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T’boli Cultural Immersion

Text by Lolet Tan
Photos by Mike Lu, Jasmin Meren, and Maia Tanedo

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Early Saturday morning we were herded out from the FB Hotel to Lake Sebu, the Land of the Dreamweavers. Vacillating between a state of somnolence and awakeness, I could not help but marvel at the lush vista of forest and almost tangible tranquility of the scenery before me. I was so looking forward to this trip that I felt so lightheaded with excitement.

We first stopped at the School of Living Traditions. It was like entering a solemn and sacred place for me. From the welcoming aroma of corn coffee, freshly brewed from big clay pots, to the spread out harvests from nature that they prepared for breakfast: it engendered a feeling of awe. I noticed everyone was quiet as we each found our spot in the room as we were made to feel at home by youngsters clad in the traditional beautiful and colorful costumes. They held themselves with a solemn ease yet I could sense the pride in showing who they are.

Then entered Maria Todi, who was the embodiment of dedication to the heritage and stalwart motivation to remain true to the traditions of the tribe. She laid a couple of cut smoked bamboos and showed us how to open the stem. Voila, we were treated to a delicious and flavorful chicken meal. As we all partook of the meal in hushed voices, it was clear that the air was full of anticipation for what was to come. Eagerly ready to partake of this special moment of sharing and awakening.

I listened intently to her every word and simply basked in the richness of the tribal heritage. She told stories, made known their ways, spoke of the instruments and I sat enthralled by it all. It was a living history encounter so vivid and alive. Steeped with meaningful rituals and ceremonies, she spoke about the inspiration and harmony with nature that abounds in every heart.

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The most awaited performances started and I was just simply entranced by the almost hypnotic gestures, beats, and rhythms. The youngsters were delightful to watch in their artistry and talent. One cannot help but be grateful that hope for the future remains shining. The trip ended with us gaily rummaging through the authentic local merchandise. If only through bracelets and necklaces, I was excited to share with my colleagues back in Manila the experience.

Our next stop was the home of the T’nalak Dream Weavers. A deep brown abaca-based cloth with intricate designs, the T’nalak is the famous craftsmanship of the women of the T’boli tribe. The group was walked through the garden where the plants used for cloth colors were obtained. We were showed how the T’nalak was made from the raw abaca thread threshing to the tedious dying and weaving of the cloth. The process of making the final product shiny was just amazing to watch. It took two days of pressing down onto the cloth a cowrie shell, giving it its sheen and luster. We were also told that one can trade cowrie shells for a specially woven T’nalak! I will keep this in mind for sure next time I go to the beach.

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This weaving is special because the designs are dream-inspired and spirit-infused, passed on through decades of generations. There are only a few of the true Dreamweavers remaining and their works are most highly valued. Maria tells of the almost blessed state of the Dreamweavers with a lot of traditional sayings and practices attached. I was reminded of how the Pharaohs were the messengers of the Gods in Ancient Egypt. The Dreamweavers have inspirations and intuitions that they directly receive and harness from nature, the heavens, as well as the loving earth that sustains and nourishes.

Lang Dulay was awarded the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan and produced high quality creations with rich colors and fine workmanship. Dreaming designs reflecting the wisdom and visions of the T’boli people, she has become a legend and most beloved member of society.

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A prayer posted in the grounds engendered the Diwata to bless the young generation to become successors of the tradition. With courage to uphold and preserve the gift left behind by the ancestress, the tribe continues to Dreamweave threads of spiritual inspiration, revere and continue to enrich this gift that belongs to Humanity.

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