The Story of the Yakan weavers

From Basilan to Zamboanga City, the Yakan Village tells how war led them to the life-changing way of the weave

The weaving tradition in the Philippines

One of the key elements that make a place distinctive aside from food, dialect, and festivals—can be traced to as early as the pre-Spanish colonization. While all craftsmanship bears great importance, what makes weaving fabric stand out is the cultural value it brings. It is artistry our ancestors passed on to generations, where the harmony of feet and hands are mastered to follow the way of the weave.

In South Cotabato, the spirit of abaca, Fu Dalu, visits the chosen dreamweavers of the T’boli tribe in their dreams to teach them the next patterns to weave. This tedious five-man job turns out as t’nalak, a cloth with  thread based on abaca. In Ilocos, the weaving of a plain or patterned cotton called inabel is widely practiced in many villages up to this day. Most of the time, inabel is used in the household in the form of placemats, towels, and blankets.

Vibrant threads over dispute

Meanwhile in Zamboanga City, the weaving village of the Yakan tribe tells a story of vibrancy through the conflict that reintroduced them to their thread of life. About 20 families were forced to leave Basilan and were evacuated to Zamboanga City, including the clan of Serge Ilul, 60, one of the elders of the tribe. “We came here in the village way back in 1974. We came from Basilan,” Ilul looked back on the time. “We were forced to leave Basilan at that time because of the trouble between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). That was after the imposition of martial law way back in 1972.”

Though Islam runs strong in their blood, they were raised in a Christian school called Cuevas Yakan Mission School, where they understood and grew accustomed to two different beliefs. Little did they know, the Christian organization linked to the school known as the Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines (CAMACOP) would be their saving grace.

Zooming in on the vibrant colors that make a Yakan cloth stand out

“We grew up in a Christian school, so we understand how Christians and Muslims come together in a certain community. We were very thankful kasi hindi nila pinipili whatever religion you have. It’s not because of religion why they placed us here. It’s because of humanitarian reasons,” Ilul expressed. “We were transferred here [Yakan Village] and accommodated by the CAMACOP who owned this property. The owner of CAMACOP decided to sell this to us. It was through their consent that we stayed here. We did not squat. They whole-heartedly accommodated us and let us use their lot.”

Since then, the weaving tradition of the Yakan tribe has come back to life. It became their source of income, identity, and hope. It became their kaleidoscope to the colors of life.

Yung mga anak namin, dito na nakapagtapos eh. All kids were born here. Dito na rin sila naka-graduate. It was a blessing in disguise to be here in the city of Zamboanga. We learned to live peacefully. We learned to live harmoniously with Christians, especially in this community. It’s hard to be ignorant of other religions.”

The children of Yakan Village dressed up for their traditional dance

The textiles they produce are mostly characterized by the vibrant colors of red, blue, yellow, and green, while the designs are inspired by geometric patterns and nature, such as bamboo and flowers.

Yakan textile will always be honored, time after time, not only because of the labor of love put into it, but also because of the love built out of it.


This story was first published in Explore Philippines Issue 17 with title “The way of the weave”
Photography by Jisa Atrero

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Our journey began with an idea to discover what it means to travel the Philippines, beyond the alluring images of sparkling blue waters and powder white sand. We seek to share travel stories to inspire the wide-eyed traveler, moving them deeper into the destination with stunning images and narratives about its sights, tastes, textures, smells, and local life.

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