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Carving is an art, industry and way of life in Paete
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: Christopher A. Datol
Date: 2001-11-19
Paete is a small, simple town in Laguna where Filipino ingenuity is constantly at work. Hand-crafted products skillfully created by its townsfolk established an industry that is world-class and proudly Pinoy.

This town also has its own fairy tale that is as interesting and inspiring as any bedtime story.

Set at the foot of the green Sierra Madre mountain ranges and bounded by Laguna de Bay in the west, Paete was recognized as a town in 1850. According to historians, its name was derived from a tool used in the art of carving or shaping figurines – “paet”, which is Tagalog for chisel.

The townspeople thrived for years either perfecting their craft in woodcarving and carpentry, or growing lanzones and santol trees, whose sweet fruits are famous all over the country. Practically every resident knows something about “pag-uukit”. If they are not growing or harvesting lanzones and santol fruits from August to November, they will be busy in their own workshops giving life to wood or old paper.

One of their most famous inventions was the “bakya” or wooden sandals, famously worn to match the dainty “baro” and “saya”.

However, during the Japanese period, the Paetenians encountered adversities that would effect their town and livelihood.

During the occupation, the colonizers burned down the whole town, badly affecting the carpentry industry. The entry of Japanese-made rubber “tsinelas” also killed the bakya industry during the post-war period. But the ingenious townsfolk knew better to rise from a tragedy. They shifted to another form of craft, using papier-mâché to give life to figures.

The Pinoy version of the horse piñata originated from this place, and has been familiar in fiestas ever since. After that, the townsfolk tried to revive the woodcarving industry, making both wooden and papier-mâché figures that would be known for their beauty and quality.

During the ‘70s though, a total log ban was imposed all over the country, so the scarcity of wood worsened. The townsfolk again concentrated on the papier-mâché business, but another Asian country, China, spoiled it by entering the market. Globalization and lowering costs of labor made things worse in the following decade.

It was at this time when Venerando Baldemor, a native Paetenian, attempted to revive the woodcarving industry, and aimed to attract not just the local but also the global market.

To save their dying industry, five companies formed a corporation called the Paete Associated Enterprises for Trading, Export and Manufacturing, Inc. (PAETEM). It was officially organized in May last year, headed by Baldemor (chairman), Rojilyn Q. Bagabaldo (vice-chairman), Florentino M. Velasco (finance manager), Veronica N. Adao (marketing manager), and Sinagtala P. Acupan (purchasing manager).

Bagabaldo said the incorporators will work with the concerned government agencies to set-up a plantation of different wood species on private land. This will supply the industry with plantation-grown timber, making the business more “environment-friendly”.

PAETEM will also guarantee jobs and livelihood for more citizens, to answer the growing demand for woodcraft products all over the country and the world.

Today, the town’s serenity is evident on the streets. Calm residents work intently all day, mostly in small shops by their homes.

Paete is populated by 23,000 people. The roads and houses are still small, but poverty doesn’t seem to exist. There are no major skyscrapers, probably the most notable among the structures is a 19th century church which still stands today.

Shops are found everywhere displaying carvings and papier-mâché products that are mostly Western, European, Asian and accordingly world-class in quality and design.

PAETEM’s own display shop is located at the Trade Center Bldg., S-Highway, containing a wide array of handicrafts that are needless to say, a visual spectacle by themselves.

Themes and subjects are exhaustive, ranging from the traditional to the modern. One of the sections contains various wooden sculptures, accessories, and furniture such as rocking chairs, stools, chairs, tables, cabinets, and even CD racks.

In another room, the holiday spirit is alive with inanimate figures made from papier-mâché. Each section has a theme and corresponding characters from Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. These can be likely found on display at shopping malls and other establishments come Holiday season.

But the whole year round, the Paetenians are merry, imparting their expertise in designing and manufacturing products to promote Philippine crafts while establishing a self-contained community. Indeed, this skill and zest for life and giving life will make the town live happily ever after.


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