A visit to the Master of Tabih

   The gloomy weather accompanied with its chilly wind signified that I now arrived in Polomolok. It was January 1, 2017, and I am excited to spend my first day of the year outside our home. It has been 3 years since I last visited Yabing Caturan Masalon Dulo or Fu Yabing, the Blaan Master Tabih (Ikat) Weaver. 

   I called Steven (or popularly known as Batang Polomolok) to say that I have arrived but I only got a response from an automated voice. I texted him and waited in the terminal. After 30 minutes, he came. 3 years ago, he was my photographer when we first visited Fu Yabing’s weaving center at sitio Kalyong in Barangay Landan. Arthur Dulo Gulili or Jao as we call him, served as our guide to see Fu Yabing in her shanty like weaving center in sitio Kalyong. It was easy for us to coordinate with him since he is the grandson of Fu Yabing. This year, I decided to visit Fu Yabing before her declaration as Manlilika ng Bayan. I wanted to witness her life before the announcement. 

   Steven and I dropped by in AMCOOP suites to wait for Jao. We stayed in their café and ordered coffee to combat the cold outside. But I realized, it is much colder inside because of air-condition. I did not bother to ask the waitress about it because their strong WiFi connection compensated it. 

   I asked Steven about his status as “Tourism Officer of Polomolok.” Up until now, he has no clear designation in LGU Polomolok. He joggles two roles as the Tourism Officer and Information Officer. 

   “Wala diay na gi open na position ni Mayor?” I asked. 

   “Oo, wala. Gahulat gani ko na i-open niya kay aplayan nako. Daghan na ko plano for tourism sa Polomolok,” Steven said. 

   “Kung kailangan nimo og bebang naa lang ko diri. I’m sure daghan naka trabahuon once ma declare na GAMABA (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) si Fu Yabing,” I said. 

   “Mao gani, ma busy jud ko ana,” said Steven. 

   My phone beeped and I saw the text of Jao saying that he was in Cannery site. We finished our coffee and went there. We easily saw him waiting in the side of the highway with his Baja motorcycle. 

   “Hi Jao! Long time no see ba,” I said. 

   “Gani Sir Yadu. Kamusta BP, muoban ka run?” Jao said. 

   “Dili pero muaapas ko ugma. Si Yadu ra muoban nimo run,” said Steven. 

   “Ampuna ko Jao ha,” I pleaded. 

   I wore my forest green hoody to protect myself from the cold breeze of Polomolok. Jao started his motor engine. We bid a temporary farewell to Steven. 

   “Yads, text lang ha kung kaya maka saka akong motor sa ilaha,” Steven said. 

   “I hope dili mag ulan. Nindot man gud kaayo imong motor uy, pang rampa sa highway,” I said. 

   Jao and I made a 20 minute fun ride going to sitio Amguo in Barangay Landan. My legs started to feel numb and the cold breeze that caressed my face made my nose cry. We passed by in the sea of pineapple which dominated most of the area in Polomolok. We took the shortcut in Barangay Maligo before we reached sitio Amguo. Their community is one of the far flung sitios of the municipality where it is located in the foot of the majestic Mt. Matutum. It is also the place of Fu Yabing where she decided to permanently place her weaving center. It was already dark when we arrived in their community. 

   “Naka abot na diay ang SOCOTECO diri sa inyoha?” I asked.

   “Oo Sir Yadu, kato pang 2015,” he said. 

   Jao and I went to their weaving center besides his mother’s house. Compare to Fu Yabing’s weaving center in sitio Kalyong, it is much bigger and has strong foundation that it could accommodate more than 20 guests. But I was expecting that the materials used in the construction would be indigenous to their area. Just like the houses in the community, the weaving center has been influenced by modernity. Jao was thankful that the Kagatbul group helped in the creation of the weaving house. 

   "Kumusta na ka Jao? Makita nako sa imong Facebook posts na pirmi ka muadto ug Manila with the NCCA peeps?" 

   "Oo busy lagi. Kung pwede lang nako tungaon akong lawas,” Jao said. He looked at the unfinished tabih cloth hanging on the corner. “Kining among ginabuhat para mani tanan kay Ye og sa among tribo. Og arong naa pud sya mabinlan sa iyang nabal-an.”

