Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Siwsiwan Fabric

Most people have at least one or two things about their cultural heritage that remind them of their roots.  For me, two things always come to mind: handwoven fabrics and dipping sauce.

The fabrics are anything but ordinary. Mainly red with black, white, yellow, and green accents; these pieces of cloth represent my indigenous Igorot heritage. During my elementary school years in Oak Park, Illinois, they were used to decorate the top of our dining room credenza and other pieces of furniture.  In Palm Coast, Florida, they covered the same furniture moved there from Oak Park and my parent’s bed.  The same was true in Forest Park, Illinois.

As a child, I did not know the significance of our fabric.  I thought they were just normal Filipino fabrics every Filipino family owned.  I remember stories of how they were hand woven by my aunties in the Mountain Province back home, but I was too consumed with becoming “American” to appreciate it.

It wasn’t until my early thirties that I went home to the Mountain Province to see how they woven.  I watched as one of my aunties sat on the ground and demonstrated the process that went behind the creation of our fabrics and gained an instant appreciation for it.  I learned how each Igorot tribe had their own distinct colors and patterns, and how they were used for clothing as well.   

Since the fabric was always used for decoration at my house; I didn’t realize how it played more of an integral part of our ancestral attire.  The fabrics are used for the men’s “wanes” (bahag or g-string) and the women’s “lufid or getup” (tapis or wrap-around skirt).  Unlike the fabric of other Igorot tribes, our Bontoc tribe fabrics are unique in that they have symbols woven into the patterns.

The typical symbols are images of a human, star, eye, shield, spear, snake, and lizard.  Each one has its own meaning, which makes the Bontoc fabric even more meaningful. For instance, the eye represents guidance and the human figure represents the Igorot warrior, who is the epitome of bravery.

The second thing is the small bowl of dipping sauce that accompanied almost every meal called “Siwsiwan.”  My parents always made theirs with sabaw (soup stock), salt, and sili (hot pepper). I always found this to be a perfect pair with meat, but when it comes to fish and seafood; I use a mix of soy sauce, sili, and calamansi. Another favorite is a concoction of vinegar, garlic, sili, salt and red pepper.  There were always different variations, but these were the most common.

My parents made it a point to always eat together as a family.  Our meals were almost always homemade and filled with memories.  Conversation and laughter often made its way to the table.  I still remember my mother sneaking a tape recorder into the kitchen to record our babbling jokes, laughter and conversations.   So much took place around the kitchen table.

Both fabric and siwsiwan are two of the many sinulid (threads) that are woven into my “inner Igorot” fabric in life.  Some say that one cannot identify themselves as Igorot just by bloodline.  Others say one must be part of an Igorot community in the Cordilleras to be Igorot.  The whole topic of how one identifies oneself as an Igorot can get very diverse depending on one’s point of view.  The same can be said with many of the other ethnicities in America and abroad.

I may not intimately “know” the land my parents once spent their entire childhood and much of their adulthood, but it is part of me.  Every time I look at my family blanket on the wall or dip the pinch-full of fish into my siswiwan; I am reminded of my parents, who were Igorot.

Thus, how can we first and second generation Igorots in America and elsewhere outside the Philippines keep our heritage alive in a world that often makes it difficult? Maybe it’s as simple as keeping the siwsiwan at the kitchen table with the family gathered around and the fabrics nearby.

Figures in the Lubid (from left to right): eye, man, lizard, star, star variation, snake, butterfly, shield, spear and flower.
All the figures, except for the flower, are woven into the garment.  The flower is embroidered.
photo by: Christina Nguslab courtesy of: Maria Luz Delson Fang-asan


  1. nice thought there brother!!i've seen the tapis, wanes and other woven products a dozen times but never entertained the thought of what goes behind those designs..there must be a story or's inspiring to see someone look back into his own roots amidst this very diverse culture we live in...

  2. Rex, I hope this will add to your understanding of your igorot fabric... the lufid is called getap in guinzadan... and yes, you missed the Guinzadan siwsiwan - sabaw plus salt and sili if desired... only the iGuinzadans do that
    mng Lulu

    ooops... saan gayam mabalin ti atiddog ditoy. I posted the essay in my FB


    (Meaning of Symbols in the Bontoc Lufid)

    By Maria Luz Delson Fang-asan

    Lufid is the traditional attire for women highlanders of Mountain Province, Northern Philippines. It is a rectangular handwoven garment wrapped around the waist and held tight by a thick woven belt called wakes or bakget with its ends left hanging at the back. It is generically called tapis, a term also used by lowlanders, but it is called lufid in Bontoc and gabuy/getap/ gateng/pingay/la-oy/aw-wad in other parts of Mountain Province.

