National treasure T’boli weaver Lang Dulay, 91

By Evelyn Macairan
National treasure T’boli weaver Lang Dulay, 91

She will dream no more, but her dreams live on in the textiles that she wove for nearly eight decades.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) led the nation in mourning the passing last Thursday of Lang Dulay, who kept the T’boli culture alive through her textile weaving. She was 91.

The NCCA bestowed on Lang Dulay the title of Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan or National Living Treasure in 1998 in recognition of her craftsmanship in weaving t’nalak.

Lang Dulay was the most well known among the “dreamweavers” of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato. These master weavers were so named because they “dream” the patterns of their weaves, and this ability is reportedly passed on to only select weavers of a generation.

“Images from the distant past of her people, the T’bolis, were recreated by her nimble hands – the crocodiles, butterflies and flowers, along with mountains and streams, of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, where she and her ancestors were born – fill the fabric with their longing to be remembered,” the NCCA said.

“Through her weaving, Lang Dulay did what she could to keep her people’s tradition alive,” it added.

The NCCA said there are only a few traditional weavers left of the t’nalakor T’boli cloth.

T’nalak weaving is a tedious process that begins with stripping the stem of the abaca plant to get the fibers, coaxing even finer fibers for the textile, then drying the threads and tying each strand by hand.

Afterwards, there is the delicate task of setting the strands on the “bed-tying” frame made of bamboo, with an eye towards deciding which strands should be tied to resist the dye.

It is the bud or tying of abaca fibers that defines the design.

Dulay, who first learned how to weave at the age of 12, knew a hundred designs, including the bulinglangit(clouds), the bankiring(hair bangs) and the kabangi(butterfly), each one special for the stories it tells.

Using red and black dyes, she spun her stories with grace, and her textiles reflect the wisdom and the visions of her people.

Before the 1960s, the T’boli bartered t’nalakfor horses, which played an important role in their work.

Upon the establishment of the Sta. Cruz Mission, which encouraged the community to weave and provided them with a means to market their produce, the t’nalakdesigns gained widespread popularity and enabled weavers like Lang Dulay to earn a steady income from their art.

However, the demand also resulted in the commercialization of the t’nalakindustry, with outsiders coming in to impose their own designs on T’boli weavers.

In 1998, as part of the celebration of the Philippine Centennial, Lang Dulay ws invited to showcase her textiles at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, to great acclaim.

While modern designs have emerged, Lang Dulay’s textiles were exceptional because of the “fine,even quality of the yarn, the close interweaving of the warp and weft, the precision in the forms and patterns, the chromatic integrity of the dye and the consistency of the finish.”