The T’boli women design the t’nalak without the use of drawn patterns or guides, but instead, rely on a mental image of the designs. Often times called the “dream weavers” the T’boli women believe that the patterns are bestowed on them through either dreams of their own, those from their ancestors or ones granted specially through Fu Dalu, the spirit of the abaca.
According to the T’boli, Fu Dalu is a spirit with long white hair that watches over the production of the t’nalak. Offerings and prayers are said in order to guide the making of the t’nalak so that the fibers do not snap during weaving or tying or the pattern remains intact.
T’nalak designs are handed down and not every t’nalak weaver knows every design. In addition, usually certain original designs stay within a certain family while others are shared. Currently, there are over a hundred traditional patterns with many new undocumented patterns.
T’nalak motifs are inspired by the environment or natural surroundings of the T’boli such as the lobun or clouds, doun basag or palm leaves and sowu or snake.
T’nalak motifs are inspired by the environment or natural surroundings of the T’boli such as the ”lobun” or clouds, “doun basag” or palm leaves and “sowu” or snake. Both sides of the T’nalak can serve as the front with the designs being exactly the same, stitch for stitch on either side. In addition, the traditional combination of red, black and the natural ecru of the abaca fibers bring out the various motifs.
(Barbara Ofung poses beside the Ye Kumu, one of the most prized type of t’nalak as it is comprised of three panels sewn together. The Ye Kumu is rare to find nowadays and was once used during royal wedding ceremonies.)