Baliuag, Bulacan — Many elderly residents fear that the art of making the buntal hat, which made the town famous, could soon vanish because the hat makers have no one to pass their skills to.
No one among Baliuag’s buntal weavers is younger than age 35, a fact the older weavers find troubling.
“Hindi na dapat mamimili ang ating mga kabataan ng hanapbuhay, dahil mapapakinabangan nila ang art weaving na ‘to hanggang sa ibang bansa,” Aling Nena, 63, of Barangay Virgen delos Flores, said.
Aling Nena, a former buntal weaver, and other Bulacan elders are appealing on local government units and the Department of Education (DepEd) to help them promote the art of hat weaving, not only to enlarge the number of weavers but to keep the art from dying.
In an interview Sunday, Rosario Q. Bautista, assistant economic manager of Baliuag town and owner of the Baliuag Buntal Enterprises, said the book “Baliwag Then and Now” written by Rolando Villacorte, mentioned that the art of hat weaving started in 1907 after Mariano Deveza from Lucban, Quezon, brought bundles of Buntal fiber with him when he visited this town.
At that time Lucban was the only place that made of buntal hats. But because the town could not cope with the large demand for the hats, Deveza decided to visit Baliuag which was already famous for making bamboo hats, to find out if the townsfolk could also make buntal hats.
Deveza brought first the buntal fibers to Impong Dolores Maniquis who became fascinated and experimented by softening of the fibers using a heavy wooden roller.
Maniquis started weaving the fibers into hats, and later experimented with colors by first bleaching and then dyeing the fibers.
In 1910, the buntal hat weaving became a booming industry here, with at least one weaver in every household.
By 1920, Baliuag’s buntal hat production was a major dollar-earning export in world market where it was known as the “Panama hat.”
Production slumped after weavers in China started producing “Bali-buntals” with raw materials imported from the Philippines.
In 1923, Chinese businessmen from Hong Kong hired Filipino weavers, but the venture collapsed as World War II engulfed Asia.
After the war, Baliuag rebounded after Joaquin Villones hired 5,000 weavers.
Today, Buntal hat weaving continues to thrive in this town, but manufacturers like Bautista still faces a shortage of skilled workers, although she has hundreds of weavers, but most of them are doing part-time work.
Bautista said six years ago they even tried to transfer the skill and technology to young workers through workshops and seminars, and to the inmates of the provincial jail in Malolos City because they could not meet the large export demand.
“Subali’t sa hindi malamang kadahilanan, ang gawaan ng Buntal Hat sa jail ay tumagal lamang ng apat na taon,” Bautista said.
Four persons are needed to finish a hat, she said. The first weaver does the crown or head, the second makes the brim and a third sews the crown to the brim. The fourth weaver bleaches the yellowish fiber to make it more attractive.
Bautista said only a few Baliuag youths are going into Buntal hat weaving.
Still, she is confident interest in buntal hats would be rekindled. Every year, before the month of May ends, the town celebrates the weeklong Buntal Hat Festival, which features a job fair, painting contest, concerts, a buntal hat Santacruzan, street dancing, the search for Lakambini of Baliuag, and exhibits of products made from buntal fibers.
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