Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Rara: Art and Tradition of Mat Weaving in the Philippines Book Launch

Wazzup Pilipinas!

Pateros, the little municipality situated in the middle of three big and flourishing cities - Pasig, Taguig and Makati. As what Elmer Nocheseda jokingly said during his talk at his Rara book launch held on November 30, 2016 at Villa Monica in Pateros, we may have a hard time finding certain establishments within the municipality using the Waze app.

The Rara book launch was a celebration not only to announce to the public the availability of the new book, but also to honor and pay tribute to the book author and historian who neatly documented the facts about mat weaving in the country.

The Philippines is so full of creatively talented individuals that has contributed in putting us in the global map - meaning, we have become synonymous to where achievers and leaders mostly originate. It is not only in boxers or beauty queens that has made us famous in the yes of the world, but also with the presence of artists like painters, sculptors, theater actors, writers, and a lot more. The Philippines has a lot more to offer than Pinoy teleseryes or blockbuster mainstream movies with rehashed and repetitive plots.

Elmer Nocheseda, or you may know him as Elmer Gragera-IbaƱez Hernandez-Nocheseda on Facebook, is a mat cognoscente and an inveterate researcher. He has recently released his third book entitled Rara: Art and Tradition of Mat Weaving in the Philippines.

"It has been over 100 years since a book about Philippine mats has been put together. It is hoped that this book will make up for the long hiatus"  says a line from Habi website describing the book. This is actually Elmer's third book, first is Palaspas: An Appreciation of Palm Leaf Art in the Philippines, second is Pateros which is all about this small municipality known primarily for its popular "balut" or duck egg with chick embryo - a somehow infamous culinary delicacy that many have been trying to evolve into something more interesting and appealing than a dreaded but challenging dish for foreigners.

Rara is all about the art and tradition of mat weaving in the Philippines. He has an awesome personal collection of mats gathered throughout the years from his many travels all around the country. From the north and the south of the Philippine archipelago. He has traveled to do the research and delved nto libraries and museums, viewed and gathered collections, become acquainted with mat weavers. He knows the conversation and he shares it in this book.

He emphasized that each mat piece is unique. That no two mats are the same. Just like people, we are individually unique. Even identical twins do not look entirely alike.

"A weaver may pray as she works the strips, or sing or tell stories, but the image of her mat is already clearly etched in her mind. From their mothers and grandmothers who taught them how to dream designs, they have learned how to weave patterns such as: sulongsulong or checks either with thin crisscrossing lines or fairly broad panels resulting in solid colorful squares; big and stylized eight-point stars called nafut; the ancient zigzag line called sikusiku; the snake totem ulad; the attractive regular selnafil or centipede weave; the banlang twill weave; and the plain weave with the not-so-plain name kannum daon saging."

However, with technology making life seemingly conveniently much faster and easier, the "art" could be slowly nearing death as most of us look for the touted "better" and "cheaper" way to produce almost the same output.

"Mat weaving has been declared dead for almost four decades when the Teduray community in South Upi, Maguindanao started using the cheaper plastic mats that came from Chinese traders. With some little encouragement from HABI, they started to revive their lost art."

It is fortunate that there are organizations that advocate for the continued support of the art and culture especially those that are in danger of extinction. Somehow, we need to keep our tradition alive since history is a lot more meaningful if we could keep our origins intact so the future generations could also appreciate.

Elmer is soon to come out with a fourth book which you can know more about by viewing our special and exclusive interview with him. We are sure it would be equally a worthy addition to our marvelous collection of masterpieces.

The snacks or "merienda" that afternoon were lugaw, tokwa, lumpia, sinukmane, inutak with sorbetes, dila-dila or palitaw, and the bibingkang abnoy.  liked that there were banig table mats to put our food. liked that there were banig table mats to put our food.

