A Heritage of Music, Dance and Storytelling

This is my last post on the T’bolis and it’s beautiful land, Lake Sebu and what better way to honor its people and its land than to celebrate its cultural heritage through vivacious singing and dancing.  No, we didn’t dance nor sang BUT…

On our last night in Lake Sebu, our host prepared a simple musical production in honor of their heritage.  The T’bolis are masters at music, dance and storytelling.

After dinner, young T’boli women, men and children garbed in their traditional and colorful costumes gathered on one side of the longhouse getting ready to perform while eight friends in shorts and t-shirts looking forward to the show.  It started with our host introducing their culture, particularly their type of dance and music.  Inspired by nature, they imitate in their music the sounds of birds chirping, water flowing and the blowing of the wind.

These indigenous people have a rich musical heritage and a wide array of musical instruments.

This is a Hegulong (t’boli guitar) that was played by the bead maker we saw earlier that day.  It is said that a hegulong can only be made from a specific tree and a densu (ritual) of offering something to Tulus funen (a spirit who dwells among trees) must be accomplished before the instrument can be blessed with good tunes.

These performances are not for entertainment but it is more of their way of seeking wisdom from their ancestors.

Their dances likewise are mimics from the actions of animals, such as monkeys and birds.

This boy was the star of the night.  He twirled, tumbled, scratched and did all things a normal monkey does.

It was cute and hilarious.  The T’boli children—whenever they gather – tap anything in sight in rhythmic beats.

Something perhaps like what these kids were doing.

But as in many cultural heritages, the T’boli’s are threatened.  The community owned School of Indigenous Knowledge and Training (SIKAT) was set up to address their vanishing culture.

SIKAT is a school that revitalizes cultures and traditions in their indigenous education program, which includes traditional music and dances.  It is their aim to encourage students to learn in their own language and to value their heritage.

Getting There:

General Santos City is the gateway to Lake Sebu.  From the bus terminal take a bus to Koronadal (often referred to as Marbel, its old name) and get off at the Koronadal bus station. Tell the conductor to drop you off there.  The trip is about 45 minutes.  From Koronadal, take the Yellow Bus to the town of Surralah (about 38 minutes).  From Surralah, take a jeep to Lake Sebu (about 43 minutes).

On the other hand, one can also arrange for pick-up, depending on the resort you stay at.


Brass and Beads

Creative – that’s what they are.  The Tbolis possess marvelous traditional craft skills up to this day – aside from weaving, they are also known for their wax brass casting and colorful beadworks, which are used as jewelries, accessories or home décor.  They are also very stylish people, the T’bolis – some of the accessories worn by their women include earrings, necklaces, belts, anklets and combs.  Some more elaborate than others.  Some I can even wear with my modern day attire.  In fact, I have been accessorizing my wardrobe with the necklaces I bought since we got back – quite unique and distinctly ethnic garb, if I may say so.

There are several kinds of necklaces, some more difficult to obtain than others. Those considered heirlooms will be the most difficult to find is unlikely to be found in the market.

There are those made of beads such as this choker of pure beadwork in black, red and white called hikef.

Some a combination of brass and beads.

Earrings are also favorites.  Here again is the lady and her unforgettable multi-studded dangling earrings.

And here’s Mayang wearing an earring called a kowal.   It consists of several strands of tiny colored beads suspended under the chin, from the left earlobe to the right that frames the face.  She is also wearing a beaded comb.

This is Jeomema, one of our guides, in traditional garb

Speaking of combs, these are pretty common as many T’boli women are seen wearing them.

They also have belts or girdles as they are sometimes called — perhaps because of the strings of beads or brass that hangs from the waistband to their bellies.

Beaded belts are more common and are used more than girdles.

The beaded ones are jazzier while the brass girdles more ethnic.  I prefer it as a home décor, framed and hanged.  Imagine your waist and lower back after a day, if you choose to wear it.   😛  I bought one ten years ago (to hang, not to wear) but lost it when we moved house.  Arghh!   😦

Remember the anklet worn by this wife of Datu Angkoy?  Also something that may never come to fad, but who knows?  Anything is possible in this day and age.

Meet some of the creative craftsman:

Bondosh is a well-known brass caster who was very generous in sharing his brass casting methods.  We watched him finish the bells that we ordered.

