The T’nalak

The T’nalak, is a traditional cloth woven by the T’boli women of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, Mindanao. Tucked away in this remote region in the Southern Philippines, indigenous weavers continue this tedious and age-old practice involving the ikat method using natural dyes and threads from plant fibers that are indigenous to the Philippines.

The T’boli women weave without the use of  drawn patterns, but instead rely on a mental image for the designs. In fact, the T’nalak weavers have been called the “Dreamweavers” because the T’boli women believe that the textile patterns are bestowed on them through dreams either on their own, from their ancestors or through Fu Dalu, the spirit of the abaca.

The T’nalak motifs are based on symbols referring to their natural surroundings  such as the bulanglangit (clouds) or the kabangi (butterfly). Both sides of the T’nalak can serve as the front with the designs being exactly the same, stitch for stitch on either side.

A few of the hundreds of patterns existing today and their meanings:

Ye Kumu
Made of three separate panels, the kumu is highly valued. Only the best weavers may weave the kumu, and the presumptuous ones who try but are not ready are punished by Fu Dalu with illness. The kumu is a vital feature in the great T’boli festival called Mo’Nimun. It is a grand wedding ceremony that stretches on for days, with the entire community and their neighbors taking part in the celebrations. The spirit of Fu Dalu requires all married couples to renew their vows or to celebrate the Mo’Ninum by giving dowry or sunggud.

Tofi Be Kelil
This pattern captures the movement of a leaf as it is blown by the wind. Viewed closely, the design can be seen to twist and turn to achieve the effect of motion.


Betek Kyol
This pattern was inspired by a large lizard or kyol that the weaver saw.


Ketumbe Nungel
This pattern is named for its weaver’s wild imagination derived from her art. Nungel is a T’boli term meaning “crazy.” The pattern shifts from parts of the design woven when “crazy,” other parts woven when she is in her “right mind.”

Gemayaw Mugul
Gemayaw is the name of this pattern, learned from a sister. The orginal weaver dreamed of traveling to mugul, a place for the souls of those who died of natural causes, where she was shown this pattern.

M’baga Hlosok
This pattern is based on a design of arrows or anything else that points downwards. Hlosok is a T’boli term for anything that points downwards.

Doun Basag Senko
This is a traditional or learned pattern that features the leaves of a plant with an unusual shape, which in this design, are placed apart.


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