Honoring the Hands of IPs with Sustainable, Social Enterprise

Text by Euden Valdez; Photos courtesy of KKHC, RAK Ph Mountaineers

NO matter how far-flung or neglected they are, the Philippines’ indigenous peoples (IPs) are also the most skillful artisans — if we must call them — when it comes to their traditional crafts.

From textiles to accessories to house ware, these many items showcase cultures unique to different tribes. And essential in making of these are their strong, meticulous and patient hands.

Envisioned to empower IPs with a sense of pride and dignity in their handicrafts through a sustainable, social enterprise, Katutubong Kamay Handicrafts Co. (KKHC) was established.

Behind it are two enterprising and inspiring Filipinas, Churchille Montealto and Maereen Olayta, who when given the chance to uplift the lives of an IP community in Visayas, did not hesitate to take it.

Partner-beneficiaries

“Katutubong Kamay Handicrafts Co started in 2015 when we discovered an IP community, a group of Aeta (Ati) located at Sitio Kati-Kati in Brgy. San Miguel, Jordan in Guimaras province. We saw the ingenuity they put in their crafts and understood that it can be translated into a business opportunity for the community,” Olayta told this author.

It was from here that KKHC became a profit-oriented, society-centered enterprise with IP communities as partner-beneficiaries who will craft fashionable and marketable handmade accessories.

With the intervention of KKHC, the women Aeta of Sitio Kati-Kati started creating the Maruyog Charms. This became the enterprise’s first brand featuring bracelets made from locally sourced stones like diamante negra, salindugok, panaming, tagupapay and amigos, each with different meanings. Other indigenous materials like handwoven hablon and lana, as well as the all-organic coconut oil complete the 100-percent handmade accessory.

“The second venture came with our partnership with the Matigsalug IP Community in Brgy. Sinuda at Kitaotao, Bukidnon in Mindanao. The community’s artistry combined with the naturally raw materials gave birth to a unique set of accessories hinged on a one-of-a-kind story,” recalled Montealto.

The Matigsalug Handicrafts features organic and naturally growing Li-us and Keleb, seeds of ornamental plants Job’s Tears (Coix lacrima-jobi). These pea-like seeds come in many forms and colors and with a natural hole. These then serve as beads to traditional yet elegant accessories like earrings, bracelets and necklaces.

Beyond their beauty, both ornamental seeds have been worn by the Matigsalug for centuries. The Li-us was believed to protect its wearer from evil intent, while the Keleb was once adorned by Datus (Chiefains) in decision-making.

“We named our enterprise as such because our partner-beneficiaries, as well as the makers of the crafts, are all katutubo (indigenous groups). In addition, we believe that the hands of these IP communities exemplify ingenuity and craftsmanship,” shared Olayta.

Fundraising for solar lamps

KKHC, as a social enterprise, continuously finds ways in improving the production of their partner-beneficiaries. It was able to build two semi-concrete production centers in both IP communities since starting business.

However, Montealto expressed, “We believe that IPs are one of the most neglected groups in the country in present times. Opportunities and aid do not reach them yet our roots can be traced back to them.”

Thus, electricity remains unavailable to both IP communities.

As such, KKHC in partnership with outdoor advocacy movement Random Act of Kindness, or RAK Ph Mountaineers, recently organized a fundraising hike for the benefit of the Aeta of Guimaras and Matigsalug of Bukidnon.

The fundraising hike organized by RAK Ph Mountaineers gathered funds enough to buy 10 solar lamps for KKHC’s partner IP communities.

“Handy Light for Handicraft” was held last February at Mt. Gulugod-Baboy (Mt. Pinagbanderahan) in Mabini, Batangas. With 30 participants including RAK members and other guests, the successful event raised P25,000 equivalent to 10 discounted solar lamps by Solar Solutions Inc.

KKHC’s partner IP communities will receive five lamps each so that they can continue production even at nighttime. This is crucial since many artisans are mothers who tend for the family at daytime, or their daughters who goes to school during the day to study.

Everyone is also encouraged to show support to KKHC and its partner IP communities in Mindanao by patronizing their products and sharing their work to others.

The KKHC Maruyog Charms and Matigsalug Handicrafts are present in Got Heart shop in Loyola Heights and Roots store Katipunan, Quezon City, Café Laya in Malate, Manila, and Ecofusion in Abreeza Mall, Davao.

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