   After 3 years, Jao and I meet again. In that span of time there are many things that have happened to him, to Fu Yabing and his community. Fu Yabing, is now known as a Blaan Weaver of Tabih. Her works have been exhibit in the region and around the country. Some of it have been curated by Bing Cariño and supported by the Department of Tourism (DOT) XII and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). 

   Arjho Cariño Turner is also one of the cultural workers who help Fu Yabing to get recognized in the public. She was responsible for bringing Fu Yabing in the WOW Mindanao Expo in 2004 held in Davao City. After that experience, Fu Yabing had been invited to many events around the country. She even taught tabih weaving at Lamlifew village in Datal Tampal, Malungon Sarangani Province. 

   But along with these great opportunities, it also comes with misunderstanding. Most people from their community have accused Jao of controlling the money of Fu Yabing. Jao is the center of all accusations because he is the president of Kalyak Blaan Care Group, the organization they created for weaving students of Fu Yabing. He is responsible for the welfare not only for Fu Yabing but all of their weavers. He is also elected as Blaan Cluster Head of NCCA and as Secretary to Southern Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts (SCCTA) of NCCA. 

   I cannot blame the people of Amguo on saying those things to Jao and his family. As I roamed around in the community, I noticed that many national and international NGOs assisted Amguo with so many projects that most of it was unsuccessful. For instance, there is a huge weaving center named Blaan Mabal Tabih & Matsuo building which located inside their community school. So far, it was the biggest weaving center that I saw in the region. It can accommodate more than a hundred guests and can it can shelter more than fifty weavers. It was funded by a Japanese Funding Agency in collaboration with a church based organization. Along with the other projects in Amguo, they were all failure because of mismanagement. It is sad to see the weaving house in its rotten condition without fully maximizing its benefits. 

   “Dati daghan projects diri sa Amguo,” Jao confessed. “Wala lang nag success tungod kay nag inggit-inggit ang mga tawo diri. Ang kwarta gikurakot ra sa ilang leader og wala na sustain ang projects.” 

   “Jao kailangan jud ma prepare ang imong community once ma declare na GAMABA si Fu Yabing. Wala pa gani sya na declare gina isyuhan namo, unsaon na lang kung GAMABA na sya,” I said. 

   That time, Fu Yabing along with other two nominees was not yet declared as Manlilikha ng Bayan. The declaration came on January 9, 2017 and two out of three that have been declared Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasures) came from SOX region. In his proclamation No. 126, signed on January 6, 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte named the Blaan Mat Weaver Estelita (Labnai) Tumandan Bantilan (Malapatan Sarangani Province), the Yakan Tapestry Weaver Ambalan Ausalin (Basilan) and Fu Yabing as National Treasures. 

   According to Republic Act 7355, “Manlilikha ng Bayan” shall mean a citizen engaged in any traditional art uniquely Filipino whose distinctive skills have reached such a high level of technical and artistic excellence and have been passed on to and widely practiced by the present generation in his/her community with the same degree of technical and artistic competence.

   “Ako ra man gud isa ang gaasikaso tanan. Mag update sa among Facebook page, mag uban sa mga taga NCCA, mag asikaso og orders, mag asikaso pa og mga bisita.” 

   “Asa diay imong ubang parente,” I asked. 

   "Dili man sila masaligan uy.”

   My heart wants to sympathize with Jao but my mind keeps asking a lot of questions. I wanted Jao to let loose, to release what’s inside, and to say what he really wanted to say. 

   In his late twenties, Jao has two beautiful children and a loving wife. I never got the chance to attend his wedding ceremony because that time I was on travel. I only knew it on his Facebook post. Aside from his responsibilities to Fu Yabing, he also tries to be a father and a husband to his family. He resigned as a community teacher just to focus his attention to Fu Yabing, her weaving students, the “business”, the NCCA nomination and the weaving center. Without a much needed income to help his family, Jao is struggling to balance their financial needs and cultural preservation. 

   “Unta Jao dili mo ma parehas sa Lake Sebu na commercialize kaayo. Kanang tanan na lang ibaligya nila maski ilang ka tribo,” I said. 


   I woke up not having a good night sleep. My body is not accustomed to other beds but my own bed. I looked for water to wash my face. I later realized that they have no running water. They only get it in Bah Landan, a river which is 3 kilometers away from their community. I only saw pail of rain water outside the house. I went back inside and decided to use their drinking water to brush my teeth and wash my face. After that I went outside to feel the morning breeze of Amguo. 