He melted some brass scraps and poured the molten brass into a cast shaped like a bell.  This goes into an oven.

From the oven he lined them up to cool.

Then dips it in cold water

to break the cast which reveals an intricately designed brass bell almost ready.  Interesting.

In our longhouse, we encountered this bead maker (is that what they call them?) at work.  She was also going to perform that evening and she made good use of her time eh?

A Moment with a Lang Dulay

I have learned to appreciate art in various forms – from painting, pottery, sculpture to graphic and interior designs, to even the performing arts – and most recently, the artistry of weaving, more specifically T’nalak weaving.

The T’bolis are known for their traditional fabric called T’nalak.  This is made of long threads of Philippine-grown abaca fibers dipped in red and dark brown dyes.  I am awed that it takes an enormous amount of time (like 6 months) to finish a 5m x 0.60m piece.  And it is woven by “dreamweavers” whose designs are inspired by their dreams.

Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) is a program aimed at celebrating and safeguarding the work of indigenous and traditional artists of the Philippines.  It provides recognition to National Living Treasures, the highest honor given to indigenous folk artist for their outstanding work in creating, preserving and promoting traditional art forms that are threatened with extinction.  Awardees are artists who have manifested willingness to share their rare skill with others, especially younger members of their community.

Lang Dulay, known as THE Dreamweaver, fit that bill.  A National Living Treasure awardee since 1998, this 85-year-old native from South Cotobato opened a training center in Lake Sebu.

Her workshop is a 4m x 10m elevated rectangular bamboo/nipa hut

Her students.  Unfortunately at the time of visit, the center was closed due to some affair.

and this is where she trains her students,

including this protégé.

Her works are incredible but most of all, her heart is awe-inspiring.  What a great privilege and honor to meet such a humble and gifted person who is National Artist in stature.

Tainted but not Spoiled

Credits:  Papers — Cherished love by Carena Designs, K Pertiet Notebook 8 and King Me paper; Photo Mask — K Pertiet Grunged up photo block No. 2; Overlay– House of 3’s Rhonna swirl cluster No. 8

Setting aside the fact that it is tainted with a peace and order situation, Sitio Sepaka, a beautiful site is also known for its cool stream.  Four habal-habals with us in tow arrived at an entrance that charged P5 per head.

It led us to a shaded foot trail that eventually revealed a refreshing creak that enticed us to take a dip.

Children were all around, watching us with interest.  The remoteness (and of course the peace and order stature that it holds) probably does not bring many tourists to their neck of the woods thus the delight.  Oblivious to whatever threat that supposedly surrounded us, we had a great time frolicking with the locals, and the invigorating cold stream was a great “perk up” for the rest of the day.

Disclaimer: Four guides that made sure that everything was safe before we headed out to this place of course accompanied us.  If there were any danger to our wellbeing, we would never have ventured out at all.  Please check with your guide at the time of your visit and please do not insist if it is not advisable.

Scenic Sunday

A Datu and His Wives

Credits:  JSprague TW Kits (template 01 and papers)

Have you ever wondered how it is to be one of 11 wives?  Not me, until I met a datu with… yes!  11 wives.  Datu Udos Angkoy, a distinguished looking man dressed in ordinary clothes except for the headdress he donned (and later on a royal blue vest), graciously received us in a modest guesthouse atop a hill overlooking the picturesque lake.

With the best view in town, the humble guesthouse actually sits on five-star land.  The three out of the eleven wives, one after the other, changed into their vibrant outfits as well and reappeared dressed in long-sleeved, tight fitting intricately embroidered blouses, elaborate brass belts wrapped around their waists, chiming with their every move.  One wore chunky brass anklets – perhaps more than 10 stacked up to her shin – on both legs.  Can you imagine walking with those?  Teehee!

And the multiple dangling earrings… a new vogue in the offing, you think?  They live in a sizeable compound that seems to paint a happy picture so I reckon that it is in their best interest to live harmoniously.  Hmmm… I wonder.

