In the mountains of southern Philippines lives an Indigenous community with a unique weaving tradition.
A spirit called Fu Dalu is believed to inspire the design of the tnalak (also spelled t’nalak and tinalak), a hand-woven cloth indigenous and sacred to the Tboli (T’boli, Tiboli).
Fu Dalu is the goddess of the abaca plant, whose fibers are used for the tri-colour fabric.
She comes in the dreams of Tboli women.
These women are called “dreamweavers”.
One of these dreamweavers is Barbara Ofong, whose story is told in a new book by Vancouver author Sandie Oreta Gillis.
“Barbara was fifteen when she first encountered Fu Dalu in a dream,” Gillis wrote in Weaving Our Dreams – The Tboli People of the Philippines (FriesenPress).
Fu Dalu communicates with Ofong through the Tboli woman’s dreams, and guides her with the design of her tnalak.
“In her dream, Fu Dalu sometimes takes on the form of a lizard, frog or snake. Barbara will incorporate the skin pattern of the animal into the design of the tnalak. Sometimes Fu Dalu takes on the form of a person in the dream.”
Gillis related that making a tnalak is a lengthy process, sometimes taking up to three or four months to finish a six-metre fabric.
“When the weaving process runs smoothly in every step, Barbara knows her spirit guide has helped her,” the Vancouver author wrote.
The Tbolis consider the uplands of South Cotabato, a province in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, as their traditional territory.
They are known for their colourful costumes as well as for original music and metalwork.
Gillis became interested about the Tbolis from her conversations with Francis Herradura, a Surrey artist who has visited the community.
Herradura would later design and illustrate the book.
In an interview, Gillis said that she wants to share the story of the Tbolis through their art.
“Art brings us all together,” Gillis told the Straight by phone.
The author explained that art provides a bridge among different peoples.
“When we understand the art of another, we also get to know each other more,” Gillis said.
Gillis was born and raised in the Philippines.
She moved to Canada in 1983, and has remained connected with her heritage.
Herradura, who illustrated the book, also hails from the Philippines.
The two met when Herradura joined Dimasalang, a Filipino artists’ group in Vancouver that includes Gillis.
In 2021, Gillis and Herradura founded the Narragila Culture and Arts Foundation.
The nonprofit’s name combines narra, the national tree of the Philippines, and agila, the Philippine eagle.
“Diverse cultures offer distinct creative expressions seen in their art and daily way of life,” Narragila states on its website.
“Learning and appreciating different cultures and traditions through their art forms broaden our understanding of societies and of people. By celebrating each other’s uniqueness, we foster a sense of belonging and a sense of pride.”
In the interview, Gillis said that while writing the book, she often thought of her nieces who were born in Canada.
Gillis said that by telling the story of the Tbolis, she can celebrate the diverse culture and heritage of the Filipino people.
“I hope to make them proud of their Filipino heritage too,” Gillis said about her nieces.
Weaving Our Dreams – The Tboli People of the Philippines also features Maria Todi, a Tboli musician who has established a cultural centre to preserve the community’s traditions.
The centre is called Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions.
To learn more and connect, see here.