Pagdaloy, Flow of Life

picture of T'boli


The T’boli

A People Who Live with Art

The T’boli (Tagabili, Tiboli), together with the B’laan to the east and Teduray to the north, are in a single language group distinct from the remaining language groups of Mindanao. The T’boli traditionally live in scattered ettlements in the highlands of southwestern Mindanao, in the province of South Cotabato. The cultural communities surround the complex of highland lakes—Lake Sebu, Lake Selutan, and Lake Lahit. Settlements are composed of family clusters of fifteen or more households. Clusters are at elevations averaging 3,000 feet above sea level. Recently, these settlements have grown to comprise thirty or more households. Each settlement has a ceremonial house called a gono bong (big house). Members of such communities are usually related by kinship.

The T’boli practice swidden farming, cultivating highland rice (teneba), the staple food, potato, sugar cane, taro, and sweet potato. Corn and coffee are considered cash crops. Owning a horse is an indicator of economic status. Forests function as the main source of food, and the main source of protein is lake fish.

The T’boli are noted for their backstrap loom textile, t’nalak, which is woven from tie-dyed abaca fiber. Personal ornaments made of multicolored beads and embroidered blouses and hats are other notable features of the T’boli. Small household metal industries use the lost-wax process to manufacture cast brass bolo handles, figurines and betel-nut containers, and other ornaments.

While the kinship system is bilateral, there is a strong male dominance. The father leads the household, and the oldest male leads joint and extended families. The oldest male child takes over this dominance upon the death of the father. If there is no son, lomolo is practiced, whereby the father’s eldest brother assumes the wealth of the deceased and claims the latter’s wife as his own.

The communities are also linked through a recognized leader, the datu, who does not officially command but whose word is respected because of his status, economic means, reputed courage, skill in settling disputes, and wisdom in the interpretation of custom laws. The position is achieved through community validation. He traditionally acquires rights over a person for whom he has paid an unsettled debt.

A major social ritual of the T’boli is the mo-ninum, which is usually celebrated for a marriage and includes a multilateral exchange of articles of wealth (kimu). After six ceremonial feasts, for which the families take turns being hosts (moken) and guests (mulu), the ceremony climaxes with the marriage itself. The whole cycle may take many years to complete and sometimes results in the construction of a gono mo-ninum, a huge house that can accommodate more than two hundred people.

▶ Play Video 7. The T’boli A People Who Live with Art

This episode was first aired on Filipino television on September 19, 1996. This episode has been modified from its original format.