Turning Idea to Reality

Balay Balay Architecture Puzzles is a social enterprise that empowers carpenters from Indigenous communities by making toy puzzles out of traditional Mindanao Architecture.

“Balay Balay” literally means playhouse in the Bisaya language.

The founders of this enterprise are composed of Architects and storytellers. Being advocates of Mindanao culture and heritage made them realize that only a few people in the Philippines know about Mindanao Architecture. They thought how can they appreciate if they are not aware of the existence of Mindanao Architecture in the first place.

They started the initiative of promoting Mindanao traditional Architecture by designing and building structures and interiors with such main motif or as an accent through another enterprise they own.

Soon they realized that appreciation must come from the young. If love for Mindanao Architecture is instilled in schools and among teachers and students, then the impact is greater and more sustainable.

Driven by the inner conviction to inculcate “pride of place” for Mindanao Architecture, the founders decided to create an enterprise that would focus on making interactive toys for children and adults. This is learning by playing. And since their research showed that there are no puzzles on Philippine Architecture yet, they thought it would be innovative to focus on making such. Thus, the Balay Balay Architecture Puzzle was born. In August 2015, they proposed the idea to the National Commission on Culture and the Arts who eventually funded for the product development of the first design.

Learning the Wood Crafting Technology

Balay Balay Architecture Puzzle started developing the prototype. The founders went to many wood making shops in Davao but found out that no one was up to making such miniature designs. The shops would say it was too meticulous and hard to analyze because they have not done it before.

Finally, they found 78-year-old man Tatay Eking who lived in Santa Cruz Davao and was the usual provider of Davao City giveaways particularly those with Durian. He was an expert on lathing using do-it-yourself materials from washing machine. His sons were not interested in wood craft so he was eager to share knowledge to anyone interested. There, the founders learned the technology behind wooden toy making, what materials to use, and what equipment was needed. The group became happy and orders came in for this new venture.

But. After 6 months of working with Balay Balay Architecture Puzzles, Tatay Eking passed away.

Meeting the Indigenous Peoples

For the founders of Balay Balay, it was impossible to continue the enterprise without willful puzzle makers. And with Tatay Eking gone, they had to start from scratch.

But they had to deliver the 32 pre-orders. The would-be owners were already communicating how eager they were to get their own Architecture toy puzzles.

Balay Balay needed a miracle.

And so, they did.  

In June 2016, one of the founders was invited to do a storytelling workshop in Cabuaya, Davao Oriental where the Mandaya Indigenous Community resides. There, forest ranger guides abound who are experts in carpentry. Balay Balay was told that there were a few community members who were living in Davao and working as mechanic and house helps. They couldn’t get a higher paying job because they are not high school graduates.

Balay Balay Architecture Puzzle pitched about hiring them as puzzle makers and they agreed. They were very good in wood craft but it was their first time to handle miniature puzzles. The founders were excited to know how eager the Mandaya men were to learn something new.

One of the Balay Balay Architecture Puzzle founders decided to work as full-time operations, as well. With these people in place, the enterprise finally become fully operational.

Finding the Social Impact

The initial motivation of the enterprise was to create Mindanao Architecture toy puzzles to instill appreciation among the young. But increased visits in Indigenous communities for its Architecture research made the founders realize that there is more to the work than just promotion.

In their visit in the Mandaya community of Cabuaya, Davao Oriental, they found out that the traditional houses, the Bal’Lay, are no longer used in the community. The tribal leader said that the Mandaya is very assimilated and so culture especially the Architecture part of their heritage was not passed on from generation to generation.

The founders wanted to check if the case was true in communities near Davao city like the Bagobo Tagabawa of Bansalan. Sadly, they too have forgotten the design of their traditional houses, the Bale.

Clearly there needs to be a combination of preservation and promotion in Balay Balay Architecture’s work. But preservation from within an Indigenous community is hard to do without clear foundations from community-led initiatives.

Gladly, the founders found an Indigenous Community- led preservation activity in the participatory build of the Ata Manobo in Paquibato Tribal Village. They also met the Matigsalug of Marilog who are also trying to bring their cultural village to the forefront. All these made the enterprise inspired to bring in extra effort to make puzzles from all the ethnolinguistic groups of Mindanao.

At this point, Balay Balay already has puzzle makers and they are the IPs living in the city.  Most of them didn’t feel like their Architecture were unique until they got involved into the enterprise. To involve the puzzle makers into such promotion and preservation of Indigenous culture and heritage is to bring the pride of place into their own community.

This is the social impact we want to impart. To empower carpenters from Indigenous communities by making toy puzzles out of traditional Mindanao Architecture.

The act of solving a Balay Balay toy puzzle is a show of pride for Mindanao Architecture.

So let’s play . Tara, magbalaybalay ta!