VESTI Spotlight: Lang Dulay
by Martha Rodriguez
Calling in the Abaca Spirit Fu Dula for T’nalak Legendary Weaver Lang Dulay of T’boli
Original version of this article was written by VESTI Founder Martha Rodriguez in 2012
“I had to call the Philippine National Museum and luckily they had this last piece on hand. I hope you like this. It’s a tough call but from all the Mindanao weaves you told me, it was t'nalak that your eyes sparkled c-r-a-z-y!,“ a friend of mine told me as he gave me a book entitled "Dreamweavers”.
The book was inspired by the dreamweavers themselves, the T’boli people of Lake Sebu. T’nalak is a work of art, “an abstraction, an individual artist’s interpretation of something woven by an earlier generation of weavers. Or a recollection of a dream.” (Tan 2001). Included are articulate descriptions about the T’boli communities: how they lived, how their weaving heritage was passed on to their children, and how the T'nalak patterns just came into their dreams, and how the spirit of abaca, Fu Dalu, speaks to them about the meaning of each pattern to be woven.
* click through the pictures to read the stories behind the pattern designs
I could not help but wonder and be amazed, who are these T’boli weavers responsible for creating such masterpieces? Myrna Pula, Lamfay Lumbay, Subi Nalon, Bo’I Diwa Ofung, Yab Man, Yoy Tingal, Lang Dulay are some of the T’boli artisan weavers featured in the book. Their photographs presented a stillness of the T’boli tribe, as the writers of the book would put it, “who gracefully work the abaca, while communcating with the spirits that fill their days. Transforming dreams, both past and present, into wondrous works of art.”
But what captured my heart was an article about the legendary Lang Dulay. She had learned how to weave at the young age of twelve years old. She is one of the pioneers of weaving T’nalak and knows a hundred designs, including the bulinglangit (clouds), the bang kding (hair bangs), and the kabangi (butterfly). In 1990, the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) awarded Lang Dulay the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan, the highest award given by the Philippine government to traditional artists.
I have to meet her, I thought to myself while staring at her portrait. I felt so much joy and inspiration knowing that this amazing person takes the time to teach younger women in her community how to weave.
Dreaming with Lang Dulay
Two weeks later, I found myself carrying the book, nervously and ecstatically walking up the hills of Lake Sebu, South Cotabato in search of Lang Dulay. This would be my third visit to Lake Sebu, but what I’d call a “#1 die-fan meets THE IDOL” encounter.
Climbing up steep wooden stairs, I walked inside the house and found her sitting on the floor, dressed in traditional colorful T’boli clothes, looking very much like the portrait in the book. Moving closer to her, I was greeted by her children, grandchildren, relatives, and neighbors, who were all waiting for me. I felt so happy and rushed to hug her without any hesitation. I spoke to her in Tagalog, “Kumusta po kayo?” (How are you?), and she looked at one of her grandchildren who translated my question for her. I was introduced to her in a dialect that I could not understand, but I was only filled with wonderful emotions and just smiled back at her.
Nevertheless, I continued introducing myself, “I am from Manila but grew up in Cagayan de Oro. Nag-dedesign po ako nang bags gawa nang Mindanao weaves gaya nang T’nalak, Mindanao Silk from Laguindingan, Hinabol from Bukidnon, Yakan from Zamboanga at iba pa. Gusto ko pong i-promote ang Mindanao”, (I am from Manila but grew up in Cagayan de Oro, I design bags made of Mindanao weaves like T’nalak, Mindanao Silk from Laguindingan, Hinabol from Bukidnon, Yakan from Zamboanga , and others. I want to promote Mindanao). and presented them the VESTI bag I was wearing. I even presented everyone a slideshow of the different weavers I met, the fabrics I bought, the travels that inspired me and even explained to them that Mindanao is home.
Finally, I showed her the book with her photo in it and asked for her signature. I shared with her how she was a big inspiration to VESTI. One of her grandchildren told me that she could barely hold a pen and would rather put a thumb mark on the page
*please click through the gallery
To express my gratitude for her time, I gave her a token that I bought from Taipei. I remembered not saying goodbye to her, but just really smiling back. “You are my idol. Thank you for bringing T’nalak and we will continue to dream with you,” were the exact words I told her.
Met my idol, check. I got back on the road, feeling so determined and overwhelmed. Immediately after the meeting I texted my writer-cousin, “I just can’t believe I met her.” She replied, “I am so happy for you. Well, in my case, I really want to meet Oprah or the Queen.”
Thus, I began dreaming and thinking of new designs. I knew it was all definitely from the heart.
Lang Dulay, the Living Treasure of her tribe died in April 30, 2015. She set up the Manlilikha ng Bayan Center workshop resulting to 41 weavers in 2014 in her hometown to promote the traditional T’nalak weaving. She was 87 years old, had 2 sons and 8 out of her 21 grandchildren are into weaving.