The t’nalak, is a traditional cloth woven by the T’boli women of Lake Sebu and to them this unique fabric represents birth, life, union in marriage and death. It is often used as blankets and clothing and on rare occasions it is used in the royal wedding ceremonies. The t’nalak is sacred and represents the T’boli’s uniqueness and identity as an indigenous group of people.
Making the t’nalak is a skill that young T’boli women learn through their mothers, grandmothers or even sisters. Most of the existing weavers today come from a generation of t’nalak weavers that go back to their great ancestors. In their early years, the young T’boli women are introduced to the process by first assisting in the initial stages. As they progress, they move on to the dyeing, weaving and tying of the knots. It can take around one to five years of constant practice for a T’boli woman to fully learn the full production method of the t’nalak. To assist in the manual stripping of the abaca fibers as well as the burnishing of the fabric, the men of the household take charge of these stages from the husbands down to the sons. The production of the t’nalak requires multiple roles that contribute to its final output.
Making the t’nalak is a skill that young T’boli women learn through their mothers, grandmothers or even sisters. Most of the existing weavers today come from a generation of t’nalak weavers that go back to their great ancestors.
Making the t’nalak is a tedious process taking up to several months to finish, depending on the length and the intricacy of the pattern. It is made from natural abaca fibers (Manila hemp) and hand-dyed using the ikat-method with pigments gathered from certain roots, leaves and bark of the “loko” plant and the “k’nalum” tree. The abaca fibers give the textile strength and the natural dyes are almost permanent, that when well taken care of they will never fade. In addition, its surface is coated with beeswax and burnished with a cowry shell to give it a smooth sheen.
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.
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 their own dreams, those from their ancestors or ones granted specially through “Fu Dalu,” the spirit of the abaca. These designs are handed down or shared but not every t’nalak weaver knows every design. Usually, a few of the original designs stay within a certain family while others are shared.
Today, the tradition of the t’nalak lives on through the few weavers that strive to safeguard this tradition. While it continues to represent the tribe’s uniqueness and gives a sense of pride to the T’boli, many factors affecting its production could lead to the extinction of a part of their culture.