Meet Elsie Balidiong: Hablon Maker and Manager of Salngan Livelihood Multi-Purpose Cooperative

Young Elsie watched with bated breath as her mother worked her magic behind the tidal (loom). She would then ask if she can get her hands on the delightful tool that captivates her mother’s handiwork in the hopes that she can create something beautiful herself. But she was always denied access. And when her mother would leave her workspace, Elsie would sneak in, get behind the loom, and pretend to weave.

This is the now 42-year-old Elsie Balidiong, Manager of Salngan Livelihood Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Artisan Enterprise partner of Panublix), remembers her first exposure to hablon (handloom weaving). But it wasn’t until 2009 when Elsie decided to fully take on hablon as both her formal source of income and a form of leisure at the same time.

Hablon is a Hiligaynon word which refers to both the product and the process of weaving. But to Elsie it is more than that. Hablon has become a family trade. From her mother, aunts, sister-in-law, and her children, hablon is a panubli-on (heritage) in the form of an art that runs deep into their family and their community.

Hablon Iloilo and the weaving community

Elsie used to work for a lending company that deprived her of time with her family. She wanted to spend more time at home, caring for her two children but her work required her lots of traveling that it was impossible to juggle her roles as a mother and a career woman. Her deep longing to work in the comforts of her home was quenched by the opportunity that the Cooperative handed to her.

Hablon is widely known to be a staple product for creating shawls, malongs, patadyongs, tela barong, and even gowns that had set in motion a marketable place for this all-female weaving group in Salngan, Oton, Iloilo. With Panublix as its marketing arm, the association customize weaving patterns in natural fibers such as silk, raffia, piña and abaca.

Elsie’s mother who is now eighty-two years old would have continued weaving if it weren’t for the pandemic and shortage of orders that hinders her and the other 35 members of their weaving association. Though the Cooperative had been up and running, the struggle for getting more orders keeps them on edge.

“Damo manog habol pero wala kami gawa orders,” shared Elsie. [We have a lot of makers, but have a few orders]

Hablon weaving for future generations

Her concern about the weaving community to “live forever” is growing as younger generations of women weavers are considering leaving the country to venture better opportunities abroad. Her fear is that the declining rate of orders coming in might someday just become but a memory. She can only hope to stay committed and passionate to hablon as much as her elderly mother is.

Ang akon lang kabay pa mapadayon ang local nga produkto kag indi madula ang pag habol. Dapat ipasa guid sa next generation. Suportahan para mapadayon, unahan sang gobyerno nga tangkilikin ang aton kay kita nag ubra sini kita man dapat mismo ma suksok.” [I hope that the local products and weaving will continue. We should pass it on to the next generation. The support should start from the government by patronizing our work. We are the ones who should wear the very products that we make.]

Amenable that no one gets to live forever, Elsie’s desire to keep their weaving community alive for the next several centuries may be granted only if they continue to pass this art form and heritage to the younger generation, giving honor to the rich culture that afforded her and other women a life and legacy worth conveying.

Want to help Elsie make that dream a reality? You can start by showing support for local weaving communities!

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