Lake Sebu and the T’boli Dream Weavers

Lake Sebu was the last stop of our visit to South Cotabato for the Sustainable Community-Based Tourism Recognition (SCBTR) by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DoT). Together with the TPB people and sustainable tourism assessors, we set out to Lake Sebu to get to know the T’boli People.

Drone shot of Lake Sebu

Lake Sebu and T’boli People

The T’boli are an Indigenous People (IPs) native to South Cotabato, living around the mystical Lake Sebu. Located in Southern Mindanao in the Philippines, the T’boli are recognised for their remarkable T’nalak weaves. Their distinctive weaving technique is characterized by tribal designs and patterns passed through their dreams, earning them the title “Dream Weavers.” This sacred weaving practice represents not just Mindanao’s rich cultural heritage, but all of the Philippines.

Fun fact: Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray wore various T’nalak outfits during the competition.

See photos here: PH culture, textiles take spotlight in Catriona Gray’s Miss Universe outfits

Lotus flowers
Lotus flowers in Lake Sebu

Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions (SLT)

The Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions (SLT) is a humble cultural center that promotes eco-tourism and T’boli traditions. Established by Maria “Oyog” Todi, the informal learning center, which is also a humble homestay, helps to preserve the T’boli culture and tradition. Here children and adults get to immerse and learn about T’boli’s rich cultural heritage by being introduced to various T’boli musical instruments (you can also learn how to play!), T’nalak, the T’boli sacred cloth, intricately designed T’boli accessories and ornaments, and so much more.

As a first time visitor in Lake Sebu, I feel like going to SLT is the very first thing any tourist should do. It’s a great introduction to Lake Sebu and of course, the T’boli.

Photo of Maria “Oyog” Todi, a T’boli community leader and a living treasure, and Jellybee Madres Baay of Regional Tourism Office (Region 12) by Noel Amata Photography

If you ever find yourself in Lake Sebu, find Maria “Oyog” Todi. I did not expect that I would meet such an empowering and inspirational woman in a tribe where there is a strong male dominance. Besides being a mother of four, she devoted her life to preserving T’boli culture and making sure it will be carried on by the next generation. She is an advocate of T’boli women and children’s rights, and at a time where speaking out as a feminist in a public position could be dangerous, she she stood up and became an inspiration to her fellow T’boli. Maria “Oyog” Todi truly embodies what it means to be a strong and empowered woman. 

one of Lang Dulay’s apprentice dream weaver

Lang Dulay Weaving Center

The second stop of our visit to Lake Sebu was the Lang Dulay Weaving Center, a weaving center established by Lang Dulay, a recipient of National Living Treasures Award, alternatively known as the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan, given by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Known as “The Dream Weaver,” Lang Dulay showed outstanding craftsmanship and excellence that are unparalleled even after her death in 2015. Through her passion and dedication in passing down this rich cultural heritage to the youth, hundreds of her T’nalak designs were preserved and intellectual-property patented. 

Charlie Dulay, grandson of Lang Dulay
Photo by Noel Amata Photography

Charlie Dulay, the grandson of Lang Dulat, told us that T’nalk weaving is a very tedious process and requires much dedication, patience, creativity and a good memory. Their designs and patterns are inspired by their dreams, which is said to be passed on by their ancestors, and are transferred onto abaca fabric using the Ikat weaving method; which refers to the dyeing technique used before weaving takes place on the fabric. According to him, it takes approximately three to six months to finish a roll of T’nalak, depending on the complexity of the design.

T'nalak clothing
Some of the finished T’nalak products of Lang Dulay Weaving Center, which can be purchased as souvenirs.
T'boli accessories
Intricately designed T’boli accessrories and bead works

Punta Isla Lake Resort

The last stop of our Lake Sebu tour was Punta Isla Lake Resort, where we had an awesome view of the lake and a sumptuous lunch aboard a floating restaurant. Here we got to try out unique Tilapia dishes like Chicharon Tilapia, Sinanglay na Tilapia and Sisig na Tilapia. I enjoyed the 45-minute cruise especially because the T’boli host gave us interesting facts about the lake and different perspective since we are right in the middle of it. 

Lotus flowers are in full bloom during early morning at Lake Sebu. We went during lunch time so we did not get to see a lot of them.
fish crackers
Chicharon Tilapia
Sinanglay na Tilapia
cripsy and delicious Sisig Tilapia

Overall Experience

Visiting Lake Sebu, meeting Maria “Oyog” Todi and getting a closer look to the T’nalak weaving process at the Lang Dulay Weaving Center were some of the best experiences I had in South Cotabato. The fact that so many Filipino and foreign tourists were afraid to go due to security concerns and the onslaught of commercialism and modern culture are real threat to the T’boli. Being nominated as a Sustainable Tourism Destination during the Sustainable Community-Based Tourism Recognition (SCBTR) by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), hopefully will help the tribe’s cultural and economic survival. 

If you ask me if I ever felt unsafe at any point on my visit to Lake Sebu, NO I did not. Would I go there as a solo female traveler? YES. Especially now that I know just how many amazing sights I will see in this region. I would probably stay at the homestay (Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions) and spend time with Maria “Oyog” Todi and her family. I would also like to see the majestic Lake Sebu 7 falls and of course, to eat Chicharon Tilapia again!

Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions
Address: Barangay Poblacion, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato
Facebook Page: @LakeSebuSLT
Mobile Numbers: (+63)9066345367 or (+63)9354569359
Email address: [email protected]

How about you? Have you met the T’boli People or want to see them? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please leave a comment in the comments section below. 

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.