Videoke Invasion, Lowland Intrusions, and T’boli Displacement: The Other Side of Lake Sebu

I was back in Lake Sebu this week for preliminary fieldwork with my key T’boli informants for my thesis on their music. I had already made prior arangements with the talented tnonggong (drum) musician, Umag, who I would later discover to be the son of the famous, Ganlal, mentioned in Manolete Mora’s book as a known tnonggong musician and snake-bite healer.

I had booked accomodations at Greenbox, just across the road from Oyog’s School of Living Traditions and SIKAT, two wonderful institutions helping to promote and conserve T’boli indigenous culture amidst the continually encroaching commercialization and Bisaya-nasyon of both land and people.

Videoke Displacement
Coming home one early afternoon from the quant T’boli museum where I had attempted to engage the old woman running the place, Alice, in conversation but to no avail though she did play the k’lintang and a bolowon for me. The sooner I learn to speak T’boli the better for me.
Arriving back at Greenbox, I came face to face with a big box of metal horror—-a hulking videoke! The type that looks like a video arcade game of old that gobbles up five peso coins for it to work! As I stood there, heart dropping heavier by the minute, I knew how the T’boli must have felt as they watched their sacred and mystical Lake Sebu beingtaken away from them by lowland settlers armed with money and tilapia fingerlings. I, too, had lost my own piece of heaven. From now on, the solitude of looking over the tranquil lake would be lost amidst off-tune covers of Aegis. It is raining in Lake Sebu but I don’t need to be told that via Ulan.
As I attempted to read that afternoon in my room cooled by the light rain, the horror began. First, it started softly, tentatively, like someone trying-out a mcrophone for the furst time. As it mustered more courage, it became bolder. From ballads it moved to dance tunes. By the time “Gangnam Style” was knocking on my window like Chuckie, the evil doll, I had grabbbed my umbrella to take a look at the homestay I had seen a few meters down the road. Fortunately, someone answered the mobile phone, gave me the contact number of the caretaker, and faster than I can say “Koronadal” arranged my transfers.
Back at Greenbox, I packed my bags, paid my bills, got my advanced payment back, and told them that if I had wanted noise I would have stayed put.
It really was a pity leaving the familiar surroundings of the Greenbox. I had such a pleasant stay there last year. The girls running it were really friendly and helpful too.

Conversations with a Settler
Rufina’s Homestay was peaceful and had a pretty garden out in front with a lovely gazebo. Plus I was the only one there. Frankie, the caretaker, was nice and during the course of the remaining days I was in Lake Sebu took care of me. He also was talkative and early morning and evening conversations were peppered with lively exchanges as he gave his views on the T’boli and indigenous people based on his three years living in Lake Sebu after moving out from his native Kidapawan.

Frankie’s views seem to sum-up the general attitude lowland settlers have towards the indigenous population. That the T’boli are lazy and lack ambition with quite a few as scammers. On the other hand, they were generally to be pitied.  Yes, he did have some unfortunate incidents with a few T’boli locals whom he had given an advanced payment for delivery of charcoal who never did deliver.   It is this ambivalence that has generated a lot of tensions in social relations. My years of experience working with indigenous people has taught me that what is seen as a lack of ambition is actually a lack of need to exploit resources and one’s self for commercial purposes. Surplus is unknown. After all, wealth is measured with tnalak and bolowon.  As for T’boli scammers, what group of people don’t have one?  It is unrealistic to think of indigenous people as all pure and holy; untouched buy modern evils.  Most outsiders view them as such.  But they are after all living in modern times in a rapidly modernizing community and are not immune to certain behaviors.  Besides, even “non-modern” societies have their own evils and flaws.


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