a T'boli girl playing a tnonggong, a deerskin drum used
as a supportive instrument in the kulintang ensemble
Last October, the T'boli culture was showcased at the Manila FAME, a bi-annual trade fair where Philippine exporters exhibit their products and designs for the international market. The T'boli is an indigenous tribe from the highlands near Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in Mindanao. They have a rich heritage in music, dance and story-telling.
The T'boli women are known for their traditional woven abaca fabric called T'nalak. According to T'boli legend, T'nalak weaving was taught to their ancestors by the goddess Fu Dalu in a dream. Superstition surrounds the making of this fabric. The traditional patterns were conceptualized through dreams and "visitations" that renders the dreamer speechless and deaf until the design is fully executed. Patterns and designs are often inspired by nature. T'nalak is often referred to by non-T'boli as "dreamweave", and T'boli women are called "dreamweavers".
The T'nalak occupies a special significance in the lives of the T'boli people. It is basically used as blankets and clothing, and considered helpful for safe delivery when used as pre-natal covering. T'nalak is also used as dowry and bride price; as offerings to the "earth spirits" to ask for rain, cutting of trees, healing of the sick, thanksgiving, and its presence during certain feasts give it a sacred value.
T'nalak is a product of an age-old tradition of tie-dye weaving. A tedious process composed of rituals that conveys the T'boli's spiritual and traditional beliefs. The coloring agents are extracted from leaves, roots and barks of trees. The weaving takes almost two and a half months for a piece about 20 feet long.