"Before we are weavers, we are mothers first." - Mang Abel Ti Abra Community
In the highlands of Bangued, Abra, Ate Paulina props herself in front of the loom, getting ready to weave for the day. Tied to the loom’s pedal is a string that connects to a makeshift cradle carrying Angelo, barely a month out of her womb. The back and forth movement of his mother’s loom sways Angelo to sleep while the mother contends with the meticulous task of creating yards of Kantarines fabric, an inter-generational gift from the last matriarch who taught her the very skill she would use to earn for her child.
Ate Paulina is one of the six pioneering mother weavers we met on our first visit to Abra in 2009. In our many conversations, the Mang Abel ti Abra Community (translated as the Weavers of Abra Community) would constantly remind us,"Kabuhayan po namin ang mag-abel pero bago po kami manghahabi, kami po ay mga nanay muna." Weaving, they said, is their source of livelihood but before they are weavers, they are mothers first.
This powerful line has been our source of grounding when intentions are shaken by the many decisions we make everyday.
In 2016, ANTHILL was set in slowly scaling and expanding our distribution in Manila. Being the first recipient of our Community Enterprise Development Program, we felt Mang Abel ti Abra was equipped and shared this vision. We invested six years in community building, business proficiency, and production capacity. This led to the growth of Mang Abel ti Abra from six to fifty weavers. We were ready! To our minds, we were fulfilling our commitment to provide sustainable livelihood and help the community of mother weavers achieve their fullest potential. On the outside, the situation was ideal: more market demand would mean more income, more savings, and more members that ensured weaving will be valued for generations to come. What could go wrong?
From working at the comfort of their own home, the mothers found themselves spending more time at the weaving center and less time in their households. They revealed to us that they were starting to feel like factory workers at the brink of burning out.
When we returned to the community at the end of the year, we were excited to release their substantial savings so they can have a merry Christmas. One of the pioneer mothers, Ate Franny, shared, "Ikinikatuwa po namin na marami tayong order, dumadami po tayo at marami na pong mas bata ang naghahabi." They were so happy, they said, that orders were growing, and that they were growing in number as well with the younger generation taking an interest in weaving. Hearing this, we found ourselves beaming with pride. We thought our core value of inclusive success was being realized. But Ate Franny ended with the most humbling reminder that remains with us to this day, "Pero po parang nakaklimutan po natin na nanay po muna kami, bago weaver." I think, she said, that you have forgotten that we are mothers first before we are weavers.
It was the most humbling wake up call for us. This was perhaps one of the most significant failures we’ve had. Before we are weavers, we are mothers first. We failed to honour the mother’s voice in every weaver. In our persistence to scale and grab every opportunity at hand, we failed to include our most important stakeholder in the conversation. We assumed our definition of success in quantifiable terms while compromising our mother’s primary role to take care of their household. This line taught us the greatest lesson and altered what success is for us. Our metrics are not the sole indicator of impact. We redefined success and let the wisdom of our mothers take the lead. More than having sustainable savings and income, it is the deepest desire of our weaver artisans to become better mothers - to be fully present for their children and their families.
"We are mothers first" means "We are mothers who work on having the means to provide while having the time to be present. Our heartwoven fabrics are for our children, and our children above all else. It is the means, not the end."
Like any mother juggling several roles, our mothers needed to honor themselves first before they could fulfill their many roles. We learned our lesson and recognized that self-love is an important ingredient to motherhood, that a mother, first and foremost, has to love and honor herself. We welcomed a mother and Proud Weave Wearer in the community who talked to our mother weavers about learning to manage time more efficiently. There is time to be a mother, and a time to be a weaver. The transition is not always seamless, but over the years, our mothers have learned to set boundaries and assert themselves. They learn to support us in production planning by managing our expectations when they also have to work in the field as farmers during planting and harvesting season.
The Mother Weavers from Mang Abel ti Abra Community passed on wisdom to us in one powerful line that provided a check and balance, and gave us clarity in our direction. It made us hold a deeper accountability on our own core values and the kind of positive impact we wanted to create so that our work truly reflects who we are and what we stand for.
The children in the community see their mother’s transformation- their heightened ownership of the business, how they are able to weave bigger dreams and value their lifework and heritage. Now, we have weavers among children as young as 12 years old weaving alongside their mothers during weekends and over their summer vacation. They too earn income and are able to save. Weaving now has become time not just for work, but a time to bond, to pass on this life-long gift and legacy from their mothers.
Through the years, Ate Paulina has continuously worked on growing her savings from our Master and Apprentice Program. She is determined to invest it in an educational plan for Angelo, now nine.
The story of the mothers of Mang Abel ti Abra remind all of us that there is no one way to look at motherhood and the many choices that go along with it. Balancing the joy and struggle is as intricate as weaving. It takes a mother's skilled hand to create a beautiful tapestry from it all.
Enjoy the fruits of their loom and the strength of their love with every ANTHILL piece you purchase woven by Mang Abel ti Abra.