The Tabungaw Hat Maker of San Quintin
Teofilo Garcia – A Philippine National Living Treasure
Born 27th March 1941
National Living Treasure Awardee, 2012 (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan)
Keep your eyes open while walking around Bangued and you may be lucky enough to spot Teofilo Garcia on one of his weekly shopping trips to town. He will be very easy to recognise as he will be wearing his Unique Tabungaw hat, which he wears each time he leaves home.
Teofilo Garcia is a simple man, still a farmer at heart and since he was bestowed the title of “Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan” ( National Living Treasure) he has been invited to give talks and demonstrations in the Philippines and abroad, teach local school children the art of Tabungaw making, and open up his home/workshop to drop in visitors who wish to meet him and buy one of his unique products.
The Art of Tabungaw Hat Making
The hat called a Kattukong is weatherproof and made from Upo (tagalog) or Tabungaw (Ilocano), also known as Bottle Gourd or White Pumpkin which are part of the Cucurbitaceae family of plants.
Each December the seeds are planted and three to four months later in March the crop is harvested and brought down to his workshop to be cured and dried. The gourds are cut open using a hand saw and the two halves placed on the ground by his house. They are left there for about a month while nature takes over. Ants are attracted to the rotting pulp and help to clean the insides leaving the case empty.
It is then finished by hand and left to dry completely.
Only the upper half is used to make the Tabungaw. The bottom half can be used around the house for various storage purposes.
After drying, the Tabungaw is then coloured and varnished. Any blemishes in the gourd are left in place and not hidden, adding to its attractive look.
The most time consuming and skillful part comes next. That is the weaving of the bamboo inner casing and lining.The woven interior is made of anahaw, nipa, bamboo, and/or rattan.
Only around one hundred Kattukong are made each year with each Tabungaw taking on average 7 days to transform into a hat which will last a lifetime if taken care of properly.
Locally the hat is also known as “Strongkis”
Teofilo learnt the necessary skills from his Grandfather at the age of 15 after they moved from their isolated home up in the hills to the present location. The family was forced to move due to rebel insurgency which was rife at the time.
Nearly everyone wore a Tabungaw in those days. When one broke or was damaged it would be instantly replaced. Most families knew how to make them. But slowly over the years as imported goods became cheaper, people started to wear baseball caps and other kind of hats causing the Tabungaw industry to decline. Now, Teofilo Garcia is the last of the Tabungaw hat makers.
The Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or the National Living Treasures Award gives recognition to Filipino traditional craftsmen or artisans whose skills have reached a high level of technical and artistic excellence and who are tasked to pass on to the present generation knowledge threatened with extinction.
To fulfil his pledge, Teofilo has extended his knowledge to local school children who attend his workshops. Since 2014 the students of San Quintin National High School have been making their own Tabungaw Graduation Hats.
Unfortunately, after graduation none of the students are interested in continuing their studies with Teofilo, and becoming an apprentice which leaves the skills of Tabungaw making in danger of becoming extinct.
Photo Credit – San Quintin National High School – photo credit Jerome Punzal
Hat Collectors and Investors
The Tabungaw hats made by Teofilo Garcia are now becoming collectors items and are being bought by hat collectors and investors, not only in the Philippines but worldwide.
Watch the video to see how Teofilo cuts the Upo in readiness for drying and curing
An Ilocano woman and a man wearing a katukong and annangá, ( a cape made from nipa leaves) circa 1820s.
The 2012 GAMABA Awardees: Magdalena Gamayo and Teofilo Garcia.
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