Kathabi: stories of the origins of the weaving customs in Abra

The story and characters in this ballet are inspired by the cultural beliefs, dances, music and weaving practices of the Cordillera mountain region community, paying close attention to the narratives of the Itnegs, as related to us through stories which were annotated from interviews via zoom through the collaboration of lecturers from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines and Revival Dye.

Weaving is a tradition among the peoples of the northern mountainous regions of the Philippines. In Abra alone, there are 12 tribes which share this traditional craft. All of the tribes believe that this artform has been handed from Kaboniyan (Kadaklan) through a dream sent to a Baglan (high priest). The Baglan then narrates his dream to the community and the tribeswomen translate his dreams in weaving patterns from the web spun by spiders.  The spiders provide inspiration to build a tool, the loom, which can create various designs based from nature, such as, rice grains, lizards, frogs, horses.  The loom, through divine inspiration, is devised from natural elements as well. Bamboo (kawayan) was used in making the first looms in the community.

Weaving is mostly practised by the women of the region, with the men tending mostly to the farm.  It is passed on through generations of daughters.  The threads used customarily were made of pure cotton, but nowadays, pure cotton weaves are uncommon and most are mixed with polyester. The colours of the weave have notable meaning.  According to Sir Jun, white was the original colour of the fabrics which signify purity and peace. This is particularly true for the Itnegs who are known as peace loving traders.  The blue and red dyes have been introduced later on, with red paying respect to the blood spilled in battle. Some fabrics may take on religious meaning (e.g.Kinamayan), especially if to be used by revered elders in the tribe.

The peoples of the Kalinga mostly rely on agriculture, with rice as their main source of the harvest.  The men of some of the tribes may also hunt for their meat.  Trade between different tribes is common, with one tribe offering their handicrafts, a part of their harvest or hunt, in exchange for food or desired materials, such as woven fabric, from another. 


All these form a unique and complex interconnection with their rituals and beliefs.  Their dances (e.g. Pinanlaian), whether they be in gratitude for a good harvest or to mourn for a loved one, use the fabrics as sacred metaphors that bring the community together.  Weddings, in particular, are of great importance to them, binding traditions between families in music and dance.  

The musical instruments of the region play a great role in all their communal practices. The metallic gongs are played on the ground, in respect to the nourishing soil given by Kaboniyan, the vibrations produced by the percussions enervate the feet of the dancers as they hold the woven fabric between their arms. The use of the bamboo instruments are reminiscent of the sounds of the bamboos as they sway to the wind. The musical instruments are played by the males of the tribe while fabric weaving is relegated to the women.  However, presently, these distinctions are blurred with the necessity of the times.

These are but a few descriptions of the rich culture of the northern Philippines, and the ballet that follows is a derivation from the narratives that were recounted to us through interviews. The northern mountainous region of the Philippines is rich in tradition and culture and their dances, songs, woven fabrics are the source of the inspiration behind this ballet.  The collaborative choreography explores the possible permutations that can be improvised on to come up with a contemporised portrait of the beautiful movements of the region. Kathabi pays homage to these practices.



Name of Community: Balangay (derived from Baranggay)


Ama (Father)-holy man, inspired from Baglan

Sinulid (Thread)- the representation of the divine inspiration from Kabonyian

Gamba (Spider)-Mother spider whose webs inspire the weaves in the region

Dolimaman-the first female weaver, daughter of Ama

Wadagan- tribesman from another community who courts Dolimaman

Ina-Mother of Dolimaman wife of Ama


Scene 1

Tagtuyot (Drought)

The Balangay is experiencing less and less rainfall and must find alternative sources of of food.  They must trade with other tribes, otherwise they will starve, but they have nothing to trade with.


Panaginip (Dream)

Ama and Sinulid Pas de deux 

Ama is disturbed in his sleep. He dreams of a beautiful creature with feet wrapped en pointe,  like needles piercing the air, slicing through space. She is Sinulid, sent by Divinity to inspire his community to craft fabric to wear in honour of the Gods so the the community can stave off drought by finding a complimentary source of livelihood.


Gagamba (Spider)

The dream transforms as Sinulid gives way to Gamba and his/her spiders who produce interlacing patterns in space, the same patterns that give birth to the weavings of the region.

Ama narrates to his people his visions.

Sayaw Habi (Dance of the Weavers)

After hearing the tale from Ama, the women attempt to reconstruct the patterns he described in this dreams in a dance mimicking the movement of seated and upright looms.


Scene 2

Sayaw Tribu (Dance of the Hunting Tribe)

Dolimaman, while performing a ritual, is surprised to see another tribe hunting in her side of the mountains. She watches the Hunter's progress in secret. The leader of the hunters, Wadagan, gets separated from the group and is injured in the hunt but is rescued by Dolimaman.  She provides clothing as protection for Wadagan. The same cloth that was given by her father for safe keeping. She dances with him and they start developing affection for each other.

Sayaw Ibig Pas dex deux 

Dolimaman and Wadagan dance a duet signifying their affection for each other.

Pagharap (Duel)

Ama discovers Dolimaman and Wadagan dancing and confronts the 2 and banishes Wadagan from his kingdom.

Scene 3

Sayaw Paghanga (Admiration)

Wadagan shows the fabric to his own tribe and the tribesmen and are mystified by it. He tells his followers about his feelings for Dolimaman.

 Dolimaman confesses her feelings to her mother as Ina comforts her. Wadagan finds a way to return to Balangay. He offers his tribe's tools and food to Balangay in exchange for the fabric.

Scene 4 Finale

Sayaw Pagisa.  (Inspired by the Pinanlaiaan)

Ama accepts Wadagan's offering and allows him to court Dolimaman. The entire community dances in celebration as both Dolimaman and Wadagan are accepted by both Tribes in their union, and the 2 communities become partners in trade and in peace.