If there’s one thing positive staying at home throughout the quarantine has done to Raymond delos Reyes, an elementary school teacher, it was to give him enough time to focus on a passion dressing up dolls as a tribute to Palawan’s rich culture and traditions.

Delos Reyes is an elementary school teacher in Puerto Princesa City. Back during normal times, he was already into designing costumes for cultural dancers, a passion he had developed when he joined the Sining Palawan Dance Troupe (SPDT) of the Palawan State University (PSU) when he was in college.

After his graduation in 2009, he spent four years as a staff of the SPDT, tasked to produce cultural props and accessories for dancers who were performing all over the country.

Image courtesy of Batang Palaweño Dance Troupe Facebook page

In 2013, he applied as a public school teacher at the San Pedro Central School (SPCS) to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

“Bata pa lang ako, elementary, nangongolekta na ako ng Barbie dolls tapos ginagawan ko talaga ng mga damit na gusto ko isuot. Nahilig ako sa cultural costumes noong pumasok ako sa Sining Palawan Dance Troupe. Namulat talaga ako sa iba’t-ibang kasuotan na meron sa bansa — na-love at first sight talaga ako,” he said.

“In-apply ko siya sa mga dolls. Kahit maliliit yong dolls, in-apply ko kung paano siya isuot, paano ‘yong style ng damit para kahit papaano ay mapakita ko sa tao ‘yong authenticity ng damit kahit sa maliliit lang na models katulad ng dolls,” he said.

Image courtesy of Batang Palaweño Dance Troupe Facebook page

To continue his passion, Delos Reyes established the Batang Palaweño Dance Troupe (BPDT) in the school where he is currently teaching.

He said it was to encourage and expose the learners in cultural performances such as during the Sikatugyaw Festival and during the city’s hosting of Batang Pinoy.

Every month, Delos Reyes designs different costumes and produces them for the dancers, sometimes through his own pocket.

Image courtesy of Batang Palaweño Dance Troupe Facebook page

Delos Reyes said his interest gives him joy and has helped bring him to travel other provinces to find ideas and even materials for the dolls.

If COVID-19 is a disappointment to others, to him it was an opportunity to give time to his passion.

“Gusto ko ipakita sa mga bata, what is the proper costuming or kung ano ‘yong costumes ng bawat tribe o sayaw na pino-portray. Gusto ko sila i-enlighten,” he said.

“Ang plano ko talaga kapag nagkaroon ako ng oras, ito ang gagawin ko. Nagkaroon nga talaga ng oras kasi hindi kami nakakapagturo ngayon. It’s a perfect time na gawin ko na ‘yong isa mga dapat ko na gawin. Yong goal ko na tahian ‘yong dolls ko ng cultural, traditional costumes,” Delos Reyes added.

Around the month of June, Delos Reyes started to sew and make costumes for his doll collections.

To date, he has dressed up 16 dolls, spending almost a day to complete each of their cultural costumes.

Image courtesy of Batang Palaweño Dance Troupe Facebook page

Some of them are garbed in vibrant clothes inspired by the Spaniards who colonized the Philippines and other indigenous peoples (IPs).

Delos Reyes said his goal is to make at least a hundred costumes for his dolls although it will be challenging since he wants them to be as detailed as possible.

“Sa subject ko na physical education, part doon ng tinuturo ko ay folk dancing kasama doon yong proper costuming, pagsusuot ng costumes sa mga sayaw. Through these (dressed up dolls), pino-post ko ito sa Facebook ko. May mga estudyante rin ako na friend ko sa Facebook, meron akong Facebook account para lang sa mga bata,” he said.

“Through this kahit walang klase, nakikita pa rin nila ‘yong cultural costumes. Isa rin sa pinaka-purpose ko rin, hindi lang sa school makita nila ‘yong actual costumes. Through dolls, na-apply ko pa rin ‘yong pagtuturo sa kanila. Maging kapaki-pakinabang pa rin ‘yong mga oras kahit hindi kami nagkikita ng mga estudyante,” Delos Reyes added.

Delos Reyes said there remains a need for his fellow teachers to educate the youth about the Philippines’ rich culture and traditions. Traditional or indigenous peoples-inspired wears are part of the country’s heritage that must also be preserved.

“Nakakalungkot, sa school namin okay na kasi enlighten na ‘yong mga bata. Sa ibang schools parang gusto ko turuan sila ng pagsusuot ng proper costume. Minsan may teachers din na hindi knowledgeable sa pagko-costume ng tama,” he said.

Delos Reyes he found more meaning in what he is doing on August 9, the celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The IPs, he said, are who gave meaning to the traditional costumes they wear and importance.

For him, it is their symbolic role in the preservation of national values and cultural heritage and in the creation of a feeling of harmony of the people.

“Lalo ngayon, Buwan ng Wika din, siya ‘yong nagri-represent kasi kapag buwan ng wika meron kaming activities, nagsusuot kami ng Filipinana, traditional costumes. Ngayon, walang nakikitang ganoon, dito na lang sa mga doll. Napapakita pa rin natin ‘yong halaga — yong essence ng celebration,” he said.

“For me dapat ang mga bata, as early as elementary ay knowledgeable na sila sa proper costuming ng mga tribe natin kasi kapag naturuan mo sila ng tama, na-a-apply nila. Kahit isa lang ‘yan o dalawa, sila mismo ang magpapalaganap. Sila mismo ang magtuturo sa kapwa nila estudyante na magsuot ng tamang costumes,” he added.