Inaul Festival Celebrates Maguindanao’s Traditional Weaving Art

“Life is a loom, weaving illusion” [1] and in Mindanao’s storied sundry of woven heritage, a diverse weaving art scattered across the region abounds with dream-like patterns and fascinating backstories. Anecdotes encompassing historical origins and local legends shaped the roots of the various cloth creations of the Dreamweavers’ T’nalak of South Cotabato, the Langkit of Maranao, the Dagmay of the Mandayas, the Tausugs's Habul Tiyahian, the Inabal of Davao del Sur’s Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe, among others—and in this case, ushering a festivity called the Inaul Festival

Stepping out of cultural obscurity is the renaissance of Maguindanao’s living weaving tradition of Inaul. Literally translated to "weave" in local Maguindanaon language, the Inaul is a fabric conveying Muslim culture and heritage through a myriad of vibrant colors and intricate designs.

The Inaul's common colors are said to symbolize true Maguindanaon principles: Red for bravery, yellow and orange for royalty, black for dignity, green for peace, and white for either mourning or purity.

Traditional Designs of the Inaul

Most of the Inaul weavers we met at the trade expo during the festival hails from the municipality of Sultan Kudarat in Maguindanao. It was here where we also talked with Noraina Ansing, an Inaul master weaver for more than 30 years. She discussed to us the five main designs they usually create. These are the Sikukaruwang, Lombayan, Karanda, Biyaludan and the Sikuaundune.

(left to right): Sikukaruwang, Lombayan, Karanda, Biyaludan, Sikuaundune
The Sikukaruwang blends the main pattern shaped like an elbow, with a diamond-shaped figure called the 'kinayupu'. The Lombayan evokes the emotions of love and sadness. The third design meanwhile, came about from a friendly weaving competition Ansing’s grandfather Sultan Umping of Butig, asked her four wives to participate. The winning design woven by his fourth wife became known as the karanda. The Biyaludan is the most expensive among the five designs and used only during special occasions. The process of weaving this design involves the more complicated tie-dyed process. The Sikuaundune is characterized by a small tip with a shorter tail. The patterns on this one is achieved when weavers combine two designs.

2019 Inaul Festival: A Visual Pomp

In hopes of sustaining the reemergence of this traditional weaving art, the province of Maguindanao organized a festival named after it in 2017. Since then it has been held every month of February in the municipality of Buluan.

The smiles and colors of Inaul Festival
The Inaul Festival - unlike most festivals in the country, is not a one weekend spectacle. The festivities lasted two weeks consisting of various events like cultural shows, local cuisine exhibition, rodeo contest and a beauty pageant called the "Palamata Nu Maguindanao". Young women from Maguindanao showcased long gowns made of Inaul fabric hence making the event a beauty pageant slash cultural show. During the Governor's Night, the Inaul fabric once again took center stage as beauty queens and fashion models swaggered over the catwalk wearing fancy Inaul formal wear.

Started in 2012 as Sagayan Festival before it was renamed to Inaul Festival in 2017
The highlight of the Inaul Festival occurred on the streets of Buluan where contingents from various towns and municipalities paraded their Inaul themed floats along with street dancers and musical bands.

All of the performers were adorned with malong and gowns made of Inaul cloth created from the three types of threads: tanor (cotton), silk (rayon) and the katiyado, commonly used by the skilled Maguindanaoan women weavers.

The dazzling display of the Inaul Festival street parade performers covered in vivid colors, even under the bright sheen of the sun, made a lasting jovial impression on myself. Not only have I learned more about the Inaul woven art of Maguindanao, I have also seen it up close worn by men and women of all ages engage in all sorts of celebratory movements.

As the decibels of the drum beats starts to drown out and the street parade contingents wrap up their performances, I ran my fingers at the smooth surface of a piece of Inaul cloth our hosts have given us. It made me imagine the tedious process of shedding, picking and battening – all repeated thousands of times, just to finish a woven bit.

Master Weaver Noraina Ansing
Afterward, I recalled the glowing face of Noraina Ansing as she narrates to us the intricacies of Inaul weaving. Buoyed by her and fellow women weavers' passionate efforts in keeping this wonderful living art to live on, I felt the pride covering her appearance becoming contagious. 

[1] Quote from Vachel Lindsay