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Cordillera Creativity

Appreciating the craftsmen who create art from wood, clay, bamboo

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Text and Images by Joseph Bautista

I recently purchased a piece of furniture from one of the shops along Santa Rosa-Tagaytay road.  It was a day bed made from recycled wood.  What I liked about it when I first saw it were the shapes of the animals cleverly hidden at edge of the bed.  I have become familiar with these designs and shapes when I travel around the Cordilleras.

When I asked the owner where his furniture maker came from, he confirmed that they were from
Banaue.

HIGHLAND ART Pottery is making a comeback in Sagada; the bulul in various forms remain a source of inspiration

HIGHLAND ART Pottery is making a comeback in Sagada; (below) the bulul in various forms remain a source of inspiration

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Having travelled to the Cordillera many times, I have learned to appreciate the unique arts and culture of the mountain people.  I must admit that during the first time I went there, I was only interested to see the many natural attractions of the region.

But as I started coming back, I have learned to appreciate more the people who make these attractions look better.  The people of the Cordillera probably have one of the oldest arts and culture, dating back to more than a thousand years.

PATIENCE ON A POLE Producing a work of art by carving a man's figure on a (below) single bamboo pole

PATIENCE ON A POLE Producing a work of art by carving a man’s figure on a (below) single bamboo pole

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All over the region, there are skilled woodcarvers.  But those from Ifugao, particularly in Banaue and Mayoyao, are considered the best.  The most popular figure which they carve is the bulul or rice god.  The figures are placed in rice granaries to ensure bountiful harvests.

On the other hand, in Kiangan, the practice of bamboo carving still exists. It amazes me to this day to see first-hand how a simple bamboo pole can become an art piece worth keeping. You have to see it for yourself how intricate the carvings are. Truly, these artisans deserve more recognition and praise.

Pottery making is also making a comeback.  The people of Bangaan in Ifugao used to produce clay pots for the region.  But the influx of cheaper and more practical cooking wares killed the industry.  It is good thing that the people of Sagada is slowly re-introducing the art of pottery making, with a handful of local potters producing unique pottery designs with indigenous materials.

Back to Tagaytay, I asked the Ifugao woodcarvers why they moved, they replied that there’s very little opportunity for work if they stay in Banaue. It is a sad reality, a wake up call that soon, our local craftsmen may lose their passion for creating these one-of-a-kind pieces from wood, clay, or bamboo. I believe that if every tourist who visits the Cordillera region will take a small piece of their craft back home, then there’s no need for these craftsmen to leave the highlands.

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