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Albay revives its 'golden fabric'

Pinukpok fiber undergoing a rotary press

MANILA, Philippines – Mention Albay and immediately abaca comes into mind, in addition to the picturesque perfect-cone Mayon Volcano, the iconic tourist attraction in this charming province in the Bicol region.

An indigenous plant which thrives in tropical climate and rich volcanic soil, it is regarded as among the most versatile and sturdiest fibers in the world which can last up to a century.

The abaca can be made into cordage, handbags, baskets, storage containers, lighting fixtures, home furnishings and novelty items, and its versatility accounts for its high market demand.

With an 84 percent share of the world’s abaca fiber production, the Philippines is considered the international abaca capital since the Spanish era, with Albay as center of the trade.

In 2009, Bicol is the country’s highest abaca producer with 14,140 metric tons, topping Eastern Visayas and Davao regions. About 43,000 hectares in the region are planted with abaca, with an average yield of 383 kilograms per hectare.

Also known as “Manila hemp”, abaca fiber, in the form of woven cloth known as “sinamay” has been long used as clothing in many parts of the country.

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However, calamities such as pest infestation, typhoons and volcanic eruptions, and lack of government support over the years, have dampened the once vibrant abaca industry.

This age-old craft saw another glimmer of hope with the holding of the recent Abaca Pinukpok Fashion Show organized by Albay governor Joey Salceda to relive the glory of the once proud fiber.

Taking center stage is the breakthrough “pinukpok” fiber as modeled by the province’s local officials from various political affiliations in a unique display of unity and commitment. Also doing the catwalk were provincial department heads, regional officers of key government agencies, and commanders of the police and Armed Forces in Bicol.

So-called because of the process of hammering the fiber to soften it, pinukpok is blended with cotton, silk, piña or polyester to produce high-end fabrics. It is then woven manually and fed to a rotary press machine to make it a fine and seamless cloth.

Local designer Dan Clint “Klang Klang” Arispe took on the enormous task of designing more than 200 pinukpok evening gowns and barongs for local officials, Miss Polangui beauty pageant candidates, and the Magayon Dancers dance troupe to bring out the natural elegance of Albay’s pride.

With the rousing success of the fashion show, conceived only two weeks before, Salceda expressed optimism in staging a bigger event in Manila this year to sustain the momentum.

The fiber has been showcased in previous trade fairs and fashion shows, the most notable of which was Rampago Pinukpok spearheaded by Bicol’s Regional Development Council, which featured the couture collection of top Bicolano designers, with the special participation of noted designer Renee Salud.

With the provincial top honcho as leading fashion model, Salceda is confident that Albay’s fashionable “golden fiber” will tickle the fancy of the country’s top designers and exporters to take the abaca industry to greater heights.

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