T’Nalak Festival is an annual cultural festival in the province of South Cotabato, Philippines held every second week of July. It is a province-wide celebration of the diversity of its culture and ethnic minorities. In addition, it is also a yearly commemoration of the founding of the province. Major activities happen in Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato, and there are some events that occur before and after the week of festive revelries.
History of T’Nalak Festival
T’Nalak Festival comes from the word t’nalak, a fabric that is woven by hand produced by T’boli tribal group and the centerpiece of the ethnic culture of South Cotabato. T’bolis are indigenous people living in the southern side of the province and Cotabato Cordillera. Their settlement occupies the towns of Kiamba, Polomolok, and Surallah. The entire area famously has three lakes: Lahit, Sebu, and Selutan.
T’Nalak is also called T’boli cloth. It is made from dyed fibers of abaca (musa textilis), a plant that grows in abundance in the country and takes about eight months to grow before it becomes mature enough to be harvested. Fibers as thin as hair are extracted from the plant and colored with the use of dyes of mostly red and black which are made from natural sources of leaves and plant roots.
Intricate designs are a result of tying the threads in particular ways so some parts of them are spared from getting colored during the dyeing process. These designs can be figures of animals, Tboli customs, heavenly bodies, and dreams that are recalled from memory. Hence, South Cotabato is touted as the land of ‘dream’ weavers.
Transforming abaca fibers into cloths is a long, elaborate, and laborious process steeped in ritual and beliefs. The fabric itself is imbued with spiritual meanings and plays an important role in tribal rites. Only women weave, and they do so early morning or late in the afternoon when the fibers are more malleable to handle.
It takes years to become an expert weaver. One panel of t’nalak requires four to six months of work, yards of which were bartered for farm animals such as horse, water buffalo, and cattle in the olden times.
Lang Dulay, National Living Treasure
Most famous T’boli is the expert weaver Lang Dulay of Lake Sebu. She was given the National Living Treasure award (Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan) by the Philippine government in 1998 for her immense contribution to and the preservation of T’boli traditional craftsmanship and artistry in t’nalak. She persevered to continue creating t’nalak tapestry in the traditional way amidst the rise of other fabrics that incorporated similar designs.
First T’Nalak Festival
Inspired by Lang Dulay’s example and her national recognition, the first T’Nalak Festival was organized in 1999. The festival was created to celebrate the vibrant cultural heritage of the province as symbolized by t’nalak and as the yearly anniversary of its founding on with the passage of Republic Act No. 4849. It separated from the province of Cotabato on July 18, 1966. The 18th of July is declared a special non-working holiday in the province of South Cotabato by virtue of Republic Act No. 9654.
T’Nalak Festival moved online in 2020 and 2021 due to coronavirus pandemic. Live events were revived in 2022.
T’Nalak Festival Schedule of Activities
T’Nalak Festival has a lot in store awaiting for visitors and participants alike. Its schedule of activities is packed not only during the week-long celebration but also beyond. There are regional trade expo, musical concerts, fireworks display, job fair, etc. Competitions are also held in categories of dance, marathon, cycling, motocross, shooting, and other indoor and outdoor sports.
Here are some of the highlights
Agri and Plant Fair Booth
Agri and Plant Fair Booth is a competition where localities of the province compete to have the best booth that make available a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other products.
Bahay Kubo and Product Display
Bahay Kubo is a competition where the city of Koronadal and ten municipalities of South Cotabato compete in decorating a display area. Each locality is given a chance to interpret bahay kubo, Filipino traditional wooden house. The competition is an initiative to highlight the skills of woodworkers.
Magsinadya Street Dancing Competition
Magsinadya Street Dancing Competition happens during the Tri-People Grand Parade. Contingents are judged on their spectacular, well-choreographed, and synchronized performances through the streets of Koronadal City.
Mutya ng South Cotabato
Mutya ng South Cotabato is a beauty pageant for females. Eleven candidates represent eleven localities of the province in a competition of beauty and brain. They also wear T’nalak haute couture, fabulous dresses made from t’nalak fabric. The winning candidate is selected as someone with grace and heart for community that represent the South Cotabato woman.
T’Nalak Strip is the place of nightscape for the entire duration of the festival. It features food garden, live bands and music acts, and various entertainment for people wanting to bask in the night scene. Popular entertainers are usually invited to grace in one of the evening activities.
Tri-People Grand Parade
T’nalak Festival Tri-People Grand Parade is a visual spectacle that celebrates the diversity and harmony of three communities, T’bolis, Christians, and Muslims. The parade most prominently puts a spotlight in the native attire as most dancers wear ethnic costumes, accessories, jewelry, and head gears. Streets in Koronadal City become the venues of performances of dancers in colorful attires as they move to the beat of the drums and music.
Where to go
The festival is provincial-wide, meanwhile many of the activities occur in Koronadal City. Major events happen in South Cotabato Sports Complex, Rizal Park, South Cotabato Gymnasium and Cultural Center, Alunan Avenue, barangays in the city, Provincial Capitol Court, etc. There are activities especially sports competitions that occur in other municipalities.
How to reach South Cotabato
The nearest airport going to South Cotabato is General Santos Airport, which is 60 kilometers away from its capital. Other airports are in Davao City and Cotabato. Land-based trips via buses and vans are also available connecting from various points of Mindanao. Tickets are also sold for ferries arriving at South Cotabato Seaport.
- Manzano, Lourdes. The T’boli. National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Tobias, Maricris Jan. National Living Treasures: Lang Dulay. National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Sumagaysay, Fruto Jr. T’nalak Festival 2022 gears up after 2-year hiatus. Provincial Government of South Cotabato. June 10, 2022. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Unson , John M. Agencies cited for safety, success of T’nalak festival. Notre Dame Broadcasting Corporation. Jul 19, 2022. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- The T’nalak Festival. Sunstar. July 27, 2010. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Republic Act No. 9645. Official Gazette. June 12, 2009. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- South Cotabato History. Provincial Government of South Cotabato. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Agri trade fair at T’nalak Festival. The Philippine Star. July 15, 2007. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Sumagaysay, Fruto Jr. Proper SWM now part of Bahay Kubo, Agri & Plant Fair Booth contests. Provincial Government of South Cotabato. July 11, 2017. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- South Cotabato sings ode to the t’nalak. Philippine Daily Inquirer through Pressreader. September 8, 2012. Retrieved August 7, 2022
- Estabillo, Allen. SoCot’s T’nalak fest to push through sans usual pomp. Philippine News Agency. Philippine News Agency. July 14, 2021. Retrieved September 12, 2022