T’boli municipality is located in the hinterlands on the southwestern portion of the Province of South Cotabato. It is one of 10 municipalities of the province located in the Southern Philippines. The town is predominantly built on agricultural activities and is an ancestral domain of the Tboli indigenous peoples. Other than commercial plantation crops, like pineapple and bananas operated by multinational firms, abaca, corn, and coffee are also among the main agricultural products cultivated here. There are also some gold reserves in the area. Due to the municipality’s and the community’s recent drive to promote eco-cultural tourism, visitors and tourists, local and from abroad, have been flocking to the area especially in Lake Holon and the Mt. Melibengoy (formerly Mt. Parker).
T’boli lies in the southeast portion of the province and is adjacent to another ancestral domain in Lake Sebu, which is also a municipality. The T’boli are upland dwellers who farm rice, corn, cassava and yam for their sustenance. The T’boli are known for their colourful dress and accessories. The women wear decorative combs, brass earrings, bead necklaces, girdle, bracelets, anklets and rings. Both the men and women wear brass rings in sets of five on each finger. T’boli are best known for their weave called T’nalak, which is made of dyed abaca fibers. According to their belief, T’nalak weaving was handed down to their ancestors by the goddess Fu Dalu through a dream. Thus, the patterns are said to learned by the women through their dreams.
The T’boli have managed to resist Christian and Muslim influences by moving up to the mountains and preserving their own traditions and beliefs. T’boli culture is closely related to nature, and many of their songs and dances mimic the sounds and actions of birds and monkeys. T’boli songs impart wisdom and are a means to communicate with their ancestors. T’boli believe all elements of nature have a spirit, and therefore must be respected.
Other than Arabica coffee trees, abaca trees are also predominant in the area. Abaca is largely wild and is grown organically. It is the one of the main products of the tribe. Their abaca trees are grown in forest cover and continue to multiply through suckers and followers. Because of their close relationship with the forest, T’boli take pride in the production of abaca. Farmers are well aware of the rising global demand by the number of traders coming to the area. Not surprising, given that abaca fibre is used more frequently to replace glass plastics in cars, tea bags and banknotes.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Philippines is the world top producer of abaca fibre, leaving Ecuador behind on a second place. The T’boli indicated that they would like to move up into the supply chain and capture more value than they currently receive from traders. Collatio Insignis is working with the T’boli to optimize the production process and link them with the companies in Europe.