The Philippine Brassware
By Apolinario Villalobos
The Maranaos of Lanao find brass as a good object on which they express themselves artistically. Be it on a lampstands, “gong”, plant holders, jars, ash trays, and food trays, the Maranao brass artist whose deft hands have been made sensitive by years of experience, imprint his personal expression of the “okir” and “naga” art forms.
Equated with the southern culture which in itself is exotic, the brassware is usually considered as an object that could enliven any living room, office, restaurant corners, or hotel lobby. Those who visit Marawi City, Jolo, Zamboanga City or Cotabato City, always see to it that they have a brass item with them as a souvenir to be brought home. Not only are the brassware kept for their decorative value, but also for their cultural significance.
While brasscraft is a waning source of income for some families in other Muslim provinces as product outlets, in southern Lanao, particularly, Tugaya, locals still consider it otherwise, on which they still rely for a living. Here, some of the artisans still use the crude centuries-old foundry and casting methods. Despite the crudeness of the craft in Tugaya, the cottage industry is struggling for its perpetuation.
It is said that the craft was brought in Tugaya by a local trader, Maruhom Maulia, who got the knowledge from his trading trips to Tampasok, Sabah, where brass and bronze items were manufactured. Eventually, he fell in love and married the Sultan’s daughter.
According to Dr. Manitua Saber, an authority on Islamic arts, the techniques used by the artisans of Tugaya are, similar to those being used in Bali, Sumatra and Brunei. Furthermore, he said that the technology could have found its way to Southeast Asia by way of China or India, in 1,000 A.D.
There are two processes practiced by the Maranao artisans, such as, the stamping and drip wax techniques. It is interesting to note that the tools which the artisans use are also made by them, usually out of the local materials.
In the stamping technique, brass plates are incised using a home-made compass for the purpose of indicating the size. Several plain plates which are tied together are etched or punched with intricate designs of “naga” or “okir”, or both, before they formed into the desired item. Brassware produced out of this method, are cheaper compared to the drip wax technique which is more tedious, involving more time and processes. The latter, actually, revolves around the “mold” technique, and though crude, needs several phases to complete the process.
The brassware comes in many forms and uses. Those who are not familiar with the use of the items, would resort to just one thing – use them as decorative accessories in homes and offices. It is not surprising therefore, to find homes whose tables in the living room are accented with brass betel nut containers, open flat iron, small gongs or kulentang set and urns.
In Pasay City, brass and bronze items from the small ash trays and betel nut containers to big jars and urns can be found at the Philtrade Center, beside the World Trade Center, along Roxas Boulevard. Similar items can also be found in the Ermita district of Manila and the Islamic Center in Quiapo. As there is much difficulty in determining the antiquity of an item that might catch one’s fancy, it is suggested that it be purchased based on its exquisiteness…just always remember to haggle.