Camotes Island | Cebu | Bohol
Lake Sebu | Davao
T’BOLI: People from the South
Indigenous People in the Philippines
There are about 110 indigenous groups of people in the Philippines. Owing to the country’s geographical make-up, and that’s about 7,701 islands, there is as much cultural and linguistic diversity to marvel about.
Consider Mindanao, the second biggest island south of the country, which has eighteen indigenous groups namely: Ata, Banwaon, Bla-an, Bukidnon, Dibbawon, Higaunon, Mamanwa, Mandaya, Mangguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Matigsalug, Subanen, Tagakaolo, Talaandig, T’boli, Teduray and Ubo (Rodil, 2003). According to the National Census taken in 1990, they composed 5% of the island’s population.
One of the more recognized tribes are the T’bolis, also known as Tiboli, Tboli and Tagabili, who generally live in South Cotabato or in an area known as Tiruray highlands, formed by the municipalities of Suralla, Polomolok and Kiamba. In a census undertaken by the National Museum in 1991, there were close to 70,000 T’bolis still living in South Cotabato.
The T’bolis believed that they are descendants of two couples who survived a great flood.
Based on their myths, their diety D’wata warned the people of an impending great flood. The warning went unheeded, except for two couples: La Bebe and La Lomi, Tamfeles and La Kagef.
They stocked food inside a bamboo so huge it could fit people inside it. Then that catastrophic day came --- Mt. Hulon erupted, out came water and inundated the villages for a long period of time. But the two couples survived, as they hid inside that bamboo. Only when the water began to subside and the bamboo started to grow warm did the two couples split open the bamboo and stepped out to a new world almost entirely their own.
According to their legends, children of La Kagef and Tamfeles begot 12 children who repopulated the land:
- From Sudot Henok and Nayong came the tau sequil or the lowlanders
- From Dodom and Eva came the tau mohin or the sea dwellers from Kiamba
- From Bou and Umen came the tau sebu or the uplanders of Lake Sebu ad Sinulon
- From La Bila and Moong came the Bilaan of Tui
- From Dugo and Sewen came the Ubu (Manobo)
- From Kmanay and Sodi came the people who became Muslims
From the couple La Bebe and La Lomi came the Ilongos and other Visayan groups, the Ilocano and the Tagalog.
The T’bolis in the Past Centuries
photos by Joji Alcantara
Based on their oral traditions, the T’bolis along with other upland people, used to live in some parts of Cotabato Valley until the advent of Islam, sometime in the 14th century. Those who accepted the Muslim faith remained in the valley, while those who resisted retreated to the mountains (Saleeby, 1974). There were accounts of conflicts, with the Muslims taking non-Islamized people for slaves.
By the 20th century, migrants coming from Luzon and Visayas gradually settled in Mindanao. Part of the areas in Mindanao that was opened to them was the 50,000 hectares in Koronadal Valley was used for homesteading. This migration affected the T’bolis – as commercial ranching, mining and logging activities began to encroach their homelands.
The T’boli Economy
The T’bolis have a great affinity with the forests – it is not only a place to live, but it is the main source of their food. T’bolis are classified as “people in the mature hunting-gathering stage” as well as horticulturists.
Their usual fare includes wild animals (pigs, monkeys, snakes and bats), wild fruits, honey and other plants. What they gather in excess, they barter or exchange with neighboring groups or lowlanders. In forests where there are rivers, streams and lakes, they catch fish, shrimps and snails using traditional tools such as rods, spears and other traps.
As Christian communities and commercial activities expand upward, T’bolis’ life is slowly changing too. Barter is not much practiced today, as money becomes the main currency of exchange. Things for the house are no longer made, but bought. Even their traditional products, such as the Tinalak woven cloth, have become popular tourists mementos. Due to the good climate and soil condition, multinational companies are establishing pineapple and banana plantations near their areas.
T’boli Political System
They call their leader Datu(or chieftain), who is usually sought for interpretation of T’boli customs and traditions, and in settling inter-tribal disputes. The position is not hereditary and to be elevated as a Datu,
a T’boli must have wisdom and an expansive grasp of their traditions. One Datu cannot dominate another group – respect might be given to him in deference, but it does not mean he exercises superiority over the others.
