T’nalak Weave: Beyond the Dream Weavers’ Cloth
A great legend once told about the lives of miraculous survivors of a great flood. According to this story, a person named Dwata gave reiterating cautions to the public of a looming great flood, but the people within the community gave no care. They believe that Dwata’s claims were simply a mad man’s desperate attempts for attention.
Time went on, and as Dwata kept on warning, the tribe grew more concerned about the man’s sanity, except for two couples - La Bebe and La Lomi, and Tamfeles and La Kagef - who were the only ones to heed Dwata when he instructed them to take refuge in a massive bamboo trunk. He assured that the bamboo could all fit them inside and that through hiding there, they will survive the incoming flood.
The story went on, La Bebe and La Lomi, and Tamfeles and La Kagef survived. La Bebe and La Lomi were the ancestors of the T’boli and other highland ethnic groups, while Tamfeles and La Kagef descended the other indigenous groups within the Philippines.
While several Filipino indigenous groups have now been deeply influenced by the urban way of living, the T’boli Tribal group is still going forward in a very simplistic and traditional way, just as their ancestors lived centuries ago. The greatest influence that has been passed to every generation within the tribe is the T’nalak Weave.
Late Land Dulay, which focuses on enhancing the T’nalak weaving skills of the people within the community. Its existence is one of the reasons why this unique tradition is still continually and successfully being transferred from generation to generation.
One interesting fact about the T’nalak weaving is that the women of the T’boli tribe perform this tradition without the use of any form of tracing patterns or even the simplest guides. They solely rely on a mental image of the patterns, which are said to have been acquired from dreams. Another T’boli legend tells about Fu Dalu, a goddess, who taught the art of T’nalak weaving to the women who were also referred to as dream weavers. They learned this sacred ritual through those dreams.
Another interesting detail about this special cloth is the certain practices and dedication that weavers put on them. There are designs which require the weaver not to engage in a marital activity while in the process of producing the T’nalak to retain the purity of the design. The uniqueness of those patterns has passed down from generation to generation and shows the tribe’s cultural meanings.
The T’nalak has always been used as an offering during rituals, marriages, and other festivities. It also has a high value in the tribe’s barter economy. Still, no matter what your reason is for visiting the T’boli tribe in South Cotabato one day, it will definitely put you in the midst of a distinguishing and youthful culture that is keeping their olden traditions alive. It will be a visit that offers endless opportunities in gaining wonderful traditional and cultural experiences.
The T’nalak is referred to as the T’boli’s sacred cloth and one of their best-known artistries. Its production processes require a vast amount of focus and knowledge coming from a range of skills, which are taught upon early childhood by the older women within the tribe. First, the abaca trunks are stripped into strands, separating the flesh from the abaca fiber. They are then combed to remove the sap and prevent its color from darkening. After which, they are prudently selected according to the thickness. In order to make sure that the strands are lenient and suitable for weaving, they are mostly squeezed carefully and are spread on a beam and air dried inside the house.
The traditional colors that are found in the T’nalak thread are black, red, and white, the natural color of the abaca. The dyes used in this process are those that are applied naturally, coming from the vegetation around the area. No artificial particle is used in coloring the fiber. The fibers are cooked for about three weeks to attain the desired hue and are then rinsed in running water through a nearby stream. Finally, the surface is shined using a cowrie shell, which is firmly brushed on the T’nalak to flatten the product and produce a nice gloss.
Written by: Cheryl Penaverde
Photographer: Mark Dizon