Lake Sebu Day 3 (evening): An Evening with the T’boli

I had come to Lake Sebu not to seek out the lake but the people whose home it is.  I have been fascinated with the T’boli since I was in high-school and saw a documentary on the T’boli made by the Sta. Cruz Mission.  Resplendent in their traditional garb of handwoven textiles and colorful plastic beads and brass bangles, they caught my imagination.  Their dances using the tubular cloth which hang from their necks as they whirled feverishly around in circles while their feet lightly tapped the ground was amazing.  Their lute, the hegalong, had also taken on iconic status for me.  I knew that one day I would make this trip.  It did take decades before I finally set foot in the ancestral domain of the T’boli.  Progress has inevitably altered their lives and lifestyle and outside the tourist industry, finding their culture was quite difficult.  I was really lucky to have met Oyog.  She not only got me the instruments I needed but more importantly, she allowed me to set foot to glimpse their world of dance and music.

Returning from the trip to the falls and the T’boli Museum, Oyog had  dropped me at the Green Box to rest while she went to a village to seek out Joel.  She assured me that he was one of the best musicians and he could make me a dwegey, a sloli, and a t’nonggong.  About an hour later, she returned to tell me that she had gone to him in the fields where he was working on a ploughing machine and that he would come in the evening to make me the instruments and to play!  I was really excited about it as I have never seen a “living” example of a dwegey before.  She also assured me that in the evening there would be dancing.  The moto driver would fetch Joel at around 4.

I had more than ample time to go back to Kehelingan as I was interested in the t’nonggong I had seen the previous day.  The doors were closed to the main shop but someone in the restaurant called a plumped middle-aged lady that could pass-off as anyone’s gracious mother.  She opened the doors and we went in.  She was Nida Bacalang who was head of the foundation which was an umbrella organization of different craft-making associations.  She was very patient and answered all my questions and even let me try the different blouses and vests on display.  They were really beautiful and could cost up to Php 7,000 depending on the intricacy of the designs and the beadwork.  One of the simplest ones cost Php 800.  I tried on a big one and it fit me though it hang half-way up my torso.  If it had been long enough, I would have bought it even if it was a woman’s blouse.  A complete T’boli outfit consisting of a blouse, skirt, and all the accessories including head gear costs Php 7,000!

I bought one of the sludoy on display for Php 250.  I could have gladly bought the bigger and heavier one which was only  Php 100 more but I didn’t think I’d have space for it.  The instruments looked like the real thing and didn’t seem to have been made for the tourist market which most of the souvenir shops had.  I couldn’t help taking my eyes off the red square fabric hanging on the wall. It was a head gear worn by T’boli women minus the frame.  The fabric alone cost Php 500.  Attached to the frame so it could be worn properly on the head, it cost Php 800.  With beads hanging down from the edges, it costs Php 1,000.  She got one hanging from the restaurant and showed it to me.  I manage to persuade her to give it to me for Php 500 as it was quit dirty having been on display outside the restaurant’s dining area.

I spent the rest of the afternoon packing my stuff as I was leaving the next day. The instruments would have to be packed the next morning as they needed more time to dry out under the heat of the sun.

The moto driver came knocking on my door past at around 5 to say that Joel had arrived!  I quickly shuffled to Oyog’s house and there he was, cutting the bamboo to be used for the dwegey while his teen-aged son was removing the meat from the coconut which was to be used as resonator.  It was dusk and there wasn’t any light on Oyog’s tribal house. I had to make do with the flashlight on my Blackberry just so I could continue documenting his crafting of the instrument and also of that of the sloli.  Upstairs, Oyog’s youngest daughter was practicing on the t’nonggong.

With her younger cousin, a cute little boy, they practiced the warrior dance while another girl beat out some rhythms on the drum.  It was fascinating and really fun to watch them as they were really intent on their dancing and playing. I was really taken-in by Oyog’s daughter and her natural love for the arts.  After retrieving my flashlight from my room, I chanced upon her practicing on the bamboo tubes which her cousin held upright.  She was continuously exhorting the others to play and play and play.

Night had fallen and a couple of young girls, students of Oyog, had arrived in T’boli garb.  They were fully made up and looked so pretty.  Oyog had told me earlier that there would be dancing and they would be in their traditional wear.  Seeing the young girls, I knew the evening would be really special.

A bonfire had been built in the center of the tribal house.  By now, Joel had finished making the dwegey and the sloli.   I would have to wait until my next visit for the t’nonggong as deer skin was unavailable.  He did bring his own drum which he would play later.  Oyog had wrapped some rice and the left-over fish we had for lunch in the leaves of the lemenge tree which she distributed to everyone.  The dinner of clams which I had asked Green Box to cook for me was brought over together with the tilapia chicharon I ordered from the nearby eatery.  We squatted on the floor with the food parcels before us and ate with our fingers.  We washed it all down with orange juice.

Communal dinner by bonfire

After clearing the dishes, the performance started.  And boy, did I have a fantastic time watching them dance and play.  Oyog annotated the performances and during the dances she would coach the three girls.  Joel was a true master musician who showed excellent playing of the t’nonggong .  It was captivating to watch him coax vibrant sounds from such a small drum.  One playing style consisted of him flinging his left hand in the air after a few strikes.  At times, he would also touch the floor.  His son had apparently also taken after him as the boy also played the drum very well.

Accompanying Joel   was Oyog  on a flat slab of bamboo which had been attached to a small low wooden bench.  This substituted for the floor.  The special “instrument” had been made as a portable floor which could be brought anywhere there were performances, especially abroad.

Joel playing the “sloli”

Madal tahu, one of the most difficult dances due to its fast rhythm was performed by Oyog who told me that whenever Joel plays the drum one can’t help but dance.  It really was true.

I felt so privileged to have been treated to such a performance.  I could not thank Joel enough for his time and the instruments he had made for me.  Shyly, he asked for just Php 200!  I gave him double that as it was too low.  I also gave him an advance of Php 500 to make me t’nonggong and a tambul.  Deep in my heart, I knew he would not renege on his promise.

Playing the “kumbing”

It was past 10 when the performance ended.  Joel packed his stuff and bade good bye as he had to walk back home there being no motos available.  I stayed to just chat with Oyog but had to leave when her sister-in-law came by to say that her brother had been rushed to the hospital due to difficulty in breathing which didn’t seem to be such a big problem basing it on their conversation.

That evening as I lay down on my room I knew I had found my thesis to finally complete my MA.   Lake Sebu would be my “home” and the T’boli my “people.”

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