A trip down South Cotabato to meet a National Treasure

#THROWBACKTRAVEL | Nothing is ever too late for anyone, especially when you pursue your dreams. I saw myself exploring my country one province at a time, experiencing its many different cultures and traditions, and meeting different people on the road. And in those dreams, I imagined visiting South Cotabato in Mindanao to sightsee its natural wonders and to meet its amazing people, the T’boli Tribe in Lake Sebu. Everything materialized late 2014 when my friend and I finally flew in the southern part of the Philippines for an unforgettable birthday getaway.

I had no plans to visit Mindanao again. But since a travel expo in Manila hosted a sea of discounted regional destinations, I knew that I needed to book a flight to a place that I’ve never been to yet. Thankfully, a local airline offered an unbeatable price for a city that I’ve always wanted to discover. And in a matter of minutes, I was booked to travel to General Santos in a few months. It was a birthday present to myself, which was supposedly a solo trip. But my friend wanted to tag along, so she booked a ticket as well. From there, we started plotting our itinerary for our 4-day escape. 

Traveling to South Cotabato via General Santos

There are no direct flights to South Cotabato. But the nearest airport to the province is General Santos. We decided to make it our base for 3-days and stayed here to easily explore the nearby areas.

South Cotabato is just a 2-hour trip from General Santos, which we reached via several transportation transfers (two buses, one van, and one motorcycle, which they called a Habal-Habal in local terms). The entire trip wasn’t that tiring, given the transits that we had to take. We just basked in the sights of the lush greeneries and rural scenes that we passed along the way.

NOTE: When we traveled from General Santos to South Cotabato in 2014, we took a bus from the Eusebio Bulaong Public Terminal, and rode the Yellow Bus Line that was bound for Surallah. We alighted at Surallah and got on another bus that was bound for Marbel Terminal, where we took a van towards Lake Sebu.

Meeting a National Treasure for the first time

My friend and I wanted to explore South Cotabato because of Lake Sebu and its nearby waterfalls. But we were more excited to meet the indigenous people of the province, particularly the T’Boli tribe. Since I was developing a shoe business at the time that used Philippine traditional textiles, it just felt proper for me to visit a community that made beautifully handcrafted fabrics that represented their traditions and cultures.

I also wanted to meet Lang Dulay, who was a dream weaver and a National Treasure. Sadly, she passed away in 2015. Meeting her beforehand was both surreal and a blessing. The Philippines greatly recognized her amazing talent and skills. 

Lang Dulay was a textile weaver, who started weaving when she was just twelve years old. She was a big part of the T’boli tribe in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. She and her community would create precious textiles using only fine abaca fibers called T’Nalak, which prominently uses red and black natural dyes. They would weave images on their fabrics, depicting some of the natural wonders that surrounded them. Fortunately, it was Lang Dulay’s weaving process that helped keep her people’s visions and traditions alive.

Their finished textiles were even traded for horses back in the olden days, which soon paved the way for the community to get a steady income from their skills. Soon enough, their handmade fabrics gained recognition, which enabled a sustainable means for the people.

But through the years, the modern designs, which were said to be easier to weave, were more acknowledged and bought compared to the traditionally made fabrics. But this didn’t discourage Lang Dulay. She continued to do things the old-fashioned way. Now, the original process may have been harder to do. But it is through their quality-made materials, and precise design and ‘finish’ that paved the way for undying patronage.

The humble dream weaver dreamed of the designs that she would create for her fabrics. Every time a textile is finished, class and excellence would always exude in Lang Dulay’s creations. Luckily, she has passed on her craft and skills to her community, especially to her grandchildren, who will hopefully carry on her legacy.

Bring home a piece of South Cotabato with you!

A trip to South Cotabato will not be complete without passing by Lang Dulay’s community. The locals know where it is, so you’ll get there easily. Just make sure to rent a motorcycle with a local driver to take you there. And if you enjoy cultural stuff, you will surely appreciate the process of weaving T’Boli cloth. I’m sure you won’t be leaving the place without taking home a piece of their art, may it be a yard of fabric or a fashion accessory.

Lang Dulay might not dream beautiful T’nalak designs anymore. But her dreams will live on in the textiles that she wove for nearly 80 years.

Explore & Be Free (in the comfort of your home, for now)!

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