’s Living Traditions
Lanao del Sur is a wealth of old-world charms. From ostentatious royal houses to the tiniest detail in their gongs, Maranao arts and crafts carry the stories of its vibrant culture.
Lanao del Sur is the homeland of the Maranao people. And it is also a universe of exquisite folk art. Everywhere you look around there’s always a reminder of how art thrives amidst its episodes of struggles.
Maranao Arts and Crafts: Living Thru Time
While many people are quick to identify these works as Muslim art, a lot of it actually predates Islam. In fact, when these Muslim missionaries arrived in Lanao in the 15th century, a vibrant art scene already existed mostly of mixed indigenous & Indic origins.
Philippine art as we know it now is never complete without the contribution of Maranao arts & crafts. And you can’t see all the art that Lanao del Sur has to offer in just a single trip. So where do we begin?
Tugaya: The Artisans’ Heartland
When it comes to Maranao arts and crafts, Tugaya is the ground zero of it all. It is thought that there’s an artisan in every home in this lakeside community. And walking around town, it isn’t truly hard to spot someone working on a piece.
Tugaya is famous for many crafty things — chests, drums, gongs & tapestries. They work with various materials too like wood, brass, bamboo, plastic beads & abaca fiber. The truth is, most of what’s sold in many markets around the country are from this small town of artisans.
“Baur” or wooden chests are among the best pieces produced here. Unlike other chests, the Maranao baur is handcarved with intricate okir motifs & inlayed with “tipay” or polished shells. Also, Tugayanons are the best known makers of metalcrafts. The “gadur” or brass jars, tabak or brass serving trays & the “kampilan” or swords are among their masterpieces.
However, Tugaya still looms as a nominated site in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. While we know it’s a long process, it’s taking way too long ‘til it’s forgotten.
Pualas & the Masters of the Loom
Maranao arts and crafts are unrecognizable without mentioning the “malong”, an important part of their traditional clothing. Malong is a wrap-around garment worn by everyone. There’s one for everyday wear. Then there are more for special occasions called “landap”.
What makes the “landap” extra ordinary are the handwoven trimmings called the “langkit”. However, not many know it, the best backstrap loom weavers of langkit are in the town of Pualas. It’s literally a backyard industry where women weave these complex fabrics at home.
Pualas Mayor Paul Tanog emphasizes the growth of the “inged” or community. Langkit weaving is one of his supported programs for its livelihood impact. But most importantly because these weavers are the bearers of their time-honored artistry.
Kulintangan: A Music & Visual Ensemble
The kulintangan is an ensemble of musical instruments. The “kulintang” or small melodically arranged gongs, the “agung” or big gongs as well as a set of drums called “debakan” usually make up the assemblage.
But apart from being musical instruments, it also carry decorative designs intricately carved or engraved on it.
Okir: Unifying Maranao Arts and Crafts
Traditional Maranao arts and crafts is a rich collection. And the “okir” is the design element that brings together all of its folk art into one cohesive visual extravaganza. Okir is a set of leaf, fern or vine motif expressed in most of its art.
Whether in woodworks or metalcrafts, okir is a prominent design. Their handwoven fabrics as well as architecture heavily use it too. And whether it’s sculpted, painted, woven or engraved, okir stays as its strongest & most distinguishable aesthetic.
Art & the Changing Times
Just like many traditional arts around the world, Maranao arts and crafts live with challenges too. Among them is the globalization of culture. While it’s good for socializing values, many factors diffuse some cultural traits as it goes along the process. As such, internet & pop culture are its strongest threats.
In addition, it is also losing patronage & the diminishing interest of the youth to learn is killing it. Then there’s the seemingly never-ending struggle for peace. Thus, all these stifle our wishes of keeping these traditions alive.
But for as long as there’s someone on his chisel, on her loom or on his swages, there’s hope. Most importantly, if we believe in the goodness of their art without bias to culture or religion, Maranao arts and crafts would prosper.