One of the more (if not the most) artistic, historic and nationalistic woven art is the T’nalak. I’ve been actively researching about various Philippine woven textiles and I find T’nalak to be very different especially given its cultu-spiritual importance to the tribe that made them – the T’bolis.
T’nalak’s appeal in the international market recently experienced a mild surge – buyers knew the real significance and value of each woven fabric-art. Heirloom pieces which existed for several generations, even 100 years old, are highly sought-after and priced highly - sold to international collectors. Filipinos are just starting to appreciate the true value of this traditional art, thanks to the effort of advocacy groups like HABI which help revive, preserve and grow our woven treasures and heritage.
Design-wise, master weavers like the famed Lang Dulay (a national artist) is said to have designed their weave patterns from their dreams. It is for this reason that they are called dream-weavers. Designs that sometimes suggest or represent out-of-the-ordinary images, say a desert landscape, are dreamt and translated into a T’nalak weave.
The process of weaving is very tedious and takes several months to complete. The material preparation alone is already a difficult process. Abaca plant (similar to banana) is grown, harvested, its fiber dried to be used in a number of applications. Abaca strands used to make T’nalak are lined up in a wooden device where strands are group-wrapped with its tentative design, dyed with natural substance be it root, flower, or boiled leaves; then intricately woven using traditional wooden looms. It’s typical to produce a short length of about 2 or 3 meters by 0.5m+ in a period of 3 months. 3 months! Imagine the effort. After weaving, the finished product is ‘ironed’ using hard shell to make them smooth and a bit ‘glowy’. During the weaving process, the weavers observed some practices so they keep themselves pure – lest they transfer some negative vibes into the weaves. Abstinence (i.e. no sexual contact) during the weaving process is one highlighted sacrifice to produce a pure form of T’nalak.
Nowadays, modern T’bolis still used the traditional process but with more modern or non-dream-based designs as well as a lot of play with new colors. These designs are still very intricate and unique but the weaving process has less ‘constraints’ compared to the traditional designs. Cutting a T’nalak, for example is forbidden lest one is “bad lucked” – unless a certain ritual or prayer is performed. Modern-designed T’nalaks (sold by the meter) are mostly ‘non-sacred’ and used in a variety of home artefacts.
The introduction of commercial and machine-made textiles threatened the existence of all hand-woven fabrics in the Philippines. Cheap fabrics like those made in China heavily affected Philippine’s textile industry, threatened the preservation of traditional weaves and took away traditional livelihood of our local weavers.
|Giving it a try! Ironing T'nalak using shell.|
Today, various local and international groups continue to support our local weavers, like those in Lake Sebu Cotabato – to preserve a threatened hand-weaving tradition.
I've recently visited Lake Sebu and met some weavers, and saw this art treasure that we must support and preserve. We may be losing our golds, our wildlife species, our natural treasures – but what made this country uniquely Philippines is largely based on our cultural and historical heritage. Preserving these is like preserving our nation, and our very own existence.
Let’s go T’nalak!
|At Land Dulay's, these are the first stages of T'nalak (left - raw abaca, right wrapped bundles for dyeing)|
|my way of support - customized men's T'nalak bags. for my own use ;) or even for sale|