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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 3: Piña and the Start of the Textile Industry

Piña is woven fabric made of fibers from pineapple leaves. It is the quintessential component of fine Tagalog clothing, and it is the most formal fabric used for the Barong Tagalog. Piña is the most famous Philippine fabric, and it may be the most beautiful fabric.

the parts of a pineapple plant

Picture: the parts of a pineapple plant

Despite piña being consistently associated with the Philippines, pineapples are not an indigenous fruit. It is generally believed that pineapples were first introduced by Spanish forces, led by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Shipmen brought pineapples when they came to the Philippines.

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi

Picture: Miguel Lopez de Legazpi

In 1569, López de Legazpi set up a settlement on the fertile and peaceful island of Panay. When the pineapple crowns were planted, and they grew successfully, a new food and fiber source was established.

The native people, who already had a long history of weaving, later started to make piña fabric. It is these circumstances around the invention of piña that explain why Iloilo and then Aklan (both on Panay) would later become centers of piña production.

In 1571, as López de Legazpi and his men were severely outnumbered, he decided to impose a tax, payable in anything of value, to keep the population busy, under control and to support the colony. Piña, cotton, and other valuable fabrics were accepted as payment. This tax increased and accelerated textile production and started an industry.

Spanish missionaries also helped the textile industry grow while converting the native people to Christianity. Franciscan Friar Juan de Placencia preached around Luzon and established close ties with native people by defending their rights, looking after the poor and sick, and preserving native language and culture. De Placencia is believed to have written the first printed book in the Philippines, the Doctrina Cristiana. It was written in Spanish, Tagalog (in Baybayin) and Chinese. More importantly, he ordered the teaching of arts, crafts and trades, like weaving and embroidery, in Christian schools in 1582.

the Doctrina Cristiana by Juan de Placencia

Picture: the Doctrina Cristiana by Juan de Placencia

These developments will lead to the wide distribution of piña products and the Barong Tagalog.