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T'nalak Weaving in Lake Sebu

“This design resembles the sand in the desert,” a T’boli guy explained to us while showing a roll of T’nalak created by a student of Lang Dulay, a national living treasure based in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines. This title was conferred by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 1998 during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos.

Tinalak weaving in Lake Sebu
“But there’s no desert here in the Philippines?” I wondered aloud. “Where does Lang Dulay get her design inspirations?” I asked.

The guy asked Lang Dulay in their own dialect. After their brief conversation, he interpreted, “In her dreams.” He further added that all the 100 designs of the 89-year old woman have originated from the images in her sleep, thereby making her “The Dreamweaver.” Everyone in the community has a high regard for her creativity, diligence, and expression. Lang Dulay doesn’t anymore weave as much as she did before, but she teaches the people in Lake Sebu how to produce glossy abaca cloth with her own designs.

With Lang Dulay, the dreamweaver
Dan, Jen and I continued to ask about the long process of T’nalak weaving. The sky started to cry outside, so we opted to stay longer in the dim center, a Traditional house made of bamboo. The short but hard pour was a blessing in disguise, though. Our stay made me realize that their traditional fabric is a labor of love blended with the magic of nature. It is the result when you combine art, culture and effort.

The meticulous process consists of five stages, namely:

  • Step 1: Arranging – They arrange and count plain abaca strands and group them by 27 (just an estimate).

  • Step 2: Designing – They cover some parts of the grouped strands with a brown tie. The covered sections, when unfastened, create an image that forms part of the design.

Covering some sections as part of the design
    • Step 3: Heating – They boil the abaca strands with the roots of a loko tree to get a red color, leaves and fruits of a kanalum tree for black, and kunin (ginger) for yellow. T’nalak consists of the said colors only; they represent the T’boli tribe. By the way, I’m not sure if I spelled the local terms correctly.

    • Step 4: Weaving – After drying the strands, they interlace them vertically and horizontally to create the cloth.

    • Step 5: Ironing – They press the fabric with a shell attached to a bamboo to flatten it and make it glossy.

    Ironing the T'nalak
    It usually takes four months to produce about 10 meters of T’nalak cloth. Yes, four months! It’s sold between Php 500 to 1,200 per meter, depending on the design, style and weaver (Lang Dulay’s work of art is the most expensive). For budget travelers like us, it may seem very expensive but if you consider the time and effort exerted in it, I’d say it’s quite low-priced.

    Our friend Jen in the weaving center
    When Jen decided to buy 3 meters of T'nalak, they called the weaver, Ate Josephine, so my friend could personally hand the payment to her. It seemed Ate was so overwhelmed with joy; her beam somewhat told us her tribe creates the cloth not only for money but more importantly for passion and culture preservation.

    I’d recommend this place for a close encounter with Lake Sebu locals and T’nalak weaving. When I visit it next time, I wish they would display all the 100 designs of Lang Dulay. The place would probably look more splendid!

    How to Get to the Weaving Center

    Unless you have a four-wheeled vehicle, the only way to get there is through a habal-habal, a motorcycle used for public transport in the Philippines. From the town center, the fare is Php 30 per head one way, but we gave the driver Php50 because we thought it was hard to drive through an undulating, rock and wet (because it rained) road.

    If you want to order T’nalak from Lang Dulay or any of her students, please contact Marilyn Dulay at +639066931745 or +639264152925. For habal-habal drivers, you may call or text Mark Meyen at +639262934508.