Saturday, April 21, 2012

Irma Bunachita: The Jeweler of Dauis

Aling Irma Bunachita is one of the few remaining fine jewelry makers of Dauis.   

Unbeknownst to many visitors and tourists, in Dauis, one of the two municipalities comprising Panglao Island, and one of the oldest municipalities of Bohol, there is an industry probably as old as the town itself — fine jewelry making.

Aling Irma, to this day, continues the colonial tradition of hand-making jewelry from which she creates fine pieces of jewelry using the traditional “stamping” technique that she had learned from her mother and grandmother.  They, in turn, learned from their ancestors. 

However, Aling Irma claims that jewelry making in Dauis is no longer as lucrative as it used to be. During the 1980s, the number of fine jewelry artisans dwindled to less than 100, and even less nowadays.  Most of these skilled jewelry makers had left for Cebu and Mindanao for better opportunities..

One of those who chose to remain in Dauis is Aling Irma.  And she has even made it her life’s mission to carry on the tradition by sharing her knowledge and skills to anyone who wants to learn.

Aling Irma Bunachita was recently appointed as the chairperson of the Dauis Jewelry Makers Organization.

History of jewelry-making in Dauis:

History has it that the island adjacent to Dauis, which was known as Bool (where the province got its name), had a quite a thriving pre-Hispanic kingdom. When a datu passed away, his body and his worldly possessions were carried across the island and buried in the present-day location of Dauis.

Later on, sometime in the 1600s, when the Spaniards came and established the town of Dauis, people started digging the area so they could build their houses and they would find gold everywhere.

Being organized that they are, the Bol-anons would keep the treasures to themselves. They would scarcely use the gold nuggets to buy the things they need, and instead, they would just hide them in their baul.

But when the Spanish regime ended, they realized that they couldn’t use the gold nuggets as monetary tools anymore because the American government had already issued new currency. And when one had amassed such a huge quantity of gold, what else was there to do but melt them and create fine pieces of jewelry; hence, the birth of the jewelry industry in Bohol.

According to Aling Irma, the pieces of jewelry were used not just solely for aesthetic purposes, but as a way to propagate Christianity during the Spanish era. The friars condemned the indigenous amulets and talismans and started replacing them with devotional jewelry such as the crucifix and the rosary.

While the Filipino Christians wore them as an act of faith, the plateros (jewelers) believed it was no less an act of faith to create them. Aside from having a ready market, it was their way of going around the royal decrees that prescribed for jewelry owners to declare their personal belongings, and jewelry with religious theme was a way of getting around the restrictions.

Jewelry designers during those times concentrated on making scapulars, relicario pendants which were designed to protect the Agnus Dei seals made from wax, and reliquaries which were labeled with the saints’ names and embroidered with gold threads, among others. Modern-day tambourine necklaces are an off-shoot of the early rosary designs which were created using the filigree technique.


By Ma. Glaiza Lee
Manila Bulletin - August 14, 2011

Irma Bunachita’s fine jewelry collection is available at Handumanan souvenir shop 
on the ground floor of Our lady of Assimption Shrine Convent 
inside the Dauis Church complex.  
Telephone: (038) 502-3016

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