T’bolis are not governed by written laws nor a Datu can give a decree. Instead, they submit to their custom law and tradition, usually contained in their folktales and folk beliefs. Those who commit a crime or break a law are penalized by tamok (fines) in the form of land, horses and other properties, or render services to the “aggrieved party for a period of time”. Ostracism or death is handed against grave offenses.
T’bolis are considered smaller and leaner than average Filipino man or woman.
Women are petite and narrow in the hips. They have light complexion and brown eyes. They are quite vain – for as young as 5 years old, T’boli women know how put on make-up. Traditional make-up includes: face powder mostly made-up of lime, lipstick from a juice of certain fruit (but today, some are already using make-up that can be bought from a local store). Their traditional hairstyle is to “part the hair along the front of one ear, up across the head’s top a couple of increase behind the hairline, and down along the front of the other ear, with tufts of hair hanging loose along both cheeks and forming bangs on the forehead (shaped like a comma)”.
photos by Joji Alcantara
They also pierced their earlobes and the ear’s outer rim, dangling as many types of earrings as possible.
T’bolis prefer their teeth colored with the belief that “white, toothy smiles makes one look like a busao” (evil spirit). They file their teeth into regular shapes (nihik) and then they blacken it with the sap of a wild tree’s bark (silab or olit). Teeth may be covered with gold, signifying prosperity (though it is usually the Datus who have gold teeth).
Tattooing is another practice of the T’bolis. They believe that tattoos not only enhance one’s look, but it also “lights up one’s journey into the afterlife”. On men’s chests and forearms, and on women’s calves and forearms, they tattoo stylized images of bakong (animal), hakang (man), b’lata (fern), or ligo bed (zig zag patterns). They are also fond of geometric patterns.
T’boli Fashion and Traditional Costumes
photos by Joji Alcantara
T’bolis are known for their bright colored costumes, which they wear daily, unlike other tribes who wear their costumes during tribal feasts or presence of visitors.
Women wear K’gul yaha soung (plain black or dark navy blouse, tight fitting, waist length, with opening down the front or the back), and their luwek (ankle-length tube skirt). Other traditional garbs include K’gal nisif (embroidered blouse), fan de (skirt of red and/or black cloth), K’gal binsiurt (embroidered could with triangular shell), and tredyung (black, pin-stripe linen skirt, mostly an heirloom).
Adornments or accessories worn by T’boli women include:
- Earrings – kawat (brass rings), b’ketot (round mirror with glass beads), nomong (chandelier-type with glass beads), and b’koku (chandelier-type with triangular pieces of shells).
- Kowal (or beklaw)- it consists of several strands of tiny, colored beads, suspended under the chin, from the left ear-lobe to the right. It frames the face of the women like a veil.
- Necklace – hikef (choker of pure beadwork, in black, red and while), l’mimot (hangs against the woman’s chest, with strands of back and red tiny black beads), lieg (long, thick necklace with double-triple linked brass chain, has wide tassels and beads at the ends. The most difficult accessory to acquire because this is considered an heirloom.
- Girdles – hilot (3-inch wide brass chainmail), hilot t’noyong (a regular hilot with hawk bells) that makes tinkling sound as a girl wearing it walks, and hilot l’minot (a solid beadwork, with tiny red-white-back-yellow beads in dazzling designs).
- Bracelets – blonso (plain brass bracelet worn loosely on the wrist) and kala (also brass, worn tightly on the arm).
- Anklets – tugul (2-inch black band worn on upper ankles), singkil linti (4-inch, worn loosely at the ankles), singkil babat (like linti, but with decorations on the outer surface), and singkil sigulong (thick, hollow with pebbles to make sound).
- Rings – t’sing (rings) comes in sets of five – the first, third and fifth of plain brass, and the second and fourth in carabao horn.
- Combs – worn on the head to crown a woman’s hairstyle -- su’wat blakang (bamboo).
- Headwear – kayab (a yard long wrapped loosely around their hairdo), s’long kinibang (a round salakot made of bamboo strips, worn when working in the field), and bangat s’laong (2 long bands of solid beadwork, with thick horsehair tassels at their ends, worn on special occasions and sometimes part of the T’boli girl’s bride price).
