WITH a landscape blessed with abundance of life and a thriving culture which dates back to the late 14th century, it is no surprise that Lake Sebu in South Cotabato has become one of the top Eco-Tourism destinations in the country.
Its falls, springs, caves and lakes have truly been nature's blessing while its inhabitants particularly the T'boli tribe has added color to the already captivating municipality. It is 89,138 hectares of grandeur, which comes with approximately 75,000 people who are willing to share with you a piece of their culture.
There are a lot of outdoor activities in store for tourists. Among its top nature attractions are its falls or locally known as Hikong. And by meaning of falls, they got seven of them namely the Hikong Alu or Passage Falls, Hikong Bente or Immeasurable Falls, Hikong Blebed or Zigzag Falls, Hikong Lowig or Booth Falls, Hikong K'foi or Wild Flower Falls, Hikong Ukol or Short Falls and Hikong Tonok or Soil Falls. They have a zipline that offers a bird's eye view of the seven falls.
The T'Daan Kini Spring is also another spot that one should not miss if they go to Lake Sebu. T'Daan Kini means "where hot and cold meet" since it is warm in the morning and cold at night. Although it has not yet been developed, the Municipal Tourism Office of Lake Sebu is proposing to add a T'boli Heritage Park, which includes a botanical garden, museum and T'boli landmarks.
Tourists may also go spelunking at the Kofnit Cave or better yet go trekking at the Three Kings Mountain. Another outdoor activity is bird watching at Barangay Tasiman and Barangay Lamlahak.
Lake Sebu, by the way, is not the only lake in the municipality as it also has Lake Seloton and Lake Lahit. All of these lakes are flourishing with life and nearby residents have made a living out of the abundant source of freshwater fishes mainly the tilapia. Surrounding Lake Sebu, meanwhile, are 14 different resorts.
But the most fascinating thing about Lake Sebu is the rich cultural heritage of the T'boli tribe and the first thing that comes to mind is the "dream weaver" Be Lang Dulay who is adept in creating the abaca fiber weavings called T'nalak. Be Lang Dulay has become the icon of the municipality. She was awarded with the National Living Treasure (Manlilikha ng Bayan) award from the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 1998 being one of the drivers for the preservation of their culture and her craftsmanship of the T'nalak.
Jerson Ungkal, a tour guide from the Lake Sebu tourism office, told Sun.Star Davao and the students of Ateneo de Davao University that Lang Dulay has been blessed with the ability to derive the design of her works from her dreams.
"Nakakausap niya ang mga espiritu sa kanyang panaginip at yun ang nagiging concept ng kanyang design kaya siya tinawag na dream weaver. Karamihan sa kanyang design ay nagrerepresent ng culture at experience ng T'boli, (She talks with the spirits in her dreams and that becomes the concept of her designs that is why she called the dream weaver. Most of her designs represent the culture and experience of the T'boli.)" Ungkal said.
But Ungkal said Be Lang Dulay may be the last of a dying breed of dream weavers. Yet when she received the Manlilikha ng Bayan award, she established the Manlilikha ng Bayan Center where she trains T'boli women the art of T'nalak weaving with the hopes that some of them may develop the skill of dream weaving.
Another exceptional display of their culture are the establishment of various performing arts groups whose members dedicate their lives to practice the different art of the T'boli tribe.
Jezrel Mark Blagay, a T'boli tribesman and a member of the Punta Isla Performing Arts Group, told Sun.Star Davao: "Niundang kog skwela kay gusto ra gyud nako ma-master ang lahi-lahing tradisyonal nga sayaw ug tugtog sa T'boli. Dili gyud pwede nga dili adlaw-adlaw ang practice kay mawala ang pagkahanas ug mawala pud ang blessing sa mga espiritu kanamo, (I quit school since I just want to master the different dance and music of the T'boli. It is also unacceptable to not practice every day since the skill and the blessings of the spirits may vanish.)"
He added that his group is only one of the four performing arts group in the municipality as there are also the Tinalak Ensemble, Ictus Performing Art and the Tribal Youth Dance Troupe.
Blagay and his co-members then displayed the different traditional dances and instruments. They played the Blowon and K'lintang or gongs matched with the sloli or flute, hegelung or the two-stringed guitar and the T'nonggong or drums. While the music was playing, their dancers performed various dance routines which include the Madal Tahaw or bird dance, Madal Soyow or Warrior Dance, Madal la Helos or ritual dance, Madal Iwas or monkey dance and the Madal Siwol or the courtship dance.
Blagay also said they learn their tradition from the Sikat School of Indigenous Knowledge and Tradition and while further studies are sustained at the School of Living Tradition.
But while the schools for their tradition have been established, its local government has also made efforts of preserving and promoting the T'boli culture.
Municipal Tourism Officer Thelma Callo, in a press conference, tallied a total of 78,859 tourists arrival last year.
"The tax derived from the proceeds of the tourist arrivals are given back to the community so that they could sustain their respective livelihood. And since we promote the community-based tourism, the tax is used to support the local T'nalak makers, brass cutters who craft the K'lintang, the different souvenir makers and the performing arts groups," Callo said.
Municipal Mayor Antonio Fungan Sr., meanwhile, said more than P1 million from their internal revenue allotment (IRA) of P130 million is being used for tourism while the rest of the funds is being used to extend the roads to make Lake Sebu more accessible to tourists.
"Marami pang kailangan i-improve sa munisipyo pero focus lang parin kami sa pag-preserve and promote ng kultura kaya well supported ang mga traditionnal schools dito. Para sa road naman magdadagdag kami ng additional na six kilometers para mas madali makapunta ang mga tourist dito, (There are still a lot of improvements for the municipality but we are focused on preserving and promoting the culture that is why the traditional schools are well supported. For the road, we are set to add six kilometers so that it would be easier for tourists to come here.)"
Apart from preserving the culture, the mayor also said they are implementing the zoning of fish cages to avoid the overfishing in the lakes in the municipality.
"We are currently implementing the zoning where the fish cages should only maintain 10 percent occupancy for their fish cage. If their area exceeds the 10 percent then we conduct the demolition," Fungan added.
Some T'boli tribesmen may have gone astray to the modern civilization.
But the calling of their tribe has driven them to go back to the community to help preserve and promote their culture. And with every T'boli having the same calling, we could see that Lake Sebu can stand the test of time.