The House of Inabel by Magdalena Gamayo was recently launched in the town of Pinili in Ilocos Norte to preserve and strengthen the Ilocano weaving tradition, called pinagabel in the local dialect.
This frail-looking, old lady is Magdalena Gamayo, a living national treasure and a Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) awardee for inabel weaving. Way into her ninth decade, she has inspired her neighbors in Lumbaan-Bicbica, a poor barangay in Pinili, Ilocos Norte, to take interest in traditional loom weaving, plant cotton, and work with her and their benefactors to create avenues for livelihood and a better, more prosperous and healthy community.
Less than a decade ago, a good friend asked me to check on how inabel weaving was doing in this corner of Pinili, in preparation for the planned visit of a designer who was looking for material. I went and, sadly, had to report that there was little by way of production in this corner of the town close to the border with Nueva Era town.
Meanwhile, Dr. Norma Respicio of the University of the Philippines was then quietly working to have Nana Magdalena recognized for her innovations in inabel textile. The recognition came by way of her GAMABA award in 2012, which initially restored some interest in Nana Magdalena and her craft. Part of the award included funds for the establishment and maintenance of a school of living traditions that would enable her to teach and transfer her knowledge of the craft to interested parties.
A province mate and benefactor thought that locally grown cotton would best complement the traditional weaving of Nana Magdalena. He convinced a number of local farmers to grow cotton by providing the seeds and the water pumps required for irrigating the cotton fields, as well as promising to purchase the harvested crops. This year, the yield was a thousand kilos, which the benefactor promptly purchased for ginning, spinning, and converting to threads suitable for weaving.
While there were only initially three weavers some years back, there are now fifteen active weavers, with a number of teenagers also eagerly learning the craft. From the initial two hectares of land planted to cotton, this year, there are now fifteen farmers planting twenty-two hectares to the crop. With the pledges of support from the town and the Senate, these numbers are expected to further improve dramatically.
The benefactor’s friend, observing the results of cotton-growing and the renewed interest in inabel weaving, offered their ancestral home (currently not occupied) in Pinili to house and showcase Nana Magdalena’s weaving. The home was repaired and refurbished over the last few months.
At four o’clock in the afternoon of 26 December 2016 (meaning, in about seventeen hours), the House of Inabel by Magdalena Gamayo, featuring the work of Nana Magdalena and her community, will open to the public and will hopefully be a new tourism and cultural destination in Ilocos Norte. The house is located along Pinili Road, very near the blue-and-white structure of the Seventh Adventist Church.