Date of this Version
From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).
The textile artifact, although framed by its physical existence, is not an isolated entity, but functions as a vital part in the ongoing systems of society. By viewing the artifact as an actor with its own life history and with particular parts to play in every sphere of life's narrative, we are provided with an entry to discovering how both the textile object and the subject, its creator and user, collaborate to mutually define one another. To interpret fully the significance of textiles within their cultural context one must examine not only the artifact's physical qualities, its materials, techniques and design, but also, its patterns of movement, namely, its circulation and distribution.2
The interior mountainous area of northern Luzon, Philippines, known as the Gran Cordillera Central, is home to several distinct cultural groups who have had a long history of producing textiles for functional clothing, for gifts in ceremonial exchange and for trade. Anthropologist George Ellis (1981:227) states that these fabrics are "among the last remnants of an indigenous artistic tradition which flourished throughout the area, preserving traditional pattern systems and articulating the values of society." All aspects of cloth production, the cotton cultivation, the spinning, the dyeing and the backstrap loom weaving are the responsibility of the women, and girls learn to weave from their mothers from approximately ten years of age.
Previous artifact-based literature on highland Luzon textiles focused principally on technology and taxonomy describing and classifying only the cloth's formal characteristics, namely, weaving techniques (Lambrecht 1958) and regional styles (Vanoverbergh 1929). A change in the direction of such research here is overdue.
Utilizing the early 20th century striped textiles of highland Luzon as a case study, this paper argues that the textile artifact is utilized according to formal principles of order through which it communicates information to the members of the community. As a means of communication, the artifact then functions in a dialectical relationship with other cultural forms relaying information through similar channels. By examining the arenas of textile movement, the character of this code may be made visible since cloth circulation occurs within the context of meaningful social events.