Meeting the T'boli

Life has a funny way of working out sometimes. In my first blog post, I mentioned being inspired by a woman's passion project and hoping to one day feature her work on my blog. As luck would have it, I ended up working for her! I am now the in-house stylist and online community manager of Filip + Inna

During my first week of work, the Filip + Inna team travelled to Lake Sebu for a photo and video shoot with our weavers and embroiderers. I guess you can say I was thrown into the deep end of the pool. I had no clue whatsoever on what to expect. The little that I knew about the T'boli tribe came from a film I watched last year called K'na, The Dreamweaver. And while the film was a visual treat, it  portrayed the town in such a rustic and tribal light. The picture that I had painted in my mind of Lake Sebu was of a lake quietly nestled in the mountains, with bamboo homes strewn across the mountainside. Men in their traditional wear row their bangkas (a wooden canoe) across the lake while the women sat behind backstrap looms, weaving. I was half ready to spend that week with no electricity and signal, to truly live like the T'boli's. But to my dismay (and luck), the town I saw showed glimmers of modernity. They have infrastructures and concrete roads, electricity, mobile network and even cable tv. The typical way of getting around the town is not actually by a bangka but by habal habal, a motorcycle owned and driven by a local, used as public transportation to bring tourists around the town. The T'boli people do, in fact, wear normal clothes. Their traditional outfits are saved for more special occasions. Luckily, I was able to see the T'boli's in all their splendor as they donned their costumes for us and even performed some of their traditional T'boli dances!

All of the T'boli clothes are patiently and lovingly hand embroidered stitch by stitch by the women of the tribe. It takes months to completely embroider a costume.

What I found most interesting about the T'boli tribe is their age-old tradition of weaving. It was both a privilege and a humbling experience to learn about the history of one of their most sacred fabric, the t'nalak. T'nalak is made from natural abaca fibre which is mostly woven by the T'boli women of Lake Sebu. The weavers learn the skill as a young woman from their mothers and grandmothers and this is handed down from generation to generation.  Because of the intricacy of the process, it can take about 5 years to master the skill. The process is also quite mystical and almost romantic as the women do not follow any pattern or guide but instead they rely on a mental image of the designs. They believe that the patterns are given to them in their dreams. As such, they are known as the "dreamweavers".  The T'boli's believe that Fu Dalu, the spirit of the abaca, visits deserving women in their dreams and bestows upon them the patterns to design the t'nalak.

Today, the tradition lives on through a few weavers that strive to keep this beautiful tradition alive.  I certainly hope it does because it gives the T'boli a sense of pride and identity and not to mention, the t'nalak is such a beautiful and unique textile. These are the type of things that modernity and progress should leave untouched.

Weaving the t'nalak on the backstrap loom.

Meeting the T'boli, Part II coming soon.