Lake Sebu and The T’boli

Local dialects have always fascinated me. I think it started in high school during Filipino class. I love the stories and how my teachers would give meaning to the texts. But as we progressed further through the academic year, the lessons and reading assignments would become so difficult for me. Obviously, Filipino is not my favorite subject. It has been a daunting obstacle and I would consistently fail. At that time, I could not understand why it was so difficult for me. I can only feel guilt, barely passing a mark of 80 in the quarterlies. I have longed to love Filipino stories as much as I have grown fond of western classic and modern literature.

No, I was not proud and neither was I happy. I was too naive to ponder and it haunted me until my early days in university. There, I met students from different regions of the Philippines. I gained new friends and I became fascinated with regional dialects. I took some courses especially relating to language and culture and found myself enjoying and yearning for more. But like most passions, they were hard to pursue and remained elusive to me.

For some time in my life, I have spent considerable time living, though temporarily, in different regions. My father being Ilocano; my mother, Ilonggo; my husband, Waray; and working in Pangasinan and Bicol for several months. Though it was easy for me to understand or atleast get a flow of chatter, it was very difficult for me to use the dialects. You could classify me as ‘no read, no write.’ For me, it was more challenging than tongue twisters!

However, it was not until an interview with a T’boli farmer that I grew anxious and eager to learn a dialect. Unlike my younger sister who was lucky enough to learn both Ilocano and Ilonggo during her tender years, me and my elder sister were always addressed in Tagalog. Relatives in the provinces would always speak to us in Tagalog so we never saw the need to learn our parents’ dialects.

A view from the lake

During a holiday vacation, I remember I asked to be left in Lake Sebu. I extended my stay for a couple of days and asked relatives to help me in my quest to learn more about the inhabitants of Lake Sebu. Among several indigenous peoples living in Lake Sebu, the T’boi were well known. Many are shy, but a growing number have mingled with the local migrants, primarily composed of Ilongos.

During the late 90s, the roads were still unpaved; muddy and slippery during rainy season. It was December and the area around the lake was as cold as Baguio.  I think electricity at Bakdulong, sitio at the rear end of the lake where we stayed, was only installed in 2003. We would practically grope when we move around during and after dinner time.

T'boli in traditional outfit

We started early to be able to return before dark. I think I interviewed at least a dozen T’boli men and women. I spoke with farmers, weavers, and shell gatherers. Luckily, there would always be someone in the neighborhood who can interpret T’boli to Ilonggo or T’boli to Tagalog. But I learned a few and I am still hoping to expand my T’boli vocabulary.

Some that I have struggled to remember:

Good morning = heye hlafus

Let’s eat = meken tekuy

Where are you going? = gonom egow, where ‘e’ sounds more like ‘u’

Go to the market = mogow be meli

How much is this? = hilu ni du
More words that I consider helpful:

mother = ye

father = ma

Fitting the T'boli traditional clothing, Lake Sebu, South Cotabato

light = sulok

dark = kifu

near = goloni

far = mema, read as mima

be careful = temgama

house = gono

read = masa

write = sulatem

And more that took my fancy:

tree = but

cat = koku, read as kuku

cow = bew

river = bob

good = heyu sil

bad = sidek

The T’boli talked about their enthusiasm for new things brought into their villages. The generator-run karaoke, motorized banca and battery-operated sound systems were among the new things in Lake Sebu during the late 90s. Older folks were worried about development being so near, yet so inaccessible to them. Some felt that Lake Sebu’s progress only alienates them further. A number of T’bolis also expressed sadness about the T’boli youth’s pre-occupation with new things. Many teenage T’bolis nurtured dreams of leaving Lake Sebu to help augment their family’s needs. They would say they look forward to see greener pastures. If only they knew, their pastures are greener than the rest.

Mornings at Lake Sebu

There is no question, economies will affect cultures and languages. Barter used to be the major form of trading in Lake Sebu. As new forms of exchange reached their land, the T’bolis soon found themselves selling their crafts and their land. I just learned that the t’nalak used to be a T’boli woman’s most valuable asset. In the old days, a few meters of t’nalak was exchanged for a cow or a hut. The traditional process of weaving t’nalak and brass sculptures have become commercialized. Mass production also led the T’boli craft to lose its true value. Now, it is being sold for Php500 to Php1000 (less than US$23) per meter.

Upon learning this, I washed and placed my t’nalak (a bridal gift) in a prominent corner of the living room. I will always take pride in my diverse Filipino heritage. I wish I had to opportunity to be with other indigenous folks.

For a moment, I stopped and realized that my apprehension for learning things Filipino was greatly influenced by my westernized education. Since kindergarten, I have been ‘conditioned’ to talk, act and think like a westerner. And the truth saddens me. I could not even compose a decent Filipino verse, which i yearn to, and tell my story in my own language. I envied my parents, my husband, friends who were born in the provinces. Because they had more chances of being brought up like Filipinos should be, loving and enriching our own dialects, our culture.

How’s your talasalitaan, by the way?

Cheers to Filipino ingenuity!
I’m supporting blankPixels’ entry to Sulit’s Christmas card-making contest. Click here for more details.

(Preview only. Click here for the full animated Christmas card.)

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~ by theorangehut on November 29, 2010.

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