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Iloilo - the Textile Capital of the Philippines

Excerpt from the 1998 article originally published in the Philippine Quarterly of Culture & Society by Henry Funtecha

Iloilo's Weaving Industry During the 19th Century

Time was when Iloilo was the leading center of the textile and other weaving crafts in the Philippines. The weaving industry of the province dates back to the pre-Spanish period when the Ilongos wove textiles from abaca, pineapple, cotton, and silk.

When the Spaniards arrived, they found the weaving industry of Iloilo already well established. Miguel de Loarca, a contemporary of the Spanish governor-general Gonzalo Ronquillo, who came to Panay in 1569, observed in a report that Iloilo was producing a great quantity of cotton and madrinaque 1 for the local industry (Loarca 1903-1909:194).

Feodor Jagor, a Prussian traveler who travelled in the Philippines from 1859 to 1860, said that when the Spaniards landed in Panay, they found the natives dressed in cotton and silk clothes, the latter obtained from the Chinese to whom they gave in exchange sibukao (sapanwood), gold dust, dried sea cucumbers, edible swallows' nests, foodstuff and animal skins (Jagor 1875:43).

In the 17th century, an Italian traveler by the name of Giovanni Careri was also
impressed by the women of Iloilo weaving cloth of many colors and selling them in public markets (Careri 1963:46-47).

Then, at some time during the mid or late 18th century, Iloilo's first significant development in terms of modern economic transformation took place development of large-scale commercial weaving. This brought about a lasting impact on the inhabitants and economy of the province.

By the 19th century the textile production of Iloilo had already reached a remarkable degree of development. In fact Iloilo at that time was referred to as "the textile center" of the Philippines, the main trade textile products being sinamay, cotton and silk fabrics.

The early growth of the handicraft weaving industry brought about considerable
export of cloth to Manila and foreign countries and resulted in the earliest recorded capital accumulation among Iloilo's emerging urban middle class. It also produced the region's first substantial urban concentrations at Jaro, Molo and Arevalo. Capitalized and managed by an urban commercial elite of mestizos, mostly of mixed Filipino-Chinese parentage, a big number of women weavers crowded into small factories located in the town of Iloilo and its suburbs.

Although the Americans, upon their arrival in Iloilo, still attested to the fine quality of Iloilo's woven goods, like the famous pifia cloth, by the early part of the American period Iloilo's manufacture of textiles was already very limited and the only towns still growing substantial amounts of cotton at that time were Igbaras and Miag-ao.

But yet, despite the dwindling of Iloilo's textile industry during the closing decades of the 19th century, the Americans could not help but admire Iloilo's weavers in the following words:

. . . their looms and devices were as simple and as primitive that it is an amazing thing that they can obtain such wonderful results with such means.

The above observation is further corroborated by Forbes-Lindsay, an American visitor of Iloilo in the early 1900s, when he wrote:

In and about Iloilo weaving is a prominent industry .... The commoner fabrics are made from cotton and hemp fiber, although some very fine doths are often woven from them. However, it is in the production of the gauzy materials of pina and silk that the Visayan women excel. The work is all done upon hand looms, and it is an extremely slow and tedious process, some of the materials having almost the delicate texture of spider's web. The finished product in bright, well-harmonized colors is strikingly beautiful ....(Forbes-Lindsay 1906:470).

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