- Textiles in the Philippine Colonial Landscape: A Lexicon and Historical Survey by Sandra Castro
Textiles in the Philippine Colonial Landscape: A Lexicon and Historical Survey
Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2018. 140 pages.
With experiences in curation at the Intramuros Administration and in research on Philippine textiles that have given way to multiple publications—such as the essay "Nipis, a Philippine Fabric" (in Nipis: An Exhibition of Philippine Fabrics Organized by the Museum Division, Intramuros Administration, November 23 – December 29, 1990, Plaza San Luis Complex, Intramuros, Manila, edited by Vicenta Mendoza Escobar, 11–27; Intramuros Administration, 1990)—a scholar like Sandra Castro, no doubt, can discuss the history and diversity of Philippine textiles concisely but in great detail in Textiles in the Philippine Colonial Landscape: A Lexicon and Historical Survey. As the title suggests, the book is divided into two main parts: the first being a 27-page overview of the emergence, production, distribution, and development of Philippine textiles; and the second part consisting of a lexicon of various terms related to Philippine textiles, followed by colored images of the fabrics and the process of making various textiles. Castro uses primary and secondary sources from the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries as well as various related literature to build a narrative of textile trade in the country, while weaving and tying it with the multicultural context of the colonial Philippines. The book argues that, apart from European fabrics, [End Page 261] Chinese and Indian textiles were important products that competed with and influenced Philippine textiles and fashion during the Spanish-colonial era.
When one thinks of the Spanish-colonial era of the Philippines, the focus is usually on the relationship between Spain and "imperial" Manila, together with its surrounding provinces. At times, the relationship of the Spanish, the Filipinos, and the Chinese would also be discussed. However, it is a pleasant surprise to see in Textiles in the Philippine Colonial Landscape the significance of India and its long-standing global textile trade on the cultural development of the colonial Philippines. It should be noted that Castro cites seventeen different terms relating to fabric or weaving techniques, the etymologies of which can be traced to India, such as chintz (painted/printed cloth), patola (double ikat weaving style), palampore (elaborately designed cloths usually used as a bed sheet), and moori (a type of cloth that is usually blue in color). Moreover, she underscores the importance of Philippine–Indian relations in light of the Manila–Acapulco galleon trade: "In the initial phase of colonization, weaving skills provided a means to pay the tribute required by the government. However, for at least two centuries, it was the large trade in silks and cottons from China and India, via the Manila-Acapulco galleons, which helped support the colony" (26). This piece of information partially fills the gap in the history of Philippine–Indian relations, which is often historicized either in the context of the precolonial Philippines or the establishment of formal ties between the two modern nation-states from 1949 onward. In addition, the book also mentions textile trade between the Philippines and Java. This trade relationship, as well as Philippine trade with ancient to colonial India, situates the Philippines as an "Asian" country even during the colonial era and not just a Spanish-controlled archipelago isolated from the rest of the region.
Another aspect of Philippine colonial history that the book highlights is the significance of the provinces far from Manila, such as Ilocos, Iloilo, Maguindanao, and Sulu. By providing details about what these provinces were engaged in during the Spanish era in the fields of trade and aesthetics, Castro paints a fuller picture of the Philippines and presents a tapestry of local diversity and involvement in "national" affairs. Of course, it should be noted that the idea of the Philippines as a "nation" was still a concept-information during the Spanish-colonial era. However, in my opinion, from a contemporary Filipino perspective, one can see how all the provinces [End Page 262] that would become the Philippines were interconnected through the flow of goods and services. Apart from the provinces' interconnectedness, Castro goes further...