The weaving industry has positively changed the lives of women weavers in Maguindanao for decades.
Inaul, the province’s unique traditional woven fabric, not only provides livelihood opportunities—each handiwork tells a story of heritage, creativity, and empowerment.
A few years into the post-pandemic era, Maguindanao’s dedicated women weavers hope to get continuous support as they remain optimistic about the industry’s future.
Fabric for royalty
Inaul has long been intertwined into the rich culture of Maguindanaons. A luxurious traditional woven cloth worn centuries back, Inaul features intricate designs in pure silk and gold threads. A common gift to people of high ranks, it symbolized royalty and nobility and was worn as a status symbol.
Today, Inaul is considered one of the province’s unique products, reflecting Maguindanao’s vibrant culture and heritage.
Weaving is a common source of livelihood among women in the province and is passed on from generation to generation.
A livelihood opportunity
In Sultan Kudarat, a first-class municipality in the northeast of Maguindanao del Norte, a group of Iranon women depend on weaving as their primary source of income.
Over 25 members of the Sultan Kudarat United Inaul Weaving Association, or SKUIWA, have been weaving Inaul for more than two decades.
Even before SKUIWA was established in 2006, its members were already into weaving—a skill they inherited from their mothers and elder women relatives.
SKUIWA President Baikan Sla Ansing gives credit to Inaul as her source of livelihood. She was able to help her niece and nephews with schooling; two of them had already finished college.
“Malaki po ang naitulong ng trabahong ito sa akin at sa aming pamilya mula pa noon hanggang ngayon,” she says. “Dito po kami kumukuha ng pang araw-araw na panggastos.”
Her fellow members were able to share the budget for their respective households, helping their husbands, whose main sources of income are farming and fishing.
SKUIWA was formed to establish partnerships with the local government unit and explore opportunities for their livelihood.
Meanwhile, located on the border of Cotabato City and Maguindanao del Norte’s Datu Odin Sinsuat is Al Jamelah Weaving Center, a thriving Inaul hub managed by H. Bai Aleizzah Albaya B. Wampa since the 1990s.
In 2003, the Center started to gain popularity. It became one of the tourist destinations in the province, attracting foreign visitors, balikbayans, and the media.
Its weavers recognize how Inaul has helped them provide for their families with increased product demand.
Mariam Sumlay, one of the Center’s 30 second-generation weavers, recalls how she sold various rice cakes before she started weaving in 2007.
“Dati po, kung wala kang maibenta na kakanin, walang-wala ka talaga,” the mother-of-five said. “Pero sa ginagawa ko po ngayon, siguradong mayroon po akong maiuuwi para sa pamilya kasi araw-araw may kita.”
Al Jamelah Weaving and SKUIWA’s products, primarily malong, or wraparound cloth, scarves, and shawls, are directly ordered by people who want a piece of cultural apparel for special occasions. They can also be seen in trade shows and pasalubong centers in Davao City and Manila.
SKUIWA also supplies products to Cotabato City’s Barter Trade Center, a shopping area famous for its traditional and modern Muslim attire.
Most products are sold between Php 700 to Php 2,500, depending on the material used and designs. Common Inaul designs include Sikukarwang, Binaludan, and Karanda, each with a different story to tell.
Simple designs can take at least a day to finish. Full designs that are more elaborate and need more complicated techniques can last for four days and up to one week to complete.
SKUIWA visitors are welcomed in a makeshift hub on the second floor of their vice president Rocaya Datua’s house. A couple of looms sit on the open balcony, piles of threads in pink and white are neatly arranged in a rack, and a set of firewood is stacked in one corner, reflecting how their work is entwined with their everyday living.
But the place is not their sole workplace. The real work happens at their respective homes.
Handlooms are placed in areas where they can simultaneously do household chores—in the kitchen in between preparing meals, in the living room as they fold clothes, or on their terrace as they wait for their kids to come home.
They can do it early in the morning or late at night, depending on the bulk of their work, or when they suddenly think of a new design they want to come to life right at that moment.
They create their own designs, which are highly influenced by their thoughts, emotions, and surroundings. Their works mirror that of beautiful flowers, birds, and nature.
Weaving through the pandemic
Ansing recalled how their livelihood struggled during the two years of standstill. While they continued to make Inaul products out of the materials left in their homes, the demand was too low it wasn’t enough to sustain their daily living.
Some resorted to selling the products at reduced prices just to have the money to buy food. Others looked for extra means to survive, like selling delicacies around the neighborhood.
Just like other businesses, they turned to social media to sell. Ansing underscores the help of social media during the quarantine. Through their SKUIWA Facebook page and their personal messengers, consumers of Inaul products find a way to order even in small batches.
Wampa also mentions the huge contribution of online selling as they sustained Al Jamelah Weaving Center, even when she is not tech-savvy.
Now that they are getting back on their feet, they have a renewed sense of hope for their industry as long-time Inaul patrons start reaching out once again.
Inaul in the runway
One of the leading champions of Inaul is former Congresswoman and now Cotabato City Tourism Council Executive Chair Bai Sandra Sema.
She’s a fierce believer in Inaul as a strong reflection of Maguindanao’s identity and an impactful source of livelihood among women, especially mothers who want to work in the comforts of their homes.
“When you do Inaul, you don’t need to go to a certain place,” she explains. “You can have it in your own home at the space and time available to mothers and as they tend to their responsibilities as homemakers.”
Furthermore, Sema describes Inaul as a tool for women to use their power and imagination.
Although there are classic Inaul designs that they continue to uphold, weaving also allows them to unleash their creativity to make their versions, which, for her, is an integral part of their fulfillment.
