Donna Bramhall aka Donna Wanderlust is a travel blogger who focuses specifically on researching visual identities around the world. After two years teaching fashion design in Hanoi, she decided to save her salary, quit her job, and begin traveling across Southeast Asia blogging about her fashion-related encounters in each country.
It was during her time in Vietnam that she became particularly fascinated with the different looks seen in various cultures’ traditional dress and textiles. She decided to come to the Philippines when she realized that there was a limited amount of resources available online about Filipino tribes, but substantial evidence that there was much to be discovered.
At that point, she directly contacted the Department of Tourism (DOT) with a proposal to work together to bring these cultures and their traditions to light. Mindanao especially appealed to her because so few western tourists travel there, let alone visit tribal settlements. The Yakan culture particularly called to her, due to their beautiful facial decorations and bold geometric weaves.
An earlier version of this story first appeared on her travelblog Haute Culture Fashion. Visit her Facebook page here. She allowed us to post this article on our website. All the pictures were made by her.
The Yakan are a indigenous Muslim tribe native to the tropical island of Basilian. Located in the Sulu Archipelago in the most southern region of the Philippines, Yakan people are recognised for their remarkable technicolor geometric weaves and the distinctive face decorations used in their traditional ceremonies. The Yakan are kind and loving people that embody a non-materialistic culture and live in close-knit communities.
Back in the day Yakan women traditionally made textiles for their cultural dress (know as the Semmek), accessories and interiors from abaca, pineapple and bamboo fibers grown on the island. But in the 1970s Yakan people relocated from Basilian to Mindanao Island after political unrest and armed conflicts drove them away from their homeland. Since moving to Mindanao the natural textile designs have been replaced with vivid colored cottons resulting in a much more audacious aesthetic. Today Yakan people live peacefully in settlements predominately in Zamboanga City and earn their living from fishing, farming coconut and rubber, weaving and carpentry.
Yakan Wears (Semmek)
- Trousers – Yakan Sawal, striped trousers with zig zag and diamond repeat patterns made from bamboo fibers.
- Mens button up shirt – Badju Yakan designed to match the trousers.
- Head scarf – Yakan Pis, geometic intricate weave worn to cover the hair on a daily basis.
- Apron– Seputangan Teed has many different designs but is the most time consuming and decorative weave of the Semmek.
- Sash – Sakan Pinalantupan is made from a mix of Pineapple and bamboo fibers.
- Brides button up jacket – Pagal Bato is made from satin or cotton cloth and sometimes mixed with lurex threads.
- Brass buttons – Batawi, hand made and worn on the women’s jacket.
Face decoration – Tanyak Tanyak is a face painting custom is unique to Yakan tribal culture. Worn only for wedding ceremonies; circles, spots and diamond patterns are printed on the skin using bamboo implements and a thick mixture of white flour and water. The patterns are said to have no symbolic meaning but have been used for centuries as a form of cosmetic decoration long before commercial products were accessible
In February 2016 I had the great honor of being invited to a Yakan village in Zamboanga city to watch a reenactment of a tribal wedding ceremony. Here you can see the traditional Semmek worn by both the bride and groom, live music, tribal war dance and the humorous customs of the Yakan people.
Yakan weaving uses bright, bold and often contrasting colours in big symmetrical patterns. Inspiration for designs comes from island living and Islamic sacred geometry.