The Matweaver of Ungus Matata

By Johnny R. Lee

In one of the tiny villages in Ungus Matata in the Municipality of Tandubas in Tawi-Tawi, there is a woman named Mariam Mutalib who is considered as a ‘mat-weaving wizard’ despite her eyesight handicap.

Ms. Mutalib, a native Sama of Tawi-Tawi, sustained the long tradition of the place (Ungus Matata) that is noted for its finest and beautifully designed-mats made from pandan leaves. 

The recognition of Ungus Matata as producer of the best mats in the region culminated when one of their matweavers named Hadja Amina Appih, a master mat weaver, was awarded a National Artist for Living Tradition from the National Commission for Culture and Arts. 

After the death of Appih years ago, Ms. Mutalib came into the forefront  displaying the same zeal as the former in mat weaving but has her own distinct style, patterns and color combinations. What is common to both are the materials used and methods of ‘treating’ the pandan leaves that grow in abundance in the locality. They used a communal presser ( a huge log) called ‘paggosan’ that has been in the vicinity for years. Their presser is the key to the very fine quality of their mats that makes their products ‘soft and cool’ to the users. 

Producing a single mat, measuring six by four feet,  takes a month or two and can be so tedious because they should maintain a uniform geometric pattern with varying color combinations. 

Ms. Mutalib has gone places including Metro Manila via government-sponsored art exhibits for her mats.  (JOHNNY R. LEE)

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