Monday, December 15, 2008

the Samal mats of Tawi-Tawi

Banig or mats are a must in the days before cheap mattresses. In the 80s, when I was growing up, banig used to be the primary domestic bed covers in the Philippines. It is porous, cool and smooth and is made from dried leaves or reed. Traditional materials are the screwpine palm (local terms are pandan, bariw, or romblon), the very thin reed called tikug and the swamp reed called biliran.

BANIG made for sleeping

The Philippines claims to produce the handsomest mat in Asia. Perhaps the most renowned are those from the Samal weavers of the province of Tawi-Tawi. The Samal mats are the most intricate and one of the finest-grained in the country. Famous among these are the mats of the island of Laminusa. Reputed to be even finer mats are those from the highly inaccessible Unggus Matata in the Tandubas island. Alas, the weavers in this island only make mats for themselves and do not sell them.


The Samal used a tedious process in preparing the screwpine palm leaves. It takes at least one week, with at 2 cycles of boiling, stick-beating, drawing into strips, sun-bleaching and finally dying. Weaving consumes another two to five weeks.

pandan Samal mats

In recognition of the cultural value of these matweavers and of the vanishing status of this specialization, the government has already named one of the Samal weavers as a National Folk Artist.

muscle memory

When in Tawi-Tawi, I always try to bring back some mats. Each is about $4 to $18, depending on the size. They are already expensive in Philippines standards but considering that buying helps the perpetuation of this dying tradition, they are worth every peso.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


haitelenisia said...

Hey im interested in buying some banig mats by the loads do you know any suppliers that could help me?

Farl said...

Too bad that I don't have any contacts. Best bet would be to approach DOT or DTI in Bongao but I'm sure if they are listed online. Good luck.

haitelenisia said...

oh thankyou farl for your reply