Arts & Culture, Food & Travel

K’na The Dreamweaver and T’boli Culture: An Interview with Ida del Mundo

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Art (in this case, film) plays an important part in chronicling and celebrating the richness of our culture, and building awareness on the indigenous people’s experience in popular media, particularly when a film like K’na The Dreamweaver is among the films at this year’s Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, which also made its rounds in various Ayala Malls around the metro from August 2-10, 2014.

K’na The Dreamweaver is the directorial debut of writer and violinist Ida del Mundo, who was inspired by her experience with the T’bolis during the T’nalak festival she covered as a writer in 2013. The film was shot entirely in the T’boli language, paying further homage to their culture.

Mara Isabella Lopez Yokohama (K'na) and RK Bagatsing (Silaw) go over their lines with language coach Karina Mae Todi Wanan.
Mara Isabella Lopez Yokohama (K’na) and RK Bagatsing (Silaw) go over their lines with language coach Karina Mae Todi Wanan (Photo c/o K’na The Dreamweaver on Facebook)

Set against an almost other-worldly backdrop of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, the film’s quiet quality gives the viewer a sense of reverence that Ida had in creating it. Ida’s intention with the film is to tell a simple love story while hoping that fellow Filipinos will be inspired by the T’bolis and the evident diversity in Filipino cultural heritage.

[Learn more about Ida’s inspiration and experience in shooting the film here.]

In taking inspiration from the culture of indigenous people, it is important to find a balance between celebrating a culture and perhaps unintentionally or unknowingly appropriating or misrepresenting it. Given Ida’s awe, admiration and respect for T’boli culture, it is apparent that she created the film with utmost care. For this interview, we ask Ida about her thoughts on cultural preservation, sensitivity, and appropriation, and her philosophy and approach in showcasing the T’boli culture.

MUNI: You mention that the film was inspired by your experience of the T’nalak festival. What exactly was it about this experience? What was the T’boli village like for someone who grew up in a big city? 

IDA: As a writer for Philippine Star, I have been able to travel to many places to cover various festivals around the Philippines. The T’nalak festival stood out because of the way they showcased the materials. While there was the usual street dancing and parties, the festival is also rooted in the history and tradition of the T’nalak fabric. We were also the first big delegation of journalists to cover the event.

It was also a privilege to be able to meet Lang Dulay, the Dreamweaver and Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan awardee.
It was through interaction with the locals that I came to really appreciate the T’boli culture.

MUNI: The film highlights the ethereal quality and importance of T’nalak. What have you learned about the sacredness of this textile to the locals? In what applications can the fabric be used? We noticed how sometimes, T’nalak can be found in contemporary products, and have heard that it can be offensive to the T’bolis if used on shoes or anything that is stepped on. Was this something you were able to hear about from them?

IDA: The T’bolis really uphold the sacredness of the T’nalak tradition. It was fascinating to learn all of their beliefs and practices when it comes to weaving, such as not stepping over the loom, asking permission from the goddess of abaca before handling T’nalak, and more. They really show respect for the T’nalak and Fu Dalu.
T’nalak is present throughout the lives of the T’bolis, such as during birthing where it is placed over the mother as a sort of protection, and during their wedding ritual where the bride is covered in a huge 3-paneled weaving that is usually a priceless heirloom.

Auntentic T'boli attire and accessories (Photo by Don N. Juan photography)
Auntentic T’boli attire and accessories (Photo by Don N. Juan photography)

Now, there are many T’nalak products used as souvenirs. Personally, I think it is a way of adapting to the demands of the modern times, with the influx of tourists in Lake Sebu. It is a way to keep the art alive. Many more outsiders will learn of the tradition because of this. While the young and modern T’bolis are well aware of their traditional weaving, they are also adapting to the times. They just have to make sure that they and the tourists as well are aware of the sacredness of the T’nalak.

Mara in a t'nalak bustier by Rikko Escaro and direk Ida in t'nalak accessories by Twinkle Feraren. photo credit: DonN.JuanPhotography
Mara in a T’nalak bustier by Rikko Escaro and Ida in T’nalak accessories by Twinkle Ferraren (Photo by Don N. Juan Photography)

There are some restrictions in the traditional use of T’nalak, but in the recent festival and at the premiere of our film, the delegation from Lake Sebu came in couture pieces made of T’nalak. There are some as well who have already made shoes using T’nalak. I cannot speak for the T’boli elders, but this contemporary use of the fabric makes me positive that the T’nalak tradition will continue to survive the test of time.

MUNI: What was the T’bolis’ reaction to you shooting the film on their land, and to the subject matter? 

IDA: The T’bolis were very open to our project. We asked permission from the local government as well as the T’boli elders. It helped that our cultural consultant Oyog Todi was used to coordinating with outsiders and the community. There have been quite a few documentaries on T’nalak weaving, though this is the first feature film made in t’boli. I think they also appreciated the respect the whole crew gave to their community and the care we took in being faithful in representing their culture.

