In a time when women are expected to stay at home and take care of the kids while the husband is out to make a buck, Elda Baldon of Brgy. Cabayogan, Badiangan, Iloilo proved she can do so much more.
A master weaver, mother of four, and President of Cabayogan Women Loom Weavers Association (an Artisan Enterprise partner of Panublix), Elda is an incarnate of a third-generation, centuries-long family tradition and cultural heritage of the art of hablon or handloom weaving. Sharing her more than four decades of expertise, she recalls the challenges of not only mastering her craft that helped put her kids to school but also challenged the status quo that changed women’s role in her community forever.
As Elda recounts her early memories when she started weaving at nineteen years old, a glow in her eyes cascades a story about decades-worth of family tradition, working women, and three-generation legacy that finds their finest embodiment in her once young, feeble hands.
“Nay, pwede ko ka habol? Para may income man takun,” [Mom, can I weave? So that I can also earn?] were Elda’s words when she first asked her mother to formally teach her to weave.
Three generations of hablon weavers
Married and with one child at age seventeen, Elda knew that in all its nobility, her role as a housewife and a mother could not suffice the demands of her family’s everyday needs. She knew she had to do something to help her husband make a living.
Though cultural changes were altering the role of women globally in the 1960s, in Elda’s community, jobs for women are scarce. So she decided to go after something that is familiar to her, something her mother and grandmother left as a legacy, something that she already knew—weaving.
Elda first gained interest from watching her mother work in the loom for hours on end every day without fail. She learned by painstaking observation which not only piqued her curiosity but also sparked in her a sense of empowerment knowing that the value of her mother’s work was not only helping to put food on the table but is also a remarkable work of art.
She narrates the first time she held a lanot (abaca fiber) in her hand and remembered how her mother and the older generation of women in their community were in the business of weaving mosquito nets using lanot. Her mother would get herself situated behind the loom and carefully prepare the materials in a first-stage process called Sab-ong, which according to Elda is one of the most, if not the most, challenging phase in the weaving process.
From watching her mother, trying it out for herself, up to making hablon her main source of income, Elda found a treasured heritage turned lifelong passion in handloom weaving.
Hablon makers in Iloilo
However, life was not always breezy for hablon makers, and Elda’s need to put her children to school and get the degree she longed to gain for herself rose higher than her desire to pursue her passion. When industrialization in their time began sweeping up the farming and weaving industries, rendering the community financially vulnerable, hablon makers started looking for different jobs, leaving their community’s weaving industry in a dying state.
In 1992, Elda took the chance to go abroad and work as a Domestic Helper. She was 36 years old at the time when she went to Hong Kong and just like many other OFWs, her reason is always to provide a better future for her family.
She may have left hablon and put it on the back burner for a certain time, but hablon never left her heart.
She came back in 2004 after two of her children graduated from college. One year later, an opportunity, in the face of Mayor Suzette Mamon, came knocking on her door. A Canadian organization called Great Women connected with the local government in Badiangan to revive the weaving industry by training existing and newly recruited weavers.
This ignited Elda’s dream to keep the hablon industry alive in their community. Trained by Chriselda Pagarita from Miag-ao, Iloilo, the Cabayogan Women Loom Weavers Association started with only 19 members, the majority of whom are women.
Elda’s handed-down knowledge from her mother gave her that extra edge in re-learning hablon during the trainings. With excitement and delight, she walked us through the rigorous process of making hablon.
Leaving a legacy, preserving heritage
Although none of her children took interest in weaving, Elda continues to pass on the weaving legacy to her grandchildren who welcome the traditional art with open arms.
The best way to describe the kind of legacy that Elda has tied up to her bloodline of female weavers, which also became her identity is this sweet and comical take of one of her grandchildren.
Her eight-year-old grandkid would squirm behind the loom and say,
“Ako si Elda. Ma habol ako.” [I am Elda. I am going to weave.]
Her message to the younger generation who are interested or are already taking on the art of hablon is to continue to develop their skills without compromising their studies. Most of all, she encourages the youth to pursue their passion whatever it may be.
To Elda, weaving was not just a means to help make ends meet. Hablon for her is a passion worth pursuing, a heritage worth remembering, and a treasure worth passing on—an heirloom in the form of handloom.
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As an impact-driven digital sourcing platform, Panublix empowers female-led artisan enterprises, with 125 women weavers employed by our partners. Overcoming stereotypes and reaching breakthroughs one after another, the majority of members, associates, and partners of Panublix are women, including Ms. Elda Baldon.
(In photo, from left to right) Former Panublix Sourcing Curator - Jessa Padasas; Salngan Livelihood Multipurpose Cooperative Manager, Ms. Elsie Balidiong; Former Panublix Writer - Twilight Dawn Gahap; and Cabayogan Loom Weavers Association Head, Ms. Elda Baldon.
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