The Philippines’ Filigree Tambourine Jewelry: An old and dying craft being revived by the modern Filipino youth

by Matthew Escosia
SEA Wave - Filigree Tambourine Jewelry
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By: Patricia Yap


Modernization has its advantages but it is also host to many tragic losses in the world such as a country’s tradition and culture. Fortunately, there are people who still care enough to not only preserve these things, but to even make them flourish.

Five students from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines recently hosted a small virtual showcase to promote Filigree Tambourine Jewelry—a steadily diminishing artisanal craft in the Ilocos Region.

The event, “Kaya Mana Everyday”, was organized by Joane Axibal, Enzo Lira, Katrina Yuzon, Karl Alconis, and Gel Llames in collaboration with Kaya Mana PH, a young social enterprise established by an equally young Ateneo graduate, Paolo Palanca. The student’s main goal was to educate others on the Filigree Tambourine Jewelry, its history, significance, and possible modern usage.

SEA Wave - Filigree Tambourine Jewelry - Kaya Mana PH

From left to right: Gel Llames, Dominic Pamatmat (photographer), Amiel Adolfo (model), Hannah Zhuang (model), Luigi Echiverri (assistant), and Katrina Yuzon

The event featured one main guest speaker: Filipino anthropologist and cultural historian Dr. Fernando Zialcita, who spoke about the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of Philippine jewelry in the 21st Century.

According to Zialcita, “ The reason why I’m so happy that you’re doing this [event] is because I really love the gold Filigree tradition of the Philippines. It really sets us apart. Our gold Filigree jewelry goes back centuries. Back to indigenous past. For me, it embodies very Filipino qualities: Mabutinting. Filipinos love to work with very little things with [a] lot of care and attention to detail, and gold Filigree Tambourine Jewelry is really mabutinting because you’re actually weaving together very thin strands of gold”.

Palanca was also present during the event and shared how Kaya Mana PH was created and managed to significantly improve the quality of life of the craftsmen they work with.

SEA Wave - Filigree Tambourine Jewelry - Kaya Mana PH

From left to right: Gel Llames, Paolo Palanca, and Katrina Yuzon

At the time of Palanca’s visit in Ilocos Sur, there was only one family who still carried on the tradition of making Filigree Tambourine Jewelry. One of its members is Mang Nelson. He is a fourth generation craftsman and a Living Treasure Awardee in Ilocos Sur.

The Filigree Tambourine Jewelry industry was dying due to factors such as modern fashion trends, faster machineries, and production of low quality dupe products. The situation was so bad that they often only sold one or two pieces of jewelry a year. Sometimes, two years would even go by without a single sale.

SEA Wave - Filigree Tambourine Jewelry - Kaya Mana PH

Image from Kaya Mana PH

So when Palanca held conversations with Mang Nelson and showed interest in wanting to promote and increase sales towards the craft, Mang Nelson was nothing short of happy.

“What really inspired Mang Nelson on his end was we took such an interest in it. Because for him, he really thought na pawala na yung tambourine – wala ng may gusto sa kanya, pang matanda na siya. So when we took an interest in it, he was really surprised because we were all [in our] early 20s. He thought that it was not something that would ever appeal to us. He was really happy,” Palanca said.

SEA Wave - Filigree Tambourine Jewelry - Kaya Mana PH

Image from Kaya Mana PH

As the social enterprise began to grow, Paolo shared how one craftsman (Mang Nelson) grew to three main craftsmen and 15 part-timers; one or two sales per year to 20 sales per month; and how there is now local government support and succession planning taking root in this tradition.

Once these discussions were done, the students who organized the event took their audience on a virtual showcase tour. Here, they talked about the jewelry pieces modeled in more modern attires for everyday wear and various occasions.

SEA Wave - Filigree Tambourine Jewelry - Kaya Mana PH Virtual Showcase

Virtual showcase of Kaya Mana Everyday

Visit the virtual showcase here: Kaya Mana Everyday

Amiel Adolfo, one of the event’s models said, “It was actually a mesmerizing experience because those jewelries—from the moment I saw them, were super unique and very far from the basic hip and common jewelries that you see everyday. The design and the attention to detail were very impressive and it made me feel like I traveled through time (…) and so the feeling was thrilling and unique”.

Although “Kaya Mana Everyday” was only a small event, it definitely serves as a start to how much more awareness the younger generation can do to revive dying cultures and traditions in this day and age.

As Zialciata said, “I am confident that under your care (pertaining to the student event organizers) and the care of other students, this tradition will continue to flourish.”

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