    The lufid, as described by Nguslab et al. (2007), consists of colorful horizontal stripes with designs of varying shapes. Many also have white strips with designs in the middle that are easily distinguished from the other strips. Its width ranges from 28 to 30 inches while its length varies from 40 up to 55 inches long. The dominant colors of the garment are white, red, black and green. The green one is popularly called sinamoki with reference to Samoki, the place where it is woven. In other parts of Mountain Province, it is called binontok, meaning it is “of Bontoc”.

    The different types of ‘lufid’, identified by the Bontoc weavers are Kulibangbang, Khinain, Khinuwafaw, Khinawaan, Khinayaan, and the lufid for the dead. The term for each type is usually based on the main features of the design. For instance, the Kulibangbang (local term for butterfly) has several butterfly-like figures in the design.

    My first lufid was a gift from my grandmother when I graduated from grade school. She gave one to my big sister the year before so I knew I would get one too. “Every Igorot girl should have one”, my grandmother said.

    When I finally got mine, it was like a rite of passage for me although there really is no ritual for the giving of a lufid to an Igorot girl. For some reason, it made me feel special. I do not remember her telling me how to take care of it but somehow I knew and I felt that as a special piece of clothing, it should be treasured and respected. With that, I never felt comfortable seeing the lufid used as seat covers, table runners, etc. I also feel that, like a flag, it should be burnt when already worn and torn, rather than being used as rags.

    A clear understanding of my regard for the lufid came many years later when my student Christina B. Nguslab, a colleague Marife D. Carpio and I looked into the meaning of the figures adorning the lufid, a dimension that I took for granted for a long, long time.
    (cut ....)
    The symbolic meaning of the figures in the design are the very same things that are being solicited from Almighty God Kabunian every time a prayer is uttered. So you can say, that while wearing your lufid, you are practically wrapped in prayers.//

    there are pics accompanying this essay but i dont know how to paste it here.

    1. roma angelica alcausinFebruary 6, 2012 at 8:57 PM

      Miss LULU may I know your full name?
      Just for the purpose of correct citation for my research about the weaving of mountain province. Thank you

      email me

    2. Hello ma'am, I would like to ask for your sources or references of the information, because I am currently researchinf about the significance, meanings of colors and designs of Cordilleran Weaving. Thank you ma'am.

  3. @ lulu . . . Thanks so much manang Lulu! I included your pictures above.

  4. I love this writings of yours Mr. Delson. I too have a lufid decorating the top of my drawer cabinet covered with a glass top to protect it. It has more blue color though. With do respect to your manang, I think it is a matter of personal choice and perspective of wether a lufid is displayed for decoration. I can understand why your parents did as I do because when we leave our home to live in another country like Australia or AMerican in your case, we tend to miss our hometown and people and culture. It is not practical to wear our lufid in the new country so we place it where it can constantly remind us of our being. I'm sure your parents would agree. Again it's a matter of perspective. My lolo still wears his wanno (what you call wanes) at every opportunity he can like festivities because he wore it most of his life until he migrated away with us. He thinks its funny to treat a lufid or wanno like some special religious cloth or sacred flag and laughed at the thought of burning it only because they are just clothing to him. He equates it to treating underwear like something special. I can see his point because he wore his every day for more than 60 years wheres many today and even those like me in my 50s didn't wear it hardly except for special occassions. Maybe thats why some treat them more special than others. Again a matter of perspective. I think your writing here should be more directed to Igorots trying to adopt to a new country because for us, we can appreciate it better since we miss our home so dearly. Please tell your parents for me that they did well raising you because it sadens me to see less and fewer Igorot families around the table often because of their work and so modernized that there is nothing in their house from home like a lufid.

  5. i added you as one of my favorite sites at! what a great blog. i am learning more about Igorots by reading a few of your posts already. thank you for creating this site. I think i understand a little more about Igorot pride because of your blog. Mabuhay---LifeLightLove, Perla

  6. @ Ikiangan mom . . . thanks for those kind words! I think you and my parents were on the same page.

    @ Perla . . . I'm so glad you like it! I don't know what makes me smile more: Igorots who like it, non-Igorot Filipino/a OR non-Filipinos. I think the latter two :) Thanks for linking it on your website. Ultimately, my vision is to introduce our culture to those outside of the Philippines.

  7. Rex – you’re parents did well keeping you on track with the Igorot culture – despite you growing up here in the US. Now that I read this, I’m not sure how my children can trace their Igorot roots. You have the advantage of the siwsiwan and the fabrics – my children have almost nothing – save for the stories I have and the dialect we converse in.


    - baycas

  9. Mr. Delson, your article was such a great help for my paper. Thank you.

  10. Im not igorot but i do love there native costume specially igorot people.....Ive been to bontoc and sagada last yr....every single person I've mingle with....full of life...and hospitable...the highligths of my holiday Im with my special one take note his a igorot..

  11. Would anybody know the significance of the colors in the tapis, wanes and other igorot costumes? thanks

  12. Hallo im american and we have culture like that too

  13. What is the material used of lufid textiles


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