On Market Day

Saturday is market day for the T’bolis and a smattering of them still turn up in a semblance of a traditional ensemble.  Take out these lingering few; market day in Lake Sebu was quite a let down.  Without them, the market looked like an ordinary tiangge (bazaar) with merchandise perhaps coming from Manila or even China.  Despite this however, it was still an enjoyable endeavor, especially for me.

How likely is it that among the population of more than 95,000 Tbolis, I find (and more amazingly – I remembered) the same one a decade later?

Perhaps it was her earrings or a combination of the earrings and her striking beauty that rendered a high recall.

One of the indigenous peoples of Southern Mindanao, the T’bolis primarily live in the South Cotobato province of Mindanao (the southernmost part of the Philippines).

As with many indigenous groups, many have adapted the migrant’s way of life owing to the many settlers hailing mostly from Iloilo (a province in the Western Visayas region, still south of the Philippines).

The colorful traditional outfits (I think) are mostly worn these days on special occasions and on market day.

Some snaps taken that morning.

Dried baby shrimps or what we call hebi (great for flavoring)

The T’bolis are famous for their intricate beadworks and brass ornaments

Negotiating for a picture with her

I just totally adore her!

T’bolis today — with an umbrella, a plastic bag of goodies and the red handbag!   😀

Beauteous Lakes of Lake Sebu

Uhmm… yes there are lakes in Lake Sebu, in fact, there are several but it is not exactly what you think.  There are no lakes within a lake.  Not to add to the confusion but Lake Sebu is a lake and a municipality, which consists of three adjacent mountain lakes – Lake Sebu, Lake Seloton and Lake Lahit… all with its own charm so impressive.  And Lake Sebu, the municipality, was named after its largest lake… aha!

Lake Sebu

Credits:  Frame mask by Orchard and Broome.

Known for its vastness, measuring around 354 hectares, is the most famous among the three lakes.

Isla Grande, the largest island within the three lakes is likewise located here.

We hiked up to the top of the island for a good view of the lake and the only way to get there was through an owong —

a canoe that is used for fishing.  A few meters from the jump off was a church,

which looked more like a shed (count your blessings folks!).  Being a Sunday, families, mostly mothers and children, waited patiently for the pastor who was still in another church in another island.   What an amazing servant of God, if you ask me.

We spent a little time there chatting the them.  Not long after, the children gamely sang hymns to entertain us.  Adorable.

Our T’boli hosts including this man who served as boatman and

entertainer accompanied us to the top of the island.  He was making up stories (apparently a funny one), which he chants in his native language — yes language.  The T’bolis speak a Malay-Polynesian language also called Tboli.   🙂  A wonderful experience, I must say, of cultural immersion.

Lake Seloton

Supposedly the deepest among the three and it is also known as the sunrise lake for having the best-unblocked view of the sunrise.

Not quite as stunning as its big sister sans the sunrise, it still possesses its own loveliness.  I am sorry that we never got to see its glorious sunrise.

Accessible only through the Sunrise Garden Lake Resort and although just a habal-habal ride away from our longhouse, we still didn’t made it up early enough to take that (cold) ride to the resort.

Lake Lahit

The smallest but not to be outshined by its two big sisters,

here we caught a fisherman fishing for tilapia just before sunset.

The lake at that time was quite spectacular, if I may say so myself.

These placid lakes are found in the middle of the Allah Valley Watershed Forest Reserve, which is used for fish (tilapia) farming,

duck raising and harvesting fresh water shrimps and snails.  The watershed supplies important irrigations to the provinces of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotobato.

Taken ten years ago… don’t remember which lake but most likely Lake Seloton

Ten years and perhaps even until a few years ago, the lakes had an abundance of lotus and lilies creating a picturesque setting – at least in my opinion.

Today, the lakes are clean with hardly any lotus plants in sight.  I was told that lotuses are (sadly) nuisance aquatic plants that are not recommended for ponds used for fishing.  And most of the people living in the nearby islands are engaged in fishing.  Well, I’ll take health of the lake over aesthetics anytime.

Lake Sebu with the fish cages at dusk

The lakes, in fact, became so famous in the early 1980s for tilapia raising that gave rise to the mushrooming of fish cages.  So much so that it would cover half of the lake, deteriorating its quality.   Today, it is good to know that the Fisheries Code prevents this from happening as the fish cages is allowed to occupy, at the most, only 10% of the total lake area.

