Categories
Backpack Photography Philippines South Cotabato South Cotabato Travel

South Cotabato: Meeting Lang Dulay, the T’boli Dreamweavers and the T’nalak

Philippines National Treasure Awardee Lang Dulay

We climbed up the stilted T’Boli long house said to be the home to a National Living Treasure Awardee, Lang Dulay. She wasn’t there yet but the large airy long house, has portrait images hanging on one side of the room and written literature about her life and accomplishments. I heard someone going up the stairs, emerged is a small old lady garbed on a beautiful and colorful T’boli garbed. She doesn’t look frail from her old age, she has lines of experience on her face, but the lightness on her face and seemingly contented eyes makes her look younger than her years. So here’s a National Treasure right before us.

Lang Dulay
Philippines National Treasure Lang Dulay

We climbed up the stilted T’Boli long house said to be the home to a National Living Treasure Awardee, Lang Dulay. She wasn’t there yet but the large airy long house, has portrait images hanging on one side of the room and written literature about her life and accomplishments. I heard someone going up the stairs, emerged is a small old lady garbed on a beautiful and colorful T’boli garbed. She doesn’t look frail from her old age, she has lines of experience on her face, but the lightness on her face and seemingly contented eyes makes her look younger than her years. So here’s a National Treasure right before us.

Busy dreamweavers incorporating client designs
Busy dreamweavers incorporating client designs

I heard tears fell from her eyes the first time she got word she was being considered as a GAMABA (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) Awardee last 1998. She thought at that time her dream of providing a school for the women of her community would be realized and therefore help promote their art of T’nalak Weaving and produce more dreamweavers. T’nalak weavers are considered dreamweavers since their designs are inspired by patterns originating from their dreams. Only women can be dreamweavers.

Lang Dulay Students
Lang Dulay Students weaving her complex designs

From the creative mind of Lang Dulay, she can weave more than a hundred designs from butterflies to clouds. Her textiles have excellent quality as seen through the fine yards used, tight interweaving, and precise patterns. At her old age and glassy eyes, she no longer weaves herself but only designs the patterns and let the young dreamweavers do the weaving. Despite the demand for modern designs for T’nalak, Lang Dulay still encourages the old ways of doing them to give life to the ancient voices passed down through generations and stories embedded on each piece of T’nalak. Not one T’nalak is alike.

The T'boli Longhouse at Barrio Lamangdalag
The T'boli Longhouse at Barrio Lamangdalag

From meeting the Master Dreamweaver, Lang Dulay, our guides Diane and Jonathan led us on an hour ride along rough unpaved roads to Barrio Lamangdalag where a longhouse was established by Lang Dulay and COWHED (Cooperative of Women for Health and Education) with the help from ILO (International Labor Organization). It is here where we get to see how the T’nalak was made from abaca to the final work of art weaving.

Stripping the abaca and hand-sifted
Stripping the abaca (left) and hand-sifted (right)

Creating a T’nalak is a very tedious task as we learned. From gathering abaca fibers sourced about 6 hours away from town, they are then stripped into fibers using an improvised manual metal stripper.

Tying up each abaca strands
Tying up each abaca strands and placed on a basket

These then are carefully hand-sifted and with each strands tied together and wounded into balls of fiber.
These fibers are then stretched on a frame where they start covering up areas with plastic straw ropes.

Plastic straw ropes used to cover up the patterns
Plastic straw ropes used to cover up the patterns

The fibers are then boiled on a vegetable dye where the covered plastic straw portion would produce the patterns. More complicated patterns require re-covering and re-dying.

Abaca fibers boiled on vegetable dye
Abaca fibers boiled on vegetable dye

Once the dyed fiber is dried, the actual weaving is then done. And these weaving could take 3-6 months depending on the complexity of the pattern.

Newly dried up fibers ready for weaving
Newly dried up fibers ready for weaving

Also, T’boli women attend to the farm field to help out so they only do the weaving before or after work. Besides, the fabric tends to brittle under the noon time heat so they prefer to weave during the cool mornings and evenings.

Dreamweavers use the backrest to add tension
Dreamweavers use the backrest to add tension

The T’boli still observes certain beliefs during periods of T’nalak weaving. One belief is that one should not walk over the fiber threads lest they want to get sick. Another is for the dreamweaver to refrain from acts of intimacy as not to interrupt the flow of inspiration.

Polish the t'nalak  with a shell
Polishing the t'nalak with a shell for the nice sheen

After the weaving is finished, the last part is to polish the textile with a seashell to bring out that beautiful sheen on the surface of the T’nalak. This is another ingenious way of putting force on the shell by using tension from a flexible wood pole pressed against the ceiling beam.

Ingenious way to add force to polishing
Ingenious way to add force to polishing

The ILO is helping the T’bolis market them on a good price. Ancient T’bolis used to trade them for a horse but nowadays they sell them for P600-100 a piece or P200-300 a meter from a regular dreamweaver. But those signed by Lang Dulay fetched for more than a thousand or two when bought directly. I heard prices on international market are a lot higher. Seeing the tons of hard work put into each T’nalak piece, It definitely deserves a higher price.

Lang Dulay's Signed T'nalak
Lang Dulay's Signed T'nalak

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.