Kumot na pang-balabal! Now, what is that and why even bring it up?
In Filipino, the Tagalog word ‘kumot’ is of course blanket. On the other hand, most folks might have forgotten what ‘balabal’ means, after all it is not an everyday term. It is a cloak. ‘Kumot na pang-balabal’ is blanket that one uses as a cloak, draped around neck and shoulder or wrapping oneself with it to ward off the cold.
Last Tuesday morning, San Antonio, Texas woke up to below freezing weather. 31-degrees Fahrenheit (F) which would be minus .05 Celsius, were it in Manila and in most parts of the Philippines. That is below-freezing point which we learned in school to be 32 degrees F or Zero/0 in Celsius. (For classroom review and recollection purposes, the opposite would be boiling point which is 212 degrees F or 100 Celsius. Normally, at this time of the year San Antonians would experience a range of 73 to 50 F, which is 22 to 10 Celsius for Manila.
I came downstairs to fix breakfast wrapped in my cotton-polyester bedsheet. I have yet to recommission into service our woolen blankets which are annually mothballed as a Springtime ritual, along with cleaning out accumulated myriad whatnots.
Actually, more than two-thirds of the US will have experienced freezing temperatures by this weekend. Indeed, a “most unusual weather on record” for early Autumn. Winter does not officially begin until a few days before Christmas. Midwest America which has a normal average range of 50 to 33 degrees F at this time of the year, was forecast to have minus 13-14 degrees Fahrenheit. That is minus 25 degrees Celsius, which would be absolutely unimaginable for Manila! But that is what Chicago is and environs this time around. No thanks for that ‘arctic blast’ currently in progress, streaming from the north southeastwards. Dramatic temperature drops plus tons upon tons of early snow, travel aberrations and air flights cancelled.
Anyway, going back to the ‘kumot.’ The rains notwithstanding although aiding the lowering of the heat index, Manila is now entering the ‘kumot’ weather season. Lumalamig na! (It is getting colder.) Sweater weather, as it were. And isn’t that what the months ending with ‘ber’ is supposed to presage? Aside from the earliest onset for celebrating Christmas, such as nowhere else on planet earth! Manila airwaves began playing carols just as Septem’ber’ came on.
From a not usual point of view, let me posit that ‘kumot na pang-balabal’ has possible beneficial economic consequences! You know, something like what a Henry Sy or a John Gokongwei might see as another opportunity responding to or creating a consumer need or want! And for ‘fashionistas,’ too. “Kumot na pang-balabal” as a cold-weather or even a balmy weather fashion attire. GoNegosyo! A business opportunity!
If pursued, it will not be a Filipino fashion innovation but more of an adaptation. The Philippines’ most intimate, longest-run off-shore cultural affinity is Mexico, a fact which our classrooms hardly ever dwell upon. Mexico has the Serape and its later incarnation, the Poncho. Both are really kumot, but not meant for bedtime but for streetwear. It may have began as utilitarian but it is today a fashionable outerwear.
Serape is a blanket worn like a cloak or as shawl. Poncho, on the other hand, is simply basically a blanket with a hole in the middle for one’s head to fit through. Clothing designers and couturiers have from time to time played around with the concept. Both men and women don serapes and ponchos.
Let me interrupt myself and share with you the memory of when I first came across a poncho and leaned what it was. You might yourself recall if you are old enough as I. I hark back to Manila’s Liberation Days, some 75 years ago. They were used as raincoats by American G.I.s It was made of synthetic material, plastic sheeting-like, maybe more durable, which was used as a cover-all rain-coat. Its standard color was known as ‘olive drab’ (color of the G.I. jeep, helmet and uniform.) Sure enough, a blanket spread with a hole in the middle!
Serape and poncho design and dimensions are pretty standard. After all, how can one ever redesign a blanket! A rectangle, sometimes a square and never any other shape. It is with the materials utilized (cotton, linen, silk, wool, etc.) depending on the season and the occasion, as well as the choice of colors, combinations thereof and the accoutrement (‘borloloy’ if you please) add-ons where varieties of styles compete for the eye of the customer.
Not a business bonanza, but consider it as at least an added money-making incentive for a local cottage industry. I have in mind our dwindling hand loom-weavers in the Ilocos, Mountain Province, and among our talented indigenous minorities in the South. There is that possibility of a new market for a new useful product, a specific item of wear made of locally hand-woven textile.
From our local stock, the textile material closest to an original Mexican serape that I can think of would be the hand-woven Ilocano blankets. Usually with the heavy stripes across or somewhat of a simple plaid. When I was a child, I remember that my ‘kumot’ was referred to by Lola Yda (by whose side I slept!) as “habing Iloco.” ‘Habi’ in Filipino means weave. While Batangueño itinerant peddlers of old had ‘kulambo’/mosquito nets, there was ‘habing Iloco’ for blankets that came to Manila public markets from the Ilocos.
The most serape lookalike use of blankets in our country may still be found in the outer reaches of Northern Luzon’s Mountain Province. I recall old photographs of Igorot men with their colorful hand-loomed shawl-like cloaks draped around their necks and shoulders, squatting over a hillside mound while smoking his pipe.
Imagine a revival of Bontoc-Ifugao hand-loom weaving cottage industry of traditional textiles! GoNegosyo (a business promotion concept) could bring about a fashion fad by creating and driving up a demand for the Filipino version of the Serape and Poncho. I wonder what the Igorots call their “kumot na pang-balabal?”
The same opportunities would be available to our indigenous handloom weavers from our indigenous brethren in Mindanao.
Additionally, recently, social media/online advertisements have been promoting a variety of “chaleco.” Those are vests or waistcoats. Why not use ‘habing Iloco,’ Bontoc weave and let us not forget the “Lumad” handwoven textiles whose colors are even more varied, brighter and more attractive. Here is yet another potential fashion fad.
So, how about some entrepreneurs going Serape, going Poncho and going Chaleco. Support our handloom weavers!
As you can see, a winter cold snap can generate a brainstorm. I am giving up my bedsheet for a real Serape--and a Poncho, too. Next time I go home, I will order a few to give away as pasalubongs (gifts) upon my return “State-side.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.