Simpio, 35, and his nephew Oten, 25, are from Española in southern Palawan. Both incredibly hardworking, supporting young families, they travelled to Maoyon to add their traditional designs to the paraw. “We are used to working until 1am and starting again at 5am,” says Oten. Upon hearing this Gener gave them head-torches to make their work easier.
Simpio has been carving since he was nineteen years old. He learned from his uncle, also a master wood carver.
“The tradition of wood carving is in our family, it’s in our blood,” he says.
They come from a family with a rich traditional and ritual life. Their designs include images of Palawan wildlife such as turtles, rays and fish.
“We want to preserve the traditional carving techniques of our ancestors,” says Oten. “Sometimes I invent a new pattern but usually I follow the designs of uncle Simpio, as he is my teacher.”
According to archaeologists studying the Tabon Cave in the municipality of Quezon, Pala’wan culture can be traced back 50,000 years and they are among the first people known to have inhabited Southeast Asia.
Their native script, or surat, as they call it is one of only three pre-hispanic scripts still in use in the Philippines today. The lettering on the paraw’s stern (pictured above) reads “Balatik“, “Orion” in English.
Although Pala’wan culture remains rich and vibrant, it is under threat. Learn more about the Pala’wan tribe from Survival International.
Download an article on Pala’wan ancient script from Discovery Channel Magazine.