The art of weaving has long been a part of a vibrant tradition that defines the cultural identity and way of life for some of the most illustrious communities in the Philippines.

The Meranaws are well-recognized for the sophistication in their weaving designs and colors. Handloom textiles and crafts are not only significant emblems of Meranaw culture, but they are also a source of livelihood especially for women. This is the reason why a Meranaw cooperative is dedicated to empowering women and youth in peacebuilding through entrepreneurial activities.

Raheemah Peace Weavers Producer Cooperative is an organization with a primary purpose of facilitating livelihood opportunities to vulnerable women and youth as a means towards achieving peace and stability in the conflict-affected areas in Marawi and Lanao del Sur.

A member of Raheemah Peace Weavers Producer Cooperative shows the first completed mamandiang during the community quarantine, measuring 15 meters long

Using the langkit equipment and sewing machine starter kit it received through the Shared Service Facility (SSF) project of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), it plans to provide the women and the youth trainings on beadworks, handloom, and other traditional Meranaw decors, garments, and handicrafts.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the cooperative to pursue some of its planned activities, which prompted Raheemah to look for another strategy that will still enable families to engage in economic activities while staying safely in their homes.

Raheemah initiated the identification of communities and women who are engaged with traditional decoration making and weaving in Baranggay Rogiro, Municipality of Bubong; Municipality of Tugaya; and West Caloocan in Marawi City. It has partnered with the provincial government for its gender and development (GAD) program and also collaborated with some youth organizations to help in the designing of traditional okir and sarimanok for the Meranaw home decors.

These organizations include the Mindanao State University (MSU) OKIR, a student organization that advocates for peace through traditional artistry, and N’ditarun Tano, a federation of all school-based student councils in Marawi City wherein one of their entrepreneurial efforts is the selling of shirts that aims to promote and preserve the Meranaw culture and with woven materials like langkit as its accessory.

One of the organizers of MSU OKIR was tapped to mobilize the members who were still on the campus to continue with the development of many designs that will be used by Raheemah in future trainings. In the same way, Raheemah collaborated with identified local talents to produce the desired designs. In almost a month, 13 different sarimanok and 46 okir designs were developed.

From the developed designs, Raheemah mobilized more youth volunteers to transfer the design to the cloths. Through the collaborative efforts, it has designed 80 mamandiang, an ethnic Meranaw decoration. Also, the cooperative has reached out to 80 women, residing in Marawi City and Bubong in Lanao del Sur, to produce 80 different sets of Meranaw decors.

As of press time, Raheemah is preparing to support at least 30 more women in the ongoing design making.

Baicon Cayongcat, chairwoman of Raheemah Peace Weavers Producer Cooperative, said traditional weaving and handlooms are part of the cultural heritage of the people of the lake. As objects of historical and cultural heritage, it is a source of their identity, their beliefs and ways of thinking.

“It is then essential to teach women and youth on traditional weaving and handlooms, not only for economic development but also to facilitate the preservation and keeping of the Meranaw heritage. We need an all-out effort to create a legacy that the future Meranaw generations can proudly inherit,” she said.

“DTI is very helpful in realizing this essential pillar of Marawi rehabilitation. Essentially, it bridged the hopes and dreams once set aside by vulnerable women and youth. The revival of traditional and authentic okir and sarimanok designs for beadworks, weaving, and handlooms is just one of the critical efforts accomplished by the Raheemah Women Peace Weavers. Designs and products that became witness to how every woman survived in this trying times – for herself, her family and community,” she added. (DTI)