I grew up in a far highland community here in Lake Sebu, far from the edge of the lake and the tradition of brass casting.
Having lost both my parents at a young age, I was left to live with an older sibling and her husband. As with many children in many households in our community, I helped with housework as well as with tending to our animals and crops. At 8 years old, my hands were already used to the feeling of dirt and earth that came with toiling the land.
As a child, I’ve always had a strong desire to attend school. While the closest one was at least an hour away by foot, I pursued my desire to study, even without my sibling’s support. I can still remember walking the hour downhill at 6 in the morning, amongst tall cogon grass. Before reaching the school, my clothes would already be wet from the morning dew. But wanting to look presentable in class, I would change into a fresh set of clothes that I packed, right outside our classroom before entering.
But with no other support, I ultimately had to stop going to school after 3rd grade. From then, I continued working the farmland until I was arranged to be married at 14 years old. As what was common in our tradition, my soon-to-be mother-in-law and older sibling agreed that I was to marry Joel. It was at this new chapter in my life that I would also begin my journey as Tau Temwel.
Temwel was very new to me. It was a completely new thing, quite far from the skills I learned from farming. Yet I found myself in a very familiar position, and doing motions that were not that much different from what I would be doing back home. From rolling the wax, and pounding the dry clay, dirt and earth still fill the palm of my hands.
Perhaps what makes the experience more exciting was that I was learning again. And with this new skill, I was also beginning to contribute to our income through my brass work. This couldn’t come at a more important time, as Joel and I struggled to make ends meet early in our life together. I remember there was a time that we couldn’t even afford to eat rice more than once a day, so we would eat cassava and other crops that we grew in our little garden.
Being a young woman, with very little formal education,I thought I had limited economic opportunities. But because of Temwel, I was able to help earn for my family. And when the demand for our products was high, I would have enough money left over to watch Betamax or shop for clothes at the ukay-ukay with other women in the community.
But it turns out that simply knowing Temwel was not enough. From my experience with Sesotunawa, I learned that women like me have great potential to not just earn an income, but to also elevate our traditions. Engaging with the volunteers who helped us set up our brand, I was able to learn new skills -skills that would help us run our business more effectively.
Things I thought impossible then, I was able to accomplish because of what we learned. We were able to send our children to school, and improve our living conditions - I was even able to afford a refrigerator!
I used to fear not being able to afford to send our children to college. But with what I learned over the years, I believe that this is now possible. Now, I am also more motivated to learn other aspects of running our business such as inventory, bookkeeping, and even using the computer.
My journey as a Tau Temwel was not easy. But it was an experience that taught me so much. It taught me that even without a formal education, women like me can accomplish great things for myself, my family, and my community.
Words by Henia Blunto
Translation and Photos by Ossie Lozano