long live olive

i am giriish

painter, writer,
designer, martial artist,

and these are my jottings...

The Subanen Princess

During my visit to Zamboanga Sibugay for the holidays last year, I sought out indigenous fabrics for a possible garment presentation/auction in an art gallery abroad. In my earliest collections, I incorporated fabrics such as the T’nalak from Davao and Langdap from Marawi into garments of clean, linear silhouettes. 

These fabrics were readily available through sources provided by my aunt Henrietta Ele who is the founding director of Darangan Dance Troop of The Mindanao State University. Her company globe-trotted for fashion presentations with Ben Farrales in the 80’s and today, she owns an extensive collection of indigenous fabrics from the South. She showed me this collection a couple of years ago and it sparked off an idea.

Hoping to find woven treasures in Sibugay, I was disenchanted instead at what I unearthed. The Subanen have stopped weaving the motifs of their heritage and there was only one person who still owned an authentic skirt handed down to her by her great grandmother. She is a descendant of the royal family of Datu Mande of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte and has returned to her hometown Buug after residing in North Yorkshire Dales, England for over twenty years.

I met the Princess Bai Labe Sonita Manlin Mande-Ryde at former Governor George Hofer’s residence for tea one afternoon and she offered to show me her authentic Subanen skirt. Thus, I found myself spending time with her the very next day.
SUBANEN Patterns on an antique  skirt owned by Princess Sonita

The weave, color and texture of the Subanen skirt was breathtaking but even more inspiring was Bai Labe Sonita’s life story which is true rags to riches example for all aspiring young Indigenous People who wish to achieve something worthwhile in life while retaining their cultural identity and wearing it with honor and pride.

The princess followed a typically rural and difficult upbringing in Buug, Zamboanga Sibugay with little or no luxuries as is the way for the vast majority of Indigenous People (IP) in Mindanao. She left school early to work as house help in order to supplement her family’s income and later moved to Manila to take up work while waiting for her visa of employment to Saudi Arabia. At this time however, her pen-friend from England decided to visit her and asked for her hand in marriage at her father’s home.

Following her marriage the princess eventually traveled to North Yorkshire, England. Not intending to become a customary housewife who sits at home, she soon found employment in order to occupy her time. She was happily married but unfortunately after some years, her husband became ill and she gave up her job to care for him fulltime.

After twenty years, Bae Sonita returned to her village and was saddened by how little had changed in her surroundings from when she was just a little girl herself. She vowed to improve the lives of her immediate family and the Subanen tribe. First, she built a house in her own village to remind her of her roots and to inspire all young IPs. Subsequently, she helped fund the building of an Elementary School and provide a Tribal Hall for both Muslims and Christians, and financed a stretch of road leading to Barangay Mande.

Education is very important to Bae Sonita; she has sent her nieces’ and nephews’ to school so that they too can help others in the future and when her husband Harry Ryde passed away a few years ago, she built a library at the Mindanao State University in his honor.

Because of her sustained commitment for the welfare of the Mindanao indigenous people and all her selfless acts of generosity done without fanfare,  Bae Sonita Manlin Mande Ryde was formally crowned on May 13th 2006 as Bae Labi or Princess Paramount of the Western Mindanao Subanens by His Highness Principal Datu Tucan E. Dakula VI of the Royal House of Sibugay and interim Sultan of Mindanao.

Her acceptance of this title and subsequent confirmation elevated her to royalty, second in honor only to the Sultan. Thus, Princess Sonita now has three royal titles: Bae of Subanen in Western Mindanao, Bae Gamtebeng of 42 Tribes of Mindanao, and Bae Labi of 42 Tribes and Muslims of Western Mindanao.
 sketch by Loretto from PINOY DRESSING by Barge Ramos
MIndanao is rich in culture and heritage, I went hunting for indigenous fabrics and ended up unearthing human treasure in the person of Bae Labi Sonita, The Subanen Princess.


butz fuentes said...

on your journey to style and fashion explorations, you had discovered the missing link of the organic fabric...whom was the creator....its nature's way of filling- up the circle of your curiosity..by then you aspire more circles....love ur blog oj....keep fierce always....SM/butz fuentes