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Carrying on the tradition of backpacks

March 4, 2004

Photo of exhibit co-curator Charisse AquinoDuring family visits to the island of Luzon in the northern Philippines, senior Charisse Aquino marveled at an age-old tradition of the region -- pasiking, the making of rattan and bamboo backpacks by hand.

She remembered that the tightly-plaited, sturdy baskets carried by men from the mountainous Cordillera region were as much art as they were functional.

"People should know about this tradition before it is lost and forgotten. Many Filipino Americans don't even know about this part of their history," said Aquino, who has put together a campus exhibit titled "Carriers of Tradition: The Backpacks of the Northern Philippines."

The work of the anthropology student is now on display through April 30 in the Hohenthal Gallery (Science building, room 385) of the Treganza Anthropology Museum and represents one of the first public showings of the items.

On display are dozens of backpacks made of bamboo and rattan, materials native to the largely agricultural region of northern Luzon. The packs range from the traditional to the contemporary. Some were used by men to carry personal items. Other backpacks transported rice or tobacco from the hilly fields. A few had religious uses at occasions such as funerals.

The exhibit shows the various artistic styles of backpacks from 10 Philippine ethnic groups of the region: the Isneg, Tingguian, Kalinga, Gaddang, Bontoc, Kankana'ey, Ifugao, Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Ilongot.

"I have always been fascinated with these backpacks and how they are not only inventive but are also done with real artistry. You can see the fine detail of weaving in each piece and each group had its own style," said Aquino, who grew up in the Philippines and attended college in Manila before enrolling at SFSU three years ago. "I thought to myself that more people need to see these works of art."

Twenty-three-year-old Aquino believes that the weaving traditions of the Cordillera region, as the area is also known, appear to be dying as times change.

"The terrain that once kept visitors out, now draws outsiders in to admire the beauty and remoteness of the setting. With the influx, a great weaving culture is almost lost," Aquino writes in an introduction to the exhibit. "Food baskets are now replaced by Tupperware ® and the woven pasiking art is replaced by the likes of Jansport and Eastpak. Through forces of globalization, traditional weaving is modified to suit consumer taste. Yet many in the younger generation don't want to weave. They want MTV."

Aquino began creating the exhibit by researching the history of backpack use in the region then worked to secure items for the exhibit, which are borrowed from on-campus collections and from collectors in the Bay Area and abroad. Aquino even returned to the Philippines to do fieldwork for the exhibit, which also includes examples of basketry, jewelry and textiles.

Aquino said she has received invaluable assistance in staging the exhibit from Thor Anderson, a lecturer in anthropology; Yoshiko Yamamoto, director of the Treganza Anthropology Museum; Dawn Cunningham, associate director of development in University Development; James Quesada, chair of anthropology; and Peter Biella, associate professor of anthropology.

Admission to the exhibit is free. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. weekdays. For more information, call (415) 338-2046 or go to the Treganza Anthropology Museum Web site.

This article was updated May 18, 2012.

-- Ted DeAdwyler


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Last modified July 27, 2004 by University Communications