I started reminiscing my childhood days in Pateros when I used to have these on a regular basis - a lugawan near our home and roaming ladies with large bilaos topped on their heads going from one home to the next.  I was also looking for balut, penoy and itlog na maalat, but I think those were only for sale at one corner area of the event. You can imagine how convenient it was to always have the red salted eggs as a regular delicacy that you'll never get tired of because it was great having them with sliced fresh tomatoes, or added to mayo for sandwich spread.

For footwear, each one in the house has the alpombra slippers. My favorite color back then was red since I loved to flaunt the beauty of these footwear.

It is great that a kababayan finally created a book about the municipality of Pateros which also deserves a spotlight so that more people would know about the place where all of these stuff originated or became popular.

The organizers should have served a little more festive feast to take advantage of the presence of attendees coming from different neighboring cities. It would have been a great way to further promote Pateros' distinctive culinary treats. I know there was an event held in Pateros highlighting the different ways to cook or incorporate balut in many dishes, so there should have been something similar but smaller in scale so the visitors could have sampled them. Actually, every event held in the municipality should have a little bit of everything about Pateros to strengthen tourism in the municipality and for even its own residents to continuously feel the rich cultural vibe.

The children's choir and folk dancers were actually students and teachers respectively. We have to applaud these people for their valued contribution to the festivities of the book launch, especially the teachers, though we all know they are extremely busy, they took time to offer their time and talent to participate.

Would you believe that I almost did not attend the book launch? I was so busy writing, experiencing and promoting about so many different events, destinations, dishes, personalities, etc., that I downplayed the happenings around me. It would be great if we could get closer coordination with tourism and events effort in Pateros so we could help in sharing news about this municipality where I spent many years of my life.

Thank you to former Pateros Mayor Joey Medina and wife Joyce Flores Medina for helping Elmer Nocheseda organize the book launch. The people of Pateros is proud to have a distinguished author among its residents.

An attendee commented that she did not see the top officials of the Local Government Unit (LGU) at the event where everyone, especially its leaders, should all be present to support a notable and distinguished resident who has patiently gathered or collected information in and out of Pateros to come up with very comprehensive books. This latest one details the art and tradition of mat weaving in the Philippines.

Seriously, it is not surprising that there would be indifference and/or strife looming among its residents especially those that are part of political groups. Pateros may be small, but some would say that if you would quantify the concerns and issues into square meters, they may even be bigger than the municipality's geographical size.

But that reality is not exclusive to the municipality of Pateros. 

Just as how many people fail to identify the two mats the good author was describing during the "game time" of the event where the prizes where the "Pateros" and "Rara" books, many of us look away and try to find what we think we need at distant or far and remote places. In our many efforts, we form collaborations with other groups, organizations, companies, cities and even countries, yet our own neighborhood remains weak in cooperation. 

We would leave our neighborhood to search for success at other towns, cities or countries, and usually would not realize that what we need may actually be right in front of our faces all along. We would visit several tourists or heritage destinations all over the country and the world, yet we have not even seen our very own tourist spots within our city, or in the case of Pateros, municipality. We look up to many people around the world as our idols, yet we do not even know there's a significant individual nearby that's already making efforts to sustain our rich culture.

Elmer literally placed the two mats in front of the stage so it would be easier to find, but many went around and pointed at other mats thinking he might have placed them at inconspicuous places. Very few realized he made it too easy for all of us.

Due to many vested interests, most of us do make our lives complicated probably because there is competition, distrust or fear among us. I can't blame most of us because the news we see and hear all over the world are seriously disturbing.

It would be a lot more awesome if all of us within our very own neighborhood would primarily strengthen our ties even before we step out to collaborate with others. The rewards would be even greater if we equally help each other shine since we do believe that similarly as how the mats are uniquely special, everyone of us also has our own unique talent that many would appreciate only if each one of us starts looking a lot more closer at our own home and neighborhood.

FYI: I also prepared a video coverage but I am still too busy to edit so please do watch out for it soon here at or at our offcial YouTube page at More photos are also available at our official Facebook page at

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