Photo from Curated Filipino Heritage Facebook Page

The pis syabit is a cloth worn traditionally as a head covering by the Tausug of the Sulu archipelago. Today, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the prized woven cloth is becoming a popular material to turn into face masks.

Made from cotton or silk, square in shape and provided with geometric pattern, the pis syabit can also be worn on the shoulder, knotted around the hilt of the sword, or tied around the head among the Tausug men.

While the pis syabit is usually worn during weddings to symbolize history and rank, today, as a protective face covering, the handwoven cloth has become a symbol of respect and desire to stay safe amidst the pandemic.

“Wearing the pis syabit face masks not only make me feel safe, but also make me proud. They are beautifully crafted, fits perfectly on my face, and are comfortable to use. More over, it feels good to know that I help the weavers in my own little way by patronizing their products,” said Dr Gene Paraji Salialam, a general physician in Zamboanga City.

Dr Gene Paraji Salialam wearing the pis syabit face mask

The term “syabit” (which translates to “hook”) is a direct reference of the production process of inserting or hooking-in disconnected weft threads of various colors, across a generally dark yet finely striped body of warp threads. 

The pis syabit exhibits much sophistication in design yet it is done in tapestry weave, which is considered the oldest and most traditional technique in producing ornamented woven textiles, according to UNESCO-ICHCAP.

The most recognized community of pis syabit weavers in Sulu are from Barangay Guimba Lagasan in the town of Parang, The Travel Teller Facebook Page noted. These community of weavers are experts in the craft, with their signature “bold contrasting colors, evenness of their weave and their faithfulness to traditional designs.”

The face masks are packaged beautifully.

Unlike other traditional weaves, pis syabit are intricately woven at the houses of the Tausugs. Most of the elder weavers devotes their full time to their craft. This means that the craft doesn’t only continues a beloved tradition, but also provides a good source of livelihood for the community.

In 2011, the pis syabit was cited by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as one of the intangible cultural heritage of the Philippines under the traditional craftsmanship category that the government may nominate in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.

The Tausug are an ethnic group in the Philippines. They are superb warriors and craftsmen. They are known for the Pangalay dance, in which female dancers wear artificial elongated fingernails made from brass or silver.

To order your very own pis syabit face masks, contact Gada Sablad Ahalul at 09777755402.

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