Ways to Discovering Your Inner T’Boli

Learning about a culture always involves two facets – a tourists’ perspective, and a local’s perspective. In truly understanding and discovering the way of life of other societies, certain points are required to truly feel like you’ve fit in.

We’ve compiled together points on how to truly make a T’boli. Should you find yourself in Lake Sebu on a visit, or living with the T’boli on an immersion, here are 8 ways to discovering yourself, and discovering the T’boli within you.

Discover the skill and technique needed to create a t'nalak, and the variety of designs one can create from abaca fiber.
In Lake Sebu, Discover the skill and technique needed to create a t’nalak, and the variety of designs one can create from abaca fiber.

#1. Attend T’Boli school.

Learning about a new culture is like going back to school and learning the basics from the ground up. Thankfully, struggling to learn something new is a bit easier when there’s a teacher to guide you, and a school where you can learn alongside other people. The SLT – or School of Living Traditions in Lake Sebu is one of the places where young T’boli children, as well as those looking to know more about the tribe, learn through the arts and culture. Here, Ma’am Oyog, also fondly called Ate Mayang by the other students, patiently teaches interested visitors about the T’boli culture – through music and the arts. Here, there are no grades, no examinations, no failing. It is a place where one can learn at their own pace, and where visitors can interact and communicate with the teachers and other students in a welcoming environment.

#2. Find your T’boli rhythm.

Playing a T’boli instrument is one of the first things young members of the T’boli tribe learn. It is also one of the first things visitors to Lake Sebu’s SLT get to (visually) experience. Many T’boli instruments are made from bamboo – like the S’ludoy and the Kubing, which students oftentimes have to make from bamboo grown around the area. Dance is also part of the culture, and though it doesn’t require flexibility or stunts, students of T’boli dance, especially women, need to carry themselves with grace in order to masterfully exhibit the various routines.

Rhythm is an important key in T’boli music, because dance and song are oftentimes played together.

Find your inner rhythm
Find your inner rhythm as Teacher Maria %22Oyog%22 Todi gives lessons on how to play a variety of T’boli music instruments.

#3. Weave your dreams into a t’nalak.

Weaving cloth is hard enough, but making it the traditional T’boli way involves a deeper and personal relationship that somehow makes the long and tedious process much more worth it. Here, the fibers that make the material cannot simply be bought, it is harvested from the surroundings. In the T’boli culture, men harvest the abaca fibers used to make t’nalak, before harvesting and preparing the abaca and turning it into usable materials. While men collect the materials, the task of weaving is left to the women, who design and dye the abaca fibers and turn it into cloth.

According to the students of renowned dreamweaver Lang Dulay, creating a t’nalak is a traditional practice that doesn’t just take a lot of patience, it also requires a certain gift?one that involves turning dreams into a t’nalak design. Creating one roll of t’nalak cloth usually takes up to 2 to 3 months, but should Fu Dalu (the goddess of abaca) be kind enough to visit you in your dream, the end product is a piece of history, and a part of you that will last a lifetime, or longer.

#4. Wear your craft.

Crafts are an important part of being T’boli, not just as a livelihood, but as a reflection of culture. Bead-making and brass-casting are two traditional T’boli crafts that are an important part of T’boli attire. Bead-making is a lot like the beadwork of accessories, using a variety of colors to reflect the vibrant costumes worn by the T’boli women during ceremonies and holidays. These lovely creations are worn like necklaces around the neck, but are also used for T’boli headdresses.

Brass-casting is the more complicated of the two, requiring patience, hard work, and a tolerance for pain, which may not be suited for everyone initially interested in trying it out. Involving heating metals at high temperatures then pouring it into molds, brass-casting is part labor and part design. T’boli women generally wear a belt called the kulintas around their waist, and it is ladened with hundreds of tiny bells called the killing-kiling. To create each killing-kiling requires a steady hand to iron out the rough metal and piece together each tiny piece until it completes a design that can be worn around the waist. This is definitely not for the faint hearted.

#5. Take a stroll through the mountains.

Life in Lake Sebu is about living among nature, and that includes accepting that the area is one giant T’boli backyard. Though there’s always the option of riding a motorcycle, rental car, or a habal-habal, there are simply some places that these motorized vehicles cannot take you.

A good exercise for the T’boli is knowing how to get to places that only one’s feet can take you. Lake Sebu’s rolling mountains and hills are the best place to do just that, and to discover new places and new people along the way. There are yet many hidden gems located on the hills of Lake Sebu known only to locals, and the only way to get there is to trek and walk up and down hills, fields, and across bridges.

#6. Indulge in a cold spring bath at T’daankini Falls.

The weather in Lake Sebu is fairly cool year-round, even during the summer, but it doesn’t mean one cannot enjoy a dip in one of the natural rivers and springs that litter the mountain. A favorite local waterspot is the T’daankini Falls, near the 3 Kings Mountains.

T’daankini Falls is for the T’boli, a short trek away from the drop off point, located higher up the mountain. Many go there to enjoy the cold springs and small waterfalls that make their way from the top of the mountains. It’s a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of the mountains, appreciate nature, and of course meet new people from around the municipality. It’s also a fun way to cool down from the heat!

#7. Eat what you grow, grow what you eat.

There is nothing like discovering your inner T’boli than through food. If the stomach is the way to aman’s heart, then cuisine is the road to realizing your inner self.

Tilapia is grown by the thousands among the fishing pens of Lake Sebu’s waters. It is a part of everyday cuisine, and has been incorporated in a variety of local dishes ranging from soups to side dishes, and even as a delicious snack-time treat – like the Tilapia Chicharon. Different crops are also grown by locals as part of their diet. Nothing says delicious like harvesting the food right off the field before cooking it, and nothing says healthy like trying out organic crops that don’t need pesticides to grow them.

Indulge in the sights and sounds of nature by enjoying a quick dip in the cold spring waters of T’daankini Falls.
Indulge in the sights and sounds of nature by enjoying a quick dip in the cold spring waters of T’daankini Falls.

#8. Earn a T’boli tongue.

Language has always been an important part of understanding and knowing a culture, and earning a T’boli tongue is nothing different. Though some of the T’boli here can speak Ilonggo, Cebuano, and even Tagalog, there is still something special about speaking centuries-old phrases or sentences to another person. Most T’boli literature is not written, but spoken, so understanding the language opens up more opportunities than just day-to-day conversations.

Hyu h’lafus, or good morning, is a good way to greet another person at the start of each beautiful new day. Say bong s’lamat as a way of thanking somebody, or beleem sekom as a reply to someone showing you their gratitude.

However one decides to learn or integrate herself into a new culture, always remember that maan nawa, or joy, is an important part to learning and discovering something new.


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