Vancouver author writes about land of ‘dream weavers’ in book about ethnic Tbolis in the Philippines
In the mountains of the southern Philippines lives an indigenous community with a unique weaving tradition.
A spirit called Fu Dalu is believed to have inspired the design of tnalak (also spelled t’nalak and tinalak), an indigenous hand-woven cloth sacred to the Tboli (T’boli, Tiboli).
Fu Dalu is the goddess of the abaca plant, the fibers of which are used for tricolor cloth.
She comes in the dreams of the women of Tboli.
These women are called “weavers of dreams”.
One such dream weaver is Barbara Ofong, whose story is told in a new book by Vancouver author Sandie Oreta Gillis.
“Barbara was fifteen when she first met Fu Dalu in a dream,” Gillis wrote in Weaving Our Dreams – The Tboli People of the Philippines (Friesen Press).
Fu Dalu communicates with Ofong through the dreams of the Tboli woman and guides her in designing her tnalak.
“In his dream, Fu Dalu sometimes takes the form of a lizard, a frog or a snake. Barbara will incorporate the animal skin pattern into the design of the tnalak. Sometimes Fu Dalu takes the form of a person in the dream.
Gillis recounted that making a tnalak is a long process, sometimes taking up to three or four months to complete a six-yard cloth.
“When the weaving process goes smoothly at every step, Barbara knows her spirit guide has helped her,” the Vancouver author wrote.
The Tboli consider the highlands of South Cotabato, a province in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao, as their traditional territory.
They are known for their colorful costumes as well as their original music and metalwork.
Gillis became interested in the Tbolis from her conversations with Francis Herradura, an artist from Surrey who visited the community.
Herradura would later design and illustrate the book.
In an interview, Gillis said she wanted to share the story of the Tbolis through their art.
“Art brings us all together,” Gillis told the Right by telephone.
The author explained that art provides a bridge between different peoples.
“When we understand another’s art, we also get to know each other better,” Gillis said.
Gillis was born and raised in the Philippines.
She moved to Canada in 1983 and remained connected to her heritage.
Herradura, who illustrated the book, is also from the Philippines.
The two met when Herradura joined Dimasalang, a group of Filipino artists in Vancouver that includes Gillis.
In 2021, Gillis and Herradura founded the Narragila Culture and Arts Foundation.
The name of the non-profit organization combines narra, the national tree of the Philippines, and agila, the eagle of the Philippines.
“Diverse cultures offer distinct creative expressions in their art and daily way of life,” Narragila states on her website.
“Learning and appreciating different cultures and traditions through their art forms broadens our understanding of societies and people. By celebrating everyone’s uniqueness, we foster a sense of belonging and a sense of pride.
In the interview, Gillis said that while writing the book, she often thought of her Canadian-born nieces.
Gillis said that by telling the story of the Tbolis, she can celebrate the diversity of culture and heritage of the Filipino people.
“I also hope to make them proud of their Filipino heritage,” Gillis said of her nieces.
Weaving Our Dreams – The Tboli People of the Philippines also features Maria Todi, a musician from Tboli who established a cultural center to preserve the traditions of the community.
The center is called Lake Sebu School of Living Traditions.
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