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The art and life of Pusô-Making

“He who plants a coconut tree, plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a home for himself and a heritage for his children.” - South Seas Proverb.

The staple of Cebuano’s food culture was brought about during the pre-Hispanic period from centuries of Hindu-Malay influence that has embedded itself in the tapestry of Visayan culinary tradition. What was once served as an offering to the Gods is now a savored classic amongst humble locals. But where does this leave the art form in the future? And how well do its intricate weaves hold up against modern culinary culture?

Pusô is crafted from the fronds of palm leaves. This abundance of coconut indigenous to the area produces as a significant source of art. Lukay art has produced a myriad of reverence to nature in its custom, the most commonplace being with the Visayan people. 

“Ma-ilhan ang usa ka lugar, identity ni sa usa ka lugar,”

According to Maimai, who has grown up weaving puso, this custom is tied to the identity of the Sugbu-anons. The intricacy takes a level of skill she claims to have mastered at a young age, her hands seamlessly alternating one strip over the other in a rhythmic dance. 

Talisay is home to many of these manlalah, or weavers who have mastered the craftsmanship for years. Its origins are described in the writings of Miguel de Loarca in 1582 as offerings to the anitos that they may intercede for the offerors before Batala. Family businesses that churn out pusô, which have been passed down from generation to generation, have helped cultivate the craft to what it is today. These master weavers believe that these skills are not merely their culture, but their identity as well. 

“Mao ni siyay nag-symbolize na Pinoy ka’y ‘ta,”

Teresa Taboada, who has been weaving puso since 1995, believes that as long street food continues to thrive in Cebu city, pusô will continue to ‘hang on’ to the Cebuano heritage. It is a stark contrast from the original intent of pusô and other similar offerings which have been to request the divine for recovery from sickness, prosperous voyages, a good harvest, victory in battle, successful childbirth, and fruitful marriages.  

“Art form gud ni, kinsay gud ga-discover ang bugas kay ma to-un diri? Na mahimo siyang kan-on?”

In the street corners of Poblacion, Talisay City, a number of family businesses run a tight-knit venture of puso-weaving, having been passed down from their forefathers since the 1950’s. While most vendors in urbanized areas get their supplies from rural sources, these families  make a day-to-day living making and selling these puso.

“Kung di na ma wa ang lechon negosyo sa Talisay, dili siya ma-wa, kay pares man gud ni sa lechon. Tagsa raman ka-ayo mo pares aning kan-on gud,”

It is not uncommon for these businesses to think collectively, as a part of their marketing and resource management. Aside from understanding their consumers, they exhibit a grounded perception towards the art form and how it acquires skill as much as it sells as a product. 

“Kay kanang kan-on, ma-ayu man siguro naa sa restaurant ug karenderia, pero mga street food kargado in-ani gud mao dili jud ni siya ma wa na negosyo,”

From an economic standpoint, pusô is a dish for the middle class, and an affordable meal for the new generation in a more challenging economic situation. Pusô is no longer identifiable only as an art to some, but a form of survival.  

“Makatabang sad ni’s mga tao pud, panginabuhi sad gud ni nila. Di ba sad tanan tao kahibaw mug-weave ani,” 

Teresa is also a teacher at an elementary school, and she believes that this could be beneficial to the current curriculum. One study points out a need to integrate the craft into home economics, while DePed launches a concurrent curriculum on the emphasis of primary and secondary sources teaching Araling Panlipunan. On this note, there is a need for a discussion on such cultural beliefs relative to puso weaving and where basic education can expound on practice through the academe. Teresa is optimistic that it will be passed on to the next generation. 

“Ma-pass on from generation to generation gud ni, kung kama-o ang bata, ma-himo ni siya ug daily living,”

Art as a way of life, surpasses both survival and economic standards. In a way, pusô has become a transitional form of art from the ritualistic pagan customs to the delicacy we know of today. The statement of ‘art keeps the world full but the artist starving’ is exemplified in the pusô livelihood’s sustainability as not just an economic need, but as a form of cultural heritage.

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