A Manila-based social entrepreneur is seeking support to bring indigenous handcrafts of the Batak tribe to the international market through the “Project Bamboo Crowdfunding Campaign” to help it survive and thrive in the modern economy.
Lara Frayre, a multi-disciplinary designer and founder of Batak Craft hopes to address the poverty problem of the vanishing indigenous peoples of Sitio Mangapin, Barangay Langogan by creating sustainable livelihood opportunities out of their artistries.
“We are a community-led organization called the Batak Craft, and we are essentially helping the Batak tribe make sustainable livelihood out of the bamboo products they create. Our primary products are baskets and mats, and we help them bring their products to the international market,” Frayre said.
The BA Industrial Design graduate of the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines said being hunters and gatherers of non-forest timber products, the Batak people are “ill-equipped to operate in today’s market economy.”
With limited access to education, they face the challenge of not being able to work suitably with lowlanders and searching for appropriate jobs. Steady income in this situation does not come, she said.
“For now, baskets and mats are the only products available. Hopefully, we can bring other products like furniture, accessories. Right now we’ve continued our crowdfunding campaign to help us continue working with them,” Frayre said with high hopes on helping the Mangapin Batak residents.
Only last week, Frayre and her friend, Renato Estepa Jr., went to the Mangapin community again to introduce and train eight Batak mothers on accessories-making that might stream in new income for their families.
“We just went to Mangapin and trained them on how to make accessories that might be a good source of additional income. They are fast learners, and hopefully, we can refine their skills,” Frayre added.
She said that those she was able to train were actually just visiting one household in the village where they stayed. “Eventually, we hope to provide the training to a big group of Batak women,” she said.
The solution is to continuously work within the Batak tribe’s cultural foundation by developing their skills and processes in traditional basket-weaving, document the tribe and its culture alongside, and sell their products to the international market.
On her website, Frayre said she dreams of achieving four goals for her Batak friends in Mangapin: “to earn a sustainable living, document their cultural practices before they vanish; disseminate the information to a global audience, and inspire them to nourish their culture.”
The Batak mothers she had initially trained are fast learners. In a span of two days, they have already made accessories made out of beads that she brought them.
“What training they need right now is color combination, more on aesthetics, but they have managed to make beautiful ones despite that,” she explained.
Frayre and Estepa said it is also important to bring to the public’s awareness the Bataks of Palawan as they are often asked what they are or who they are.
“We’ve been asked a lot of times what the Batak is, or who they are, because people do not know them compared to the Tbolis of South Cotaboto. This is why the Batak Craft wants to bring them also to the consciousness of the Filipino people and the world,” she said.
There are over 30 families currently living in the hinterlands of Mangapin, and Frayre said they do not only help them make income but to also to empower them to continue protecting the Philippines “last ecological frontier.”
Her love affair with the Batak dwellers of Mangapin started when a couple of years ago, she and her friends set out to establish a yoga center in the municipality of Roxas.
“Back then, we had workers who, I noticed, were so hard-working in working for us. I didn’t know they were Batak villagers until they told us. After a while, when I got to know them, I made a research about them and that’s when I discovered that they’re actually now a vanishing tribe,” Frayre said.
With just a motorcycle, their bags and food supplies, her team sought out the six most populated Batak settlements on a three-week adventure, which included trekking for hours across multiple river crossings, going to and from each community in Puerto Princesa and nearby Roxas town.
“We chose to focus on the Batak village in Langogan because aside from being most accessible, their community remains purely Bataks,” she explained.
Once a year, she returns to the community once or twice to help them in basket-weaving and accessories-making.
Frayre said they also target to provide a product refinement training programme for the tribe, so that they can eventually take ownership of every aspect of the product to the market value chain.
Anyone who wishes to help may go to visit their website at www.batakcraft.org, where the products made by the Batak villagers are on display.