The T’boli men also have their own accessories. These include:
- Kubul or an inch-thick wooden ear plugs, worn onto men’s ear lobes
- Angkul – worn usually by the Datus, which is a piece of special cloth, gathered into a thick band and worn across the chest.
- Onit tebed – coat of woven bark-strips.
T’boli men carry weapon as part of the daily garb.
- Baho-ne-fet (bow and arrow) – tablos (made of bamboo and used for hunting board, deer, monkeys and big birds), senofil (looks like a centipede at the end), slufang (used for smaller birds), and husong (think bamboo reed).
- Sulit (spear) – buyus (made of rattan, with brass tip), soit (used for fish and snakes), and klouit (made of rattan, with end like the sinofil.
- Bolos – bangkung (short, single-edge bolo with wooden handle, used for clearing trees), bagung (similar to badung, but used for cutting wood), and tefok (used for cutting grass).
- Sword (used for fighting) – sudeng (long blades), tedeng (plain without any ornaments), kafilang (big, bolo-like sword), and tok (25-28 inch, single-edged blade, usually with geometric designs that matches the decorated hilt).
- Klung – rectangular wooden shields of about 16 by 30 inches.
- Kabaho (knives) – a generic name for different knives of different shapes and sizes (but are mostly used by the women for defense and utilitarian purposes).
The T’bolis’ supreme deities are a married couple: Kadaw La Sambad (the sun god) and Bulon La Mogoaw (moon goddess). They live in the seventh heaven and together had seven children who married each other:
- Cumucul (the eldest son), married to Boi Kabil, was given a cohort of fire, a tok (sword) and shield.
- Sfedat (second son) married to Bong Libun. They had no children. He asked his wife to kill him and his corpse became the land which sprouts all trees and plants.
- Dwata (third son), married to two of his sisters Sedek We and Hyu We. He asked for one of Cumucul’s powers, but was refused. He and his wives left heaven. He had six children with Sedek. His children with Hyu were:
- Litik – god of thunder
- Blanga – god of stones and rocks
- Teme Lus – god of wild beasts
- Tdolok – god of death
- Ginton – god of metallurgy
- Lmugot Mangay – god of life and all growing things
- Fun Bulol – god of mountains
Dwata made a pact with Bon Libun for a land that was once Sfedat’s body. She agreed on a condition that one of Dwata’s sons marry her. When nobody took her as a wife, Bon Libun married her youngest brother Datu Bnoling. Together, they had six sons who became the scourges of the earth:
- Fun Knkel – god of fever
- Fun Daskulo – god of head diseases
- Fun Lkef – god of colds
- Fun Kumuga – god of eye afflictions
- Fun Blekes – god of skin disease
- Fun Lalang – god of baldness
The T’bolis believed in a muhen (a bird considered to be the god of fate), whose song presages misfortune. They also believe that all objects house a spirit, and they must continually strive to gain good graces by offering little gifts.
Finally, the T’boli afterlife has different destinations. Kayong, a place where everything is red, is for murder victims and warriors slain in battle. Kumawing, where everything sways and swings, is a place for those who committed suicide. People who died of drowning become citizens of the sea. Mogol is a place for those who died of illness, where day is night and night is day.
The T’bolis practice several rituals – that to most sophisticated people today – would be downright incredible.
K’molot Libol (Trial by ordeal/judgment)
If a person is accused of stealing or committing concubinage or adultery, and that while due process was explored and yet the people still doubt this innocence, the accused person is subjected to under the process of K’molot Libol.
Administered by the Datu or the Libun Boi (Queen), grains of rice is placed in a pot with a stone in it, filled with water and then allowed to boil. The accused then has to get the stone inside. If his or her hand is not burned, then he or she is considered innocent. If the hand is burned, then the accused is proven guilty.
For the thief, he or she is made to pay a fine and return the stolen thing/amount. The fine may be cash or a property.
For those who committed concubinage or adultery, the accused must return the bride price and pay a fine thrice the amount of the bride’s dowry together with his/her lover.
This is a friendship pact between a T’boli family and a Ubo family.
