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The Yakans of Basilan Island

A Short Introduction
The Yakans are the traditional settlers of Basilan Island in the Southern Philippines, situated to
the west of Zamboanga in Mindanao. It is said that their typical physical characteristics are
strikingly different when compared to the other ethnic Filipino groups (relatively high-bridged
noses and tall stature). Traditionally they wear colorful, handwoven clothes. The women wear
tightfitting short blouses and both sexes wear narrowcut pants resembling breeches. The women
covers it partly with a wrap-around material while the man wraps a sash-like cloth around the
waist where he places his weapon - usually a long knife.
Nowadays most the Yakans wear western clothes and use their traditional clothes only for special
festivals.

The Yakans settled originally in Basilan island and in the early seventies, due to political unrest
which led the armed conflicts between the militant Muslims and government solders, some of
them settled in the region of Zamboanga City. The Yakan Village in Upper Calarian is famous
among local and foreign tourists because of their art of weaving. Traditionally, they have used
plants like pineapple and abaca converted into fibers as basic material for weaving. Using herbal
extracts from leaves, roots and barks, the Yakans dyed the fibers and produced colorful
combinations and intricate designs.

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. Differences may be seen in the pattern or in the design or in the
distribution of colors.

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. In other words, the natives catered because of economic reason 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 the kabang
buddi, the diamond-shaped design.

Population
178,000
RELIGION
Christian
0.00%
Evangelical
0.00%
Largest Religion
Islam (100.00%)
Main Language
Yakan
Progress

The Yakans are concentrated in Tipo-tipo , Lamitan, Sumisip, and Tuburan in the Basilan Island
of ARMM. There are also scattered populations on the islands of Sakol, Malanipa, and
Tumalutad east of the Zamboanga Peninsula. The word Yakan means Dayak Origin, as they
are believed to be descendants of the Orang Dyaks or Tagihamas of eastern Indonesia. They
speak a dialect of Sama language and are culturally influenced in some respect by the Tausug.
The Yakans chief means of livelihood is farming, and they usually cultivate upland rice. They do
not normally live in compact villages, building their houses just out of sight of their nearest
neighbors, on their plots of farmland. The prominent person in each community of Yakan is the
iman, who combines both religious and sociopolitical leadership. The Yakans are famous for
their beautiful weaving and their colorful traditional clothes and customs.

http://www.rappler.com/life-and-style/arts-and-culture/125827-yakan-tribe-weddingzamboanga-sulu

An earlier version of this story first appeared on Donna's blog. Visit her Facebook account here.
Im a travel blogger who focuses specifically on researching visual identities around the world.
After two years teaching fashion design in Hanoi, I decided to save my salary, quit my job, and
begin traveling across Southeast Asia blogging about my fashion-related encounters in each
country.
It was during my time in Vietnam that I became particularly fascinated with the different looks
seen in various cultures' traditional dress and textiles.
I decided to come to the Philippines when I realized that there was a limited amount of resources
available online about Filipino tribes, but substantial evidence that there was much to be
discovered.
At that point, I directly contacted the Department of Tourism (DOT) with a proposal to work
together to bring these cultures and their traditions to light.
Mindanao especially appealed to me because so few western tourists travel there, let alone visit
tribal settlements.
The Yakan culture particularly called to me, due to their beautiful facial decorations and bold
geometric weaves.
But the decision to visit Mindanao was not made lightly, with many official government websites
declaring the island unsafe for tourists. I had to seek full reassurance from the DOT that my trip
would be fully escorted and organized every day.
The Yakan are an indigenous tribe in the Philippines. Staying in the Sulu archipelago in the
southernmost region of the country, Yakan people are recognized for their remarkable technicolor
geometric weaves and the distinctive face decorations used in their traditional ceremonies. The
Yakan are kind and loving people that embody a non-materialistic culture and live in close-knit
communities.
Yakan women traditionally made textiles for their cultural dress (known as semmek). They also
made accessories and interiors from abaca, pineapple, and bamboo fibers grown on the island.
But in the 1970s, Yakan people relocated from Basilan to the Mindanao mainland after political
upheavals drove them away. Today, many Yakan people live peacefully in settlements

predominantly in Zamboanga City and earn their living from fishing, farming coconut and
rubber, weaving, and carpentry.
(Semmek)

Trousers Yakan Sawal, striped trousers with zigzag and diamond repeat patterns made
from bamboo fibers.

