Passing on the Tboli legacy

Rosie Godwino Sula, Tboli expert of intangible and tangible cultural heritage, said she intends to pass on what she has learned to future generations so that they will have an understanding of indigenous knowledge or katutubong kaalaman.

Sula. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

Sula imparted this at the lecture-workshop Keheton Kenhulung Tboli: Weaving Indigenous Tboli Arts, Culture, and Tourism (Keheton Kenhulung Tboli) where she was the featured culture-bearer-in-residence.

Also known as Boi Lmingon, Sula is a Tboli epic chanter, composer, musician, and dancer.

Launched on Feb. 7 at the UP Diliman (UPD) Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT) Lounge, Keheton Kenhulung Tboli is among the projects of the UPD Culture Bearers-in-Residence Program under the UPD Office of the Chancellor.

Sula explained that, “keheton means pagpapakilala, pagpapakita; kenhulung means lahat ng kaalaman ng aming mga ninuno, our knowledge, indigenous knowledge, system, and practices, our skills, our talent.”

Kenhulung encompasses more than just talents and skills. “So, kenhulung, maraming nagsasabi na sa isang talent lang, sa dance lang, o sa skills, hindi po. When we say kenhulung, intangible po siya,” Sula clarified. She added that it includes even their culture and belief system.

Attendees of the lecture-workshop. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

“Ang pagiging Manlilikha ng Bayan ko po, para ito sa lahat ng tribo, regardless of tribe, regardless of affiliation, regardless of denomination,” she said.

At the event, it was explained that the Tboli people learned from their ancestors, who earned their knowledge from the spirit world.

“We believe D’wata is our god, the creator and ultimate mystery. We believe the Tboli are not pagans, but we are believers because we have D’wata or god,” Sula explained.

She added that their customary laws, songs, and folk speech are part of their knowledge. Sula said although their ancestors could not read or write, they had brilliant minds.

“Kahit hindi sila marunong sumulat at bumasa, para silang encyclopedia. Kapag maitanong mo iyong isang tanong mo hinggil sa isang bagay, masasagot po nila,” she said.

Sula is the founder of Libun Hulung Matul, or the Tribal and Women Empowerment, a Tboli weavers, dancers, and cultural group. She also assumed positions in community and national organizations.

As an educator, she helped establish the School of Indigenous Knowledge and Traditions, a Tboli community-owned school at Gono Hofo in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato.

As early as five years old, Sula already knew how to chant, dance, and play Tboli musical instruments because of her father.

“I am most privileged. [Nagpa]pasalamat ako sa Panginoon na galing po ako sa pamilya ng talented people,” Sula said.

It was her mother who taught her the skills a Tboli woman should possess like farming, weaving, and dressmaking.

“Lahat ng nalaman ng mama, all the skills of my mother, parang nakaipon po sa akin,” she said.   

For her achievements and contributions to the preservation and passing on of Tboli culture and heritage to present and future generations, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts awarded Sula and eight others the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan on 15 Dec. 2023.

Milovy Mariel R. Baduria described Sula as a culture bearer “known most for her prowess in chanting, characterized by [a] high-pitched sound and a wide voice range. She is (at)the forefront in the fight of the indigenous peoples over their ancestral lands.”

Baduria is the Keheton Kenhulung Tboli project proponent and a lecturer at the AIT.

(From left) Fanulan, Campilan, and Sula. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

At Keheton Kenhulung Tboli, Sula performed a portion of a peace and prayer chant. Joining her were Julie Mantang Fanulan, a tinalak and basket weaver, and Jenny Sula Campilan, a weaver and blouse maker. They were assisted by Jocelyn Dalisan.

Fanulan played the kubing, a bamboo mouth harp. It was explained in the event that a kubing was only played during a lunar eclipse.

Sula mentioned that the Tbolis believe that when there is a lunar eclipse, “It is understood that the moon is swallowed by the big python.”

“We only play the kubing during lunar eclipse before. So when Napal, the caretaker of the moon, hear this calm sound from the small bamboo harp, Napal can fight the big python in order to release the moon from the mouth of the big python,” Sula explained.

(From left) Campilan, Sula, National Artist for Music Ramon P. Santos, and Fanulan. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO

Sula also played the hegalong, a string musical instrument.

“Hegalong is made from mayama tree, a tall and wide tree found in the forest. We can play the hegalong during harvest or thanksgiving or during moonlight, and also wedding ceremonies,” she explained.

Meanwhile, UP President Angelo A. Jimenez said, “I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is for us to go beyond preservation. We must work towards protecting our indigenous peoples’ works from cultural misappropriation and finding the best practices to safeguard their intangible cultural heritage and ancestral domains,” Jimenez added.

For her part, National Commission on Indigenous Peoples Chairperson Jennifer “Limpayen” Sibug-Las said, “Sa ating pagdiriwang ng mahalagang okasyong ito, ating kilalanin ang kahalagahan at pagpapahalaga at pagtataguyod ng kultura at sining ng mga katutubo. Ang aking suporta sa mga pagsusumikap ng komunidad ng Tboli sa sining, kultura, at turismo ay hindi lamang isang pagsang-ayon. Ito ay isang pangako sa pagtataguyod ng pag-unawa at pagpapahalaga. Sa pakikiisa natin sa sining at mga katutubong Tboli, nakakatulong tayo sa pangangalaga ng kultura, ng pagkakaiba-iba, at nakikibahagi tayo sa pagsiguro na ang mga kayamanang ito ay patuloy na umunlad at yumabong pa sa mga susunod na henerasyon.”

Keheton Kenhulung Tboli was also part the AIT’s activities for its 48th founding anniversary with the theme Road to Gold: Pag-ugat, Pagsibol, Pagyabong.

UPD officials, project organizers, and lecture-workshop attendees. Photo by Jerald DJ. Caranza, UPDIO