Inabel: The Ilocanos living treasure of all time

LAOAG CITY – The hand woven textile “inabel” or more popularly known to many as “Abel Iloco” has been through a lot in the course of history. It has both gone through good and bad times but remained to be the toughest living treasure of the Ilocanos of all time.

It was in the 16th century during the Spanish regime when people from Ilocos Norte started to include their local products in the trading business of export and import or commonly known as barter system with the foreign countries, which included their hand woven cloth as their main product.

Not long ago, weaving of the local textile has become the most perpetrated livelihood which most of the Ilocanos ventured into.

To the Spaniards, the Abel Iloco has become the identity of the Ilocanos which in return brought to them a higher tax collection from the Filipinos as the proliferation of the local products has extended to the foreign land.

However, during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines, inabel weaving was put into halt because the Japanese saw the potential of the local product as their biggest competitor in the market. The pedal looms used for weaving the inabel were destroyed and at the same time, Ilocanos discontinued weaving because they feared being reprimanded by the Japanese occupants.

But after the war, the Ilocanos as resilient as they are, went back to venturing into weaving and began to innovate more techniques and intricate designs to develop the old textile.

But modernization along with the development of trade and business came. Modern products such as imported cloth used for sewing blankets, pillow cases, clothes were introduced which became the greatest rival of the inabel.

It was during this time that the Ilocanos’ greatest treasure has been put into stale light as more trendy products were more appreciated. Even the youth started to disregard the ancient practice of weaving.

To date, there are only two municipalities in Ilocos Norte where “Panagabel” (Inabel weaving) are still being practiced and nurtured namely in Pinili town where the national folk art awardee in the field of loom weaving, Magdalena Gamayo live and in Paoay town.

Paoay is considered as the weaving center in Ilocos Norte where various ‘pasalubong’ (gift) shops are found.

A certain Charito Cariaga is the prominent successor of the traditional craft of panagabel, using the old style pedal loom.

Cariaga has been teaching Ilocanos particularly women in their town of the traditional techniques of weaving with her ultimate goals to pass the practice to the next generations and to keep the tradition of weaving alive.

Though market for the inabel is not as bounty as during the ancient times, Marie Stella Gaspar of the Ilocos Norte Provincial Tourism Office, also a guide of the TAOID Museum here, believes that the Abel Iloco was never gone in the market.

Admittedly, Gaspar said a lot of things have changed and so to their traditional hand woven cloth.

Through the test of time, Gaspar explained that the Abel Iloco has also evolved from blankets, pillow cases and table runners to sophisticated fashion materials by prominent fashion designers both locally and internationally.

Ilocanos also learned to innovate to cope with the rise of globally competitive by-products such as furniture, bags, shoes, slippers and even some fancy home decorations that are now marketable efficient globally.

Indeed, the role of Abel Iloco in Ilocanos’ life transcends from a sign of resiliency to also a mirror of the rich heritage and culture of the whole Ilocandia. (Cherry Joy D. Garma/PIA1-Ilocos Norte)