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The Story of T'Nalok (Tinalok)

In a remote rural region of the southern Philippine islands, there is a place called Lake Sebu in the province of South Cotabato, on the island of Mindanao. Lake Sebu is home to a tribe of people known as the T'boli people. Many of the women (and some men) from this tribe are impoverished, yet skilled artists and master weavers toiling away at the dying art of T'nalak weaving.

As more of the younger generation abandon the old crafts in favor of modern culture and opportunities, there are still a number (albeit diminishing) T'boli tribe members who keep to the old traditions and crafts, hence keeping the cultural significance of year's old craftsmanship alive.

T'nalak fabric is a product of a unique and tedious method of tie-dye weaving done on a bamboo and wooden loom.

The cloth is hand-woven and made of Abaca fibers from the Abaca plant (also referred to as Manila hemp). The abaca plant belongs to the banana family. It was a major source of high quality fiber long before synthetic fabrics became available.

First, the fibers are stripped by hand from the plant. They are then combed repeatedly with weeks of air-drying. The fibers are stretched on a bamboo wooden loom, tied with other fibers and rubbed in beeswax.

Next, the fibers will be dyed. The three primary colors used are black, red, and the original color of the Abaca leaves. Black dye comes from the leaves of the Kenalum tree. Black color takes three weeks. Red dye comes from the roots of the loco tree and takes two days. The fibers are boiled over and over and steam pushes the dye upwards to the tied threads.

After the dyeing is finished, the fibers are removed and washed along river banks. The cloth is then air dried for a week. The fabric then goes through a technique called lemubag (wood pounding) where the fibers are made flexible and pliant.

Finally, the T'nalak is laid out on a bamboo fixture where it passes through the "smaki" (shell rubbing). The craftswoman will use a big turtle-shaped seashell called a saki for this. This brings out the luster and waxy sheen of the finished cloth.

The T'nalak is an extremely valuable hand woven fabric and made not only for the exceptional quality and durfability of the fabric (which will never fade if well taken care of) but also for the enormous amount of spiritual and emotional energy instilled into the creation of the final weave.

This unique and beautiful fabric has symbolic meaning attached to the various patterns and stylistic designs. Many of the patterns are said to be divinely inspired, but most of those appearing have come from the creators own dreams and traditional ancestral forms. It can take up to 5 years of constant practice and the ability to remember and interpret dreams to earn the title of Master Weaver or "Dream Weaver." These expert weavers do not use any kind of drawn pattern, template or guide. Instead, they rely on mental images which appear to them through past exposure to traditional and mythological design, dreams or vision.

A length of T'nalak fabric 20 feet (usually 15 to 17 inches wide long will take about two and a half months to complete. Some pieces can take up to four months requiring the help of several members of the village to complete the laborious and time consuming process. Artistic, spiritual thought and dedication to the past is mandatory.

Much superstition surrounds the T'nalak. The T'boli tribe members believe that cutting the divine dream inspired fabric will cause them to become ill. Bells are often attached to the cloth by merchants who wish to please the mysterious spirits who guided the weavers.

The T'nalak is used by the T'boli people for special occasions and major life events such as birth, marriage, and death. They have no form of writing and the T'nalak is used to express art, literature, dreams, beliefs, myths, legends and religion. Other neighboring tribes recognize the T'nalak fabric as being unique only to the T'boli culture alone.


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The Richard Gervais Collection is home based in San Francisco, California and is a long standing reliable resource for unique collectibles and art, available to the public and the wholesale trade community of interior designers, decorators, landscape architects, gardeners and collectors. The collection consists of a myriad of country, ethnic, primitive and folk art, antiquities, artifacts and decorative home accessories and furniture from many Asian ports of call.

Richard Gervais is the hands on owner and founder and travels extensively through Asia concentrating his travels to the countries of Bali, Brazil, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Laos, Macau, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and Viet Nam in constant search of unique, interesting and the unusual in antiquities, art and artifacts. His collection is featured in several leading design showrooms on both coasts.


Jonathan E. French Ph.D. - San Francisco

Richard Gervais, proprietor of the Richard Gervais Collection located in San Francisco, is a dealer in ethnic and folk art from S.E. Asia, whom I have known for many years. I have found Richard to be a most generous, even gracious fellow who not only makes the world’s artistic bounty both available and affordable, but who spends most of his waking hours pursuing these items with an admirable degree of reverence for the old traditions from which they spring. As a forensic psychologist and old Philippine hand myself, I sometimes cast a jaundiced eye upon the doings of certain dealers who are blinded by money or ego, often both. Richard does not fit into this category by any means. I have likewise had the pleasure of encountering him on the road in Southeast Asia, where he certainly knows how to enjoy himself as he goes about his business. And even though the number of bona fide tribal artifacts is fading away in many parts of the world, one can always find among Richard’s extensive inventory that special item, be it decorative or ethnographic, that will warm the cockles of someone’s heart. It is a pleasure to engage with him, be it for business or for pleasure. He is, need I add, a gentleman and a scholar and a peach of a guy.

Jonathan E. French, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist


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