The Tboli of Mindanao Philippines
A musical & cultural video journey by Alan C Geoghegan
This page is dedicated to Tboli Bamboo Zither Player GUMBAY SULAN (photo above)
click photo of Gumbay or here for additional photos
Preserving Culture, The Tboli of Mindanao, Philippines parts 1&2:
Alan Geoghegan videotaped for 2 magical weeks in Lake Sebu, Mindanao in the Southern Philippines with the Tboli tribe. We are very grateful to the Tboli tribe members, particularly members of the Helobung Tboli cultural troupe for taking time to share very precious aspects of their lives, through documentation, personal interviews and performances, as Gumbay Sulan did.
The producers would also like to thank Philippine Airlines for co-sponsoring our production by providing complimentary airline tickets, and The Punta Isla Lake Resort, for providing accommodation for our video crew.
Lastly, a thank you to Laura Simms for allowing us to reprint her beautiful strory, 'Tboli Dreaming - Keeping the Channels
of Culture Open', (below in full) about visiting the Tboli tribe.
Thank you for being a part of the Tboli tribe!
Alan C. Geoghegan, Columbia, South Carolina
Jesse Ankoy, or Mafil, a TBoli lute player
a Tboli community fiesta by Alan Geoghegan
TBOLI DREAMING - Keeping the Channels of Culture Open By Laura Simms
A Native American storyteller in the Yukon suggested to an Icelandic novelist traveling to New York that she get in touch with me. We agreed to meet at a Greek diner on Broadway. Both writers and travelers interested in a similar process of creativity, we quickly became friends. I offered her my home while I traveled to the Philippines so she could finish her novel. In exchange, she read my coffee grinds, something my own Rumanian mother had done for me while I was growing up in Brooklyn.
Seated at my kitchen table, she upturned the drying coffee cup and asked me, "Is there something uncomfortable about this trip?"
"Yes," I answered surprised. "I feel frightened of the week I am to spend with T'boli people in the south island of Mindanao. I know nothing about them." "You will feel fear," she said, "but you will discover a treasure."
I arrived in Manila during monsoon season in early August. Manila is in Luzon, the northernmost island of the more than 7,000 islands awkwardly formed into a country by the Colonial Spanish over 300 years ago. Destroyed during World War II, it suffers the horrors of a modern day city too quickly created in a third world culture. There are no reminders of ancient history, and few traces of its colonial grace remain. What natural beauty it has to offer is hidden by pollution and overshadowed by dense poverty and overpopulation .
I was traveling to Tboli as part of a month-long storytelling tour to gather stories. At that time my only encounter with Tboli tribes had been the few paragraphs in The Philippine Handbook: "An estimated 200,000 Tboli inhabit the Tiruray Highlands, a 2,000 square-km area within a triangle bounded by Surallah, Kiamba and Polomok..."
In Manila I found that any time I mentioned my upcoming visit to Tboli I was greeted with tremendous interest, curiosity and even awe. I was shown brass bells, beaded necklaces, photographs of elaborately costumed women and treasured Tinalak wall hangings, the sacred ceremonial cloth of the T'Boli Still, I felt a growing sense of unease. Why was I going to T'Boli? Was I to add to the increased exploitation by mining, forestry and tourism? Worse, I knew nothing of their traditions or taboos. My coffee reading was of no consolation, although I often reflected on it.
I have learned from my own travels and experiences that an outer journey is an inner journey. The most unexpected occurrences are usually the most significant, and the actual map is a secret map whose contours depend on my own receptivity to what unfolds moment to moment. I considered my journey to T'Boli a quest, a pilgrimage to a way of life rapidly vanishing from our planet.
In Manila, I said to myself, "It is best to surrender to the fact that I know nothing and remain alert." In fairy tales, esoteric and symbolic stories, it is the fool who becomes the hero or heroine. Sent out into the world, she does not know in which direction to travel. So she shoots an arrow, throws a stone, or a feather.
Where it lands is the direction in which she journeys. I spent one week in Manila, hosted by the kindness and hospitality of the most lovely people in the world, surrounded by the shock of unending, miserable poverty and an unbreathable atmosphere. I looked forward to my trip south.
Tboli dress and belt (Alan Geoghegan)
As my eyes adjusted,I was amazed at the ingenuity of these houses made of trash.
The translator from the tourist office explained that these people make their living
from sorting out the debris. I felt in awe of their resourcefulness. Finally, we
left the outskirts of the last large city behind, polluted and jumbled with every
conceivable mode of transportation; sports cars, diesel busses, trucks,
bicycle-drawn rickshaws, men on horseback and farmers on carabao. We rode in silence
for hours over dirt roads deeply rutted from the rains.
600 looked out at the lake. Small hill-locked
islands with bamboo houses dotted the water. Mountains in the distance. Smells of
rain and forest. An old woman at the back of a banca fished silently. Teenage boys
paddling a flat boat took fish from her in a basket and brought them to the fire.
