What Is a Banig and Can You Sleep on It?

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Siesta is an afternoon activity for Filipinos. It is the time of day where the typical Filipino will rest or nap on a handwoven mat called banig.

What is a banig, and can you sleep on it? A banig is a Filipino-made product made from reeds or grass varieties. They are crafted by hand to produce a mat for sleeping. Banigs are interlaced with two or three materials to yield an intricate design or decorative pattern.

If you haven’t seen a banig yet, then you’ve probably heard of it being an Asian handicraft. This interesting piece of artwork is much more interesting than it appears, as well as having a lot more uses than to sleep on.

Banig Mats

All You Need to Know About Banigs

The origins of the famous banig, also known as a sleeping mat, hail from a town known for its woven products called Basey located in Tacloban City and from the province of Samar. Generally, the banig has four patterns:

  • Stripes
  • Multicolored squares
  • Checkered patterns of white and other colors
  • Zigzag patterns

Banigs can vary in size and shape, depending on the producer or the customer’s request. They can be as thin as chipboard and usually measure around 2×3 meters. Banigs are made from special reeds or grass. The ticog/tikog is considered to be the most important matting sedge in the Philippines. It has solid stems that are triangular and grows along swampy fields of rice in low altitudes.

The Making Process

Banig Mat Process, Basey

The process of making a banig differs from region to region. In Basey, there are two steps in the elaborate process of making a banig. The first is to weave the base mat, which is done by weavers. Embroiderers will then buy these mats to further decorate with more patterns before it is sold in the market.

The general step-by-step process of mat-weaving is as follows:

  1. Cut the bariw leaves: First, weavers cut the bariw leaves using an arc-shaped tool for cutting. They then execute pagsasa where they cut a long and slender bamboo pole to reach the leaves of high-grown bariw plant.
  2. Bundle and strip: Bundling and stripping are the steps that come next in the pre-weaving preparation. They collect the leaves slashed from stripping off thorns and into the ridge. The leaves then divide into two after removing the ridge. Afterward, each leaf is piled separately and then tied up tightly to avoid them from curling up when dried.
  3. Air-dry: The next phase is sun or air-drying. Bleaching the bariw leaves under the sun strengthens its fibers. Exposure to direct sunlight will also give it a natural and shiny brown tone. Additionally, the leaves become more durable when they air-dry as they create molds that destroy the natural luster of brown mats. During weaving, these molds fall off easily.
  4. Hammer: The next process is the hammering phase. It finishes when the bariw leaves are being beaten against a flat stone using a wooden club or being rolled on like bread until they become pliable.
  5. Keep it soft: Next is the process of keeping its softness and preventing the bariw leaves from crisping and being stiff.
  6. Pagbuntay: Pagbuntay then follows, which is the unwinding of the linikid to straighten the spiraled bariw leaves. This process is when the leaves are rolled one after the other in a round form. The roundness sustains its softness.
  7. Pagkulhad: Pagkulhad is the next process, the shredding of the leaves into strands with the use of a splicer. A splicer is a shredder made of wood.
  8. Pagkyupis: The last process before the weaving is the pagkyupis. This process is when the bariw strands fold into halves. Here, four strands compose each kyupis and these are folded together in pairs, horizontally, and vertically. The surfaces of these are in brown, glossy color.
  9. Fold the sides: The final step is to assure the size and length of the mat and to consider the entire framework. It involves weaving the mat forward. Taytay is the framework of the whole mat. The sapay or edge-lines apply on both sides, and then the side strands are folded. This fold is to lock the weave in place.
  10. Weave the mat: Finally, the mat-weaving enters the last stage called gutab. Unwanted strands are cut in the mat, and also the reparation of the worn-out or damaged edges during weaving.

Uses of the Banig

Banigan Kawayan Festival
Image Credit

Banigs are commonly used for sleeping on, although they can be used as other things, like to sit on or to act as covers. After all, they are a type of mat.

For Sleeping or Sitting

The most typical use of the banig is for sleeping or sitting on. However, it does not use cloth or textile. A typical banig is made out of reeds or grass endemic to a particular geographical location. For instance, in the Visayan region, buri is used to weave mats. In the Antique province, the bariw plant is the most versatile. Meanwhile, tikog is used in Basey and sodsod grass in Bukidnon.

How Thin are Banigs?

Despite the material used, banigs are typically thin, ranging anywhere between 1.5 to 6 millimeters. This may not seem appealing to foreigners, compared to the silk or cotton mats they’re used to, but to Filipinos, they are very common and ideal for their lifestyle.

If you want to try this mat out for yourself, the best place to get them at is from the country itself. Otherwise, you can purchase other types of similar mats, such as this very convenient and popular item called Camco Handy Mat with Strap (view on Amazon). It is made from very durable material, allowing it to last for years and is also mildew resistant! A perfect mat for traveling or placed permanently indoors.

For Decor and Modern Art

The versatility of the banig lies in its public demand as this results in an extended function of the classic sleeping mat. The banig nowadays are transformed into placemats, bags, file holder, panels, pillow covers, matting for furniture, and many more items. The banig reflects the culture and art of its respective place of origin to boost tourism and economic stature.

For Apparel

Some banigs weave and incorporate into designs of gown that would usually represent where the material came from. Pageants in the Philippines, such as the Binibining Pilipinas, is just one type of event that showcases state-of-the-art gown designs. Touches of native materials endemic to a particular city or province incorporate into the design.

For Support of Local Artisanal Product Makers

Prices of the usual banigs range from 300 PHP (6 USD) to 1500 PHP (30 USD). Not bad for a craft finely made by hand. Housewives play the primary role as weavers of the banig in any part of Samar. Commonly, banig-weaving is a source of income to help the household.

The women weavers are called Paraglara in the locale. They are known to have practiced and were taught the art of traditional weaving as early as their childhood days. This art continues to flourish in Basey as the practice has been preserved and handed down through generations.

For Preserving Culture

Indeed, initiatives like mat-weaving promote less waste in the process of making such products that are useful, functional, as well as decorative. For some community-craft associations, mat-weaving is the primary source of income and thus helping struggling families.

This tradition, if continued, will undoubtedly serve as a culturally and economically important livelihood. It does not only restrict the craft here, but there lies beauty beyond the design. This type of enterprise shows us that beauty comes from the hard work and effort put in each strand woven. It is in the intricacies of the details, the labor of women, and the promise to promote and preserve such art, culture, and legacy for future generations.

 The simpler designs with less variety of colors are certainly less costly than the colorful banigs. However, intricate designs will always be reflective of the town’s colorful history and culture. They reflect the county’s diversity and pride in its arts and designs.

Conclusion – What Is a Banig and Can You Sleep on It?

Filipinos always find ways to preserve history, art, and culture so much so that festivals for banig-making are held annually. These festivals celebrate the presence and popularity of banig-weaving to visitors and tourists. Varieties of trendy hats, bags, slippers, and gowns made of banig are all displayed during the festival. It is not only a celebration of Filipino innovation but also a tribute to the mat weavers who worked hard to keep the priceless tradition of their forefathers alive.

So, this historic handicraft remains relevant and viable to flourish in markets locally and internationally. The banig will soon be known to many diverse groups of people who will take the banig to different places, from foreign beaches to even in Paris Fashion Week. The creativity of how the banig was transformed into a fashion statement like a bag or cool slippers to make your feet comfortable at the beach is ingenious in itself. Filipinos are known for their diligence and ability when it comes to a sustainable livelihood. After all, it will suffice to say that the banig is more than just a sleeping mat.

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