Farewell, dreamweaver

SHE led a life full of color. Lang Dulay, one of the country’s Manlilikha ng Bayan, was laid to rest last Friday, May 30, leaving the next generation of weavers 100 unique designs for the t’nalak, the fabric that brought to national prominence the T’boli people.

It is in the richness of the dyes, the sharp colors of black, brown, red, yellow and green in abaca threads that has made the t’nalak different from all other fabric. That, and the patterns that come to the weaver in dreams.

In 1998, Lang Dulay was conferred the Manlilikha ng Bayan with the citation: “Lang Dulay of the T’boli community in the Province of South Cotabato has attained the highest level of excellence in the art of abaca-ikat weaving and manifested her unwavering dedication and commitment to the art by fully demonstrating the creative and expressive possibilities of abaca-ikat weaving at a time when such art is threatened with extinction. Her outstanding creations have remained faithful to the Tboli tradition as manifested in the complexity of her designs, fineness of workmanship and quality of its finish.”

PHOTOS BY: KING ALAMBAG

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She was able to capture, in the warp and weft of the textile, the rich culture of the T’boli people. She meticulously chooses the abaca thread, and the design, which she said comes to her in dreams, is formed. She was not schooled in arts or weaving but her intuitive artistry shines through in the more than one hundred unique designs she has created.

The farewell ritual which gathered more than 500 people was held on May 27, 2015 at the Municipal Gym of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

Time to mourn

Lake Sebu Mayor Antonio Fungan said Lang Dulay, whom they call Be Lang, “has served her time and fulfilled the promise which God has promised long before the creation of this land.”

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He narrated how, two days before, he and T’boli town mayor Dibu Tuan went to the wake of Be Lang and as he pondered on her life, he was seized by great pride “…inside this T’boli house is a very colorful life. A very unique culture that any nation around the world would appreciate. A culture to which I am born of as a T’boli.”

In his musings, he felt “deep emptiness” that the unique patterns of the t’nalak would stop with her death but comforted that “we own this, this is our time to continue and pass on to the next generation the skills which Lang Dulay taught her students.”

Edgar Sambog, Indigenous People’s Mandatory Representative to the provincial board, said that the entire province is mourning but her legacy lives on. Her contribution, not only to the T’boli but to the province is immense as she virtually put South Cotabato on the map.

She is the pride of the municipality and the province of Cotabato.

Time to rebuild

Noemi, Be Lang’s granddaughter, could barely speak for the tears that fell as she faced the people.

“I wanted to go to school but my grandmother told me to just stay at home and weave,” she said.

Among her six other sisters, she was the only one who did not finish any grade in school. But she was the one who was taught at her grandma’s knee the intricate craftmanship of t’nalak weaving. Noemi said she started to learn how to choose and prepare abaca thread before weaving, dye the colors and work on the designs of her grandmother which did not have a template.

Again bursting into tears, she said how grateful she is for being chosen and vowed to pass on the art to the next generation.

The province has carried the brand “land of dreamweavers” primarily because of the popularity of the t’nalak design. This has started the consciousness of preserving the art of weaving of the indigenous people in the face of rapid modernization.

Weaving has become an expression of the soul and spirit of the T’boli. The designs portray animals, birds, nature and even the feelings of the T’boli in various aspects of their lives. This makes the t’nalak valuable and unique. This is the symbol and the message that Be Lang has left the people.

Felipe de Leon, chair of the National Commission for Culture and Arts, said that local excellence will transform into national and international fame and that Be Lang’s creative imagination and artistry raised the bar of Filipino art.

The search for truth and meaning is long term in a country’s life and art is foremost devoted to search for truth.

Beautiful life

Be Lang Dulay is the third of her husband’s five wives. The couple had two sons and 21 grandchildren.

“But she treated the children of the other wives as her own,” said her son Florencio. She used to sell her fabric to buy food for all children.

Florencio has six daughters and all of them were taught to weave by Be Lang. Anita, the eldest, said that while Noemi was taught full time because she just stayed at home, all the sisters – Haide, Marilyn, Josephine, Cristilyn and cousin Nancy, had to learn the craft.

As soon as she received the Manlilikha ng Bayan Award in 1998, Be Lang built the school of living tradition for t’nalak weavers. Some 50% of the women were taught how to weave ensuring that the art lives and is passed on to the next generation.

Be Lang Dulay is now the spiritual dreamweaver, spinning threads of hope and pride in the fabric of the T’boli people’s life.

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