Habi | National Museum of the Philippines (@natmuseumph)

This week’s Trowel Tuesday by the National Museum of the Philippines highlights “habi”, a Tagalog word that may refer to the method of weaving; the woven cloth, textile, or fabric; or texture of fabric.

The term “habi” draws its origin from the Western Malayo-Polynesian form pronounced as /habél/, with various cognates in the Philippine languages:

  • abel (Ilokano/ Palawan Batak),
  • afir (Bontok),
  • abol (Ifugao),
  • habol (Cebuano and Panay Island),
  • habow (Bol-anon),
  • aol (Maranao),
  • m-abol (Subanon),
  • havel (Manobo),
  • awel (Tiruray),  to name a few.

The earliest roots of Filipino weaving traditions or “paghahabi” can be traced back to about 3200 years ago, as evidenced by spinning tools recovered from archaeological sites in the Batanes Islands. Archaeological excavations on Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat islands have yielded 17 whole pieces and fragments of spindle whorls—objects that form the weighted part of a hand spindle, a device used to prepare fiber into thread for loom weaving.

The Batanes spindle whorls, made of fired earthenware, are predominantly biconical in shape and range from 3.0–5.8 cm in diameter and 2.1–4.5 cm in height. The whorls are either plain or decorated, with designs that include fingernail impressions, incised lines or stamped circles, while a few are coated with resin.

The Batanes spindle whorls, the earliest evidence of early spinning technology in the Philippines, are currently on display at “Palayok: The Ceramic Heritage of the Philippines” exhibit in the National Museum of Anthropology.

Source: Text by Alexandra De Leon and posters by Timothy James Vitales | NMP Archaeology Division, National Museum of the Philippines (2021)

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