Monday, 20 May 2013



Bamboo is the material of the century according to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Our Filipino heritage in bamboo crafts dates back as far as 15th century. But times have changed. Perhaps as stupid as it can get,  sometimes.

Why did our government introduced engineered bamboo to Filipinos, funneling tons of money on technology and machines coming from China? Why the shift when majority of our bamboo craftsmen only use their hands to make them delicately novel we call them our precious crafts and heritage? Can foreign technology take over our desire to give more jobs to our bamboo craftsmen and not thinking we could harm them?

Why did our government not think that so many of our bamboo craftsmen who make our bamboo gathering baskets like our "kaing", "bila-o" or  "alat"  may be displaced with the Chinese technology which is too foreign for the vast majority? Who will make our baskets for us to put our mangoes, lanzones fruits, "asin" ( rock salt) , "uga/bulad" ( dried fish), "uling" ( charcoal) and sayote ( kind of vegetable)? Who will make our "sawali" to build our homes? Who will make our "ropero" ( laundry baskets) to put our dirty clothes, our "bila-o" to put our "pancit" ( noodles) or "sapin-sapin" ( rice cakes) . Our " tipas" to thresh our rice?

These Filipino traditional handwoven bamboo products should be preserved. Preservation does not mean to be archaic. They can be reconfigured to meet our human needs in modern societies. That is the function of design, anyway. 

The government says engineered bamboo should be the direction. A million pesos there, another million pesos here to transfer the Chinese technology to Filipinos. They say not all "naman", just to balance it. But a million pesos could have bought some hand tools and training funds to our rural craftsmen to make new products using our age-old Filipino techniques than introducing Chinese technology so strange and weird to them. In the first place the technology is just too industrial for our folks out there in the barrios where they have the luxury of time to weave and create intricate pieces of beauty.

While Filipinos are very creative, we just need to do product adaptations  like what the Japanese does with their bamboo arts and crafts. They preserve their culture, mostly in purity of techniques and forms,   in their crafts yet with modern quests for meaning. This for me is the essence of what we can do to differentiate our own---using what we are good at through the years and keeping that old and well-loved Filipino  spirit in skills  yet making them relevant today in terms of functionality and appearance. But let alone our traditional forms and functions co-exists with the modern ones as well. But do not insist this engineered bamboo down our esophagus.

Engineered bamboo is a Chinese invention because their bamboo is not like ours--which we can weave like they are soft yarns. The Chinese bamboo is thin and weak so they have to laminate them. Ours  are almost 1 to 1/2" thick ( species in Iloilo called "pusog") which is one of the strongest in the world. They are as big as the diameter of our legs. Look at a bamboo and wooden boat  called "banca", for instance. One will understand the high tensil properties of Filipino bamboo that endures the cruel waves and salt. The bamboo sways against the ocean current like they are wings of powerful eagles. One foreigner in Boracay Island commented that he could not believe these bamboo pole "wings" in our wooden "bancas" do not break in strong waves and even when at docking when they are on top of each other fighting for space and movement amongst the "bancas". I said to the foreigner that these bamboo are very strong by just looking at their thick diameter. The sway of these bamboo for me  speaks for the same Filipino spirit of resiliency and flexibility. 

 The typical Filipino bamboo, unlike its Chinese counterpart, is so dense which can put steel rods to shame. We make bridges, homes and towers out of them. They are meant to be used as round grasses for the Filipinos.  Ask a Chinese where they can buy the best bamboo furniture, the Chinese will say “ go to the Philippines.” Our bamboo for furniture is stronger than those made in China because our bamboo is different from those in China which they need to re-process so they can use them in their own point of view. We do not make furniture by cutting our solid bamboo into small desperate pieces and put them together again like we are mad men. This is not China.

The Chinese bamboo can not match the Filipino bamboo in strength, so they have to laminate them. Engineered bamboo uses a lot of industrial most cases very harmful in manufacturing and when used by consumers.  ( Rubber shoes made in China uses the same glue and found out to cause foot disorders). Those engineered bamboo products look weird for Filipinos who are romantically involved with our graceful long bamboo poles, rippling slats,  tactile "tagik" ( woven ) and  exquisite "tad-tad" ( crushed). All of these are highly sustainable processes unlike lamination. For me, engineered bamboo looks like plain wood one can get anywhere. I can not relate to it. They do not have the Filipino soul at all.

Engineered bamboo, considered very much less eco-friendly and green product as our traditional methods,  is as  tedious a manufacturing process with resulting appearance of something comparable to blocked-in pieces of timber put together and Filipinos are bad at it. I tried it with several of our producers but we can only make patchy finishing, poor seams and weak constructions unlike its Chinese counterpart who developed the technology. Worse, the Philippines has no production capacity for engineered bamboo  in spite of all those training and assistance from government.  And the cost, exorbitantly crazy! The Chinese will laugh at us. 

The government wanted all our public school desks to be made out of engineered bamboo. Many bamboo producing centers bid to produce them. Iloilo qouted based on some low production scheme--small mom and pop workshops. La Union grabbed the opportunity to win the bid in order to supply the whole Philippines. But in the long run, it went pfffttt! They can not produce them at all given the high costs and the dwindling labor force, or lack of it,  to produce and to ship them to our public schools  in the farthest parts of the archipelago. Why? Can we not have beautiful rounded bamboo for legs and arms with ventilated bamboo slats  for back rests and seats and wooden slats for  desk tops  instead of all engineered bamboo? Each local producer can make them in our own way using our traditional techniques with their eyes closed. It could have filled up the supply chain better---right there in our backyards. The government in this manner did not think about value chain to produce what could have been otherwise a great idea--bamboo chairs for public schools. But please not using Chinese technology.  

The Filipino bamboo crafts ripple with story to tell, eye movement,  breath taking texture and  organic forms. They have soul that tells the imprint of Filipino hands that made them from far -way lands...not by machine made from China. How can we be so stupid to cut our own beautiful rounded Philippine bamboo into Chinese cubes and planks and laminate them with machines and tons of glue made in China? We used breath-taking Filipino traditional joinery and binding techniques through the centuries which are so magical--- not liters of industrial glue to make our Filipino bamboocraft.

 Our forefathers enjoyed those lovely round poles in our homes and decorations, how can we pulverized these poles and deconstruct them into cubes and squares? Make our life difficult? How can we lose our Filipino sense of aesthetics with our bamboo floor looking like plain wood? We walk on bamboo floor aerated by the breeze coming from underneath our "bahay kubo". We run our feet on bamboo slat floors massaging our feet. We do not walk on bamboo floor laminated with glue least we forget our tradition and heritage.

  The beauty of Filipino bamboo is round which is split open into lovely long slats---- the core story line of our Filipino legend of our creation where “Malakas” and “Maganda” ( the Filipino Adam , a strong man,  and Eve, a beautiful woman) were conceived out of tall and ethereal bamboo poles--not from laminated ones. “Malakas” and “Maganda”, our government today, wants them to rise sandwiched from engineered bamboo complete with toxic glue coming from China."Malakas" and "Maganda" , can not breath any longer as they are fully coated with  thick glue looking like sugar coated banana cue.

So why do we have to cut off the artery of our rural bamboo weavers who create the most delicate strips of bamboo into lovely baskets which is truly our own?


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  4. The bamboo production are beautiful! Here in France we import! but it is very very expensive

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  8. it's so nice. i like it....
    Wooden handicraft

  9. hi you do training on bamboo?