The Piña Educational Exhibit
Asian Art Museum
September 24-October 11 2015
Presented in Partnership
with Philippine American Writers & Artists Inc.
The Story of the Piña: From Lowly Pineapple to High Couture
In search for a western route to the Asian spice trade, Magellan reached the islands in 1521 that would later be named Islas Filipinas. Spanish settlements did not begin in earnest until 1565 when a practical return route to Europe through Acapulco, Mexico was discovered, ushering the so-called Galleon Trade that lasted through 1815. Spice, silk and porcelain from Asia that were in huge demand in Europe, were exchanged for silver from Mexico and Peru. On return voyages to Manila, sailors brought along with other fruit, the pineapple - a fruit rich in water content and scurvy prevention properties that were crucial for long sea voyages.
The exact origin of producing textile from pineapple remains unknown. The earliest reference to piña fiber for weaving clothing was in 1595. Pre-Hispanic indigenous textiles from banana and abaca were already being woven by the natives. It is believed that a Spanish priest stationed in the Visayas introduced piña weaving. Piña served as an inexpensive alternative to imported silk from China. It was also substituted for the polos y servicios - labor and goods needed to support the Galleon trade - that the natives were obligated to pay as tax.
In the 17th c. foreign visitors to the Philippines praised piña textile for its fine qualities and craftsmanship. Needlework was most likely influenced by the large Chinese artisan population who provided support and products for the galleon trade. As convent schools were established, needlework became part of the curriculum, a practice that lasted well into the 20th c. Lace imported from Europe were used to embellish piña, creating highly intricate designs that reflected the status of its wearer. By the 19th c., piña had become so popular in Europe. During the U.S. colonial period, piña became a desirable accoutrement by US high society. American businessmen established factories to meet the demand for piña lingerie, table linen, and handkerchiefs, thus making piña affordable to ordinary Americans.
During the Commonwealth, a 10-year period of preparation for independence from the U.S., piña became sought after as the fabric of choice for formal wear ushering the once mundane fabric into the realm of finery. Women fashioned modern gowns or terno and stylized versions of the 19th c. Maria Clara dress out of piña. Men, however, favored wearing the americana (suit and tie) to official functions. Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon was known to wear piña barong Tagalog to social events including one specially made for his inauguration in 1935 that was embroidered with tiny Philippine and U..S. flags.
World War II interrupted the burgeoning piña industry. In the midst of post-war reconstruction, piña struggled to survive as it became once again relegated to its pre-Commonwealth obscurity. It was rediscovered by couturiers in the 60s, coinciding with the rising throes of nationalism and nation-building. Later designers transformed the traditional piña terno into more contemporary evening wear, applying sometimes daring, sometimes playful aesthetics. Piña today is enjoying a renaissance and with technological help from individuals, NGOs, and the government, gaining recognition as a uniquely Filipino artisanal creation.