    “Maayong buntag,” said Lumena, the mother of Jao. 

    “Maayong buntag te,” I greeted her with a smile. 

    “Mangape ta! Didto ta sa weaving center.” 

   I patiently waited inside the weaving center while she prepared the coffee. I heard someone cough outside the door. I want to know who that person was. Fu Yabing came in with her can of powdered milk. 

   I have an unexplainable connection to Fu Yabing. I treat her like my real Fu (Grandmother) and I assume that she treats me like one of her grandchildren. Even though I cannot converse in Blaan dialect, I understand her simple gesture and timid smile. When she looks at me and I look back, I can feel her struggle, worries and frustrations, as though I swim into the depths of her emotions. 

   “Eh! Mamis?” she said while trying to give the sugar on her hand. 

   “Mamis, mamis,” I said while nodding my head as if I talk to a baby. 

   I could not talk to her because I cannot speak their dialect. We only communicated through gestures and some words in Blaan or Bisaya accompanied with broken sign language. 


   After quick refreshment in Bah Landan, I went back to the community. Steven has already arrived and enjoyed his black coffee. After I rested myself from a short trek, we ate our breakfast that they have prepared. Fu Yabing was in her bed, resting. After I finished eating, I asked Jao about Fu Yabing. He said that Fu Yabing felt sad when her daughter broke the news that her nephew died. The news made her weak and she decided to have a nap. Jao and I went to her room. We saw her in bed sleeping peacefully. 

   “Natulog pa man sya Jao. Dili sa nato sya storbohon,” I said.

   “Pwede man nako sya pukawon,” Jao said. 

   He tried to wake up Fu Yabing but I stopped him. We decided to go outside and wait for her to wake up. 


   I read the two books about Philippine textile located on the left side of the weaving house. Arjho gave these books to help them in their weaving activity. I read those thick books to help educate myself with regards to the different textiles produced by most of the cultural communities around the country. 

   I ended my brief enjoyment of reading the book when I saw Fu Yabing slowly walking towards her weaving area. She sat and opened the blue cellophane which had an apple in it. She offered me the apple while she pealed it with a small knife. 

   I told Jao to start the video interview while she was in the good mood. Steven prepared his camera. Jao talked to Fu Yabing in their dialect while I prepared questions that were stuck in my head. Fu Yabing cooperated and we started it. 

   Since I cannot converse in their dialect, Jao acted as the interpreter for Fu Yabing. I only asked basic questions like how and when she learned weaving, how’s her life, and the like. She answered it well and Jao translated it. In my mind, I am not satisfied on this kind of set up. If only I could speak in Blaan, I would personally talk to her as though I am her grandson. I cannot throw questions the way I throw them to my other interviewees. I cannot ask it in a manner that is personal and deep because of the language barrier and I am bothered on how Jao spoke to her grandmother. The interview felt robotic. It was so choreograph and I hated it. But I can sense that Fu Yabing was comfortable to me. She tried to speak in Bisaya just to have a conversation with me. She even smiles on our candid photos to show that she enjoyed our brief interview. 

   After the interview, she continued pealing the apple that she left. I went beside her and observed how she sliced the apple in her hand and ate it. After she finished eating the apple, she got the photo album near the two books. I followed her and looked on the photos. I saw familiar faces and the events she had been to. 

   “Bing, Bing,” she said while pointing her finger to the face of Bing Cariño on the photo. 

  “Bing! Bing!” I said. 

   I hug her as if she was my long lost grandmother. She closed the photo album and placed it on the side. Two of her students smiled while looking at us. Steven went outside to have cigarette break. 

   “Pamasko, pamasko,” said Fu Yabing. 

   “Pinaskuhan daw niya,” said one of her students. 

   “Ha? Human naman ang pasko,” I said while placing my head on her shoulder. “New Year na ta run.” 


   “Yads manguli na ta kay basi maabtan ta og ulan,” said Steven.

   “Sige sige, mananghid sa ta sa ilaha,” I said. 

    Jao gave us the log book for their guests who visited their place. This year, we are the first visitors of their community. Steven wrote his name on it. After that, I momentarily scanned the log book and wrote my name on it. 

  “I’m sure daghan na mubisita kay Fu Yabing pagka human sa iyang declaration,” I said while writing my name on the logbook. 

   “Mao gyud Sir Yads,” Jao said. 

   “Daghan gyud ko trabahuon ani,” Steven said. 

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