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Help Us Build the House of Stories

In the village of Lake Sebu, province of South Cotabato, Philippines, live the people who speak the language Tboli—after which they are named—through which they cope with radical change.

Part of this coping is the flow of stories from elders to progeny, guaranteeing to them their sense of who they are, and how change may be met.

A Gonô Tmutul—A House for Storytelling—is being established in Lake Sebu. The project grew out of an unexpected, happy turn of events: the repatriation to the village of the personal Tboli collection of an elderly British woman who lived there as a volunteer teacher about 50 years ago. 

A public primary teacher/headmaster, Benjie Manuel, himself Tboli, came to be the selected custodian of the returned materials. Instead of a museum, Benjie and a circle of supporters decided that the collection will be the core of a project to allow Tboli children the experiences of touching, describing, and internalizing antiques of their culture. 

Schoolteacher Benjie has long seen the decline of the abilities of Tboli children to retain cultural memory amidst powerful stimuli from change agents. There is little impetus for them to recall the nuanced Tboli words and complex stories associated with the old materials. Until the repatriation, old materials were few and far between.

The Gonô Tmutul will be built with the funds raised, which will also defray the cost of a series of eight storyteller events, spaced out over 2024. The funds will also commence provisions (such as toilet facilities and outdoor shade structures) for the site in which the house is located to serve larger assemblies.

group image of people eatingA festival atmosphere is expected during each of the eight 2024 storyteller events. Epic chanters and other Tboli culture bearers will be invited to these events, from their mountain dwellings to the Gonô Tmutul and site, to meet Tboli schoolchildren in an atmosphere of concentrated attention. Visitors from outside Lake Sebu are also welcome.

The house itself is intended as a modest structure of traditional materials, mainly bamboo and hardwoods, but architectured for maximum safety of the collection. Museum-grade steel cabinets are being custom-made for the repatriated items. In the year since the return of the cultural materials, other antiques for Tboli families were donated to the Gonô Tmutul.

The site is on land donated by schoolteacher Benjie, his part of the recognized Tboli ancestral domain. This is Benjie’s personal gift to meet the gift of repatriation.

The Tboli people were shifting agriculturists, living at the edges of vast tropical rainforest. They transitioned to settled farming 50 years ago, and took to village life.

The forest is gravely diminished; the agriculture, too small-scale now to give them a viable chance for economic progress. Much of their cash income comes from sales of the women’s output of ikat dyed, bast fiber textiles. The women are deservedly celebrated for their fine art.

The Tboli have lost and continue to lose the best of their artistic legacy, mainly because the beautiful textiles—and also cast brassware, blades, and jewellery—have been antique collectors’ prizes.

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