Behind her were the patterned nets of new fisheries, a plan engineered by a European
to increase the catch of fish on the lake. The birth of an industry. The sight of
the nets sent chills down my spine. The driver had told me how quickly the ecological
balance on the lake is shifting due to fisheries, mining and forestry.
(L-R, above) The late Gumbay Sulan, (bamboo zither expert), Oyog "Maria" Todi, Alan Geoghegan, Ursula Aznar and Cecille Sanchez take a coffee break during the video shoot.
Humbled, I went to the Tboli market. Crowded. Walking, shopping clusters of people conversing. The foreignness and inaccessibility of the Tboli seems startling. They stare at me momentarily, but have no interest in my presence. Only the salespeople seem to take notice of me.
The Tboli women in full traditional costume are stunning: small and Malaysian-looking in many-colored sarongs and delicately embroidered blouses, women and girls adorned with foot-long earrings, layers of necklaces, hats as large as umbrellas, stacks of anklets and bracelets: red, blue, black, white, green, turquoise. I have no reference point for these faces born out of a 25,000-year-old history of trading between Indonesia, these islands, China, Africa, Polynesia and Arabia. The words of a Maori chant come to mind: The power and the prestige, the garments of your ancestors.
There was a stirring of interest in me over the next two days, as it became known that I was a storyteller. I had attended a Tboli wedding. I was seen walking around, taking a trip in a boat on the lake. People offered to tell me stories, and a dance concert was arranged in the lower room of the Tboli guide's bamboo house. Women performed in full costume one at a time (including a beautiful swallow dance, as graceful as the most elegant Javanese court dance), accompanying themselves with makeshift drums and gongs made from parts of trees, rubber shoes and kitchen pots. In the background, a row of old men watched a television show featuring the new Spanish Miss America dancing flamenco-style.
But where were the stories? At last I was granted an interview with a princess who was a weaver. My translator was Peter Corado, a Tboli lawyer. I hoped to find a story about the origin of weaving. I know many myths from Africa and Polynesia about weaving and the origin of language, and the traditional Tinalak fabric of the Tboli was fascinating to me.
"The ceremonial clothing of both men and women, Tinalak is a deep brown abaca cloth tie-dyed with intricate red and beige designs. Natural vegetable dyes are used to stain the fibers before the cloth is woven. The cloth has great significance for the Tboli It's 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 Tboli believe that cutting the cloth will cause serious illness or death. If it is sold, a brass ring is often attached to appease the spirits." (The Philippine Handbook.)
A stalk of notched bamboo served as a ladder to the house of Princess Diwa Tel, alias Ye Wala. I took off my thongs and climbed up behind Peter. The floor was made of thin strips of bamboo, and through the spaces I saw the earth below. Unable to conceive of walking on what looked like paper, I froze. Peter pulled me in. I felt as though I were standing on a thread of a hammock.
The old woman was seated by an opening in the wall which served as a window. She said, "I am sick and cannot speak for a long time." I inquired quickly about the story of the first weaving. In the center of the room, I saw her loom, a half-woven Tinalak growing from its base. In baskets next to the loom were balls of tie-dyed fibers made of banana hemp. She explained in detail how the Tinalak is made and the plants chosen, bark stripped, boiled and prepared, dyed, blessed and so on. She then told how each single pattern is dreamed by the weaver.
"Each design is new. No other person has made this exact design. They come in dreams in three ways: from the ancestors, from one's mother, and from one's own dream. The channel of the dream must be open." In order to be woven, each new pattern must be dreamed anew.
Cecille learns Tboli dance-steps with the help from Oyog "Maria" Todi-Arroz
"Women must continue to weave, to make jewelry, baskets,to sing and tell stories," she stated. Her daughter brought out her tribal clothing: necklaces, bracelets, earrings, the 13-pound brass belt adorned with Tboli bells and carved metal, an embroidered shirt, eight thick brass anklets and six wrist bracelets, the beaded wooden hairpiece and a pair of earrings which extended from the earlobe and wrapped around the neck like a collar. He put them on with the daughter's help. Transforming herself into a veritable temple, she became a visible map of her ancestors, her culture, and nature. She smiled proudly. Then she lifted her skirt and showed her tattooed calves, which would make her recognizable at death to the ancestors in the other world.
Four days after my visit to the Tboli, a volcano on one of the lakes that had been quiet for hundreds of years erupted, destroying people, hundreds of houses, T'Boli artifacts and animals.
The producers of the Tboli video are very grateful for allowing us to reproduce Laura Simm's article here. Laura Simms is an internationally renowned storyteller, writer, teacher & activist committed to excellent performances, & compassionate action in the world. She lives in New York City & her groundbreaking work combines ancient myth and fairytale with personal narrative. Laura Simm's web site here
Weaves of life: Preserving Blaan and Tboli Traditional Practices
by Alphonsus Luigi E. Alfonso, June 3, 2013 Philippine Daily Inquirer
All other photographs © Alan Geoghegan and Laura Simms unless specified. Photoshop enhancements by Alan Geoghegan