From Buri to Leather: El Nido’s Master Weavers Up Their Skills

While El Nido, Palawan, is internationally known for its stunning beaches, it is also home to a generations-old tradition of weaving. Using buri and pandan that grow abundantly in the area, Palaweña master weavers expertly craft bucket-shaped bags called bayongs, as well as mats, slippers, baskets, and others.

These traditional handicrafts are appreciated for their simplicity and durability, but most of the time, these products are not available outside the community. As a result, making these buri-pandan woven products—beautiful as they are—is not always enough to put food on the family table, let alone send the children to school.

This is the reason why Ayala Foundation Inc. brought its sustainable livelihood program to El Nido in 2013: an effort to contribute to inclusive growth in the area, where families could experience an improvement in their income, whether through access to livelihood or to employment opportunities.

Because it was important to harness the strengths of the community itself, AFI partnered with the Sibaltan Buri Pandan Weavers Association. AFI believed that by upping the skills of the women weavers, developing new products with greater appeal and function, and—very importantly—facilitating access to the market, whether locally or beyond the beautiful shores of the resort town.

Aside from being now used in Ayala Land’s El Nido resorts, the bayongs and other buri products have been used as conference bags by Manila-based organizations. Seeing the versatility of the woven buri-pandan products, AFI has also helped transform these items into notebooks, tea boxes, notepad boxes, and others. These gift items, developed in partnership with Custom Made Crafts, are now being sold under the Avviare brand, AFI’s retail line for its community products.

But seeing that the women weavers’ skills can be further harnessed, AFI partnered with the Leather Collection, a company that specializes in corporate gift items using high-quality leather.

In September 2014, five women weavers from Sibaltan and Villapaz flew to Manila for skills enhancement—instead of just working with buri and pandan, the women learned to work with fine strips of leather. And with the expertise and creativity of the Leather Collection, these woven leather items have been transformed into wallets, folios, key fobs, and others—and will also soon become unique, limited-edition luxury bags.

It was indeed a long way from weaving bayongs. Not only were the women able to see that there are creative and productive ways to use their weaving skills, they also saw that the buri-pandan tradition is also their way of weaving a brighter future not only for their families, but for the community as well.


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