Kabu: The Melancholic Story of Tugaya’s King of Brass
The town of Tugaya in Lanao Del Sur province is known as the center of Maranao craftsmanship. Majority of the people in the town are engaged in arts and craft industry, particularly creating intricate wood carvings such as baul and debakan drums that are sold in the markets of Davao, Manila, and overseas. However, aside from wood, Tugaynons have another specialty—they are also metal benders—creating intricate works of art with the use of fire and earth—brass works! Kabu, kanyon, and kris are the things Tugaynons are known for.
The community of Bubong is known for brass-making, with the large intricate brass jars called kabu and canons as its main products. The kabu is well known all throughout Mindanao as a decoration of royalty. These large brass jars varies size—from size of plant pots to human sized behemoths. Since these are made entirely of metal, it is considered as a collector’s luxury item. One kabu may reach as expensive as several thousand pesos or even a million—exported to big cities such as Manila and Davao, and even overseas. All of these were craftily made in this sleepy town beside the lake.
That afternoon, the town was eerily silent after the noon prayers (In Tugaya, electricity is scheduled instead of 24/7 despite being so close to Agus Plant. I wonder if it is still the same). We head on to this lakeside community, passing by a narrow road with a great view of tranquil Lake Lanao.
We reached Bubong and came into a surprise. Our guide knows the people there so much and we were approached warmly by the people, most especially children. Most of them are curious for where we came from. Then we entered one of the craftsmen’s workshops, and our excitement went down to the drain…
We were dismayed. What we saw was an empty workshop. No activities, nada, zilch, wa-ay. We came all the way from Manila, just to see empty molds and brass making stuff. This is not the only workshop in the community, but all of them—shut down.
However, the ladies and even the children explained.
“Wala pera. Wala capital (No money, no investment),” the children and the ladies said unanimously.
The brass-crafting workshops in Bubong, Tugaya closed shop for the meantime due to low sales and high metal market prices (the prices of copper and zinc has skyrocketed in the recent years).
“Kasi luxury item din ito, kaya konti lang ang bumibili nito dahil sobrang mahal nya ngayon. Kahit gumawa pa kami ngayon, kung walang bumibili, lugi kami.” one of the women said in Maranao (Because these are luxury items, and there are only a few who buys it since metal is so expensive nowadays. Even if we are working now, if nobody is buying, then we’ll lose.)
They have already established a cooperative for the business to jumpstart again as they hope.
The community was dependent on brass-making, it is their lifeblood. However, it came into a halt and the atmosphere was like a ghost town in the middle of the afternoon.
We were worried that this art may die soon if work hasn’t commenced. We were wondering what was the livelihood of these people in absence of brass-crafting?
As we bade farewell, I didn’t saw any kabu in a workshop. Melancholy struck. I hope the industry will be revived.
But along the way back to Marawi City, a pleasant surprise…
It’s been almost a year now since we visited Bubong. I wonder if the craftsmen’s workshops are chugging fire and earth once more.
Barangay Bubong in Lanao del Sur is located here:
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