MENTION dreamweavers and Tnalak and the name of Lang Dulay pops up; the lone Tboli Gawad Manlilikhang Bayan (Gamaba, or National Living Treasures Awardee) who have passed on in May 2015 at the age of 91.
The art of weaving tnalak among the Tbolis did not die with Lang Dulay, in fact, she has inspired many to look at the craft as a gift and an art, there are still those who seek the wisdom of the goddess Fu Dalu to teach them designs and the inspiration for yet another tnalak cloth. Among them is Barbara Ofung, who at 60 is regarded as among the best among the living weavers.
Ofung said she learned the craft from her elder sister who has since died. She was made to observe how the weaving was done was only finally allowed to handle the loom after years of being allowed only to count the strands.
As Ofung explained through the aid of her niece Dolores Loco Agar (Ofung can only speak in Tboli and a little Ilonggo), children are not allowed to touch the loom until they show a distinct interest and is inclined to create designs.
Tnalak weaving is handed down from generation to generation among the womenfolk of the Tboli tribe.
But unlike the Maranao tribe where it is taboo for men to weave, Tboli men are not inclined to weave simply because in the years of yore, the menfolk were the one harvesting abaca from the forests and manually stripping the abaca fiber. Thus, this is the task handed down from father to son through the generations.
Ofung is from Lake Sebu and has lived all her life there, learning and weaving. She explained that young girls are introduced into the craft by being made to assist in the preparation, one step of which is counting the strands.
The young apprentices are made to observe, be familiar with the quality and strands of the abaca, show keen interest on how these strands are laid out and then tied ikat-style. As they become more familiar and able, they move on to learn how to do the ikat, how to dye, then weave, and then tie the knots.
The dying itself is no joke. The counted strands are laid out and the pattern is done through ikat method or by tightly tying the strands together in the desired pattern.
Before they used abaca as well to create the patterns, but now they use the straw twine.
Once the long strands of counted abaca have been tied into patterns, these are immersed in dye from pigments gathered from plants.
The leaves of k'nalum plant (said to belong to the ebony family although the writer could not verify this as yet) is where they derive the black dye.
The bark and roots of the loko tree is where they get the red dye. It can take a year or even more to finally master the preparatory steps.
The master weaver is the one who will wield the ikat method and then the assistants will again do the dyeing. They use a backstrap loom, among the least comfortable way of weaving.
The design itself is wrapped in traditional beliefs, with the spirit of the abaca Fu Dalu, being the one who grants onto the gifted the dreams of new designs. These designs are then handed down from generation to generation, although one weaver may not know all the designs already conceived.
Ofung said she has to her name 15 designs, on top of those her sister has handed down to her. It's usual, she said, that designs stay with a family, but there are also those that are freely shared. Once the cloth is done, it is burnished for hours using a conch shell.
The quality of a tnalak cloth is determined by how close the woven strands are and how soft it is. The expensive tnalak, which sells from P1,500 to P1,800 per meter has the texture of satin and is almost as soft. This is achieved by a tight weave and long hours of burnishing.
The tnalak cloth is classified into four classes, depending on the quality. The highest quality is Teylendey (luxe). Kno-on (finesse) is class B, Gebela (regular) is Class C, and Semugung (Coarse) is Class D. Ofung is sought after to make Teylendey cloths.
As Ofung prays for more inspirations to make more designs of her own, she also dreams of passing on her craft to as many young ones as possible. At present, Agor said, Ofung has 25 students who are learning the art of weaving every Saturday at Lake Sebu's Santa Cruz Mission. Young as they are, they are yet on the level of counting strands.