One party agrees to meet the other in the latter’s territory. Heads of the family takes a branch of rattan and cut it into two. The rattan will be tied in a piece of coffin, which signifies death to the family who breaks the pact. The visiting party when gives a kimu (property) to the host family. Feast and playing of tribal instrument herald the pact, lasting till the night. Then the visiting party becomes the next host and similar ceremonies are observed.
Once the pact is finalized, members of both families may never fight nor intermarry. They are bound to assist each other, even after the heads of the families die. Violators of the pact will be meted death.
Hegel Loyof (Ensuring the well-being of the child)
When a woman becomes mulut (pregnant), all her food cravings must be provided by her husband. When the baby is born, she or he must be given two things. One is a gong, believed to give the child strong soul and the ability to acquire property with ease. The other thing is a bolo, a long-bladed knife to be used to cut off the umbilical cord, believed to make the child brave. Bells are shaken inside the bab’s mouth to ensure the child speaks.
After given birth, the mother brings the newborn downstairs or outside to touch the soil. The child must not be allowed to urinate on the ground, because it would make her or him sick. After that, the mother should rush inside and lie back on the mattress before anyone sneezes.
After the umbilical cord is cut, it is exchanged for a gong and a betel nut box, wherein the cord is kept until the child grows up.
Bulung Bleten (Ensuring the well-being of the mother)
After giving birth, a mother’s first meal is bulung bleten, a broth of broth of boiled roots and herbs. She cannot eat vegetables or pork, though she can have soups with shrimp, mudfish or chicken. In two weeks, she may eat roasted fish and may be considered fit enough to continue her day to day activities.
The community welcomes the birth of a new baby boy with the ritual h’tefod kenugu. The Datu leads this ritual by cutting the nails of the child, which serves as a gift to the community. In return the Datu offers t’les kenugu (any property such as a house or a gong), or to symbolize that he grows up a skilled hunter and warrior, a pair of bow and arrow. Other members of the community give l’tok (rings, coins, etc.).
Mo Nimum (Festival ritual)
Literally, the term means the making of wine from sugarcane. This ritual is celebrated as wedding ceremony, renewal of marriage vows and healing. The T’bolis participate in this ritual to safeguard themselves from sickness and to assure good health for a lifetime.
This ritual is six feasts, hosted alternately by the bride’s and groom’s families, with the former hosting the first feast. A tau mogot (shaman) oversees the proper observance of the ritual. To signal the start of the ceremony, tau soyow (male dancers) from the bride’s family dance, accompanied by the music of agong, hegelung (two-stringed guitar), tnonggong (bongo drum) and dewegey (T’boli violin).
Driving the evil spirits away, the tau mogot, the couple and their parents gather bamboos and use these to construct a table, which will hold kumu (blankets) and to’ol (T’nalak cloth attached to a wooden hanger). People should touch the to’ol so that the couple will not get sick.
If the feast is transferred to the groom’s side, they construct a booth called tebulel tied to a house and with other ornaments.
There will be dance competition between the bride and the groom’s entourage. Two horses from both sides will be made to fight.
Finally, the parents of the couple exchange gifts. The bride’s parents construct a m’ligey (hut) made of sugarcane for post and roof. Chicken will be tied to it as offerings.
The T’bolies believed that illness is either caused naturally or cast by angered spirits. They seek the help of mewa nga (tribal healer) or m’tonbu (herbal healer/shaman). If the illness is lingering, a demsu (offering) will probably heal the patient.
The m’tonbu prescribes herbal medicine (concoction of various leaves), or ask the patient to drink a soup of chicken with dark flesh and boiled without spices or vegetables. To appease the spirits, they offer chicken and, cooked and wrapped rice.
If the illness is serious, a d’sol be tonok (grand healing ritual) is performed. The patient is made to go inside a s’lung (booth), sit on an elevated floor and covered with kumu. The m’tonbu starts dancing around the patient, muttering prayer. A while feathered chicken with black feet tied to a post represents the soul of the patient. After the dancing, the chicken is freed, signifying the freedom of the soul of the patient and freedom from illness. After the ceremony, the chicken is butchered for food and everyone is enjoined to partake it.
