Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village | A Brief Cultural Immersion with the Blaan Tribe in South Cotabato

Sunday, September 08, 2019

A trip to SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City) has been on my bucket list forever, and when presented with the opportunity to travel to one of the most off-the-beaten-path places in Southern Mindanao, I jumped at the chance, not only to fulfill a lifelong dream, but also to learn about an indigenous group’s culture and tradition.
The Blaan Dance Performers with their colorful tradtional attire
The Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DoT), recently launched the first Community-Based Tourism Recognition as part of its Sustainable Tourism Promotion in the Philippines. Together with the sustainable tourism experts/assessors, TPB people and bloggers/vloggers, we visited the first community nominated as one of the best sustainable tourism destinations of the country. 
Colorful traditional attire and musical instruments used by the Blaan
As soon our group landed in General Santos International Airport, we drove into the mountains to get to Sitio Amguo in Barangay Landan in the municipality of Polomolok, South Cotabato, which is about an hour and a half from GenSan. Located in the heart of Dole Pineapple Plantation at the foot of Mount Matutum, this barangay is where the Blaan lives.
In some tribes in the philippines, women wore tattoos to signify beauty, power and wealth. But here in Blaan, I did not see a single female with a tattoo. 
The Blaan of Southern Mindanao
I know about the T’boli in South Cotabato as they are considered the most well-known tribal group in Mindanao. However, I know nothing about the Blaan Tribe, which is basically the neighbors of T’boli with equally fascinating culture and tradition. Their names are actually related. Blaan means counterpart while T’boli means people who live on the other side.

The Blaan tribe are one of the indigenous people (IP) living in Southern Mindanao. They have their own traditional dance and music, colorful tribal wear and weaving tradition similar to the T'boli but with a few differences. The product of their weaving is called Tabih (T’boli call it T’nalak) and they have their own dreamweavers too! In fact, their master dreamweaver named Yabing Masalon Dulo is recognised as a National Living Treasure (Manlilikha ng Bayan)!
Flanek Jao, our Blaan Guide. Flanek in Blaan means brother.
Fu Yabing Weaving Center and the Mabal Tabih
The Blaan welcomed us with warm smiles and their traditional dance. We were then assisted by Jao (Arthur Dulo Gulili), our Blaan guide, who explained to us their traditions and how it’s important for them to continue the Blaan way of life. He told us that traditionally, only Blaan women were allowed to learn weaving. But because of their desire to carry on this art for many years to come, he and another male Blaan decided to learn how to weave. It was so heart-warming to see how proud they are as Blaan.
One of the weavers in the village showed us the Blaan ‘mabal tabih’ (ikat weaving) tradition
These Blaan women are apprentice of Yabing Masalon Dulo, a National Living Treasure (Manlilikha ng Bayan).
Aside from Tabih weaving, the Blaan also make their own traditional accessories and clothing. 
A young Blaan showed us how they make their traditional accessories
I just can't get enough of the Blaan's traditional clothing. They are so colorful and unique!
The Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village
After our visit in the Fu Yabing Weaving Center, we participated in a welcome ritual led by the Blaan. We were then welcomed by the Tribal Leader and the Project Coordinator of the Blaan Tribal Village as well as the Blaan elders. Here we learned how the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village started with the help of the late Gina Lopez’s I LOVE Foundation, Dr. Jaime Z. Galvez Tan of the Health Futures Foundation, Inc. (HFI), and the local tourism sector with participation of the Blaan people.
Young Blaan performed their traditional tribal dance during the welcome ritual.
Dancing is an essential part of Blaan celebrations and I'm glad to be able to participate in one of it. 
The Blaan sells handmade beaded earrings, necklaces and bracelets as souvenirs to tourists.
Traditional Blaan Food
Part of the Filipino culture is to provide warm hospitality to all, whether they are foreigners or not. The same holds true for the Blaan. Even before the Spanish colonization, food has always been a way to bring the community together. As soon as we finished with the village tour, we were offered a generous spread of traditionally prepared snacks and coffee. As you can see in the photos below, the Blaan diet commonly consisted of foods that were either collected, grown, or hunted from the surrounding forest and mountains. We got to try banana and cassava balls with coconut, boiled corn on the cob and Sgetong Faet. No fancy additive but incredibly satisfying and filling!
Pure Arabica carefully processed by the Blaan. It was sooo good, you guys!
The Blaan showed their hospitality with a generous spread of snacks and coffee. The ingredients they used were nothing fancy but truly showcased their unique cooking style.
Casava balls with niyog (coconut)
Vegan meatballs made from local vegetable called Sgetong Faet (pronounced Sigatong Faet)
Sgetong Faet 
Overall Experience
It was my first time to travel to this part of Mindanao and I hate myself for waiting too long to visit. Despite the bad press that Mindanao always gets, I never felt unsafe or threatened in South Cotabato. My visit to the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village is indeed an eye-opener. I never knew I would find such a vibrant and rich culture which I believe is going to attract more and more tourists in the months to come. I’m positive I will be back to sleep over at their homestay and to learn how to cook Sgatong Feit vegan balls.
Nipa Hut Homestay at the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village
This is what the homestay looks like. It has its own veranda with amazing views of the forest and Mount Matutum.
To anyone planning to visit Mindanao, I highly recommend joining a Cultural Tour in the Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village. This emerging trend for sustainable cultural tourism provides opportunity for authentic cultural exchange between locals and visitors. Get in touch with Health Futures Foundation to arrange your tour or book your overnight stay at the homestay.

Thank you so much Philippines’ Tourism Promotions Board! I am extremely grateful for this experience.

Useful Info
Blaan Wellness and Tribal Village
Address: Barangay Landan, Polomolok, South Cotabato
Facebook Page: @blaanwellness
Landline: (02) 411-8698 - Manila Office
Mobile: (63) 948 839 5100

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