The banig is similar to traditional Japanese tatami mat or India’s reed mat (paay in Tamil or chatai in Hindi), it is made of dried leaves and used primarily for sleeping and sitting in the Philippines.
Banig weaving involves folding over strips of materials to make unique geometrical designs. Though it’s not clearly known when it started, people in Basey, Samar had been weaving mats long before the Spaniards came. The sleeping mats were used in Christian provinces and were also found among the Moros.
Banig weaving is considered a genuine treasure handed down as a tradition or a trade from one generation to another as it is widely practiced in the country. Filipino ingenuity can be seen in their creation and the designs depend on the practices of each region.
The tropical climate of the Philippines is most suitable for plants used in banig weaving. Rattan, palm species, and various species of reeds that grow in swampy areas are the materials that Filipinos use in making the mats. The leaves are soft, flexible, high quality, and decorated with various designs of colourful dyed straws. The matting materials undergo a drying process, sometimes in direct sunlight but frequently, they are treated with bleaching agents like vinegar, lemon or tamarind juice and pandakaki leaves (Tabernaemontana pandacaqui). These are done to strengthen the materials and to give them a brown tone.
Other traditional functions of the banig to Filipinos, aside from it being used for sleeping and sitting, are as floor mat and for packing tobacco for exportation as well as for drying copra under the sun. In the more modern era, the mat itself can be made into different shapes to serve other purposes. Filipinos innovatively make products out of banig weavings such as wall hanging decors, bags, hat, slippers, tissue holders, and more.
One way of showcasing Philippine-made handwoven mat is through festivals. Banigan-Kawayan Festival Parade of Basey, Samar is one of the most famous celebrations. In 2000, Basaynons participated in weaving the world’s longest banig. Hundreds of people paraded the mat, which extended for more than a kilometre.
Other local festivities that are being celebrated throughout the year include Banig Festival (Cebu), Banigan Festival (Antique), Banigan Festival (Guimaras) and Buri Festival (Ilocos Sur). All these festivals’ concepts are based on the importance of banig weaving as a major means of livelihood among locals and on it being a tradition to be appreciated and passed down to future generations.