WANDERLUST| Weaving as a way of life

BARANGAY Guimba Lagasan in the municipality of Parang is a forty-five minute drive from Jolo, the capital of the province of Sulu.A quiet rural community, Guimba Lagasan has something that no other barangay in Parang, or in all of Sulu for that matter, and that is how they unite to preserve their most precious intangible heritage: the art of weaving their pis yabit.


Pis syabit is a traditional Tausug cloth tapestry usually made from cotton or silk. A versatile fabric, it can be worn on the shoulder, tied around the hilt of the kris (sword) or wrapped around the head by Tausug men usually as a sign of rank. Pis is a Tausug term for “head cloth”.

What makes the pis yabit distinct from the woven fabrics of other tribes in Mindanao is the presence of an essential feature – the square. A manuscript displayed at the Jolo’s National Museum characterized the pis yabit as a textile with intricate geometric patterns of colors segmented into the smallest squares, triangles and diamonds. The central design is divided into twenty five square sections showing four different motifs. Strip patterns surround the central design and decorate the edges of the fabric.

In Guimba Lagasan, we met Hima Asiri, a mother who was weaving a pis yabit with her 11 year old daughter Mersalyn in a space underneath their elevated home. This type of architecture is shared by most communities in Jolo where their house’s ground level are used to keep animals, secure their harvest, and in Guimba Lagasan, to pursue and preserve a Tausug heritage.

Hima said that pis syabit weaving is actually a difficult art as preparing the warp alone already takes three days. The tasks include the stringing of black and red threads across a banana and bamboo frame to form the base of the tapestry.  Once ready, Hima and her daughter would start to weave traditional designs, such as “bunga kiyabinga’an” (house), “bunga biyaybay” (fish), “bunga tiyambantamban” (dragonfly).

 “All homes in our barangay have weaving implements under their homes. This way, elder weavers can devote their time to weaving and they even get to teach and pass on this tradition to the young generation,” shared barangay captain Jairon Moha’d Hasim.

Hasim added that their community of weavers are well known for their expertise in the craft as well as their flair in employing contrasting colors, the evenness of their weave, and their faithfulness to traditional designs. Their expertise in weaving pis yabit has produced a National Living Treasure (Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan) in 2005 in the person of late master weaver Darhata Sawabi. Sawabu also taught the younger Tausugs at the time the skill and techniques in doing their traditional art.

For the Tausugs, weaving is an expression of their culture and identity, as well as their way of life. Their pis yabit are signifiers of meaning where they express their creativity, belief systems, and ideologies. That is why it is important for them that the skill of weaving pis yabit and the knowledge about the fabric are transmitted to the youth. In this way, the Tausug’s tradition is kept alive for the future generations.

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