Dreams And Weaves
We watched ?Dreamweavers? last July 22, the day that our teacher was absent. We just walked into class, pulled out our pens and notebooks, and watched as one of the guys got the equipment ready. After a while it was all set and the film was rolling. It was over in about thirty to forty-five minutes. And now, thirteen days have passed and I am writing a thinkpiece about culture. Yup, thirteen days. It took me that long to get my thought juices flowing. And now that they are I find that it is best I start with the real stuff.
During one of our classes our professor defined culture as ?shared beliefs and practices transmitted from one generation to another? and we separated the whiteboard with the beliefs on the left side and the practices on the right side. In a short while he started jotting down our thoughts on the examples of beliefs and the examples of practices that we find in our everyday lives. The practices were, in fact, very practical, and what I didn?t see then that I see now with a rather confused blur is that even the beliefs are quite practical. What causes you to not walk under a ladder while walking along a sidewalk beside a construction site? What makes girls think twice about making the first move on a guy she likes? What tells us to eat this and not to eat that? I could go on and on for as long as I can, but my point is this: for me beliefs and practices could not be ?compartmentalized?as separate categories?, for I find that the practices are the ways of expressing or realizing the concepts that we hold true.
Take the T?boli for example. They are known for their intricate Tnalac cloth. Why do they weave? What drives them to work on this tedious task day and night for months, never stopping until they accomplish it?
The T?boli woman who was interviewed in the documentary said that the designs of the cloth come from their dreams, from the Goddess of Weave, Fu Dalu. In her dreams her spirit travels to a house. She finds a tnalac in the corner that she must look at from a distance. If she comes near it, she would not see the design. After they wake up, they work on the design right away, in fear of upsetting the goddess and being punished by Ku Dumon (I am not certain of the spelling of this name) with certain illnesses. Then they teach the designs to their daughter(s), who will in turn teach these to the next generation.
Now, culture is ?shared?. But is it shared by all the people in the entire group? Is it homogenous? It is undeniable that culture somehow creates a structure for a people, like a mould with holes. Now why did I say that it has holes? Culture defines a people to the point that most commit the mistake of generalizing or stereotyping. But the mere fact that to generalize is a mistake, and to set a stereotype is a wrong move only proves that though culture is shared by most of the people in the entire group, it is not shared by all. At first all appear to do so for there was no other ?right way? to do things right, and many years ago there seemed to be fewer, or even none, non-conformists. But constant change demands some to deviate from the ?ways of the old? in order to survive.
This was illustrated in the latter part of the documentary when they featured some women, and even men (for before men were not allowed to weave for this will anger the gods), weaving not because Fu Dalu demanded it, but because the ?modern world? demanded it. People from outside of Lake Sebu came to their land carrying their products and practices, and their money. The government granted their land to others so that the T?boli could no longer hunt and gather in it. The T?boli were forced to sell some of their things, and their craft, for they could no longer live off the land nor barter for their needs. The tnalac that was once equivalent to a house or a horse, or was enough for dowry, or to pay taxes, was reduced to something that was worth $2.00 to $8.00 a meter, depending on the weave. Before quality was everything, and the cloth was woven so carefully from beginning to end. Now everything was rushed for there was a great demand for it, and there was no more time for dreams. Tnalac was once perceived to be sacred cloth, and it was not allowed to be cut. But now even some of the T?boli themselves say, ?Don?t worry,? and cut the cloth according the customer?s wishes. Back then, the job of the men was only to cut the tree at the roots so they could extract the fibers. But like I said, that was then, and now even the men weave.
Weaving was once a path to prestige, and a woman who knew how to weave was granted the position of a ?Boi?, one that was equal to a datu. Now, I wonder if we go too see them, will we still see Boi, or will we merely see women in their desperate attempt to keep their families and themselves alive?
Even their dances and their music once performed for special occasions, were reserved for performances for visitors. The precious stones that once comprised the jewelry of the T?boli are now made from old ball pens, melted and shaped to look fit to be substitutes of the gifts of the earth.
In a place that was once one of priceless things, everything had a price. A lot of rules were broken, many traditions compromised, all because of the need to survive.
After all, as they say, ?If you can?t beat them, join them.?
But thank God, for there are those who insist on keeping their culture alive. Some teach the traditions, the dances, and the music in schools and inside their families, reconciling what they learn in school with the T?boli culture. They were afraid that they would soon lose their art and their tradition. In doing this they knew that they would be able to delay its disappearance, if not keep it entirely.
I read of a woman in an article from Asian Week on the internet named Fides Enriquez, who came to the Philippines in 1998 as a part of the research project from San Francisco?s Likha Filipino Folk Ensemble. She visited Mindanao and the T?boli, and after she had gained their trust, the T?boli women gave her fabrics that she could sell. She brought these to the United States and sent the proceedings back to the T?boli. She believed that by doing this she would be able to share to the world the meaning and the importance of the fabric, and the culture that was the lifeblood of those intricate designs. ??We need to educate people as to what t?nalak really is ? it?s not just something pretty you can cut up and make into a purse.??
Another T?boli woman was featured in the documentary. She was married to a man who was also a T?boli but they were not married the T?boli way for they were already Christianized. Somehow, culture persisted and the man got sick. The witch doctors told them that if they were not married the T?boli way, the husband would die. And so they arranged for another wedding, only this time they did it as their parents and the earlier generations did it. And the man got well soon enough. (My point here is not that I believe in witch doctors but that in ways unthinkable, culture persists.)
Culture defines us. It is gives us identities. It tells people outside of our culture who we are and what we can contribute to the world. It is the invisible rope that binds people of the same country. It tells us where we belong and how to live and cope with our daily lives. And as the title of my thinkpiece states, even we weave what we dream. These things we form in our heads and keep in our minds, the commands of the gods (and in my case, God) will be worth nothing if we do not ?weave? them. What we do shifts what we believe from existence to a life form and a life force. We live what we breathe, we breathe what we live, and this I believe is why culture and preserving it is so important to a people.
?If a personal dream is not in accord with the society,? the old Boi said, ?then you have moved away from the society.?
About the Author: Abigail Eunice Sison is a first year student in UP Diliman taking up BA Anthropology.