“Some of our weavers really put their imagination into their work, creating modern designs that are uniquely theirs.”
Last December 2022, Sema spearheaded the Inawl Fashion Show during the Shariff Kabunsuan Festival. It served as a comeback project following the pause of the Inaul Festival in 2019 which she was also a prominent mover.
Fashion designers showcased various Inaul designs, intending to preserve and promote them within BARMM and across the country. Beyond fashion, Inaul can also be used for home decorations, which opens the opportunity to tap other markets and increase demand, Sema adds.
Meanwhile, incorporating Inaul into fashion is a passion that Mac Taug, a Maguindanaon designer born in Barira, has also been doing for over a decade.
The Manila-based creative believes that Inaul is a unique Filipino product that can be at par with international textiles if only it is given the right avenue for a showcase.
Since 2009, he has been promoting Inaul by dressing public servants, government officials, celebrities, beauty queens, and top models here and abroad, specifically in Indonesia. He also currently dresses Maguindanao Governor Bai Mariam Mangudadatu.
Sourcing his Inaul from SKUIWA since 2019, Taug saw how it produces a sustainable income for the weavers while placing their works on an international platform. Taug also recognizes his mutual respect with the weaving community as he looks up to them as equally dedicated artists.
“Not all regions in the country have a unique fabric,” Taug says. “And for us, Inaul is a wealth for the people of Maguindanao. As a fashion designer, my role is to pursue promoting Inaul and introduce it to others.”
His vision is clear—to introduce Inaul as more than a traditional cloth worn by Muslims but as a distinct part of Filipino fashion.
Finding opportunities for the women weavers of Maguindanao
Marketing Inaul products is the focus of the Ministry of Trade, Investments and Tourism (MTIT) as its way of sustaining the industry. MTIT is the Bangsamoro government’s key arm in preserving Inaul as a creative industry.
While marketing the product is a continuous effort, Tourism Bureau Director Engr. Marites K. Maguindra recognizes the industry’s challenges, including the need for training and development.
She mentions the importance of the LGUs to step up and look into the potential of women weavers of Maguindanao, mostly belonging to the marginalized sectors of their jurisdictions. Adding that there are plenty of women leaders in BARMM representing various fields, it also pays to focus on having representatives from the ground who know well what needs to be done.
This will open opportunities for government agencies to provide financial aid for product development and training. They can undergo training in leadership, budgeting, accounting, and even running their own businesses, Maguindra adds.
“It will lift their spirit (weavers) because they can now see how the government works. On the other hand, agencies can heed the call because there is already a need as identified by the LGU.”
LGUs can also invite NGOs to train weavers to uplift their self-esteem so they can lay down the prices they deserve.
They can become entrepreneurs by themselves, so they can already know how to negotiate their prices and improve their production,” she adds.
This aspect echoes Bai Sandra Sema’s insight on the importance of LGU’s participation in developing the weaving industry. For their part as volunteers in the tourism sector, they can start with the mapping and profiling of weavers in different municipalities. This is crucial in collecting data on what the weavers need and what the government can do to strengthen their livelihood.
“It’s a matter of tapping the right partner in our government to help women and help the tradition of weaving continue,” she explains. “We have the product, we have the producers. We just need to connect.”
Future of Inaul
While weaving, in general, can be taught, learning Inaul is never by the book. It is passed on through a lifetime of apprenticeship. The student will always be someone close to the mentor—either her child or a younger sibling. The daily exposure to the nitty-gritty of loom work gets to be a part of their life—from when they are small until they can independently weave on their own.
Inaul is one of the industries that many consider a dying industry, for its weavers are getting old, and the young show no interest in pursuing such a path.
“Mayroon po kaming mga members, yung mga anak nila maliit pa pero marunong nang mag-weave,” Ansing says. “Pero hindi po lahat ay interesado.”
Ansing remains hopeful for the women weavers of Maguindanao and that there will be more support coming from different sectors—be it in trade, tourism, and fashion. As the weavers see their creations donned by fashion models, celebrities, and famous personalities, it serves as something they are genuinely proud of, like a bragging right.
The popularity of Inaul also paves the way for other women to get inspired to learn it as they see the opportunity it poses.
“Ito po ang unang nakasanayan naming hanapbuhay. Kaya gusto naming ma-share naming sa iba, sa mga babae na walang trabaho, gusto naming maishare sa iba na interesado.”
Ansing hopes that with the government’s help and the champions and advocates of their beloved Inaul, they will continue to have undying support so they may continue what they do.
“Masaya po kami na nare-recognize ang aming mga gawa,” she adds. “Sana po ang mabigyan din kami ng tulong para makapagpatayo kami ng sarili naming center at mas marami pa ang makakilala sa mga gawa.”
Weaving a brighter future for Inaul industry is a collective effort from the government and the undying support of Inaul advocates, anchored in the belief that the industry carries huge significance in upholding the past, supporting the present, and strengthening the future.
Weaving has taught women weavers creativity and independence. As they breathe life into their imaginations, dedicate their time, and pour their hearts into every piece they work on, the process makes them in control—and that is something weaving has taught them about life.
And as they remain optimistic about their livelihood, they know that their future will always be in their hands—just like that of a design in mind, they have the power for it to come to life.
The story A Hopeful Future for Inaul and the Women Weavers of Maguindanao was produced under the ‘Telling the BARMM Story Media Fellowship Program” by Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) and The Asia Foundation (TAF). The views and opinions expressed in this piece are not necessarily those of PMFI and TAF.
Special thanks to Rohaina Dimacisil Torres, and Arthur Palabric of the Ministry of Trade, Investments and Tourism - BARMM.