I am an Igorot, a Filipino, an earthling. My ethnicity may have made me different, but so does yours and the others out there. Our disparities may be glaring at times, however, if we look through our heart, we will notice our commonality as human beings.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Baguio Brooms from Igorots of La Union

In it's July 25 airing, Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho (KMJS) of GMA featured the brooms sold in Baguio City. The show explained how and where the brooms are made.

Since many of the brooms sold in Baguio have "Baguio City" tags in their handle, most people think that they are made within the city. The fact is, the brooms are from Sablan (the last town of Benguet when going to lowland via Naguilian Road), Burgos (the first town of La Union right after Sablan and the only source mentioned in the KMJS show) and Bagulin, La Union which is the major broom supplier in the region (and probably, in the whole country) .

Brooms are made from the flower of the tiger grass - Thysanolaena maxima - a bamboo like tropical grass. Aside from being source of broom, the plant's wide leaves is used in other Asian countries as rice and food wrapper for steaming. The stipes (structure connecting the flowers to the plant) are also utilized in making house decorations. With it's lush green color, the plant is used as hedges in tropical gardens. And with it's dense clumps, the grass is planted to help prevent soil erosion.

Tiger grass
Photo from:

Tiger grass is planted on the mountainside areas during rainy season, actually, when it is raining. New plants seldom survive on dry lands. The grass can hardly compete with weeds and vines thus its surrounding have to be cleared before planting and once every year afterward. And to have a healthier plant and bigger flowers, dried stems and leaves have to be removed from the clump regularly (at least once a year). The grass' leaves has sharp edges making it hard to clean the plant and it's surroundings.

Tiger grass flowers
Photo from:

The flowers with their stipe are harvested from the plant when fully bloomed and are left to dry under the sun. When dried, the flowers are flogged on a hard surface (sometimes, on boulders) to remove its tiny parts called glumes and spikelets. The flowers are also manually pressed and rolled over and back and forth to complete the cleaning.

The cleaned tiger grass flowers will be processed differently depending on the type of brooms to be made. When making one with the wooden handles, a uniform length of the panicles are cut-off from the stipes and the remaining strands at the lower portion are stripped individually. If the stipes will be utilized as handles, the panicles are just trimmed to have the same length. The separated panicle strands are bundled and are still used in the broom making.

Making the broom requires some skills, lots of patience and considerable care. The broom and the handle are first pieced together using iron wire which requires some manipulation to ensure the handle will remain at the center. Using a customized boomerang-shaped wooden frame called sangol, the broom is then spread and sewed using a cord (leting in the diaclect). The cord will keep the broom widely spread when the sangol is removed. To help keep the broom permanently spread, a flat plastic cord is sewn atop the leting before taking off the sangol. This also adds beauty and color to the broom. Finally, to thicken the side of the broom, the rings (called singsing in Bagulin) on the sides near the handle are incorporated.

Bagulin is a municipality in the Ilocano province of La Union. However, it is lying in the Cordillera mountain range and majority of its residents are Igorots (from the Kankanaey group). Just like Bagulin, Burgos is another La Union town with Ilocano and Igorot residents. Hence, even if the brooms in Baguio are from La Union, it is still safe to say that they are proudly Igorot (and Ilocano) made.