We climbed up the stilted T’Boli long house said to be the home to a National Living Treasure Awardee, Lang Dulay. She wasn’t there yet but the large airy long house, has portrait images hanging on one side of the room and written literature about her life and accomplishments. I heard someone going up the stairs, emerged is a small old lady garbed on a beautiful and colorful T’boli garbed. She doesn’t look frail from her old age, she has lines of experience on her face, but the lightness on her face and seemingly contented eyes makes her look younger than her years. So here’s a National Treasure right before us.
I heard tears fell from her eyes the first time she got word she was being considered as a GAMABA (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) Awardee last 1998. She thought at that time her dream of providing a school for the women of her community would be realized and therefore help promote their art of T’nalak Weaving and produce more dreamweavers. T’nalak weavers are considered dreamweavers since their designs are inspired by patterns originating from their dreams. Only women can be dreamweavers.
From the creative mind of Lang Dulay, she can weave more than a hundred designs from butterflies to clouds. Her textiles have excellent quality as seen through the fine yards used, tight interweaving, and precise patterns. At her old age and glassy eyes, she no longer weaves herself but only designs the patterns and let the young dreamweavers do the weaving. Despite the demand for modern designs for T’nalak, Lang Dulay still encourages the old ways of doing them to give life to the ancient voices passed down through generations and stories embedded on each piece of T’nalak. Not one T’nalak is alike.
From meeting the Master Dreamweaver, Lang Dulay, our guides Diane and Jonathan led us on an hour ride along rough unpaved roads to Barrio Lamangdalag where a longhouse was established by Lang Dulay and COWHED (Cooperative of Women for Health and Education) with the help from ILO (International Labor Organization). It is here where we get to see how the T’nalak was made from abaca to the final work of art weaving.
Creating a T’nalak is a very tedious task as we learned. From gathering abaca fibers sourced about 6 hours away from town, they are then stripped into fibers using an improvised manual metal stripper.
These then are carefully hand-sifted and with each strands tied together and wounded into balls of fiber.
These fibers are then stretched on a frame where they start covering up areas with plastic straw ropes.
The fibers are then boiled on a vegetable dye where the covered plastic straw portion would produce the patterns. More complicated patterns require re-covering and re-dying.
Once the dyed fiber is dried, the actual weaving is then done. And these weaving could take 3-6 months depending on the complexity of the pattern.
Also, T’boli women attend to the farm field to help out so they only do the weaving before or after work. Besides, the fabric tends to brittle under the noon time heat so they prefer to weave during the cool mornings and evenings.
The T’boli still observes certain beliefs during periods of T’nalak weaving. One belief is that one should not walk over the fiber threads lest they want to get sick. Another is for the dreamweaver to refrain from acts of intimacy as not to interrupt the flow of inspiration.
After the weaving is finished, the last part is to polish the textile with a seashell to bring out that beautiful sheen on the surface of the T’nalak. This is another ingenious way of putting force on the shell by using tension from a flexible wood pole pressed against the ceiling beam.
The ILO is helping the T’bolis market them on a good price. Ancient T’bolis used to trade them for a horse but nowadays they sell them for P600-100 a piece or P200-300 a meter from a regular dreamweaver. But those signed by Lang Dulay fetched for more than a thousand or two when bought directly. I heard prices on international market are a lot higher. Seeing the tons of hard work put into each T’nalak piece, It definitely deserves a higher price.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.