Damili – Red clay crafts
Damili is the Ilocano term for molding. This terra-cotta or red-clay craft is one of the traditional industries that Vigan is known for. It has existed since the 19th century and is still done in homes within several of Vigan’s barangays. Local and foreign visitors who wish to see how this craft is done may visit the barangays of Ayusan Sur, Barraca, Bulala, Paratong, Paoa, Pong-ol and Salindeg. Of these barangays, Bulala is most known for damili-making and, therefore, most visited.
Damili-makers and residents of these barangays use the Bantog clay in making their terracotta products. This particular clay is found in plenty around the Vigan hills, where their barangays are situated. Damili-making is not only a cottage industry, it also an activity that the whole Vigan family in these barangays do together. From the youngest to the eldest, male and female, family members assist each other from the gathering of the materials to the molding, firing and storing of the terracotta creations. Even extended families make themselves available to be of help to each other in any of the stages of the damili-making.
Together they produce traditional cooking stoves, which use charcoal or firewood for fuel; cooking pots; water vessels; basins for water and animal feeds; plant pots; pipes for wells; decorative pottery and roof tiles. In the seventies and eighties, Vigan roof tiles were at the height of their popularity as a choice construction material. Its use in a structure connotes a sense of being old-rich or belonging to the class of people that have enjoyed the good life for generations. This perception was due to the damili’s use in the ancestral homes in Vigan and the patronage of this tile by the Marcos family, who headed the country from the late sixties to the eighties. The Marcos family incorporated the used of this construction material in most of the buildings they commissioned, most notable of which are the restored Sarrat Church and the Fort Ilocandia in Ilocos Norte.
During this period of great demand, the damili craftsmen of Vigan concentrated on making red-clay tiles to meet the demand. The production of other traditional damili products were set aside and not practiced by the craftsmen who have just commenced their damili-making at that time. At present, damili-making is still thriving and young craftsmen are intent on preserving the craft and promoting the spread of damili production outside of the seven barangays. They have continued to share their techniques, and in so doing, are able to compare and prove that Vigan’s damili products are stronger and not prone to cracking even when exposed to air and sun, owing to its better clay.