Haja Amina Appi

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Haja Amina Appi (25 June 1925, in Ungos Matata, Tandubas, Tawi-Tawi-2 April 2013) was recognized as the master mat weaver among the Sama indigenous community of Ungos Matata. She was awarded as Manlilikha ng Bayan for Weaving Tradition by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). She made unique colorful mats with complex geometric patterns, which shows her precise sense of design, proportion and symmetry, and sensitivity to color. The unique multi-colored mats she makes are covered with plain white outer mat that serves as the mat’s backing.

The mat weaving activity, which is handed down in matrilateral line, is exclusive to women. The men in the tribe are not included to do the craft. The whole process, from harvesting and stripping down to the pandan leaves and the actual execution of the design, requires much patience and stamina. It also requires an eye for detail, color instinct, and applied mathematics.

Haja Amina was respected among her tribes for the uniqueness and complexity of her designs, the straightness of the edging (tabig), and the fineness of her sasa and kima-kima. Her hands were stained with dye and thick with callouses from years of harvesting and weaving, but they were still steady. Her age did not affect her good eyesight for she was able to use it to make high-end designs. It was her pride when people borrow her designs.

Her female children and grandchildren from her female descendants have taken up the art of mat weaving. They characterize Haja Amina as a patient and gentle teacher. Her passion for perfection showed as she ran her finger alongside the uneven stitching and obvious patchwork on her apprentices' work. She was eager to teach and to share the art with other weavers.

Art Weaving

  • Wild pandan leaves are harvested. The Sama weavers prefer the thorny leaf variety as it produces stronger and sturdier matting strips.
  • Thorns are removed using a small knife.
  • The leaves are stripped with a jangat deyum or stripper to make long and even strips.
  • The sun-dried strips are pressed (pinanggos) beneath a large log.
  • Strips are dyed by boiling them for a few minutes in hot water mixed with anjibi or commercial dye. (Haja Amina preferred to experiment with color and developed her own tints to obtain the desired hues.)
  • After obtaining several sets of differently-colored matting strips, they are sun-dried for three to four days and pressed until they are pliant.
  • The strips are weaved into a colorful geometric design. (Haja Amina weaves a central strip to form the mat's backbone. She then works to expand the mat from within.)

Although the techniques in weaving mats are traditional, Haja Amina came up with her own modern designs. She said that the visualization and execution of the design itself is more difficult than the mixing of the colors.

Mat weaving is a high precision work that requires a mastery of the medium and an instinctive sense of symmetry and proportion. A number of calculations is required to ensure that geometric patterns will mirror or at least compliment each other. Haja Amina, however, only worked on a base o ten and twenty strips. She made use of her memory, instinct, and experience.




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