Dreamweavers are often known to be in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato but only a few know that there are also Blaan dreamweavers in Polomolok, South Cotabato

IT BEGINS with a young daughter’s watchful eye. She traces her mother’s movements back and forth. She dyes the fibers, counts the thread, and watches the rhythmic dance of a weaver’s dreams woven into unique soulful pieces.

Until one day, she dreams of the spirit of Abaca. Fu Dalu, they call her. The spirit reveals a design only the weaver can fashion. The young daughter then wakes up and begins weaving her dreams into reality.

In the Blaan tribe, this is how young girls begin their journey as dreamweavers of mabal tabih, Blaan term for ikat weaving. Their mothers do not teach them for it is believed that they would not succeed in weaving this way. Instead, the girls watch the weavers closely and attempt to create a tabih or handwoven dyed abaca. Under the guide of their mentors, the girls harness the skill to remember their visions and manifest them into unique and intricate designs.

This spiritual calling was one that exempted girls from the laborious work of living in the rural. It was a respected duty for only a few are called to its craftsmanship.

Yabing Masalon Dulo, called as “Fu Yabing”, was only 14 years old when she began weaving. From all her years in honing her skills and imparting the knowledge to younger generations of Blaan weavers, she has been awarded the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan in 2016 by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Two of her most prized tabih are considered masterpieces, with one on display at the National Museum.

Now a master of the craft at 104 years old, she recalls weaving as a source of happiness because it’s what she has always been called to do. When she was more able, she used to teach at a school of living traditions in her village, furthering the craft of dreamweaving among the younger generation.

The elder weaver is now retired after a motorcycle accident in 2018. She remembers asking God to let her live and in return, she will never ride a motorcycle again. With the help of traditional medicine, Fu Yabing is still able to walk but she had to rest from weaving, and vowed never to ride a motorcycle for the rest of her days.

Old weaver’s dreams

Fu Yabing was eager to tell us how much she missed weaving. If only her eyes could clear up and her back could still endure the long hours of sitting down, she would still dedicate her days and nights to the silent craft.

Aged as she may be, she still dreams of the spirit. Only this time, the spirit tells her which of her students will flourish at being dreamweavers.

Although, most Blaan women aren’t called for the weaving. This allowed the community to embrace other innovations to vary their sources of income. Non-dreamweavers who are still able to sew make use of sewing machines, while others specialize on patterned beadwork.

Witnessing soul work

The sun was shining full and bright on us when we visited the weaver’s village.

The weather was a perfect dance between warm and cool. You could hear children laughing while playing at the side of the road. The people we met along the way always had a warm smile on their faces. It was a neighborhood of people who welcomed us well into their culture, tradition, and history.

At the workshop, we saw weavers work meticulously on the designs. Long stretches of fibers are woven into small, intricate designs in only a few minutes. In the sunlight, the strands look as if they are gleaming, awaiting a dreamer’s touch.

The long repetitive cycle of movements in weaving seemed monotonous after a while. It appears the weavers were immersed in prayer as they recall their visions. One of the students of Fu Yabing said she sees the design in her memory clearly, she only needs to perfect her weave.

The seemingly gentle fibers stand the test of time as the tabih from Fu Yabing’s younger days are still intact to this day. Some tabih from Fu Yabing’s students are displayed at the workshop, which showed the difference between a novice weaver from that of a skilled one’s. The smaller the knots and design, the harder it is to perfect.

Weaving as memory-making

In the advent of Polomolok’s agro-industrial growth, the economic landscape has opened opportunities for people to find other means for livelihood. With this, more people leave their villages and traditions behind.

Fu Yabing’s lifetime commitment to mabal tabih is an act of memory-making for the Blaan tribe. It keeps the tradition alive and safeguards their identity throughout the change of times. Through weaving, they are able to preserve generations of dreams in weaves that would last lifetimes.

Although the tabih might seem as a decorative item, it speaks of a tribe’s commitment to its soul work and artistry by honoring the connection that they have with nature. It’s their love for nature that allowed them to weave their dreams to reality.

The young weavers now would be the ones to add new memories to a long history of memory-making of the Blaan tribe. It’s exciting to know what dreams these times are made of. (Alaska Ordoña, contributor)