The T'boli are famous for their dream-inspired and spirit infused T'nalak weavings, but also for their embroidery, brass casting and other crafts. T'nalak weaving is an artform perfected over decades of practice by T'boli women, and only a handful of master weavers can be considered true 'dream weavers', the works of whom are highly valued. The T'nalak Dream Weavers website seeks to promote the fair trade of traditional arts of the T'boli Tribe, located in Lake Sebu, in the Mindanao region of the Philippines.
The Story of T'nalak and the T'boli Tribe
T'nalak, a deep brown abaca-based cloth tie-dyed with intricate designs, is produced by women of Mindanao's T'boli Tribe. It is one of the best known cultural products of the Philippines.
T'nalak production is a labour intensive process requiring a knowledge of a range of skills learned from a young age by the women of the tribe. First, abaca fiber is stripped from the abaca tree, cleaned, dried and separated into strands. These strands are then carefully selected, hand tied and rolled into balls. Natural vegetable dyes produced by the T'boli weavers themselves are used to stain these hand spun abaca fibers. The T'nalak is then woven, usually in tones of red, brown and black, with the end product requiring months of work to produce a single, unique weaving.
(Above, from left, a T'boli master weaver engaged in weaving; showing the source of dye for yellow thread; preparing a completed weaving for shining using a large seashell)
T'nalak has great significance for the T'Boli. According to T'boli tradition, the T'nalak designs have been passed down through generations and come to the best weavers in dreams, brought to them by their ancestors. T'nalak weavings are one of the traditional properties exchanged at the time of marriage and is used as a covering during birth to ensure a safe delivery. The T'Boli believe that the T'nalak is infused with spiritual meaning, and as such there are a variety of traditions surrounding its production and use. One should not step over a weaving in progress, and doing so is to risk illness. Cutting the cloth will cause sickness or death, unless done according to traditions. If a weaving is sold, a brass ring is often attached to appease the spirits. And while weaving a T'nalak, T'boli women practice abstinence in order to maintain the purity of their art.
The T'boli have a variety of other traditional products. The skills inherent in production of these T'boli products are highly valued, and as such many women learn each from their mothers and grandmothers. The T'boli are excellent embroiderers and brass casters, with their products prized well beyond the borders of their community. T'boli jackets are a sought after fashion accessory with high society women in Manila, for example. They also are known for their bead jewelry and wood carving. Rounding out these cultural practices are a rich tradition of dancing, singing and instrument playing, and T'boli musicians and dancers have performed at major events around the world.
(Above, from left, T'boli women in the chapel of the Santa Cruz Mission school, wearing traditional embroidered clothing; T'boli brass casting; embroidered vestments prepared for the local priests)
Linkage to the Cooperative of Women in Health and Development
The T'nalak Dream Weavers website has been created for the Cooperative of Women in Health and Development, to assist its T'boli members and other women of the Tribe receive a fair price for their creations. The Cooperative, a Lake Sebu-based organization, was established by the Santa Cruz Mission with support from AusAID, the international development programme of the Australian Government. Registered with the Cooperative Development Authority in 1995, the Cooperative continues to be affiliated with the Santa Cruz Mission Schools Inc., the International Labour Organization of the United Nations, the Municipal Development Council, and various other governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations.
In addition to promoting the fair trade of T'boli cultural products, the Cooperative can assist with organizing T'boli participation in indigenous or tribal events, presenting traditional T'boli dance and singing arts, along with products.
For Sales and Other Matters, Contact Information for the Cooperative
© Cooperative of Women in Health and Development, Lake Sebu, Philippines
The T'nalak Dream Weavers website was produced with the assistance of the International Labour Organization (ILO) with support from the Finnish Government.
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