To many of us Igorots/Cordillerans---who grew up in towns and villages of the Philippine Cordillera, northern Luzon, Philippines---men wearing loincloth (G-string, bahag) is a familiar sight. We might even have male relatives wearing it until now.
According to Wikipedia, “a loincloth is a one-piece garment-sometimes kept in place by a belt-which covers the genitals and, at least partially, the buttocks.”
Past and Present
Loincloth has been used by peoples of ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Meso-Americans (Mexicans) and Incas of South America. In Asia, the Indians and Japanese wore it. And so did the Greeks, Romans and Scandinavians in Europe. Eventually, Europeans stopped wearing the loincloth after the fall of the Roman Empire in 467 AD or 1453 AD. (The former date applies to the Western Roman Empire and the latter, Eastern Roman Empire.)
Nearer home, the loincloth continues to be used by the ethonolinguistic groups (henceforth, group) in the Philippine Cordillera. The loincloth has also other names like G-string and bahag. Wikipedia’s definition of the latter: “Bahag is a loincloth that was commonly used throughout the Philippines before the arrival of European colonizers, and which is used by some indigenous tribes of the Philippines today - most notably the Cordillerans in Northern Luzon. It is basically a hand-loomed piece of long cloth that is wrapped around a man's middle.”
The Bontoks and Kankanaeys call it wanes, the Ibaloys kuval and the Ikalalan kubal. The Tingguians say ba-al and the Kalingas ba-ag. The Isnegs call it abag and the Ifugao wanoh.
As a rectangular piece of cloth, the standard length is between two to three and a half meters, and the width is half a meter. When worn, what varies is the length of cloth that dangles in front and at the back. Some wear it long, others short.
The simplest G-string in Sagada, Mountain Province is called langat. It’s a piece of red cloth used while working in the fields. Imported from the lowlands, the cloth could have been sold in the provinces of Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union and Pangasinan.
From Tree Bark to Woven Cloth
In the past, the G-string was made of bark cloth. According to Marcelino T. Delson, “The g-string was made of barks of trees or simply a piece of dried banana stalks.” When woven cotton cloth became available, men shifted to using this material.
During early times, the peoples of Sadanga, a municipality of the Mountain Province, got the broad leaves and wide barks of a tree called kobar and wore these. Later on, when women were able to buy dirty white thread, they wove these materials by backstrap weaving. The woven material called tinapi would later replace the bark of trees called tinutu.
Among the residents of Sagada, Mountain Province, the G-string could be made from the koba tree bark and hence the name, koba. Presently, this kind of G-string is uncommon and only the poor people have them.
William Henry Scott in A Sagada Reader, recounts how the koba is made into a G-string.
“The bark is taken off the tree without necessarily taking the tree down. They first cut two straight lines up and down both sides of the tree, and then it is beaten down with a round piece of wood that will not cut it, to loosen it before pulling it off. Then they take it home and soak it in water overnight to make it elastic and soft. Then they whip it with a club all over a flat piece of wood to make it soft and comfortable to wear. Next day, they dry it in the sun, but they have to put it in a cool place to soften again. In about two days, it is ready to wear.”
Colors and Uses
The colors vary from one group to another. The dominant color for the Ibaloys is white. The young men’s G-string has yellow borders while the old men’s is plain white with narrow borders. The Isnegs have plain blue while the Kalingas have red with yellow stripes and accessory of beads or shells. The colors red and blue are usual colors of the Kankanaeys although sometimes, it’s yellow or red and yellow.
More on the G-string in the municipality of Bontoc is explained in The New Mountain Province.
“The costume of the people is simple. The men wear long strips of hand woven loin cloth called wanes, of which are two types.
The Chinagta is a woven cloth using white cotton thread is usually used by a dead man but this is worn by some men today. The other type is the Finalin, a specially embroidered wanes with a dominant black color instead of white that is worn during festivals.”
There are G-strings that are especially woven to be used for special occasions or daily. Among the Ibaloys, Bontoks and other groups, they also have a G-string for the dead.
Aside from being attire, the G-string also serves as a pocket. Some men keep a pipe, tobacco, matches, betel nut and flint at the waist of their G-string.
While groups in the Cordillera use the G-string to cover the groin and buttocks, it’s also a statement of one’s class in the community or society.
In her book, The Socialization of the Bontoc, Kate Fumnag Chollipas Botengan says, “Clothing for the Bontoc identified clearly who belonged to what level of social status and economic capability.”
And in the olden days, the rich people of Sagada, Mountain Province used a woven G-string called binolda-an. From A Sagada Reader, W. H. Scott narrates:
“…The decorated parts are a little more than a foot at each end, and in between these decorated parts of the G-string are stripes of red and black with little yellow and sometimes green. The thread used for the decorated parts is thick yarn so that part of the G-string is thicker. The common length of the G-string is from three to five yards and the width is from 10 to 12 and a half inches.”
And from The New Mountain Province, they explain further how designs and color in G-strings would distinguish the rich from the poor.
The Tinapi “...is usually worn by the poor with no designs...
The designs in the weaves symbolize the class of the person. The more color combination and the more complex designs, the higher is the social and economic standing of the person wearing it...
Just like the woven products worn by the women, the men have their own depending on their status. Men from poor families wear the Fa-or, a plain dirty white cotton, to cover their genitals. Later the design was improved bringing forth the Ragteb and later the Finaliktad.”
Nowadays, anyone could wear the G-string with many colors and different designs. It has evolved from attire that distinguishes persons by class to one that is accessible to everyone.YB
Bahag (garment), Wikipedia, last modified 20 April 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BahagHYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahag (garment)" (gaHYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahag (garment)"rHYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahag (garment)"ment).
Botengan, Kate Fumnag Chollipas. The Socialization of the Bontoc. Quezon City: Kate C. Botengan, 2004.
Cordillera Schools Group. Ethnography of the Major Ethnolinguistic Groups in the Cordillera. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 2005.
Delson, Marcelino T. “The Non-Material and The Material Culture of Early Bauko.” In Mountain Province State Polytechnic College, Tanggawan, 133.
“Loincloth,” Wikipedia, last modified 14 February 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loincloth.
Provincial Government of Mountain Province. The New Mountain Province. Philippines: Provincial Government of Mountain Province, 2010.
“Roman Empire,” Wikipedia, last modified 25 April 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Empire.
Scott, William Henry and New Day Publishers. A Sagada Reader. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 2011.
This article is an updated version of the original written for Igorot Austria-Cordillera’s magazine, Grand Cañao 2014.