PAOAY, Ilocos Norte, March 9 – The annual mardi gras that signals the end of earthly pleasures for Catholics in this town is also an occasion to breath life to a dying industry.
From home accents to dresses of festival dancers, the “guling-guling” festival is a time for residents to make use of hand woven fabric to revive its traditional loom weaving industry.
Guling-guling dates back to the Spanish period when friars conceived of an occasion for the religious sector to interact with its parishioners.
It has been celebrated one day before Ash Wednesday on the belief that it was the last day for the townsfolk to enjoy all forms of merrymaking before they observe the Lenten season.
Guling was derived from an Ilocano word that means to mark, smear or make a sign.
In the past, the chieftain (now mayor) would imprint the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead using wet, white rice flour to signify purity.
Townsfolk believe that through the imprint, a person is cleansed from all his past sins.
To loom weavers, the festival is an opportunity to restore Ilocanos’ interest in the ailing but otherwise profitable “abel-Iloco” (Ilocano woven fabric) industry.
Charito Cariaga, who heads a cooperative of loom weavers, said the festival is a means to revive the town’s age-old industry and support the communities that continue to embrace traditional skills passed on by their elders.
“We need to generate a sustained interest in our products before this ancient industry becomes merely a thing of the past,” she said.
The town’s records show a dwindling number of loom weavers from 100,000 down to merely more than 500 who are mostly elderly.
In late 1990s, former Ilocos Norte Governor now Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. saw the industry as nearing its extinction and created a training center known as “Bagnos” (or guide) to promote the dying craft among the youth.
The center was meant to train out-of-school youths and home-bound mothers and women in loom weaving, designing, and marketing their products.
The training center was closed down in early 2000 but residents who underwent workshops and skills training have formed into cooperatives to sustain the industry.
The cooperatives’ products were showcased in a trade exhibit as part of the festival events. (Cristina Arzadon)