Allan: All people including the T’boli of Lake Sebu

“AFTER this I beheld, and lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and kindred and people and tongues, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palms in their hands. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits upon the throne, and unto the Lamb!' ” (Rev. 7:9-10)

My nephew Kabayan Jones and cousin Dr. Roy Magantino just went to Lake Sebu in their recent trip to triumph over the fears of traveling southern Philippines. This brought me back to the trip down there in 2001 as part of the Philippine team cultural exchange. The delegates from Cordillera included one was a Tingguian, two Kalanguya, one Ibaloi and two of us from Mountain Province.

One of the more interesting portion was a hosting of the local school run by the Catholic church. On a Friday, the students wear the traditional attire and for their PE (physical education), they dance the indigenous dance. It was interesting because as we watched one dance, they used their malong to portray from “birth to death” life cycle. I was able to talk to the teacher s and they are completely committed to the preservation of the T’boli culture of Lake Sebu. No wonder the organizers of our “IP (indigenous people) curriculum development program” brought us to there. Much that I dig deep into my memory, the name of the school escapes me. I can’t find my journal on that decade old trip to Lake Sebu. Wow, now that I am going to graduate from being golden and be 60 in four months, I will soon use the excuse “senior moments.”

The Davao Catholic Herald last October 2015, featured a former teacher and principal of the Catholic mission, Anita Castillon, who went on to set her own school and now “runs 3 IP schools: two kindergarten and the one in Takunel is now an elementary school with 120 students. These are called Indigenous Learning School (ILS) and use the IP Curriculum with T’Boli teachers who are college graduates. Tuition fee is only P20/month with the condition that parents plant root crops and vegetables in their homes and around the school yard to ensure proper nutrition for the students. Parents help in cooking the food for the school feeding program. She conducts livelihood training for parents to enable them to earn more and afford the P20/month tuition fees.”

The T’boli people is a group of over 92,453 based on a 2015 census. They are believed to be spread in various places specially in South Cotabato. The people share a religious affiliation to Christianity, folk religion and animist adherents. They still have the horse fights during weddings, and some T’boli are still polygamous. The T’boli of Lake Sebu live in a well maintained wooded mountain, bubbly rivers and productive farms.

It has been over a decade after the Philippine Government focused on the IP curriculum for DepEd (Department of Education) but still we lament because the IP culture curriculum continue to be trickles in existence. Implementers or writers, paid by government, meaning the Filipino paying people, have not fully grasp the IP curriculum for the appreciation of co-existence and the preservation of our people. More so, because the IP culture continue to be eroded due to various factors including intermarriages. This IPs who have not been raised or exposed to the culture will not be able to pass it on to their children.

Even so, some literature of our education system and media present a thwarted version of the IP culture. I have been doing my share when we conducted the School of Indigenous Peoples Advocates in those years.

Unlike most of the villages in Mountain Province, the T’boli continues to practice and teach their culture specially their traditions, the attire, the musical instruments in the schools and in the communities. They still weave the T’nalak and teaching the young to do so in their schools of living traditions and in the regular schools like the Catholic Mission. The women do not have a written pattern but they weave based on a mental image of the pattern, thus gaining the title “Dream weavers of Lake Sebu.”

We were told however, that some of the designs are kept as family traditions and the family that started it kept it as a trademark. For the labor of producing the T’nalak by cutting, stripping, selection, separating, squeezing, drying, staining and dyeing. Producing the fiber alone takes time, effort and resources uncommon to many. Dyeing process may take a month or so, and weaving a ten meter weave of T’nalak may take over two weeks. After it is woven the T’nalak is smoothened with a cowrie shell. The process also brings out the shiny surface of the woven item. It is hard labor and usually done by the men.

According to one of the researchers, some dream weavers abstain from intimate marital obligations to preserve the sanctity of the design and the finished product. In this way, the traditional culture is interwoven in their enterprising activity.

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