A Bead in Time Saves a Tradition

Kalinga beads made from recycled plastic (Photo by Desiree Caluza)

Lubuagan, Kalinga—Young Kalinga women learn from their mothers the value of beads as part of their culture.

That is why somewhere in Barangay Dangoy here, girls as young as seven years old have been mastering the art of bead-making by recycling plastics to either create a colorfully patterned necklace or a bracelet.

Recyclable plastics range from plastic spoons and forks to rulers and plates. The creations are only sold from P80 ($1.80) to P150 ($3.40), depending on the sizes.

During festivities, the bead makers display their skills and knowledge amid a joyous backdrop of the celebration of culture.

School children mold plastic beads on a makeshift flat stove made of iron sheets. They demonstrate their skills, which they say they have acquired from their mothers by just watching them.

A resident of Barangay Dangoy says mothers prefer to teach girls rather than boys because they are more patient when it comes to assembling smaller details of beads.

In the old days, they were accustomed to wearing authentic beads believed to have been acquired from Chinese traders during the Ming dynasty.

From a view by the window, one can see kids take turns in melting a hard piece of plastic on the stove with the aid of the stick. A pea of the plastic is rolled on the stove until it takes the shape of a bead. The bead is later pierced at the center to make a small hole where a string will pass through.

Cirilo Bawer, a schoolteacher and local ethnographer of Lubuagan, says weaving and bead making are just among the skills that the Kalinga women have mastered through time.

In the old days, they were accustomed to wearing authentic beads believed to have been acquired from Chinese traders during the Ming dynasty.

However, some authentic beads such as in China jars and porcelains of old dynasties, which are considered heirlooms, have been sold to antique collectors, according to locals here.

Bawer says some of these precious heirlooms, which had belonged to various families in Lubuagan, were sold to finance their children’s education.

But with innovation and creativity, the locals kept the bead-wearing tradition by recycling plastics of different colors and following the color pattern of the authentic stone beads.

Kalinga heirloom beads (Source: ancientbeads.com)

Bawer says recycling plastics has somehow given them an idea on how to preserve the tradition because of the continuous selling of the beads to outsiders.

“Bead wearing tradition is a consciousness that came to us, it is innate, and our people want to preserve it. It is embedded in us on how to value these ornaments,” Bawer says.

Among the tribes in the Cordillera, the Kalinga has a strong tradition of wearing beads for ornamental purposes.

The colors yellow, red, black and white are dominant in the patterns of bracelets and necklaces.

These plastic beads are central to the Kalinga women's attire when there are celebrations such as weddings and ritual feasts in the village, says Norma Pinated, a Lubuagan resident.

Even as local women use their beads, orders from commercial establishments such as malls have been pouring in.

Pinated says beaded necklaces and bracelets are being marketed in Manila and Baguio as fashion accessories.

Desiree Caluza

Desiree Caluza

Desiree Caluza is a Baguio-based writer and journalist who has been rounding the Cordillera region for years, covering stories on culture, human rights, and indigenous people rights. She is also a poet and a painter.