Travel Notes from Lake Sebu

The trip to Lake Sebu was such a pleasant trip because we got to relax and enjoy the scenery. None of the rushing about that usually comes with carefully planned itineraries and scheduled tourist spots. (I have nothing against that, though; sometimes, it just gets stressful when you’re too focused on checking everything off your list.) We got to talk to the family we were staying with in the School of Living Tradition; we were able to take (long) naps; we played or watched movies with the kids; and I got to write, too. Just small notes to help me remember the important things. I still have a few photos from the trip so I decided to share them here, along with my notes and scribbles, to help you get a feel of Lake Sebu.Lake Sebu

It feels like Christmas here. The weather is cool and the smiles are warm. The scene is tranquil, almost dream-like with its mist-covered mountains and sprawling shades of green, the silence disturbed only by the rumble of motorcycles passing through the highway.

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Today, we met Ma Fil. He has been playing the hegelung – a traditional T’boli instrument with two strings – for fifteen years now. He also makes and sells them to tourists. He plays us a cheerful tune, full of trills and flourishes, and tells us afterwards that the song is about a bird and her offspring. The mother is saying that they must leave and fly towards the mountains, and the song tells the story of their flight. Mafil says that he composes songs about anything that comes to mind and adds after a brief pause, “In fact, I could even make a song about you guys.”

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The owner of the T’Boli museum is Datu Bao Baay, but it is his sister-in-law, Dinoy, whom we meet at the entrance. She is quiet and kind, allowing us to roam freely around the small nipa hut which housed T’boli instruments, clothes, brass statues, and photographs. When I ask for her picture she shies away from the camera and tells me that her face is wrinkled and ugly. I tell her she is beautiful and she laughs at this, as if I have just said the most absurd thing. But she fixes her hair and then nods to signal it is OK. Later, I point to her earrings, expressing awe at the brass piercings (Kawat, she says) and the dangling strands of brass links and beads (Nomong). She tells me that she’s had them ever since she was a baby. “Nowadays, the kids aren’t allowed to have their ears pierced,” she says in Tagalog. “It is forbidden in school.”

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We’ve come a long way, switching from one mode of transportation to another – from a multi-cab to a bus to a cramped van to a habal-habal – to see the dreamweaver of Lake Sebu. Lang Dulay is over ninety years old now. Her face and hands are wrinkled with age, and her body is hunched over, but she climbs the bamboo ladder of her longhouse with ease, as if she hasn’t aged a day. She doesn’t speak Tagalog or English, nor can she read or write, but that doesn’t bother her. She sits comfortably by the window, clad in traditional T’boli wear bursting with a kaleidoscope of red, green, and yellow geometrical shapes.

“I started weaving when I was 12. It was my mom who taught me.” Her words come in soft, low murmurs, and they are all in the native dialect. Sarah, our guide, sits beside Lang Dulay and translates everything for us. “I dreamed of a house. I went in and up the stairs, and saw a woman weaving. It is from her that I get all my designs.” Sarah explains that the woman is Fu Dalu, the goddess of abaca, who appears in dreams, and only to a select few.

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The T’boli people are known for their metal craft. To see how it is done, we were brought to Bundos Fara, who demonstrated the entire process of brass casting. It was his grandfather who taught him. “You need to be very patient. It can get really hot.” Asked what was his favorite thing to make, he answered the kulintang. “That is what we play during festivals. If there is no kulintang, we do not have any music; we cannot dance. It is extremely important in our culture.”

Cotabato Portraits

The kumbing is an instrument carved out of bamboo and played around a field when the weather is unfavorable. Afin is an expert in making the kumbing, deftly shaving off bits of bamboo to get the measurements that would produce the right sound. He tests it, putting it between his lips and striking one end repeatedly. He plays a surprisingly complex melody that is fluid and hypnotizing. When he is done, he tells us in a drawling, nasal voice, which in fact has the same timbre as his instrument, that the song is about the waves in the sea.

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