Growing up, it is normal to see my Ye (mother) doing beadwork at home. She would sit in a well-lit corner of our gono (house) and spend her entire day beading necklaces, earrings, belts, and headdresses. She often reminded us, "Buligan nyo ko sa balay para matapos ko ning mga orders kag maka bakal kita bugas." (You need to help me with the household chores so I can finish these orders and be able to buy rice.") When we are done with our chores, she also encouraged us to help her make some of the accessories. I remember how I enjoyed stringing together strands of colorful beads and seeing my work added to the belts that Ye made.
This is how I started my journey with Tmool Lmimet. At first, it would seem as though my sister and I were just playing. We started learning by beading a single strand that is then attached to a necklace, or a belt, and a headdress. It was not until I turned 12 that I took Tmool Lmimet seriously. Back then, Ye just gave birth to my younger brother. She needed help in taking care of my brother so she can continue accepting orders. I was not happy to quit my studies for this, but, I took this as a challenge to do better in Tmool Lmimet. I told myself, "Mag tuon gid ko mag beads para may ara man ko magamit na skill sa sunod." (I have to do better in Tmool Lmimet so I will have a skill that can help me in the future.)
Ye initially showed me how to bead small earrings. She was very patient with me. She taught me where to thread the beads so I can create diamonds and other patterns. She encouraged me to work hard so I can also earn. She told me, "Ihatag ko sa imo ang bayad sa kung ano man ang matapos mo para mabakal mo kung ano ang gusto mo." (I will give you the payment for every item you finish. This way, you have your own money to spend for whatever it is that you need.")
Whenever my younger brother would be sleeping, I would ease into Ye's side and start to work on the orders she passed on to me. In a week, I could finish 5 pairs of earrings sold at Php7.00 a pair. With the 35 pesos I earned, I would buy myself a sachet of shampoo and other personal necessities. I remember how proud I was then for being able to provide for my own needs.
The prices for our products did not change much over the years. When I finally had my own family, the same earrings were still being bought for the same price by local shop owners. Considering the cost of the materials and the amount of time that we put into making our products, I knew then that this was not fair. But I had no other choice. I told myself, "Ok na lang ni kaysa wala." (This is better than nothing.)
I continued to accept orders even though I already knew that the price was not fair. But unlike Ye, I did not allow my daughters to help me. I told them that they should rather concentrate on their studies than learn how to bead so that they will not end up like me. All of this changed when I became one of the beaders of Sesotunawa.
In Sesotunawa, we are taught how to cost our products properly. We learned how to factor in the materials and labor hours so we will be able to price our products according to what is just. We are also taught how to save and manage our earnings through our savings program. Just before the lockdown, I was able to save enough to finance our house renovation.
Now, whenever my daughters take interest in Tmool Lmimet, I felt more assured. I told myself, "Kung mag padayun na sakto na presyo ang pag bakal sa amon produkto wala gid sang nanay nga mag siling sa bata nya na hindi sya mag beads." (As long as our products are bought at a fair price, no mother will ever discourage their children to learn Tmool Lmimet.)
This article is translated from our interview with Michelle “Kunay” Aguilar. She is now 28 years old and one of the fastest beaders of Sesotunawa. She hopes to share what she learned in Sesotunawa to her daughters so they can continue the tradition of Tmool Lmimet and advocate for the fair pricing of their products.