text and photos by: Hadji Ayunan Grande Gunting
Thank you to my models : Katrina IluvAllah, Taraka Mayor Nashiba Sumagayan, Prosecutor Kookai Lao, former DILG ASEC Nariman Ambolodto ( wearing an Inaul Malong of Maguindanao), Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra S.Sema, Tawi-Tawi Congresswoman Ruby Sahali, Lumbatan First Lady Aliah Jehan M.Lao, ( boys ) First District Assemblyman Odin Sumagayan and Princess Sitti Djalia T.Hataman ( ARMM First Lady)
What is a malong?
Physically, it is a tubular cloth that can be worn a lot of ways and can be used as a tool for everyday use, limited only by the user’s imagination. Culturally, it represents the identity of a proud people who are generous enough not to cry “appropriation” when others wear malongs.
The malong is a daily essential for a Moro or Lumad, while professional mountaineers and savvy travelers swear by its versatility. Urbanites, though, still have to be made aware that this versatile tubular garment can became a wardrobe must-have.
The Versatile Malong
I have talked to Dr. Minang Dirampaten Sharief of Mindanao State University in Marawi City. An authority on Muslim culture, she explains that the malong can be used in unlimited ways.
“In Meranaw (pronounced Muhranaw) culture, the malong is a wardrobe staple. It can be worn at home, at the beach or on special occasions. It also has utilitarian purposes,” says Sharief.
A Unisex Garment
As a garment, the malong is tucked in at the waist and secured by a belt. It can be worn knotted at the front or at the side like a sarong skirt. Wear it swathed around the hips and legs with one end brought between the legs and folded into the waistband, the malong resembles jodhpurs. It is also worn as a sash or a headgear to denote status.
In diving and sports, men can twist and tie it like a loincloth.
Women drape the malong like a sarong dress that’s knotted in front or on the side; criss-crossed at the neck like a halter or slung as one-shoulder dress. As a skirt, it can be knotted or folded to create pleats. With a little belt on the waist and clever folding, a pouch can be added.
Dancers wear the malong with one end hanging from the left arm while the right arm is free to move.
Fold the malong in diagonals; it becomes a kimono-like blouse or a shawl. The clever folds transform it into a stylish turban.
Malong for Privacy
Women have used the malong for modesty. Dr. Sharief adds that they can hide under the malong to change clothes or use it to cover them when there is no toilet in the wilderness. This is also why the malong is popular among mountaineers and frequent travelers.
Worn over the head, the malong drapes their faces for reserve. “In our culture, it’s not appropriate for women to expose their beauty. Whether they are bathing in the lake or walking on the street, the malong can cover their entire body and face except for their eyes. This also creates an aura of mystery,” says Dr. Sharief.
The Malong as a Summer Accessory
During summer, the malong is twisted and tied around the upper and lower body as a swimsuit. “You can adjust the material if you want to show less skin while swimming,” she adds. It also becomes a tapis or a tube tunic for bathing outdoors. After swimming, it can used as robe or a beach mat.
In Lake Lanao, children make it into a floater. “You catch the wind on the tube; tie both ends and around the waist. When the malong is inflated by the air, you won’t sink,” says Dr. Sharief.
The malong has also been used as a sail and fishnet. With two bamboo poles, it becomes a stretcher.
The Malong as a Tool
The malong has other uses outside of fashion. The ends can be twisted to make a large tote or modified to make a medium-size shoulder bag or even a backpack or fanny pack. The fabric is coiled tightly and placed on top of their heads so people can carry heavy objects.
When there’s no umbrella, the malong can be a canopy to keep one from getting wet. When camping, you can use it as a sleeping bag. Roll it up and you have a pillow.
At home, it is used as a blanket, table cloth, curtain, divider, and a hammock. A large malong becomes a matrimonial blanket when couples want to cuddle up in cold weather. It is common to see mothers slinging a malong over their chests to carry their infants.
The Malong is for Everybody
The silk malong can cost up to P30,000 when woven by artisans. However, the younger generation would rather take up white collar jobs than continue the weaving tradition.
Dr. Sharief says a malong can cost as low as PhP250. However, it’s just two pieces of machine-made fabric that have been machine-stitched.
Fabrics printed in Malaysia or Thailand bear the signature geometric and nature patterns of the malong. Still, these are products of the industrial age instead of handwoven designs from artisans. “These are not authentic,” she says.
Dr. Sharief notes that if there’s a greater demand for artisanal malongs, the younger generation can continue the weaving tradition and keep it alive.
For more information on artisanal malong, please contact the author.