T’boli Tribe: Homestay and Cultural Immersion at T’boli Town

Nestled in the mountains of South Cotabato is T’boli Town, a 1st class municipality named after the indigenous people themselves, the T’boli Tribe. Most T’boli live around Lake Sebu, though there are other T’boli communities in other municipalities of South Cotabato as well. The T’boli predate the Spanish colonial time, and their way of life continued on long after the Spanish rule ended in 1898. They distinguish themselves from other Indigenous People (IP) in Mindanao by their traditional clothing, unique weaving practice using T’nalak (a scared cloth woven from abacá fibers), bead works, and beautiful brass ornaments.

T'boli women with Becoming Filipino
T’boli women with Kulas of Becoming Filipino

About T’boli Town

After our brief cultural immersion with the Blaan Tribe in Polomolok, our group travelled to T’boli Town. The town was the second community nominated as a Sustainable Tourism Destination during the Sustainable Community-Based Tourism Recognition (SCBTR) by the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DoT). Together with TPB and sustainable tourism assessors, we set out to T’boli Town to get to know the people and learn about their culture. 

T'boli dance performance
A festive welcome by the T’boli Tribe at Lemsnolon Cultural Village in T’boli, South Cotabato

Homestay at Lemsnolon Cultural Village

It was already dark when we arrived in the municipality of Lemsnolon, where we stayed on our first night in South Cotabato. The Lemsnolon Cultural Village offers a Homestay Program in a traditional T’boli long-house (Gono Bong), and an opportunity to interact with the T’boli.

T'boli musical instruments
T’boli women performing with their very own musical instruments like Hegalong (2-string guitar), Tnonggong (drum), Agung (musical gong), and Kulintang (row of small, horizontally laid gongs) 

We were welcomed by the friendly T’boli people with a traditional T’boli dance and music. We were then treated with a sumptuous dinner prepared by T’boli women, which include roasted native chicken, a T’boli version of Tinola (native chicken cooked with lemongrass and chilli leaves inside a bamboo), steamed rice wrapped in a leaf, and seasonal fruits. We had a lovely conversation with the T’boli women, especially about their colorful traditional clothing and accessories. We loved it so much that all of us in the group bought earrings, bracelet and long-sleeved blouse with bead works as souvenirs. 

Curled up like a baby in my cosy bed at the homestay of Lemsnolon Cultural Village

Our call time the next day was at 4 AM , so we all retreated into our cozy bed inside a colourful Klabu to finish the evening’s festivities. Klabu is a tent-like canopy adorned with ornamental needle works and tassels, which originated from the Maranao of Lanao. According to Rodel Hilado, aka Margaux, the T’boli Municipal Tourism Officer, the klabu is a good indicator of the T’boli family wealth and stature. Sleeping inside it made me feel like a true T’boli princess. 

Lake Holon and Mt. Parker

Travelling by 4×4 pick-up truck from our homestay in the Lemsnolon Cultural Village to Sitio Kule was a real assault on the senses. Sitio Kule, a remote T’boli municipality, is the jump-off point to Lake Holon and Mt. Parker (aka Mt. Melibingoy). It’s mountain trail, called Kule Trail, offers the best view of Lake Holon and considered one of the easiest trail to Mt. Parker. 

We did not look haggard and stressed in this photo at the back of our 4×4 pick-up truck lol!

Life in Sitio Kule is different in so many ways and getting there is an adventure like no other – a 1-hour 4×4 journey may end up taking 2-3 hours usually due to unforgiving road, but you will never be bored. Trust me. If you’re planning to get there by driving a motorcycle on your own or hiring a habal-habal, be prepared. The ride starts with a paved highway then later to rocky and muddy roads. Even when we’re on a 4×4 pick-up truck, we felt how the road seemed to get worse as we drove further in to Sitio Kule. If you don’t have company who is familiar with the terrain, don’t dare to drive on your own. Habal-habal is your best bet.

Learn about T’boli Tribe Culture Through Food

If there’s one thing that seems to unify different cultures, it’s the tradition of gathering together to share a meal. A seemingly simple lunch in Sitio Kule turned out to be more than just sampling the local cuisine; it was a tactile experience that gave me a feel and taste for T’boli’s culture.

Since the T’boli live in the mountains, they are closely tied to nature, which give them food and shelter. Their essential staple foods include corn, banana, gabi (taro), sweet potatoes and cassava. During festivals and other special occasions, they serve specially-prepared traditional food to their families and guests. Here are some of the delicious food we had during the Sustainable Community-Based Tourism Recognition (SCBTR). I get hungry just by looking at it!

steamed eggplant
steamed talong (egg plant) with tomato and bagoong (fermented fish sauce)
Lumpia with calamansi dip
native crab
Alimango or mud crabs with vegetables
grilled chicken
grilled chicken
Gabi-flavored Puto with cheese

Overall Experience

Two of the most significant tourism trends right now are the demand of tourists seeking Authentic Indigenous and Community-based Cultural Experiences and Sustainable Tourism. These are exactly what travellers will find in T’boli Town. My experience with the T’boli was exceptional. I will not forget the authentic local culture, the decadent food, and the friendly T’boli people of South Cotabato. SOCCSKSARGEN (SOX) was a place I heard so much about, finally traveling here confirms this as one of the most culturally vibrant regions in all of the Philippines. It’s definitely a place I hope to venture back to soon!

T’boli elder playing musical instruments

I am always the first person to recommend traveling DIY-style in the Philippines but in South Cotabato, it is generally wiser to be part of an organized tour, purely due to the remoteness of various areas and the need to have local expertise when planning your trip.

Travel Notes

SOX Tourism
Facebook Page: @visitsox
Website: https://sox.explora.ph/

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

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