Food Philippines

Blaan People: Cultural Immersion in South Cotabato

A trip to SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City) has been on my bucket list. When presented with the opportunity to travel to one of the most off-the-beaten-path places in Southern Mindanao, I jumped at the chance, not only to fulfill a lifelong dream, but also to learn about the culture and tradition of Blaan People.

Blaan people with their colorful tradtional attire

Sustainable Tourism in the Philippines

The Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DoT), recently launched the first Community-Based Tourism Recognition as part of its Sustainable Tourism Promotion in the Philippines. Together with the sustainable tourism experts/assessors, TPB people and bloggers/vloggers, we visited the first community nominated as one of the best sustainable tourism destinations of the country. 

Colorful traditional attire and musical instruments used by the Blaan

From General Santos International Airport, we drove into the mountains to get to Sitio Amguo in Barangay Landan (Polomolok, South Cotabato). Located at the foot of Mount Matutum, this barangay is where the Blaan People lives. It took about an hour and a half from GenSan.

Blaan People of Southern Mindanao

I know about the T’boli in South Cotabato as they are considered the most well-known tribal group in Mindanao. However, I know nothing about the Blaan People, which is basically the neighbors of T’boli. With equally fascinating culture and tradition, their names are actually related. Blaan means counterpart while T’boli means people who live on the other side.

Blaan Children
In some indigenous group in the Philippines, women wore tattoos to signify beauty, power and wealth. But here in Blaan, I did not see a single female with a tattoo. 

The Blaan People are one of the indigenous people (IP) living in Southern Mindanao. They have their own traditional dance and music, colorful tribal wear and weaving tradition similar to the T’boli. The product of their weaving is called Tabih (T’boli call it T’nalak) and they have their own dreamweavers too! In fact, their master dreamweaver named Yabing Masalon Dulo was recognised as a National Living Treasure (Manlilikha ng Bayan)!

Blaan Tour Guide
Flanek Jao, our Blaan Guide. Flanek in Blaan means brother.

Fu Yabing Weaving Center and the Mabal Tabih

The Blaan welcomed us with warm smiles and their traditional dance. We were then assisted by Jao (Arthur Dulo Gulili), our Blaan guide. He explained to us their traditions and how it’s important for them to continue the Blaan way of life. He told us that traditionally, only Blaan women were allowed to learn weaving. But because of their desire to carry on this art for many years to come, he and another male Blaan decided to learn how to weave. It was so heart-warming to see how proud they are as Blaan.

Blaan weaver
One of the weavers in the village showed us the Blaan ‘mabal tabih’ (ikat weaving) tradition
Blaan weaver
These Blaan women are apprentice of Yabing Masalon Dulo, a National Living Treasure (Manlilikha ng Bayan).
Blaan accessories
Aside from Tabih weaving, the Blaan also make their own traditional accessories and clothing. 
Blaan accessories
A Blaan woman showed us how they make their traditional accessories

Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village

After our visit in the Fu Yabing Weaving Center, we participated in a welcome ritual led by the Blaan. We were then welcomed by the Tribal Leader and the Project Coordinator of the Blaan Tribal Village as well as the Blaan elders. Here we learned how the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village started with the help of the late Gina Lopez’s I LOVE Foundation, Dr. Jaime Z. Galvez Tan of the Health Futures Foundation, Inc. (HFI), and the local tourism sector with participation of the Blaan people.

Blaan performers
Young Blaan performed their traditional tribal dance during the welcome ritual.
Blaan performs their traditional dance
Dancing is an essential part of Blaan celebrations and I’m glad to be able to participate in one of it. 
Blaan colorful accessories
Blaan sells handmade beaded earrings, necklaces and bracelets as souvenirs to tourists

Traditional Food of the Blaan People

Part of the Filipino culture is to provide warm hospitality to all, whether they are foreigners or not. The same holds true for the Blaan People. Even before the Spanish colonization, food has always been a way to bring the community together. As soon as we finished with the village tour, we were offered a generous spread of traditionally prepared snacks and coffee.

Arabica coffee
Pure Arabica carefully processed by the Blaan. It was sooo good, you guys!

As you can see in the photos below, the Blaan diet commonly consisted of foods that were either collected, grown, or hunted from the surrounding forest and mountains. We got to try banana and cassava balls with coconut, boiled corn on the cob and Sgetong Faet. No fancy additive but incredibly satisfying and filling!

Casava balls with niyog (coconut)
vegan meatballs
Vegan meatballs made from local vegetable called Sgetong Faet (pronounced Sigatong Faet)
Sgetong Faet 

Overall Experience

It was my first time to travel to this part of Mindanao and I hate myself for waiting too long to visit. Despite the bad press that Mindanao always gets, I never felt unsafe or threatened in South Cotabato. My visit to the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village is indeed an eye-opener. I never knew I would find such a vibrant and rich culture which I believe is going to attract more and more tourists in the months to come. I’m positive I will be back to sleep over at their homestay and to learn how to cook Sgatong Feit vegan balls.

To anyone planning to visit Mindanao, I highly recommend joining a Cultural Tour in the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village. This emerging trend for sustainable cultural tourism provides opportunity for authentic cultural exchange between locals and visitors. Get in touch with Health Futures Foundation to arrange your tour or book your overnight stay at the homestay.

Thank you so much Philippines’ Tourism Promotions Board! I am extremely grateful for this experience.

Travel Notes

Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village
Address: Barangay Landan, Polomolok, South Cotabato
Facebook Page: @blaanwellness
Landline: (02) 411-8698 – Manila Office
Mobile: (63) 948 839 5100
Email address: [email protected]

By Project Gora

Hey there! My name is Milet Miranda, and I'm a full-time corporate employee during weekdays and a traveler during weekends (and get the picture). I'm a foodie at heart and I love joining food tours. When I'm not traveling, you'll find me walking my dogs or biking around my neighborhood.

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