Men's button-up shirt Badju Yakan designed to match the trousers.

Head scarf Yakan Pis, geometic intricate weave worn to cover the hair on a daily basis.

Apron Seputangan Teed has many different designs but is the most time-consuming
and decorative weave of the Semmek.

Sash Sakan Pinalantupan is made from a mix of pineapple and bamboo fibers.

Bride's button-up jacket Pagal Bato is made from satin or cotton cloth and sometimes
mixed with lurex threads.

Brass buttons Batawi, hand-made and worn on the womens jacket.

Face decoration

Tanyak Tanyak is a face painting custom unique to Yakan tribal culture and is worn only for
wedding ceremonies. Circles, spots, and diamond patterns are printed on the skin using bamboo
implements and a thick mixture of white flour and water.

The patterns are said to have been used for centuries as a form of cosmetic decoration long
before commercial products were accessible.
Yakan Wedding

Yakan weaving

Yakan weaving uses big bold geometic patterns inspired by island life

Yakan tribal weaving in tuna fish design


Yakan weaving uses bright, bold, and often contrasting colors in big symmetrical patterns.
Inspiration for designs comes from island living and Islamic sacred geometry.
The Yakan people from the the village were so kind, conscientious, and creative during my visit.
The settlement had such spirit and the weavers were the pride of the community.
Speaking with store owner Angelita Pichay Ilul of Angie's Yakan Cloth alongside other female
patrons of the tribe, I was able to interpret the immeasurable emphasis of how important weaving
was to Yakan culture and their livelihood.
With farming on the decline, climate change on the up, and jobs in short supply, these women
wrap on their back straps day in and day out weaving to keep a roof over their head, traditions
alive, and a fractionalized community united.
It is easy to see why their designs are seductive to both traditional and trendsetting consumers,
when the never-ending variety of weaves are available in a wide range of products, from
backpacks to table runners. I think theres room for a little Yakan spirit in everybodys lives.
Rappler.com

Donna is a devoted wanderluster from the UK, she has worked in fashion and textiles most of
her life and loves exploring different cultures, countries and clothes around the world. Follow
her blog at hauteculturefashion.com

Yakan people
"Yakan" redirects here. For the headland in Siberia, see Cape Yakan.
Yakan

Total population
unknown
Regions with significant populations
Basilan, Zamboanga Region
Languages
Yakan language, Zamboangueo Chavacano,
Cebuano, Tagalog, English
Religion
Predominantly Islam, Catholicism (minority)
Related ethnic groups
Sama-Bajau, other Moros, Lumad, Visayan,
other Filipino peoples,
other Austronesian peoples

The Yakan people are among the major indigenous Filipino ethnolinguistics groups in the Sulu
archipelago. Having a significant number of followers of Islam, it is considered as one of the 13
Moro groups in the Philippines. The Yakans mainly reside in Basilan but are also in Zamboanga
City. They speak a language known as Bahasa Yakan, which has characteristics of both Sama-

Bajau Sinama and Tausug (Jundam 1983: 7-8). It is written in the Malayan Arabic script, with
adaptations to sounds not present in Arabic (Sherfan 1976).

History
The Yakans reside in the Sulu Archipelago, situated to the west of Zamboanga in Mindanao.
Traditionally they wear colorful, handwoven clothes. The women wear tightfitting short blouses
and both sexes wear narrowcut pants resembling breeches. The women covers it partly with a
wrap-around material while the man wraps a sash-like cloth around the waist where he places his
weapon usually a long knife. Nowadays most Yakans wear western clothes and use their
traditional clothes only for cultural festivals.
The Spaniards called the Yakan, "Sameacas" and considered them an aloof and sometimes
hostile hill people (Wulff 1978:149; Haylaya 1980:13).
In the early 1970s, some of the Yakan settled in Zamboanga City due to political unrest which
led the armed conflicts between the militant Moro and government soldiers. The Yakan Village
in Upper Calarian is famous among local and foreign tourists because of their art of weaving.
Traditionally, they have used plants like pineapple and abaca converted into fibers as basic
material for weaving. Using herbal extracts from leaves, roots and barks, the Yakans dyed the
fibers and produced colorful combinations and intricate designs.
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. Differences may be seen in the pattern or in the design or in the distribution
of colors.
Contacts with Settlers from Luzon, Visayas 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. In other words, the natives catered because of economic
reason to the needs of their customers which manifest their trading acumen. 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 the kabang buddi, a diamond-shaped design.