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    Posted August 18, 2015 by
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    The T’boli, passing on their indigenous culture


    Text and Images by Ronald de Jong.


    Philippines, the Island of Mindanao;


    The T’boli is an ethnic tribe with a fascinating cultural heritage; they lived for centuries in the lush tropical forest through foraging and hunting. Their rich culture is founded in tribal traditions and remained mostly untouched by Western civilization. The T’boli form of animistic beliefs has not been influenced by the introduction of Islam and Christianity and until today almost all elements of life are guided by ancient beliefs and traditions. The T’boli believe in the existence of one God, named “D’wata” and their culture is inspired by nature, their native dances are mimicking the action of animals and the ancient rituals possess mysterious and mythical powers all meant to preserve the amazing environment in which they live. The tribe has a variety of musical Instruments, but the music and songs are not meant for entertainment only, the Tribal songs are a living contact with their ancestors and a source of ancient wisdom. They know that everything that is created by nature has a spirit which must be respected for good fortune; bad spirits can cause illness and misfortune.


    Musical instruments like bamboo tubes, mouth harps, drums and wooden instruments are made of materials that grow in the forests. A “Hegulung”, is a typical T’boli guitar that can only be made from a particular tree, but before the tree will be cut an offer has to be made to and permission must be asked from “Tulus Funen”, a spirit who owns and dwells among the trees. The “Klintang” is an age old instrument that is played by striking the bosses of seven to eight horizontally-laid metal gong kettles with two wooden beaters or sticks, about a foot in length. Kulintang music is a timeworn tradition that represents the highest form of gong music and is mostly used as a public entertainment for festivals, parades, weddings, religious rituals and healing ceremonies.
    Some T’boli people have abandoned their tribal roots and embraced modern life, but most of the tribe’s members remain proud of their heritage, traditions and their cultural identity. They still wear their colourful costumes and play their ritual music; they dance their indigenous dances, and sing their tribal songs in solemn chants. But no culture in this world has preserved itself, safeguarding the T’boli culture and likewise the protection of their ancestral domain nowadays is not done by taking up arms but by indigenous education. The T’boli School of Indigenous Knowledge and Tradition (SIKAT) is giving the youngsters of the tribe the opportunity to learn about their heritage in their own language. Only In this way the knowledge, skills, values, and traditions that are unique to this living, ethnic culture can and will be preserved and passed on to future generations. In the Filipino language the word “Sikat” is alluding to the sun as well, the brightest star stands as a symbol for hope because first sunlight announces the beginning of a new day.


    The small school is community owned and the funds that are needed to buy basic school supplies, to pay the salaries of the dedicated T´boli teachers and to feed the more than hundred students during their school days must come from various sponsors and selling home-made T’boli handicrafts. Even though the school provides a sponsorship program and foods are shared, at present there are still many children from the T’boli tribe which are in need of financial support. The school is located at a hill top in poblacion Lembanig, Lake Sebu, the buildings on the school compound are made entirely of durable, eco-friendly bamboo, and the cogon grass roof provides shelter against the sun and rain. It is no coincidence that these structures are built with natural materials, just like the T’boli culture they are inspired and created in harmony with nature.
    Adjacent to the school the school of living tradition (SLT) is educating the T’boli children every Saturday in T’boli Music and Dances, story-telling, T’nalak weaving, bead designing, embroidery and cultural awareness. The children are coming from 9 different schools in the Lake Sebu area. The initiative from the school comes from Maria Todi or better known as “Oyog”, which means “twirling”. Maria is a passionate cultural worker doing all she can to preserve the culture and traditions of the T’boli people. The house where the classes are held also serves as a homestay for visitors who want to spend some time with the tribe. Despite her commitment to the School of Living Tradition “Oyog” is still fervent advocate for SIKAT


    Some time ago the structure of the SLT collapsed because the foundations were not capable of resisting the powers of Mother Nature. Maria is at present rebuilding the house but is still in need of more funds to finish the project. If you like to help Maria and the children any donation will make a difference and would be more than welcome. Please contact the author for more information.

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