Otherwise, the patient’s family builds a hatal dwata (altar), on which they place the tok (bolo), kefilan (kris), agong (gong) and other valuable things. The patient lies on the altar and the healer prays to the gods to return the soul of the patient and in exchange accept the gong for the patient’s soul. Water is poured over the gong and placed in a container. It is later used to wash the patient’s body. After the ceremony, they bring the patient home. At night time, they retrieve the food and other valuable possession. Food is shared, the object is stored in a safe place until the person recuperates. If the patient dies, then they belief they have not appeased the gods sufficiently.
Marriage is a three-stage process for the T’bolis: childhood, puberty and adolescence. It is pre-arranged by the parents and contracted at any age (even after childbirth).
Betrothals can be a result of a child’s sickness, where a certain ritual determines if the child is banahung (in need of a life-partner). If the ritual determines so, the parents seek a spouse of suitable age, background and economic standing. When they find a partner, a piece of the chosen child’s body adornment is borrowed, and then brought to the sick child, whom it is suspended and then struck. After the recovery, the celebration of the first marriage ceremony ensues. Parents discuss the sungod (bride price) and the kimo (movables and immovables properties) to be given by both family, and will later constitute the properties of the bride. The first marriage is called gatoon. If one of the children dies, a close relative is made to take the place of the deceased (lomolo). If the other party does not accede to the substitution, then the kimo is returned.
When they reach puberty, the marriage is solemnized on a full moon, when no rain is expected.
Wedding feasts, the monimum, is done over a period raging from 2 to 6 years, while each of the six feasts runs for 3 to 5 days and nights.
Polygamy and Divorce
Polygamy is an accepted practice in T’boli society, as long as the first wife consents. They believe that such arrangement is beneficial, for it means that there are extra hands for house and field works.
Divorce is also possible on the grounds of incompatibility, sterility and infidelity. An unfaithful wife caught in the act may be simply killed on the spot or the bride price is returned.
photos by Joji Alcantara
Death comes as a trick played by the evil spirit or as a punishment inflicted by angry gods. The T’bolis believe that one’s spirit leaves one’s body when asleep, and when one awakes when the spirit returns. If the spirit does not return, death occurs.
T’bolis don’t cry when confronted by death. They wait for the tau mo lungon (the person who makes the coffin) to verify if the person is actually dead. If the tau cries aloud, only can deceased family can start crying.
The bodies of the dead are either buried, abandoned, cremated or suspended from a tree (in the case of small children). Wakes may last in a week or five months, depending on how much food the family has prepared. Food must be first consumed before the corpse is buried or abandoned.
During wake, there is much dancing, singing and chanting of nged (riddles) to provide entertainment so that people do not fall asleep. They believe that an unattended corpse will be stolen by the evil spirits.
After the burial, the mourners share a meal and leave a portion at the grave. Then, they return to the dead person’s house in a single file and by a different route. Upon reaching it, they leap over two swords struck on the ground (forming X), to rid themselves of the evil spirits. The family of the dead bathe themselves in a river so rinse off the evil spirits.
Finally, the house of the dead is either burned or abandoned, ending the ritual of death. They also do not mourn the dead after that point, for fear that he or she will come back to life.
Other Beliefs During Pregnancy
A pregnant woman is never to be left alone or the evil spirits will harm her. She is spared from doing household chores, or the baby will be born with huge eyes. She is not to eat twin bananas, or she will give birth to a twin, forcing her to choose one and bury the other alive to prevent bad luck. She cannot eat the legs of pigs, chicken or deer, or the baby will be toothless. She cannot eat gizzards or leftovers, or she will have difficult childbirth.
She must not listen to stories about evil spirits, or her child will be born evil. If she comes across a snake on her path, the baby will die in childbirth. During childbirth, the umbilical cord must not go over the baby’s head, or the child will grow antisocial (if this happens, it is better to kill the child).
The T’bolis have not trouble performing abortion, particularly if the husband abandons the wife and refuses to support, she has more children than she can fed, she was dishonored or she wants to be spared from the difficulties of delivery. She goes to the tao matunga (abortionist) for the concoctions. If they fail in aborting the baby, she is mutilated, made to walk around with heavy stones tied to her womb or made to commit suicide.
photos by Joji Alcantara
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