Wednesday, 08 July 2020

Meet Bai Labnai: National Living Treasure

MALAPATAN, Sarangani (March 25, 2019) – A 78-year old traditional mat weaver, Estelita Bantilan is fondly called by her family as Labnai.

Labnai is labelled Bai or princess by the other weavers in the community she lives in as endearment to her whom they recognized with superior gifts in mat weaving. But she said this never made her conceited, yet treats herself just equal with the other weavers.

She is a Blaan from Upper Lasang, an upland barangay in Malapatan, who started weaving mats or banig at a very young age and continued weaving until now with the support of her husband Tawada who gathered Buri, Romblon, Aswetes, Molave, Narra, and Turmeric as Labnai’s materials for making mats.

Labnai and Tawada got married in 1959 and had been blessed with seven children in a simple yet peaceful home.

Labnai’s passion and dedication for weaving is evident in the artistry and quality of the mats she produced.

When Labnai weaves, as if her entire body is her loom with the Romblon and Buri strips held firmly in between her toes while her hands and eyes synchronize with the crossover movement of her fingers interlacing strips of different colors guided by her still clear eyes.

Labnai said the skill that she mastered for decades enabled her to weave even with eyes closed. She has to work more or less 20 hours a day, allowing herself only two hours of sleep just to finish a double-sized mat for only a month.

Labnai considers Dwata or God as her true inspiration for giving her a healthy body and the gift of talent she possessed.

During Sarangani’s Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration on October 29 Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon, with ANAC IP Partylist Representative Jose Panganiban and the provincial board members, commended Bai Labnai for the pride she brought to Sarangani especially to her tribe.

She also received P10,000 financial support from Solon and another P10,000 from Panganiban.

Sulong Tribu program manager Celito Terando described Bai Labnai as “usa ka ehemplo o modelo kay dili lang and gobyerno ug Sulong Tribu ang nagapaningkamot sa cultural preservation,” then hoped she could challenge and encourage “more cultural masters nga buhaton ilang part sa cultural preservation.”

Terando believed Bai Labnai has stirred the interest of the elders to teach their children and their children’s children the culture of Blaan, Tagakaolo, and Tboli.

Bai Labnai has expressed her gratitude to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) for bestowing her the award and for the financial and medical support from the Office of the President and promised to never stop weaving mats and teaching young children so that their culture and tradition will not be forgotten.

Bai Labnai has been honored with NCCA’s prestigious Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or the National Living Treasures Award.

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte conferred her the award in a ceremony in Malacañang Palace on October 24, 2018 with two other awardees -- Ambalang Ausalin and Yabing Masalon Dulo who are also weavers from Basilan and South Cotabato, respectively.

The NCCA quoted Duterte as saying during the conferment ceremony that “it is only by education and training the youth that the legacy and work of our artists can live on.”

The President stressed the importance for the Filipino people to preserve and promote homegrown talent in today’s fast-paced and highly technological world.

“We must recognize and fulfill our duty to stay true to who we are, remember where we came from, and honor the timelessness of our culture and tradition,” Duterte said.

The NCCA recognized Estelita, Ambalang and Yabing “for bringing age-old customs, crafts, and ways of living for the appreciation of the Filipino culture, for preserving our diverse heritage and beautiful cultural traditions, and for passing on their knowledge and skills to the young and to the next generation that will come.”

The NCCA institutionalized the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan in 1992 through Republic Act No. 7355 to recognize Filipino citizens who are engaged in traditional Filipino art and whose unique skills have reached a different level of artistic excellence and is widely practiced and passed on to the present and the next generation in their community. (Jori Mae R. Samillano/SARANGANI COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE)

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