I’m always a supporter of products that serve a higher purpose, so let me share with you one of my favourite accessories as of late – Nawa bangles! Now, my choice of accessories has undergone a huge change since my younger years. The 24-year-old me would have her wrists wrapped in beaded bracelets, thin bracelets made with weathered leather, and multi-coloured threads—souvenirs from backpacking and beach trips around Asia so I wouldn’t forget my adventures. My ankles also sported 3-4 anklets (a personal reminder that I am forever a wanderer) until recently when I decided to cut them off and tie them to my bedpost instead. I’ve had them on for almost 5 years now, leaving their mark through a permanent tan-line on my ankle.
Fast-forward to the present-day. I now have an inclination to more straightforward and minimalist pieces such as silver cuffs, my crystal bracelets for good energy, and the occasional traveller’s bracelet that I got from Copenhagen. And while I mix-and-match (or sometimes wear my wrists bare) depending on my outfit, I’ve noticed that my Nawa bangles have become such a staple, and better yet, they’ve become such a good reminder of my roots and heritage as a Filipino; a reminder of home despite living away from home.
If you would visit NAWA’s Facebook page, you’ll learn that they have an amazing advocacy that focuses on the Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions in South Cotabato, an NGO dedicated towards that preservation of tangible and intangible cultural traditions of the T’Boli tribe. Part of the proceeds of Nawa’s sales goes to supporting and strengthening the T’Boli community.
In T’Boli culture, Nawa is a word that can mean several things. To speak of one’s “Nawa” is to speak of their character, and emotions. Nawa can also mean “breath,” and it seemed fitting to pay tribute to the T’Boli culture by breathing new life into their craft. In Tagalog, Nawa is a word that means “Amen,” or “Let it be.”
Nawa’s jewellery is handcrafted by a community of brass casters in Lake Sebu. The Nawa team collaborates with these brass casters, as well as weavers, to provide the utmost quality T’boli craftsmanship possible. Each bangle is not the same from the other. The design is also very classy, elegant, and versatile — looks great with any outfit! And I really love the tiny markings on each bangle.
One of the reasons why I feel so strongly about such initiatives is because I am a believer of the need to support and safeguard local traditions and cultures. Most of our lives are lived online now—nothing wrong with it—but preserving local traditions, in my opinion, reminds us of life’s beauty before the Internet took over.
There is so much rawness and authenticity and magic to be celebrated in these local communities. I’ve experienced this firsthand during a trip to Buscalan where there was no mobile signal, and we hung out with the locals. My favourite memory of that trip is me, sitting on our kubo’s steps, observing a group of 7 or 8-year olds playing basketball. It was such a simple yet refreshing sight to hear children laugh again, to hear their slippers graze against the concrete and not have their eyes glued to their iPads.
But of course, it is because of the Internet and Social Media that I was able to connect with Nawa and ask Timmy Potenciano (one of Nawa’s founders) a few questions about the brand and its advocacy.
Mikka: What is the connection between the bracelet itself and the T’boli tribe? Are the markings on the bangles a traditional T’boli design? Do they have a certain meaning to them? I love how they are so similar yet unique from each other!
Timmy: The T’boli tribe has a historic tradition of brass casting that is largely unchanged by technology (aside from the use of machines). Their traditional garb is full of bright colors and ornate accessories, including bracelets, anklets, necklaces, hats and earrings, made with brass, beads and other materials. Traditional T’Boli bangles can range from thick cuffs to delicate bangles. The design is unique to Nawa, and each bangle is hand crafted and hammered, so the designs are all unique to one another.
M: What are some of the T’Boli cultural traditions that Lake Sebu SLT (School of Living Traditions) aims to preserve?
T: The Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions is an establishment that aims to preserve both the tangible and intangible T’Boli traditions. It’s a traditional T’Boli bamboo long house that serves both as a home stay and a classroom, where T’Boli youth can learn about music, dance, weaving, native arts and crafts and the like. They are also taught about their history and cultural norms.
M: When and how was the idea of “Nawa” birthed?
T: Nawa was actually a project between me and my partner and high school friend Jopie Sanchez. One day, I voiced aloud that I was looking for well-made and affordable tribal brass bangles in the city, and she mentioned that she knew people from Lake Sebu who could make some for us. She works as a makeup artist by profession, and had the opportunity to work on the set of K’Na The Dreamweaver, a movie shot in South Cotabato, and had met the community and kept in touch. When we received the items, I posted on social media about them and suddenly everyone wanted them. However, we didn’t want to be just another jewelry shop. We wanted to give back to the people that helped us grow our brand. And that’s why we teamed up with SLT.
M: What’s next for Nawa PH?
Hoping to launch more jewelry this year, and just continue to help out the T’Boli people in Lake Sebu however we can. 🙂