Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Sacred and Ceremonial Textiles: Proceedings of the Fifth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Chicago, Illinois, 1996. (Minneapolis, 1997).


Copyright 1996 by the author.


Theories of macroeconomic development argue that as communities become integrated into a world-market economy, indigenous customs are increasingly threatened. This assumes that forces such as Western missionary activities and the commercialization of household production inevitably lead to a deterioration of local arts, religion and socioeconomic practices. These theories, however, ignore the dynamics of local-level contexts and the agency of individual actors.

Since the early 1900s, the interaction of indigenous religious traditions with external religions like Christianity has created diverse ritual practices throughout the upland Philippines. An important part of the indigenous religion of the Ifugao of northern Luzon, for example, is the belief in and practice of ancestor worship. But the Ifugao are also Catholic and their woven ceremonial textiles figure prominently in both these religious practices. Since the 1950s, the Ifugao have also become increasingly dependent on a cash economy. To earn money they sell local household crafts such as woodcarvings and certain textiles produced for tourists and their labor. In this changing climate, local groups such as the Ifugao desire increased public recognition of their cultural identity and their role in society, yet they also possess national aspirations for material progress and development. These contradictory tendencies, raise many questions. For example, given the continuing challenges of social and economic integration, how can the principles of a market economy and those of Christianity, the religion of the dominant lowland majority, be reworked in ways that uphold unique local worldviews and practices?

This paper, based on my 1994-1995 fieldwork in the northern Philippines, examines the impact of changing economic and social conditions on the production and use of Ifugao ceremonial textiles in the village of Banaue, Ifugao Province. I suggest that the prcxluction and use of ritual textiles - women's skirts, men's loincloths and blankets - form a bridge between indigenous and external religious customs such as Catholicism. In fact, they are the medium through which this transformation is articulated. While the patterns in Ifugao ritual cloths continue to reproduce past designs, the contexts within which these textiles function are constantly in flux. In the face of change, Ifugao ceremonial textiles continue to provide a visual statement of an ongoing negotiation and an enduring ethnic identity. This focus on Ifugao ritual textiles adds to the related work on sacred textiles in Southeast Asia by documenting the survival, through redirection and reconfiguration, of this indigenous practice.