The Yakans are traditional settlers of the Island of Basilan (previously known as Tanguina). The name Basilan originated from two words Basi (iron) and Balani (magnate).
They are a horse-riding hill tribe believed to have come from the Orang Dyaks or the Tagihamas of Eastern Indonesia. However, due to political unrest and armed conflicts in the area, some of them settled in the region of Zamboanga City.
The Spanish conquistadores named them Sameacas, which means mountain dwellers. During colonial times, the Spaniards branded the inhabitants of Basilan as Yakan, a mispronunciation of the word yakal- when centuries ago the island was thickly covered by the yakal trees.
The Yakan preserved an Islamic lifestyle that differs from the majority of the Philippine population. Their beliefs can be described as Folk Islam. They have two sets of beliefs- one that integrated Islamic principles and the other embracing a more traditional belief.
They follow Saytan- the various spirits in heaven and in the natural environment, showing the remaining influence of pre-Islamic religious beliefs, which are fused with old Islamic rituals. This can be traced back in their ancestral offerings, spirit worship, death rituals and planting rituals. They believe in Surga (heaven) and in Narka (hell). A Yakan has to work hard on earth to reach heaven after death. For the Yakan, heaven is a place where the soul can find peace, joy and happiness.
The Yakan are known as fierce warriors, they follow a strong internal code of honour that define the circumstances under which one person’s life should be taken.
When meeting people of the tribe, a visitor has to join them in Mang-Upa, a betel nut chewing ritual. It has a symbolic value at ceremonies and cultural events and practiced at the beginning of social events, it is offered to guests as a sign of hospitality and to strengthen social ties.
The Yakan Village in Upper Calarian is famous for their art of weaving. They used plants like pineapple and abaca converted into fibers as basic material for weaving. The Yakans dyed the fibers using herbal extracts from leaves, roots and barks, resulting to colorful combinations and intricate designs of the Yakan fabric.
The Seputangan is the most intricate design worn by the women around their waist or as a head cloth. The Palipattang is patterned after the color of the rainbow while the Bunga-sama, after the python. Almost every Yakan fabric can be described as unique since the finished materials are not exactly identical.
Contacts with Christian Filipinos and the American Peace Corps brought about changes in the art and style of weaving. Many resorted to the convenience of chemical dyes and they started weaving table runners, placemats, wall decor, purses and other items which are not present in a traditional Yakan house. For economic reasons, the natives catered to the needs of their customers.
New designs were introduced like kenna-kenna, patterned after a fish; dawen-dawen, after the leaf of a vine; pene mata-mata, after the shape of an eye or thekabang buddi, the diamond-shaped design.
The photo above shows the Seputangan design or the Geometric design. It means good luck and prosperity. “Walang pattern yan mam, nasa memory lang ng weavers kung paano idistribute yung mga designs at color combination.”