A young Oyog Todi, photographed by George Tapan during one of his first visits to South Cotabato Photo by George Tapan
A young Oyog Todi, photographed by George Tapan during one of his first visits to South Cotabato (Photo by George Tapan)

It is most heartwarming for me when the T’bolis or those with T’boli heritage say that this film makes them proud of their heritage.

MUNI: What was it like living among the T’boli during the shoot? How supportive were the locals during your shoot? Can you share any memorable encounters or engagements or interactions with the locals?

IDA: It wasn’t so different because the T’bolis today are very modern. We were able to bond especially with the younger T’bolis in the cast. We are all friends now on Facebook and the cast and crew get together any time one of the T’bolis come to Manila.

The locals were very supportive of the project because I think they saw that we wanted to show the best of their culture. Aside from the crew and 6 Manila-based cast members, the rest of the team is made up of T’bolis and people we met in Koronadal.

The 11-day shoot became a big event in the community. Crowds would come to watch, even if our location was quite far from the city proper.

MUNI: Can you talk about concerns about an outsider telling their story for them? This has long been a concern with regard to popular depictions of indigenous peoples.

IDA: I don’t see myself as telling their story for them; I’m not claiming to be their voice. I am just telling a fictional story that is set in Lake Sebu and depicts the culture of the T’bolis.

You don’t have to be an insider to be inspired by the T’bolis and their culture. In fact, sometimes outsiders can even appreciate it better.

I was not worried about misrepresentation because our production had only good intentions for the community. It is also not a political or advocacy film. I think it would definitely take an insider/local to take up these topics, so I stayed away from that. Instead, I am focused on the beauty of the culture and the spirituality of the T’nalak weaving, something that anyone can appreciate.

MUNI: How important to you was depicting the T’bolis as they are? One of the concerns many have about the presentation of indigenous peoples in popular media is the caricaturing of these communities or exoticizing them.

IDA: The film is a period piece, so I really did not depict them as they are now. We looked back into their history and traditions and built the film’s world from there.

It is worth pointing out, however, that though the T’bolis are now modern, their culture is still alive and vibrant.

As for exoticizing or caricaturing them, there is indeed a fine line that must be tread. The film aims to create more of a fantasy world inspired by the T’boli culture. It is meant to evoke the feeling of a legend. I shot the film without worries that exoticism would be a big problem. It will definitely be new (“exotic”) for many people both here and abroad who are not aware of the T’boli culture. And in that light, I don’t think that is a bad thing.

MUNI: What can you say about speculation from some that the locals might not be prepared, in terms of infrastructure as well as in terms of culture and shared psyche, for the possible influx of tourists that may happen following the screening of your film? What can we do to make sure that an upswing in the number of visitors will be a positive development rather than a negative one?

IDA: It is misconception that they are not prepared for tourists. In fact, we had problems shooting the period piece on Lake Sebu because there are so many modern structures — mostly resorts — along the lake. Lang Dulay’s weaving center sees groups of tourists daily. The school of living tradition even offers homestays.

There will possibly be an increase in tourists after the film, but I expect the local government to be able to handle this well. They have also been working hard to promote tourism in South Cotabato, so I believe they will be ready. I just hope that they will always have the best interest of the T’bolis and the whole South Cotabato in mind. They should be sure that they are not compromising their traditions for the sake of tourism or income. After all, tourists will come to see the beautiful lake and experience the vibrant culture, so the local government and the residents have to be conscious in maintaining the area and upholding their traditions.

MUNI: What does this film signify for you personally? What do you hope people will take away from it?

IDA: I just wanted to tell an honest, simple love story because there is very little that remains honest and simple in films today — and, I guess, in the world in general. I wanted to make something beautiful and visually stunning. I hope people will be as inspired by the T’boli culture as I was. I hope it will make Filipinos proud because the T’boli culture is part of our nation’s heritage.

Kna The Dreamweaver by Ida del MundoK’na The Dreamweaver
Director: Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo
Cast: Mara Lopez, Ramon Khino (RK) Bagatsing, Alex Vincent Medina, Anthony (Nonie) Buencamino, Rafael (Bembol) Roco, Jr., Erlinda Villalobos
Director/Writer: Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo
Director of Photography: Lee Briones
Assistant Director: Maricris Calilung
Producer: Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
Associate Producer/LineProducer: Michael Kho Lim
Associate Producer: Rhodora de Castro
Production Manager: Jose Genesis de Leon
Post Production: Voyage Studios
[South Cotabato Unit]
Translator/Cultural Consultant/Dialect Coach: Oyog Todi
Logistics/Coordination: Ana Dejesica (Allah Valley Landscape Development Alliance) / Red Allaga (Local Government Support Program) / Datu Baay (Datu of Lake Sebu)



Jen HornJEN HORN (@nomadmanager) is a wanderer, writer, and designer out to build the MUNI community, create a culture of caring for self, others, and the planet, and make choosing better a way of life as MUNI’s Chief Collaborator. She is also a lover of handwoven textiles, and aims to keep weaving traditions alive through the use of Philippine textiles in modern fashion with her side project Tala Luna.


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