It is not just Puerto Galera’s long, white beaches that have been drawing tourists to Oriental Mindoro. A community of the Iraya, a subtribe of the Mangyan, has also gained their attention. With a couple of friends who live on Mindoro acting as guides, they brought me to this spot at the foot of Mt. Malasimbo.
Located 9 kilometers from the town proper, the Mangyan Village in Barangay Talipanan offers a glimpse of the indigenous people’s heritage, slowly catching up to the modern times.
The Mangyan people were barefoot, wore old and torn clothes, and could rarely afford to eat rice in a week, surviving by gathering lami (sweet potato). After a major battle between government forces and communist rebels in 1986, the indigenous families were forced to leave the mountain and squat in the lowlands. The foot of Mt. Malasimbo in Puerto Galera alone is home to as many as 200 Iraya-Mangyan families.
The Ayalas bought a piece of the property in 1990 and with the help of the Department of Education constructed a four-classroom elementary school for the tribe. In 2007, the couple acquired the rest of the 4.2-hectare land and started developing the Mangyan Village, complete with power and water supplies.
The center of the Mangyan Village is a large hut that serves as showroom for the hand-woven nito (native vine) baskets, beer bottle holders, place mats, laundry baskets, key chains and other trinkets. Every day, about 40 Mangyan, mostly women, gather around the showroom, wearing their uniform yellow shirts, and begin weaving into strands. This is an acquired skill many had learned from their elders, and includes much patience…
Taking dried nito grass and forest vines, the women labor over a woven basket that is not a little over 22 inches in height for about three months. It’s a meticulous and patient process of weaving, taking the thick, dried forest vines and slowly weaving the sturdy nito grass through it in a circular motion. Their finished nito baskets carry intricate woven patterns.
At present, 69 Mangyan houses (each with an area of 30 square meters) have been erected inside the village. Construction is ongoing to meet the target of at most 300 houses.
To curb accidents and other modern-day disturbances, alcohol drinking, gambling and pornographic materials are strictly prohibited. The people are friendly and sometimes curious when a sole visitor wanders into their village unaccompanied by one of the larger tour groups. They want the tourists to buy their products, and are seemingly not too shy about having their picture taken…
The nito products are ordered from Manila where the Ayalas have opened two stores in Makati City. The Mangyan workers receive shares from the sales and four kilos of rice every week. They are even allowed to display their own nito products inside the Mangyan Village to earn extra. At the very least, each Mangyan can earn P60-P70 in a day. These beautiful Iraya-Mangyan baskets are also available at the third floor of Greenbelt 5, the Ayala Museum Shop, and Glorietta 1.
Until next time!