It is no wonder that Lake Sebu was named after its beauteous lake, given that the lakes are such an integral part of their lives.

Scenic Sunday

Forceful Cascades of Lake Sebu

Hikong Bente (Falls #2)

Two of the seven waterfalls were the most accessible while the others have yet to have access trails.  Developed a few years ago through the funding of the local government with help from New Zealand, Hikong Alu (falls #1) and Hikong Bente (falls #2) today only requires about 30 minutes of walk – although I do not remember it to be a strenuous hike 10 years ago.  Often dubbed as the “Summer Capital” of Southern Philippines, the development of the seven waterfalls is part of a bigger plan to capitalize on the tourism potentials of Lake Sebu and to turn it into a major destination in Central Mindanao – not exactly the most popular in terms of tourism due to the poor press releases of its neighboring provinces and the mere fact that it is in Mindanao scares off a lot of tourists, foreign and locals alike.  So the efforts of the local government to focus on its beauty are commendable.

Two passengers and a driver in one motorcycle   😯

The only means of public transport around Lake Sebu is through motorcycles or what they call habal-habals.   From our longhouse, it took us 15 minutes perhaps to arrive at what looked like an entrance to a park.  P20 was all that’s needed to enter.  The focus of the development was mainly on road development and the establishments of resort facilities.  Save for the inner roads, it was a pretty smooth haba-habal ride along the main highway.

A short walk from the entrance is Hikong Alu, the first falls cascading down the jagged landscape of the lush forest of Lake Sebu.

A trail on the right leads to a natural pool where one can enjoy the beauty up close.

There are two options to get to the 2nd falls, Hikong Bente.  One can choose to zip down through a recently developed zipline.  The queue was long so we chose to walk.  The walk through the verdant forest is made easy with the stoned steps established.

What greeted us was a grander falls with powerful cascading water that leaves a misty atmosphere.   Apparently the largest of the seven.

The ragged rock wall etched through the years

by the constant mist from the falls

has become favorite playgrounds.

One could either swim or do as I did – simply admire the beauty that surrounds.

Stream as seen from the entrance

Nature tops the list of potent tranquilizers and stress reducers.  The mere sound of moving water has been shown to lower blood pressure.

~Patch Adams

Scenic Sunday

Lake Sebu Revisited

It’s been 10 years since my last visit to this enchanting town where T’boli’s hail.

A T’boli lady in full regalia

I remember the highland tribes for their colorful costumes and intricate beadworks.  And that’s what excites me about this trip.  Revisiting the lake, taking loads of pixes, eating lots of tilapia, shopping for some beadworks were just a few things I looked forward to.

In between General Santos and Lake Sebu is the town of Polomolok.  It is the home of Dole Philippines, the biggest pineapple plantation in the world.

A bag of sliced pineapple for P5 (US$0.10)

And for that reason, we had to stop and get us some pineapples for the road and Lake Sebu.

True to its promise, the pineapples were indeed über sweet.  While at it, we also stopped for a late lunch of

truly tasty and juicy lechon manok (roast chicken).

We arrived shortly before dinner with our host Mayang warmly welcoming us with a bowlful of

boiled camote (sweet potato), tuwal (macopa-looking fruit), suman (rice cake), and native coffee.  Our succulent late lunch didn’t stop us from devouring what was supposed to have been our snack turned starter.

Dinner was a simple yet delicious dish of tilapia in soy sauce set on the floor.  Accommodation whilst in Lake Sebu was a traditional longhouse, Mayang’s home, which she turned into a home-stay.

Photo courtesy of A.Go

Made of rattan, palm leaves, cogon grass and bamboo, the longhouse is devoid of any furniture, the elevated sides serves as the sleeping zone

and the center of the house serves as living/dining area.  The bathroom is an outhouse and bathing under the stars, I found out, is quite liberating albeit not an easy feat.

Due to the altitude of around 1,000m the climate can be cold in December and a taking a bath in cold water with a breeze is not really my thing… I love my hot showers.

I was dead tired from the trip; I hit the sack ahead of everyone else and consequently woke up early enough to catch a glorious sunrise.

Contact Details:

Mayang Todi:
Mobile: +639187671063