Lake Sebu, a secluded town in South Cotabato, is called the “Land of the Dreamweavers.” In this quiet place of rolling hills, mountains, numerous lakes and rivers, dreams exist beyond sleep; and its people are the bridge between that world and this.
For its locals have the ability to transform dreams into artistic craft. Know the five people of Lake Sebu who can interpret visits from the spirits through something physical that carries more than just design and color.
Meet the T’boli dreamweavers, the most well-known dreamweavers of Lake Sebu. They believe the goddess of abaca, Fu Dalu, visits them in their dreams. In these dreams, Fu Dalu is said to speak and guide them on how to create patterns and designs on the abaca such as the bankiring (hair bangs), bulinglangit (clouds), and the kabangi (butterfly). Thus, the famous t’nalak cloth is created.
Dreamweavers are highly dexterous, quickly weaving and tying the abaca fiber into their desired design. They also have a high stamina for the work they do, spending hours and weeks on end to complete the entire process of weaving, tying, and dyeing, to make just one t’nalak cloth.
Learning how to create t’nalak from a very young age, those who become actual dreamweavers are few. Not everyone who has mastered the craft of t’nalak are visited and inspired by Fu Dalu, and not everyone is bestowed with skills to recreate and visualize their dreams into cloth.
Some of them simply become weavers, using age-old techniques and designs to create t’nalak cloth; but others, become mentors that pass on their dreams and techniques to the younger generations who have the gift to become dreamweavers themselves.
The late National Treasure Lang Dulay, a strong advocate of the t’nalak in her time, passionately taught students about the traditions and techniques of weaving at her School of Living Traditions. Though Lang Dulay is gone, her ideas and her visions continue to live in the t’nalak cloth she has created or inspired, and in teachings she has passed on to the younger generations.
Find the dreamweavers on the second floor of a gono bong–a large T’boli house, weaving t’nalak or mentoring other weavers on the design of the cloth.
The dreamsmiths are metal benders, brass-casters inspired by spirits who are also believed to communicate with them through dreams. They design and create brass musical instruments used in T’boli performances, which they say is a means to communicating with the spirits. They also create accessories that adorn each and every member of the T’boli tribe.
A dreamsmith’s strength can be seen in the quality of workmanship, which is reflected in the smooth and clean design of their products. Using the dexterity and agility of their hands, they are able to move from one task to the next, creating fine details that require a steady hand and an inspired spirit.
The products of the dreamsmiths are said to be one of a kind, for each one requires the creation of its own unique clay mold—one which gets destroyed during the metal’s hardening and cooling down process.
Kenhulung Handicraft Federation president Nida Bacaling helps keep the work of these dreamsmiths alive by raising awareness and giving support to their art.
Find the dreamsmiths in their backyard, amidst a hot and warm atmosphere, as they work to melt and mold the metal into a variety of designs and forms.
Brethren of the dreamsmiths, the dreamcarvers work with wood instead of metal. Their creations are smooth and simple, using that which is taken from nature, and turning it into works of art. They design and create the wooden musical instruments that the tribe continues to use in performances, believing them to be other means of communicating with the spirits.
A dreamcarver’s dexterity lies in the way they whittle and trim the wood until it forms a smooth surface shaped after their desired design. Their quick and nimble fingers work at the wood, creating piece after piece in a matter of hours.
Ana Dasan and his brother are among the most respected wood carvers in the area. Their home, near the Three Kings Mountains and T’daankini Falls is where they create their labor of love, and labor of tradition. As dreamcarvers who pass on their legacy through the work that they do, they also pass on their culture to the younger generations who take on the responsibility of learning how to create and carve art out of what’s around them.
Dreamcarvers are found in their homes surrounded by fertile soil that supplies the trees they use for their wood and their colors.
The dreamcrafters are like sisters to the dreamweavers, using glass beads to create their woven-like art. These dreamcrafters create masterpieces that exemplify the relationship between the people, the sprits, and their history.
It is beyond doubt that a dreamcrafter’s wisdom is great, visualizing the story they want to tell, and putting it into design and color. The story they speak is reflected in the accessories that the tribe wears. A dreamcrafter’s dexterity can also be seen in the way one forms the beads with a knife, a thin metal rod, and fire. An experienced dreamcrafter needs less than one week to complete an entire necklace.
The women at the Cooperative of Women in Health in Development are among some of those who craft beads and necklaces. Their work supports a vision to provide a place where skilled members have a sense of responsibility and ownership through the works that they make. Women inherit the craft of beadmaking, a tradition passed down from mother to daughter, to continue the practices of their ancestors. These beads decorate and adorn a T’boli’s attire, adding a subtle beauty and story to each T’boli costume.
One can hope to find the dreamcrafters in their homes, forming beads of diverse colors and weaving them together to create a masterpiece work of art proudly worn by each member of the T’boli tribe.
Keeper of the caves
Keepers and protectors of the caves; this is the mission given to members of the Ubo tribe living near the caves of South Cotabato. Some of these caverns, which until in recent years have been undisturbed and undiscovered, are now open to the public, but still under the discretion of its guardians. Though few in number compared to their brothers of the dreams, the keepers live silent lives in their semi-isolated sub-village of Lambila.
Their home, hidden in the forests and grasslands of Barangay Lamlahak, is a journey away from where the others live. Here, the keepers, among them Kuya Bensilo—the community leader who owns the land where the Kofnit Cave can be found, live simple lives. Though they keep steady watch over the caves, holding responsibility over its sustainability and preservation, the keepers always welcome the idea of visitors coming to their home. Underneath the open night sky, undisturbed by modern technology, the keepers share their homes, their culture, and their stories, to those who wish to make the journey to the caves.
Here in Lake Sebu, there are many who sleep and many who dream. Then there are a chosen few visited by spirits as they slumber. These are the storytellers that put into craft, the visions that they imagine, and the stories and history that are shared with them.