In the Philippines, there is a curious ethnic group – the Tboli people. They have beautiful traditional costumes, decorated with embroidery, beading, woven patterns, and extraordinary jewelry pieces. Let’s have a look at their folk outfits and also find out how some items of their clothes are made. Another interesting part of this article is an interview with Tboli craftswomen who will talk about their cultural peculiarities, the tnalak fabric – historically made on the island, and the craft of weaving in the Philippines.
The Tboli tribes are indigenous peoples of the Philippines. They traditionally live in Southern Mindanao. Let’s have a look at the national clothing of the Tboli people from Lake Sebu, Mindanao, the Philippines.
These are Tboli women wearing the traditional dress called “Kegal T'boli”. The traditional female blouse is called “kegal bentilas” and the skirt is “lewek tedeyung”. The headdress – “sewat”. The necklace is called “bekelew”. The women are also wearing beautiful beaded belts – “hilet lemimet”.
On the blouse, you can see various patterns. For instance, this design is a crab. The Tboli people eat crabs when it is the season for planting and harvesting rice. So, they put the image of the food that helps them to survive on the folk costume.
Another woman’s blouse is decorated with a design inspired by the rattan fruit. This plant is very important for the Tboli people’s life because they use stems of the rattan fruit to build their houses.
The designs of the traditional Tboli belts are different. Every family tries to keep their own patterns and pass them throughout generations. The one in the photo belonged to that woman’s parents. And it is called “bang gala”.
The jewelry pieces of the Tboli people are also extraordinary. For instance, the earrings and necklaces can be made from horse hair. They make a small chain and add beads.
Tboli tnalak fabric
Tnalak is a hand-woven fabric made by the Tboli tribes. This traditional cloth plays a very important role in Tboli culture. But how is it made? What stages should a fiber pass to become the fabric?
The tnalak is made from abaca fibers. The abaca plant grows from seed to sky in just 8 months. The trunk is sliced lengthways into 1-inch strips and shredded using a sprung knife mechanism to remove the pulp and separate the fibers.
After the abaca fibers are air-dried, a rubbing and squeezing technique is used to make the fiber more malleable for weaving.
Fibers are tied together to make long warp threads for the loom. Threads are joined together in 3s for preparation of the ikat design. The sacred Tboli ikat designs, inspired by their dreams (they literally sleep and see the patterns in their dreams), are made from memory.
The abaca threads dipped in beeswax are wrapped tightly around the warp threads. When dyed, the beeswax will act as a barrier, protecting the original color underneath. Natural dyes come from locally grown leaves and roots. Dyes create a deep black and rusty red color when boiled with the abaca.
The ikat ties are then cut away to reveal the natural color underneath. The intricate design is revealed when the warp threads are placed onto the loom.
When the tnalak is taken off the loom, it is beaten with a wooden club to soften the fabric.
The final step uses a seashell suspended from a bamboo stick to add the shine.
Interview with Tboli craftswomen
– Where does the inspiration for tnalak originate from?
– The inspiration for the tnalak comes from our grandmother. Her name is Lang Dulay. When she dreamed the designs, that’s when we started making tnalak. We get our designs from the patterns we see in our dreams.
We make tnalak and trade it in our daily life. We sell it to buy horses, water buffalos, and cows. The tnalak is very important in our culture. The purpose of the tnalak is for the dowry, for our dress, and to earn a living.
– How does the tnalak relate to the spirit world in Tboli culture?
– My mother-in-law said, we have do’s and don’ts when making the tnalak. Don’t ever step over the abaca fabric. When you are tying the pattern, don’t be angry with your children around the fabric – politely send them away if they are distracting you. This is the rule of Fu Dalu (the spirit god of abaca). The beliefs of the Tboli is to heal others and perform rituals. We perform rituals and offerings to the spirit of water, the spirit of the trees, and the spirit of the soil. We perform rituals to these spirits whenever somebody is sick.
We don’t weave in the heat of the mid-day sun. The best time to weave is early in the morning and afternoon, to get the good design and good quality.
– What is unique about Tboli culture? Why do you want people to visit?
– For me, on behalf of our grandmother, we thank god for sending tourists to our village to buy tnalak. I am very happy to be making tnalak, so I can finance my children to go to school and improve the daily life in our village.
For me, I’m happy. Although Lang Dulay has passed away, her skills and memory still live on in the tnalak and in us. It’s because of her memory we continue to make tnalak. To remember, inside. Please, come to Lake Sebu and visit us, don’t be afraid, there are no worries here because all visitors, coming here to learn about tnalak, are welcome.