When you find yourself in Puerto Galera, skip the noisy, dirty side of the island and treat yourself to the finer things in life by making your way to Muelle, where the beautiful Infinity Resort stands. Lately, the luxury resort isn’t the only draw for tourists to the island – a community of the Iraya, a subtribe of the Mangyans, has also gained their attention, and is just a 3-minute ride from the resort!
On the last day of our stay, before heading to Muelle port to catch the last boat out, we asked if we could pay the nearby Mangyan Village a visit. The front desk arranged for a golf cart to be brought round and we were utterly surprised to find out it was located right across from Infinity, hidden away by a row of houses at the front.
The Mangyan Village
Situated at the foot of Mt. Malasimbo, 9 kilometers from the town proper, the Mangyan Village in Barangay Talipanan offers a glimpse of the indigenous people’s heritage, slowly catching up to the modern times. The project that was started by Doña Bea Zobel de Ayala (and her husband, Jaime, of course). The story that was told by my guide was that Doña Bea got bitten by a red snake while vacationing in Puerto Galera back in the ’80’s and that one of the Mangyan healers came down from his home in the mountains and saved her life.
Whether this is true or not, it is a fact that the Zobel de Ayalas bought a piece of the property in 1990 and sought the help of the Department of Education (DepEd) in building a four-classroom elementary school for the tribe. In 2007, the couple acquired the rest of the 4.2-hectare land and started developing the Mangyan Village, complete with power and water supplies.
On Weaving & Handicrafts
Every day, about 40 Mangyan, mostly women, gather around the showroom, wearing their uniform yellow shirts, and begin weaving nito strands. One can see women huddled together under the hut early in the morning, painstakingly weaving their baskets. For many, it’s a practice that they have known all their lives.
“Since we could remember, there had always been basket weaving in our culture,” shared a Mangyan named Lita, while weaving her basket. She added that since she could remember, she had been weaving baskets all her life.
Taking dried nito grass and forest vines, the women Iraya-Mangyans labor over a woven basket that is not a little over 22 inches in height for about three months. It’s a meticulous and patient process of weaving, taking the thick, dried forest vines and slowly weaving the sturdy nito grass through it in a circular motion. Their nito baskets carry intricate woven patterns that some say are unique to them. They sell some of their handicrafts in the village as well as little keychains, necklaces, and even native blow darts.
The Iraya-Mangyans seem to be a stoic lot, jaded by strangers walking around their little village. They don’t really talk to you or look your way when you pass by, I was expecting them to be a least a little curious about us as we were about them. On the other hand, I was surprised at home friendly the children were, always smiling and waving at us, eager to have their photograph taken.
Exploring the Village
Walking around the village, I liked how uniformed everything looked, from the style of the nipa houses to the stone pathways leading you in and out of the village. I At present, 69 Mangyan houses (each with an area of 30 square meters) have been erected inside the village. The target it to create 300 houses – enough to fit growing tribe. Taking a peek into some of the houses – which wasn’t too hard to do as the windows and doors were all open – I could see some of the men hard at work, furnishing the dried nito grass into floor lamps and such.
The DepEd did a really good job with the Talipanan Mangyan School, and it looks well taken care of, with a basketball court on the side. It’s quite interesting to note that most of the Mangyan population I saw in the village were children and young families. The older generation of Mangyans must’ve opted to stay up in the Mindoro mountains while the younger generation adapted to peaceful village life.
Stories Up In the Mountains
If we had more time, it would have been nice to take the 30-minute trek up from the village to Talipanan Falls, one of the biggest and most beautiful falls on the island. I also wanted to spend time with the tribe’s medicine man, to find out if the story about Doña Bea was true and to learn a little more about their local remedies.
My guide let me know that there are actually seven Mangyan tribes up in the Mindoro mountains, with the Iraya being one of them. Between the tribe wars and some of them not having seen other people in centuries, as well as the NPA that is known to patrol the area, it would be best to just leave them alone.
Baskets woven at the Iraya-Mangyan village in Talipanan are sold in Metro Manila though tourists visiting the village may also purchase the baskets locally. Sales of the baskets go directly to the families who weave them. At the village, weavers have little showrooms to display their woven goods, which include baskets of various sizes, plates, bracelets, and even little key chains.
The Iraya-Mangyan Village is one of Ayala Foundation’s programs under Sustainable Livelihood. For the past years, in partnership with the Sisters of Charity of St. Anne, the foundation has committed to providing education and skills training for the indigenous Iraya-Mangyan community.
These beautiful Iraya-Mangyan baskets are also available at the third floor of Greenbelt 5, the Ayala Museum Shop, and Glorietta 1.