Tinalak Weaving: A Traditional Art of Mindanao
The tinalak is a special type of cloth made from abaca fibers and is unique to the T’boli tribe of Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
The tinalak is a special type of cloth made from abaca fibers and is unique to the T’boli tribe of Southern Mindanao, Philippines. What makes tinalak special is that the weaving of the cloth involves the soul and spirit of the weaver. All weavers are women; in fact, no man is allowed to take part in this tradition, except for the stripping of the abaca, as the activity requires a man’s strength to produce uniform strips. The rest of the work is done by the weaver: she does the dyeing, drying, combing and weaving all by herself. Whoever started the cloth will be the only one to finish it; in other words, no weaver is allowed to finish the work of another. Because of this, a hand-woven cloth may take at least one year to finish. The uniqueness of the cloth is not only dependent on the maker, but also on its specific design. No two cloths are alike in design, nor are there any fixed tribal designs. The patterns are derived in three ways: from the ancestors, from the weaver’s mother, or from her own dreams. In order to produce a new design, the weaver must dream those patterns anew.
Some tinalak today is commercialized, apparently used as material for wallets, bags, placemats, and the like for tourists, local and foreign alike. Traditionally, the T’boli people don’t sell what they have made; nowadays, they attach a piece of brass to the cloth to appease the spirits. If the tinalak were to be produced large-scale, certain factors are to be considered. One is that tinalak-making is a tradition; replacing the weavers with machines is tantamount to eradicating a centuries-old T’boli practice. Second, the output would be much cheaper as a result of mass production, yet less valuable, because the quality of the result is poorer than that made by hand.